Saturday 30 June 2018

Little Thetford

Today's Navigation - Rive Great Ouse

A very warm day but not one where we had to do too much! When we investigated possible stopping places for a church tomorrow in walking distance from a mooring we did not have a lot of options - the most suitable was Little Thetford, a small village just beyond Ely.

First thing, Mike walked into the village of Littleport where we had moored overnight. Just over 15 minutes saw him at the first shop - there were more than we had anticipated - but that did not have newspapers. On to the next general store and then one of the two Co-Op shops and he was able to find all that was needed.

The village has an ancient heritage and, according to Wikipedia, "With an Old English name of Litelport, the village was worth 17,000 eels a year to the Abbots of Ely in 1086.

The legendary founder of Littleport was King Canute. A fisherman gave the king shelter one night, after drunken monks had denied him hospitality. After punishing the monks, the king made his host the mayor of a newly founded village."

The long main street is an interesting mixture of older and newer buildings, although few seem much earlier than late 19C. This one was once a bookseller, according to the fading sign on the wall over what probably was once the shop window.

As is often the case, the houses from the turn of the century mix large, merchant's houses alongside rows of much humbler cottages.

The library building as on the corner a memorial to James Nighthall a locomotive fireman who in 1944 was awarded the George Cross for his bravery in dealing with a fire in one of his wagons that was laden with explosives and was killed in the process. His actions were said to have saved the people of Soham from a major tragedy. His driver was badly injured and a signalman was also killed.

Not far from the level crossing, Mike spotted that one of the houses was selling rhubarb and white currants - he took a large container of the latter for just £1. The woman in the garden explained that they usually had strawberries but they have had too few as their allotment is suffering from the lack of rain.

Back at the boat we set off after taking the opportunity to refill the water tank after Christine had set the washing machine on.

Before long we passed the Daisy Hill junction with the River Lark - hopefully we will have time to explore that tributary later in this holiday but for now we continued on towards Ely.

Alongside was a sign with a phrase that wee have not seen in this context for a long time. Once favoured by American fisherman, today the expression has more sinister internet connotations. Even so the fine is pretty steep!

At last we had our first glimpse of the cathedral on the skyline. As the landscape is so flat, Ely has the reputation of being visible - a clear day - from great distances.

The long stretch before arriving into the city is a popular place for athletic rowers. At times it some careful observation and navigation as crews and their coaches came from all directions. Some wanted to pass on one side but others took a different path!

After finally leaving them behind as they turned and went back downstream once more, we passed the club house. On the opposite bank is a brand new club house. We are not sure whether it is the same or different club as it is too new to be on Google maps!

The cathedral is much closer now.

This plane - we could see no distinguishing marks - flew low overhead in what seemed to be on the glide path into RAF Lakenheath. As we saw it, or its twin, doing this several times, we imagined that there must be a trial or exercise underway.

The Rotary Club in Ely organise an annual Water festival - this is its 40th year and all of the visitor moorings are reserved for those boats already booked in to the event which takes place tomorrow.  In places boats were rafted out three or four deep. At least we were able to come alongside the sani sgtation where we were also able to dispose of rubbish for the first time in some days. The main crowd pleaser is a raft race in which entrants view with each other for the craziest design possible.The old buildings looked interesting and we will have to hope that we will have a chance to visit and look around before we leave the river later in the month.

Shortly after leaving the city we passed under the new Southern Bypass which is still under construction. It is said to be on programme and will open this coming October and will relieve through traffic congestion, especially large trucks, around a level crossing and narrow underpass both of which have had frequent accidents.

The cathedral is now beginning to recede into the distance.

This is the entrance to Soham Lode. At one time the first part of it to Soham itself was navigable although its main purpose was flood protection. Alas, a quirk of legislation, as responsibility was transferred from one public body to another, led to the right of navigation being lost, although it is reported that some occasionally still try! There are a number of lodes that have recently been studied with a view to bringing pressure for them to be re-opened.

About three miles outside Ely we arrived at the Little Thetford EA mooring. Despite our concern about finding a place, it turned out not only to be very long but also almost empty. Although one or two more boats arrived during the afternoon, they only made brief rest stops and by the end of the day it was no more full!

