The Drains, the Great Ouse and the would-be record breakers…
March – Salter’s Lode – Denver – Brandon Creek: 36½ miles, 2 locks
Just how many wind turbines are there here in the Fens? From the boat Boatwif counted 24, but a quick Google suggests that there are 35 (Cambs Times, updated October 2020).
There’s a left fork that takes the channel between high banks towards Marmont Priory Lock. Progress was slow, across a dark green mat (“The weed cutter was down here yesterday,” said a very helpful continuous moorer who pitched up to explain the finer points of passage through the lock.)
“Didn’t there used to be a tap here somewhere…?”
Upwell villagers have worked hard to create planting beside the pontoon, but perhaps the use of some shears might be a good thing now!
Without fuss or fanfare Upwell becomes Outwell, Upwell being in Cambridgeshire but Outwell is in Norfolk. There must be a county boundary hereabouts then…
Not long after Outwell the channel crosses the Middle Level Main Drain. The last few miles to Salter’s Lode can often be a boating struggle as the propeller struggles through the shallow water and the mud. Was this section of Well Creek mildly easier than on previous occasions?
Tractors roared past – they can go far faster than boats on this sludgy water…
Then there was a sign, Salter’s Lode, almost obscured by the overgrown grass. It’s a tiny hamlet, Salter’s Lode, part of the parish of Downham West in Norfolk, but a very significant location for boaters.
”It’ll be a neap tide,” the Salter’s Lode lock keeper had warned in a phone conversation, “there might not be much water…”
The water level wasn’t very high against the channel marker fence – “Go now,” urged the lock keeper. “You’ve only got minutes…”
Out went Cleddau, right across the river, to get the upstream turn and to avoid the silt bank. The muddy bank opposite looked ominously close. The engine was put into reverse – a sort of three point turn against an outgoing tide. Slowly the bow came round, was pointed upstream and driven hard towards Denver Lock. There was barely time to observe the new floating pontoon below the lock… but what relief to be inside the Denver Lock chamber and then safely delivered onto the tamed Great Ouse…
At some point early evening it left, to fish, presumably, for its supper…
There was a fill up with fuel before continuing the next 14 miles or so to Brandon. Though recorded before some sights demand camera attention again…
It’s a naturalist’s heaven, this route, the river weaving between high embankments, through fenland and tree plantations, past meres and reed beds. There were herons, bitterns, marsh harriers, terns, cuckoos, swans, magpies – and a lot grazing cattle. Twitchers bearing huge cameras were focusing their lenses on the bird life, although perhaps a moving boat on the river was a rarer sight.
What could be remembered after the one previous visit to Brandon four years ago? The 40 foot lock prevents further navigation for longer boats.
Was this a new sign? Late afternoon the cemetery gates to the Polish Memorial were already locked. But there were splashes of colour in the churchyard, around the trees, against the church walls, by the West Door, around the entire church building – pompoms, thousands of them!
A Google search later revealed that on 2nd June the Brandon Yarn Bombers laid out 45,736 pompoms on the playing fields and are awaiting verification that this number is a new world record…
Flint Cottage echoes the town’s industry – and on a street corner now is a figure of a flint knapper. Just beyond a floral display reflected the Jubilee celebrations. ‘Pages in a book’ explained the Queen’s Coronation, her link with the Commonwealth and the existence of the Gold State Coach.
After a morning in the town Cleddau pulled away from the pontoon and headed back downstream, past the tree trunk monster, past a well disguised bird hide, back over the aqueduct above the Cut-off Channel), to moor in glorious isolation, with only the wind in the treetops and a persistent cuckoo for company (until, curious about the smell of grilling steak, two dozen cows mooched past in an evening stroll…)
Next time: back to the Great Ouse
Trip stats since leaving Victoria Pit: 292½ 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)