Summer trip – Ely to Bedford and back

A relaxing ten day cruise, from Ely to Bedford, and then back via Earith, the Hundred Foot and Denver. Excellent weather. I met several very friendly Environment Agency staff, and chatted to many boaters, in particular on DREAM CATCHER and JUSTICE.

Lunchtime and overnight stops:

  • Little Thetford, Ely Ouse (EA); Aldreth, Old West River (GOBA)
  • The Waits, St Ives (Huntingdon District Council); Houghton, the island below the lock (EA)
  • Little Paxton Nature Reserve (GOBA)
  • St Neots (Town Council); Great Barford, the old lock island just upstream (EA)
  • Bedford Sovereign Wharf (EA); Bedford, near the head of navigation (wild)
  • Cardington (GOBA); Eaton Socon (EA)
  • Offord (GOBA); Brampton (GOBA)
  • Hemingford (HDC); Holywell (HDC)
  • Denver (EA); Ship Inn, Brandon Creek (EA)


Old West River – very windy conditions. No photographs of the rescue of a narrowboat at Stretham, that had come loose from its moorings and got wedged across the waterway.

DSCF8381 DSCF8387

GOBA moorings at Aldreth – some inquisitive cowsDSCF8389

The evocative causeway to the small and quiet village of Aldreth – one of the ancient causeways linking Ely to the outside world. One could imagine that this track had not changed since the time of Hereward  and William the Conqueror.DSCF8390 DSCF8392

The following morning, locking through at Hermitage Lock.DSCF8395

Earith, looking down the dead straight Old Bedford River. The middle sluicegate  was letting a bit of water down.DSCF8397

A tree in the middle of a field, followed by the same view on my previous trip in April, when I was not 100% sure whether going to the left of the tree was feasible.



Brownshill Staunch – almost no fresh water coming over the weir.DSCF8401

I saw four of these boats working hard to harvest the reeds – a company called Their website explains how they  harvest on the Ouse, Nene and Ivel. Molly the dog was on board, but does not feature in this photograph!DSCF8403

I moored at The Waits in St Ives, to explore the town. According to the town’s website this area is so named because barges had to wait there. The river used to be tidal to this point (and still is when the water submerges the staunch at Brownshill). DSCF8409

The bridge chapel at St Ives – unfortunately not open for me to inspect in person.DSCF8415

Side streetsDSCF8416

A statue of Cromwell – is there any town in the area that does not claim some connection with him?!


The rather fine moorings on the island below Houghton Lock – no access to  the land, so very peaceful. I attempted to walk around the island, but this was not possible!DSCF8426

An 0530 start in the morning. While the lock was emptying I went to have a look at the Mill, run by the National TrustDSCF8427 DSCF8428 DSCF8440

Breakfast at Godmanchester, riding to the mud anchor as there were no moorings free.DSCF8441

Brampton Mill – now a pubDSCF8442

St Neots – just below the Papermill lockDSCF8446

Birthday tea for Peter, between Roxton and Great BarfordDSCF8456

Another island mooring – next to the old lock just above Great Barford. This one did have a footbridge, as part of the Ouse Valley Way that now runs 150 miles from Brackley to Kings Lynn.DSCF8478

Birthday supper at the Anchor pub – half a mile walk across the fields from the mooring.


On Sunday morning, lots of trees for the remaining run up to Bedford, some encroaching on the navigation.DSCF8484 DSCF8486

The monster lock at Castle Mill, on the outskirts of Bedford. Water enters the chamber from the side, halfway down the lock. The concrete sides show how high the water level might go in flood conditions, though the EA data shows a range of less than a metre.DSCF8488

Bedford lock

DSCF8490 DSCF8494

Peter and Hugh have to leave to catch a train home.DSCF8495

The view downstream from the head of navigation at Kempston. I couldn’t easily get the boat this far — too many shoalsDSCF8500

It was  quite tricky to find a mooring near to the turning place….



A peaceful overnight mooring a few hundred yards downstream, with Bedford housing estates across the meadow.DSCF8505

A bit of gardening at Cardington, to remove more of the tree that had been blocking the navigation.  I had bought a tree saw in Bedford the day before, just in case …DSCF8508

Going down in Castle Mill lock …DSCF8515 DSCF8519

Great Barford bridge – easier going downstream!DSCF8525 Under the A1 at Tempsford – the inscription was dated 1820 (see the link for more detail)DSCF8540

Past the moorings at Little Paxton Pits – rather fine nature reserve with lots of dragonflies. We stopped here on the way upstream – very peaceful.DSCF8548

Offord Cluny church. The current abruptly stopped at this point, as nearly all the flow was being abstracted for Grafham Water  reservoir.DSCF8551

Offord Lock


Sorting out some of my crates of stuff, and concluding that I probably have too much gaffer tape, and silicon sealant, and old jubilee clips.DSCF8559

The following day, I paused at Hemingford to shampoo, polish and wax the paintwork. This photo shows before (on the right) and after DSCF8573

A glorious mooring at Holywell – fine pub, interesting church, with the Holy Well in the churchyard.

DSCF8585 DSCF8586


Main timings for this trip:

HW Kings Lynn 1250 BST (a weak neap tide)
HW Denver 1350, or thereabouts.
Flood at Denver 1220, or thereabouts.

Depart Earith 0845, there was a bit of an ebb current here but it seemed to peter out quite soon?
Manea railway bridge 1121
Hit a sizeable silt bar (next to Hundred Foot Pumping Station) 1129, but momentum took me over it
First tree partially blocking the river 1136 – hit the silt on the opposite bank.
Second tree 1152, ebb running at about 1 mph – hit the silt again

Meet the “flood” (under the 400KV pylons near Welmore) 1245, about 1.5 mph initially.
Denver 1345, 21.3 miles later.

GPS track here –  warning it is a bit boring, but you can see when the tide turned.So you may want to speed up the replay speed a bit …


A drizzly morning, turning into the
New Bedford River just before Hermitage Lock.


It was impossible to avoid some breaking wash for some sections.DSCF8597

Manea railway bridge – about 4.8 miles away.DSCF8598

and getting closer ..


This group of ramblers were rather surprised to see me.DSCF8601

A farmer getting about – the only other person I sawDSCF8603

Approaching the bird reserve at Welney – nearly low water, so running out of water. But we never stopped moving.DSCF8604

I expected to see some sort of tidal bore – but it took the day off today. From here on we were punching the incoming tide – more of a gentle slap, reallyDSCF8605

Welmore sluices, that let the accumulated water out of the washes. Rather oddly, the pumps were running (left of photo) – not sure why, unless it was to pump out the water being let in at Earith (see above). I think I am now in Norfolk.DSCF8607

Approaching Denver sluice from behindDSCF8611 DSCF8613

The view up the New Bedford from Denver – a misleading view, as only the first couple of km are as wide as this, with the rest MUCH narrower. DSCF8617

PLATINUM FOX (from the excellent Fox Narrowboats at March) leaving the lock at DenverDSCF8618


Safely moored at DenverDSCF8619

Sunset at Brandon Creek – junction with the Little OuseDSCF8627 DSCF8633

Piling works near LittleportDSCF8636

The view back to the north, as we approach ElyDSCF8641

The entrance to Ely, and the end of our journey. I think this now means I have done every inch of the Great Ouse system, in both directions. I still need to do Kings Lynn to Denver, though …



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