Late afternoon, with a gentle cooling breeze, we walked into the village, mainly to check out the service times for tomorrow, The reply we had to our email enquiry yesterday seemed a little uncertain. Just as well as when we found the noticeboard, tomorrow, as every other Sunday, is at 9.30 and not the hour later that we had been told.

A member of the congregation was inside the church and was keen to tell us ,lost about the church. Unlike in many places where we first get told about the long history, this person related all of the many activity that they regularly hold for young children, especially those at the next door church school.

The chancel, the older part, was originally built for pilgrims and other travellers making their way across the marshy Fens, long before they had been so extensively drained as now, In those days,travel was very dangerous, especially if you did not know the right route to take.

We also were told that this old building, now incorporated into a very large modern dwelling, was once an important dovecote.

7.7 Miles - 0 Locks

Friday 29 June 2018


Today's Navigations - Little Ouse, Great Ouse

We set off in good time to complete our journey up the Little Ouse, on another wonderful, sunny day. Again, there was sufficient breeze to make it feel even more pleasant.

Until Wilton Bridge the river remained open and wide - wide enough to find plenty of place to turn around if we had needed it.

There were even fewer landmarks and even when we could see some of the peat lakes alongside the river it was not easy to know where we were without recourse to a GPS map.

The crossing of the Cut Off  Channel is very similar to that on the River Wissey, perhaps with an even higher side wall to prevent any view of what lay below.

The river now became gradually narrower and more hemmed in by trees and bushes - a very different character altogether.

Eventually we arrived at Brandon Lock where we tied up to the EA mooring - thankfully entirely empty - so that we could walk ten minutes to a nearby Tesco store. The woman supporting the self checkouts was pleased to see the back of us - eventually. So many things went wrong or the system could not cope that it must have taken more of her time than if we had used a normal line! It was further not helped by the fact that (a) Christine had a £4 discount voucher if we spent over £40 - initially it looked as if we were but they when we pressed the button to pay it took off the BOGOF discounts and came below the magic target! So another delay whilst Christine sought a couple of items to make it up. But then we also had a token for the newspaper and it is important to use the voucher and the token in the correct order otherwise it gets in a strop!

We could not pass the lock as it only take boats just under 40 ft in length and we are 60. Fortunately there is plenty of room to turn around and it is only about half a mile to the head of the navigation anyway.

This lock is a bit unusual as it has the guillotine at the top and the pointing doors at the bottom - the opposite to the design of the Nene locks. We did not take many photos on our 2010 visit (we had not started to build our CanalMap library back then) but it is possible that this way round is used on the upper part of the Great Ouse. We shall see.

By the time we were ready to leave it was rather early for lunch so we put the kettle on as we set off, knowing that we would not be able to stop so it would be 'lunch on the go'.

The Ely to Norwich line cross the river just outside Brandon - we had not seen many trains but two crossed over as we came by. This one caught us a bit by surprise as at first it sounded like one of the fighter jets that had been circling all morning out of the nearby RAF Lakenheath.

This sign is attached to the middle pillar - not sure how vehicles would get here but if they did then we would definitely need to report it!

At the Cut Off Channel we stopped briefly at the sluice to take a look - this is the by-pass that allows flood waters to run down into the channel - which is right at the back of the photo.

We had seen a set of three large 'golf balls' yesterday and had later found out that they are at RAF Feltwell and were built as part of a USAF space surveillance system. However what we read was that this system is no longer in use so perhaps the golf balls will have to find another tee before long. We made sure that we took a photo on the return trip even if they are only just visible over the river banks.

We eventually arrived back at The Shop, marking our return to the main Great Ouse where we turned left towards Littleport and Ely.

Even fewer landmarks but at least when we passed under the electricity pylons we knew that Littleport was just around the corner.

We were expecting that Ely might be busy - and we were right to be concerned as later we heard that there is a water festival this weekend and all the normal visitor moorings are reserved for that. (Hopefully we will still; be able to access the sani station!) But with it coming up to the weekend and such great weather, more boats would be out and staying overnight on the visitor moorings. There was plenty of space just after the junction but it was a bit early for a final stop of the day (and very close to the busy A10) so we carried on, knowing that there were four or five other designated moorings between there and Littleport, any further and it would be into Ely.

