Slow boat to St Ives

Cambridge to St Ives: 30 river miles, 5 locks (18½ road miles)

The College Bumps were over – but on Sunday mornings rowers of all levels of ability are out on the water…

There was shell repair work going on at one boathouse   and magnet fishers en masse at the high wall near the Museum of Technology on Riverside.

Cleddau was heading downstream now, negotiating her way past numerous rowers.

“It’s better when at least there’s a cox that can see you,” the Captain muttered, as singles, pairs, fours and eights thrashed past.

It was at the Chesterton Railway Bridge that things got tricky – rowers were coming down the strait from Fen Ditton and turning under the bridge …  When an eight needs to turn there’s not much space left for a narrow boat. Choosing a line nearer the bank led Cleddau into the shallows and a slightly jaunty angle… The eight then powered down the course and turned again ahead of Cleddau.

There was much relief when the rowers were all overtaken and left behind! 

Down through Baits Bite Lock, passing Alie dressed overall (seen again later with a party of revellers on board).

Past Clayhithe and the rather Gothic-looking Cam Conservancy Board building, past the Cambridge Cruising Club boats and the Cam Sailing Club, with “hellos” from last weekend’s sailors and from a swimmer in the water…

Just before Bottisham Lock is a fine stretch of GOBA mooring – with just enough space for one narrow boat left. This is a lovely spot (even if it brought back memories of devastation here when a long hot spell broke in July 2018, causing water incursion inside the boat and putting Bottisham Lock out of action… )

Mooring pins were hammered in, the whirlygig line was raised on the tiller arm  – and a boat approaching from the lock slowed down, there was a bip on a horn – and there was Oleanna!

It was inevitable that the two boats would cross somewhere on the East Anglian waterways at some point, but when and where…? As long-term readers of each other’s blogs all that was needed was to meet in real life!

Boaters can cover a lot of conversational ground in an hour even while breasted up beside each other and facing in opposite directions…

Here’s hoping for another liaison in the next few weeks. See Oleanna’s blog here:

Bottisham Lock is a five minute walk along the flood bank, a gentle leg stretch. You read this notice, scan for pet sheep, but instead see quite lively rabbits. Just look at the wild flower planting on the offside of the lock.  From here the Captain could be seen dismantling the washing line after another good drying session – but real visual thrills came at sunset that night.

Down through Bottisham Lock on Monday morning, sharing with a hire boat. There was a better shot this time of Life, The Universe & Everything (which bring smiles to all Douglas Adams fans).

Onwards on a breezy morning, passing the lovely mooring near Upware, and being passed by several boats heading upstream from Ely. There was another look at the POLICE SLOW notice on the container – aah, maybe it’s a floating workshop with tools for the boat anchored on the land!  

Then, as the Cam gets closer to the Great Ouse there were two sightings, first a fuzzy one of Ely Cathedral in the distance, and secondly, of trains, trains running that Monday, but very unlikely to be seen the next day, rail strike day…

There was relief at Pope’s Corner where cylinders of gas were for sale at the Fish and Duck Marina (and very helpful service too). Now the boat had turned onto the Old West River, which is far narrower than either the Cam or the Great Ouse.   Cleddau was pulled in at the Stretham Old Engine, an iconic building, constructed in 1831 to house steam driven pumps to drain the Waterbeach fenland. (Hours of opening seem to be on two Sundays per month between March and October, this was a Monday…)

Onward on Tuesday, past moored boats and a long-time upturned hull. There’s a very long stretch of mooring just before The Lazy Otter pub. From here on for miles there is little evidence of human life. There were white horses on the flood bank, cows paddling in the water and a sole black sheep among a flock of white ones.  The navigation map shows occasional power lines, a rare bridge crossing the river’s course and (note this, Biologist, resident of Perth, WA) Australia Farm

On and on – there must be farming behind the high banks as once there was a water extraction pump and a bit further on some impressive rain water harvesting…

Near Earith views change – there’s a road near the river – and then Hermitage Lock which is operated by a lock keeper.

The two miles between Hermitage and the next lock at Brownshill are tidal, the waters flowing out to the Wash via the New Bedford River, otherwise known as the Hundred Foot Drain.

There was an overnight stay and some useful daylight hours spent at the pontoon at Westview Marina (easy access to a tap and to a variety of rubbish bins providing domestic satisfaction, while the steady platform surface of the pontoon was an easy space for an outdoor meal AND for a washdown and paint job of the starboard gunwale…)

Starboard gunwale freshened up 

Hot dog being cooled down on Wednesday morning

Onward then, to Brownshill Staunch. It’s a long lock (98’ 5”). Here a boater claiming to have “a good eye for lengths”, encouraged a lock share for a cruiser and Cleddau. All went well although it might have easier for the cruiser if ropes had been deployed to stabilise the boat…

Sand quarries after Brownshill Staunch

For some folk this sort of detail matters – since 6th June Cleddau and crew had been east of the Greenwich Meridian, now, 20 days later, they were back in the west! The boat cruised on, past the popular Pike and Eel pub at Overcote,  (which for numbers’ fans is 280 metres west of the Meridian).

Yet another flock of geese…

The river continues, its course wriggling, winding and looping towards the small Cambridgeshire town of St Ives. Eventually the slender spire of the St Ives Free Church comes into view.

There’s an impressive lock at St Ives, with a broad sluice on the eastern side. The lock chamber was described as “a D lock” by an exiting boater, that is, one where a cut-out section accommodates shorter boats alongside a longer boat. Two cruisers positioned themselves in the cut-out, Cleddau slid in to their right, and paddles were wound on the upper gates. The boats rose fast, Cleddau’s ropes clenched tight to avoid steel clashing with fibre glass…

Then, beyond the modern road bridge, there was St Ives, the former mill to the left, the Quay to the right, the famous St Ives Bridge with its chapel directly ahead and the spire of the parish church behind.

Apart from the pigeons, the swans, the ducks, the terns and (reputedly) the sand martins, the Quay is a very pleasant mooring place, close to shops, restaurants and curious locals and gongoozlers.

Nowadays St Ives promotes itself as an ancient riverport. Where now leisure boaters pull up at the Quay, a century or more ago working fen lighters would have been offloading cargo here. For the Cleddau crew a Quay-side mooring allowed the on-loading of supplies – and a few hours wandering of the lanes and alleyways of this attractive little town.

Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit:  362 miles, 185 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: 49 feet

 Queries about the Tudor rose: now 9

 2022 Monkton Moments*- 4

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


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