I have read lots of stuff from people comparing the fenland waterways with the canals and, having been on both, I find it difficult to compare them. Other than the fact that there are more locks on the canals and they tend to be narrower than the fenland rivers, there is nothing much to choose between the two. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is not even worth thinking about really; we are lucky to have both. They each have their faults but, overall, they are a fantastic resource to be promoted and protected, and above all enjoyed.
Having said all that, I have simply chosen the fens because they are nearer to my home in mid Suffolk but were there any other reasons? Kay and I have spent the last week exploring three of the tributaries that feed the Ouse; the Little Ouse (aka Brandon Creek), the Wissey, and the Cam The photos speak for themselves but I will add a few of my own observations as we go along.
The River Great Ouse from Ely to Denver Sluice is wide and relatively straight with few villages or towns along the way. It is dominated by the vast East Anglian sky, which, when it's blue and dotted with fluffy white clouds, is a fantastic sight. When it's grey, it's a pretty dull place to be - much the same as any other place really! For a taste of peace and quiet though, you can't beat it. For instance, on our first day heading north from Ely, we didn't see a single boat being used on the water and for days after that we only saw about one or two boats per day.
Turning right at the Ship Inn, we entered the Little Ouse. It is also called Brandon Creek because it leads to the Suffolk town of Brandon but I don't know why both names are still used. Passing a few moored boats and a marina selling the cheapest diesel in the fens, we were on own own again going ever deeper into the heart of the Suffolk. The river is fairly narrow, often lined with willows and alder with occasional long views to the river meadows beyond. Birds such as ducks, herons, swans, geese, grebes and little terns are commonplace but we saw a lone barn owl and a few red kites at times.
The river is very attractive, with traditional water meadows and woodlands and I am intrigued by the various signs of dereliction along the way, both on and of the water...
We moored for the night just below Brandon Lock as our boat is too long to enter the lock. In fact, the river is only navigable for another half mile or so.
Brandon was once an attractive small town built mainly in local flint but, like so many towns across the county, it has suffered from modern development and insensitive growth. In my opinion, it needs the district council, the town council and county council to get around a table with local businesses and community leaders to develop a town enhancement scheme. It could then become a real destination for visitors (by car and boat) as well as a place for businesses to establish and for people of all ages to live.
The Wissey leaves the Great Ouse by a main line railway bridge along a narrow strip of land with many mature over-hanging trees.
After a few miles it appears to come to a halt when the Wissington Sugar Beet Factory crosses the river...
... but fortunately, the river then continues through a series of tranquil lakes formed by sand and gravel workings into some very attractive tree-lined meanders.
The GOBA moorings along the way are up to their usual standard and, in particular, the one (and I mean one) at the Stoke Ferry end of the navigation. Stoke Ferry is an attractive little town, now by-passed, but it does not contain much of interest to encourage a visitor to stay overnight. In fact we were pleased we had not stayed at the mooring because we read someone else had found the noise of heavy lorries on the nearby road bridge disturbing. This photo below shows the attractive mooring next to a quiet camping/caravan site but I am taking the picture from under the road bridge!
After a couple of days in Ely, experiencing the delights of the new Sainsburys and a meal at the Cutter, we decided to complete our cruise up the Ouse with a short jaunt into the Cam.
The Ouse by this time had turned on us with a brisk southerly wind - still no other boats on the water but I guess they had seen the weather forecast. It was a bit more like mid winter than mid summer as you can see from the photo of me trying to keep my ears warm under my arctic Ray Mears headgear!
The Cam comes up to the standard of the other rivers in the fens with quiet river meadows, plenty of wildlife (mainly birds) and loads of peace and tranquillity. We turned at Bottisham Lock as we had not bought the increased registration licence from EA to allow us to continue up the Cam to Cambridge. It will be interesting to learn how this new registration scheme gets on. I certainly won't be buying into it.
We moored for an hour or so at Bottisham Lock to fetch some provisions from the village. When we got back to the deserted riverside we found a note from the local fishing club - on one side offering us the opportuinity to buy a day permit and on the other side a hand written note asking us to move or face a fine.
I extend my apologies to Waterbeach AC River Bailiff!
(are you related to anyone working for the Cam Conservators?)
Anyway, we didn't want to upset any of the locals so we turned around and headed back to friendlier waters.
Our stopover was at the EA mooring just south of the Five Miles from Anywhere Inn at Upware with NB Celtic Eagle.
Skipper John, I hope you manage to sort out your tv reception. Please look at my earlier post. Incidentally, following my post on tv reception, I have been inundated with a request for some photos of my set up, so here they are...
The aerial is fitted at the front end of the roof using a nifty little bracket from ATV Aerials...
Back to our cruise and my original question, why choose the Ouse?
In addition to our time in the Little Ouse, the Wissey and Cam, Kay and I spent a day out with my mother, father, brother and his girlfrind, and with my sister and her partner. We all enjoyed ourselves on the boat, which is what it's all about. The river is important but its more important to be with the people you hold most dear.
I am hoping we will soon be able to spend time with my kids on the boat...I know they are all very busy people