Alas, as we passed each one we could see that boats had settled in for the afternoon and probably the evening.

Alongside Sandhill Bridge there is a mooring on either bank but both were full - or at least it looked as if we might just squeeze onto the end of the one with the water point. As we made our approach, luck was again on our side as one of the boats was preparing to leave and then the couple from the other boat helped us come alongside as they wanted to move into the vacated space to be just a little further away from the bridge!

It tuns put to be a rather pleasant spot and perhaps near enough to a shop in the village to pick up a paper in the morning. The road alongside the river here was probably also part of the A10 but that route now  swings across a new bridge and loops around both Littleport and Ely in a wide bypass.

25.4 Miles - 0 Locks

Thursday 28 June 2018


Today's Navigations - Rivers Wissey, Great Ouse and Little Ouse

Yet another glorious sunny day even if the sky was a little more hazy than the last couple of days and a few fluffy clouds appeared in the middle of the afternoon, only to disappear a couple of hours later. The evening was especially attractive.

Before we could return back down the River Wissey we had first to complete the short distance to the head of the navigation where another stream joins the main river and there is enough room - just - to turn boats around.

At the aqueduct over the Cut Off Channel we came to a halt even though there was no way to get off. Holding the camera as high as we could managed yielded just a tiny view - not all that interesting!

At the junction with Methwold Lode it looks a lot easier to decide which was we should have turned on the way up than it did at the time. Well, the wake of the boat is a bit of a give-away . . .

At the sugar beet factory there was rather more work going on at the lattice structure beside the river - not easy to spot the workers even when they do shout out a greeting. All of them at least waved to us.

At one point this very large tube crosses the river and seems to be heading towards a large pile in the distance - we could just see kit but the cloud of dust being blow from that direction was not too pleasant.

We kept a lookout for the more interesting buildings - this one was once an engine pumping station but now seems to have been converted to a B&B.

As we approached Hilgay there was a long line of moored boats but the view was rather attractive.

We also wanted to see where the mooring is located - we missed it entirely yesterday. As we approached the village road bridge we could see someone returning to their boat having filled their water container from a tap. As we pulled in we could just make out the sign indicating that this is indeed the expected mooring. What was not expected was that close by there is also an elsan disposal point which was not in our guide books.

By the time we reached the first of the two GOBA moorings near the start of the river it was time for lunch so we pulled - perhaps so that we could that we have stopped at all the official moorings on the Wissey!

Shortly after resuming our journey we left the Wissey and turned onto the very much wider Great Ouse.

There are not very many landmarks along the stretch to the next junction but we did managed to see a few interesting buildings. The first is the small St Mark's church for the hamlet of Ten Mile Bank. Its website states that services are held two Sundays in each month but, since it has not been updated since 2011, who knows?

Next we saw two former pumping stations. The first is converted into a dwelling but a zoomed in photo just about reveals that it was built by the Littleport and Downham Commissioners in probably 1852 although it seems that the first pump was provided on this site in 1812.

And finally yet another pumping station - close to the Denver Sailing Club it pumped water from Engine Drain. It appears to have been discontinued and we found one suggestion that it had been converted into a private residence but it was not completely obvious from where we could see it.

As we turned off into the Little Ouse we could see The Ship pub at the junction. However, the close proximity to the busy A10 is probably more to do with its continuing success than serving passing boaters - although there are moorings for patrons.

From the junction there was a rather long line of waterside moorings, mostly mass produced cruisers but this one might just be said to be 'up a creek without a paddle'. (Joke)

And this one looks as if it was an attempt to replicate Noah's Ark.

Shortly before we passed under Redmere Drove Bridge we passed this dilapidated timber building. Alas we can find nothing about it - it looks even more quaint from the long side but the sun was in the wrong direction for a photo.

Not quite as late as we at one time feared (just before half past five) we arrived at the GOBA mooring. We knew from the GOBA magazine that work on it is planned but its remote location makes it quite a task. Still, at least we could jump off and secure the boat but a ratre outing for the gangplank was then advisable for subsequent use!

By now flying from RAF Lakenheath had come to an end for the day - almost all day so far we had seen frequent flights of the F15 aircraft that belong to the US air force and are based here.

23.8 Miles - 0 Locks