Sailing towards the Ship of the Fens

Brandon Creek to Ely: 22¼ miles, 0 locks

Maybe this map will help explain the various waterways mentioned in recent posts…


The last blog post finished at a mooring site half way along Brandon Creek (alternative name for the Little Ouse).     It was blissfully quiet, apart from the wind in the treetops and the persistent cuckoo. The cows that had strolled by early evening had gazed dolefully at the boat and its crew and then moved on. This is a truly remote spot. Peace and quiet prevailed…

It prevailed until shortly after 9.30pm when a faint but deep, regular thump was heard. Was it background interference on the regular Friday night YouTube fix of Foxes Afloat? ** (See link below cruise stats).

The weekly video screening was paused – but the thumping persisted, louder, as if coming up river. It was dusk – could there be a boat approaching, playing music, as it travelled…?

No boat – but the thump, thump, thump continued at the same volume. Was it a teenage group having a Friday night practice? The sound continued, hour after hour, but with the doors closed and sleeping quarters being at the rear of the boat the impact of it faded.

A couple of miles downstream the next day this scene of action was spotted –    so this was where the rave had been located…

A couple of days later nb Eleanor caught up. That boat had been further upstream at Brandon. “Do you know what happened?” asked Eleanor’s skipper.  “On Friday night I was woken up at 4.15 by a dreadful thumping noise. I thought it must be a party going on somewhere…”

He too had spotted the rave site. (Moral – never assume that a remote mooring spot will be unaffected by human-created noise pollution!)

Cleddau continued back down the Brandon Creek – under this curious bridge,   apparently a very substantial bridge between two nowheres…

  It was seriously windy again. Would re-joining the wider and more open Great Ouse involve battling with strong crosswinds?

Luck was in and a mooring space on the EA moorings alongside The Ship Inn at Brandon Junction was secured.

“Go and see if you can book a table for tonight,” the Captain suggested. A meal out? For the first time since March?

“Yes, that will be OK,” said the girl taking the booking, “but I ought to tell you that we have a party of 17 booked in for tonight.”

Mid-afternoon the Captain spotted one,   then a second,    boat under sail, beating their way past and heading towards Denver. An hour or so later one returned and pulled in to moor…       Within a short time Cleddau had four sailing boats moored in front and one attached to the starboard side.    Sails were brought down, masts were lowered, covers were pulled over – and beds were made up for the night.   

While the Cleddau crew ate quietly that evening at a window table the “party of 17” Cam Sailing Club members were seated in a function room to chew over their afternoon’s race results, award their trophies – and then (some of them at least) tiptoed carefully across Cleddau’s front deck to bed!

Although less wind was expected the next day that didn’t prove to be the case…

Gradually the sailing boats detached themselves from their moorings, and prepared to make the 17 mile cruise back to the Cam Sailing Club at Waterbeach. Three of the boats set off using their outboard motors. Two though motored over to the reeds on the opposite bank, raised their sails – and got under way…

An hour later, heading towards Littleport, there was the sight of sails. To and fro across the river the sailing boat went, tacking, its crew trying to make progress in the stiff northerly breeze.

Powered craft must give way to sail – judging where to hold Cleddau on the water, trying to anticipate the yacht’s course and whether to try to overtake required deep concentration.

A hand indicated “overtake”.

A little further on the first sailing boat was nosed into the reeds, sails lowered, the crew sipping hot drinks. “A bit breezy out there,” was an apt understatement addressed across the river!

Ely with its attractive waterfront and ‘Ship of the Fens’ floating above the city is such a popular mooring spot that boats are restricted to 48 hours only with a £100 fine per overstay day. The odds were calculated: avoid Ely at a weekend, go for a weekday mooring. So on Monday morning Cleddau left Littleport, tested her speed (38 seconds) between the two white triangles (see photos),    and progressed towards Ely.

It’s a disappointment to see yet another EA mooring closed to boaters (was it the fifth since Denver?).

Now Cleddau was cruising the 2021 Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race Course (remember that, the pandemic and the Hammersmith Bridge closure caused the famous annual boat racing event to be held on the Great Ouse).

Cambridge University boat house

Two ladies in Cambridge Light Blue out on the water

Pilates (?) in the park

An 11am arrival in Ely secured a pleasant mooring spot against a good edge. Triumph!

Travel between Denver and Ely becomes visually monotonous: a largely straight river, railway lines parallel to the river, power lines, high banks obscuring views of the land behind.

Thus first sightings of Ely’s ‘Ship of the Fens’  from the river never fail to impress.

To view then the exuberant decoration of Ely Cathedral’s building and roofline is a glorious visual treat. No photographs can do it justice. You can see it from afar, you can see it as you walk up through Ely Park, you can see it behind the buildings of the High Street   and you can see it from the upper windows of the Toppings & Company bookshop.

The Cathedral has stood for hundreds of years (construction beginning in 1083) and has many fine features and treasures.  Here though are two recent inclusions within the main body of the building: the Jubilee Black Oak Table is 13 metres in length, was created out of Fenland fossilised black oak  (see article) found in 2012 and currently is positioned in a side aisle.  Then there is a replica Coronation dress, as worn by Claire Foy in Netflix’s The Crown for the Coronation scenes filmed at Ely Cathedral.

The Jubilee mood was still apparent around this small city: the WI had created decorations around the Market Square and the famous eel in Jubilee Park was bedecked in red, white and blue and topped with a crown…

If the timings are right there are certain places in Ely that have to be (and were) revisited – the Cathedral for Choral Evensong sung by the boy choristers of The King’s School, the top floor of the bookshop (look at that natty shelf ladder that runs along a rail), the Babylon Arts Gallery  to view The Power of Stitch exhibition and the Antiques Centre for a nostalgic mooch (does this item ring any bells with anyone?)

Tuesday night’s strawberry supermoon as seen in Ely.

Time was up on Wednesday morning: ropes were untied, water tank re-filled and off Cleddau sailed towards Bedford (with a diversion first along the River Cam to Cambridge…).

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 314¾ miles, 178 locks, 6 swing bridges, 4 tunnels and 1 cow

Height drop from the Macclesfield summit: 416 feet

Height rise since Trent Lock:  311¾ feet

Height drop from GU Leicester summit: 371¾ feet (4ft below sea level)

Height rise since Middle Levels minimum: 13 feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 8

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

(Monkton Moment*- a reference to / recognition of Cleddau’s Pembrokeshire connections)

**YouTube Foxes Afloat – see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vAhFWyKD79o&list=PLcS0xjJs-N1B0wlKhMBs6RdWnJNoKLO4B&index=48 where in 2019 Cleddau and Silver Fox shared the locks out of Liverpool Docks

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2 Responses

  1. Baby sis says:

    That till!! Ding ding – Auntie Poll!
    Am I right? ( I was pretty young – forever the youngest!!)

  2. Sue Deveson says:

    Yes, K. Correct!
    Waves of nostalgia – and when the cash drawer was pulled open there was a beautifully clear bell sound!

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