Monday 25 June 2018

Denver Complex

Today's Navigations - Middle Level (Well Creek), Great River Ouse

We already knew that we would not be able to pass through Salters Lode Lock at the end of the Middle Level until late afternoon. As a result we were in no hurry to set off as, even allowing for the shallow section ahead, it would only take just over two hours to get to the lock.

Mike walked across the road bridge to the Spar shop to get the usual paper but then decided to take a short walk along the banks to see if he could learn a bit more about some of the more interesting buildings that we spotted yesterday.

On the ground there was not a lot to add but one which he thought was once a fire station but now a plant and flower merchant was indeed so.

From the opposite side Mike also spotted this building and wondered about the Chapel-like windows at one end as well as the lack of any openings on the ground floor. Still little wiser, he happened to say hello to a chap standing in the doorway of the next cottage but one. He turned out to be a mine of historical information. Coming from a local family (his parents had two shops in Outwell) he has lived most of his life in the locality. He started out to train as a cabinet maker but soon became bored of the life as an apprentice who spent his entire time sanding down wood for others to work! He was offered the opportunity to switch over to upholstery - the firm was in Wisbech - and he never looked back. He continues today, decades later, still dong some renovations and restorations and is not short of work.

The building that we included yesterday with OFFICE on the front belonged to the Hartley family of the Upwell Hall estate. If we remember the story correctly, it was this family that gave land and money to enable the local health centre to be built.

The shop it turned out belonged to one part of his family and latterly has been a butcher but before that a bakery. He was keen to point out to me the Elizabethan style chimney and said that the family were not sure about the end section but thought that the ground floor was originally used to keep horse drawn vehicles.

He also pointed out similar chimneys on the building opposite.

There is much more that could be reported but perhaps, dear reader, you are wondering about our journey today. However, before we go much further you might just tolerate hearing about the real reason that Mike was on a history tour. Our Take Five blog from 2010 when we came this way before records a rather special bakery close to the main road bridge where Andrew bought muffins and sponge cake - neither of which lasted out the day!Our hopes (of rather, Mike's hopes as Christine claims not to recall the experience) were dashed at Marmont Priory Lock when we were told that it had since closed down. Still, Mike was keen to find out its fate and discovered that it is now Kelly's Hair and Nail Salon! Not much use to Mike now! However, the ever-helpful source of local history told Mike that it started out as a bank branch.

By now Christine was wondering what had Mike had gone! But at least it gave her time to harvest some herbs from the mooring garden. Hopefully the lady that tends the plants will find the note that Christine left for her.

Time at last to set off and we continued on along the narrow Well Creek through the rest of Upwell and then into Outwell. We could see this former windmill in gap between the road frontage - it was marked disused even on the 1950 OS map, but it looks a splendid dwelling now.

A sharp bend at Outwell if today referred to a Outwell Basin but in the past was the start of the Wisbech Canal. It was also later where the tramway crossed over the river.

Just after the bend we passed the other parish church, somewhat larger.

Shortly after leaving the two villages we passed over Mullicourt Aqueduct. Underneath flows the Sixteen Foot Main Drain on its way up from Three Holes - which we explored on our last trip. We think we understand that at one time the two waterways crossed on the level but the gradual shrinkage of the peat landscape has left a difference but it does seem that it has never been possible to take boats underneath Well Creek.

We passed under a long line of pylons, dead straight as far as we could see in either direction. With such flat land, the planners clearly had little else to do than put their ruler between the start and finish!

With the introduction of satellite and other technologies, the old triangulation points have lost their original significance. This one seems to have disappeared from our OS map but there is a spot height of 1 metre above sea level.

Just after Nordelph we passed this unusual conversion. We have yet to find out definitively what was its history but, although there is today only a farm track to the right, on the 1886 OS map there is clearly shown a drain joining the river at this point with a round building at the junction. However it is not labelled but a short distance from the river is a similar shape which is described as Old Draining Pump. Could this have been the origin of Mill House? Further searching led us to this page and the puzzle is solved!

Not long after midday we arrived at Salters Lode where we had to tie up and wait for the tide. Lunch, wander around and read were all available as afternoon options.

This is where we will emerge later on, out onto the tidal reach of the River Great Ouse. Nearly all boats today will turn right to Denver sluice but sea going boats could go left and so out to sea at Kings Lynn.

At this stage the river looked quite placid with not much movement. By the time we were let out it was a very different affair!

Just alongside the lock is the sluice that controls the water in and out of the Old Bedford River. Together with the Hundred Foot River (which goes off at Denver Sluice) these two 30 km dead straight waterways are a major part of the drainage of the Fens a scheme that was originally devised by Vermuyden in the 17 C but which was only full implemented very much later.

Denver Sluice is only a few hundred metres upstream and at this stage of the tide we could see the silt banks which we would later be warned to avoid when making our approach to the lock which is on the far left.

By the time that Paul, the lock keeper was ready to brief us and to take our registration details there were five or six of us waiting to be let out. Although the first arrival was penned not long after the time we had been given, it had to wait for a boat to be let out in the other direction. They crossed over in between. It then gave a demonstration of just how difficult it is to enter the lock downstream on a flood tide. As a result it was some while before we (the second boat) could pen.#

Whilst our transit was largely without difficulty we did heel over at an alarming angle as we were very rapidly swung around as soon as our bow caught the rapid incoming tide.

The lock was ready and waiting - the lock keeper was wondering where we had been! It was also a bit of a surprise to discover that we had to lock down to the upper river!

As soon as we were through we were anxiously looking for a mooring as much of the reasonably lengthy formal mooring was already occupied. However we found a space and also managed to tie up so that another boat with a couple of Americans on board could just slot in behind us.

After we had finished the main course of our dinner it was such a wonderful evening that we then went for a walk all around the Denver Complex. There are seven waterways that converge at this point , some of them navigable and some only for drainage. Some are natural but most are artificial. The history of all of them has seen intense competition between these to purposes with the enhanced land values which result from drainage schemes being the more successful driving force, at times to the cost of those who worked the area before that. In some ways , this historical conflict of purpose can be seen in the current legislation for the Middle :Level currently being examined by Parliament.

A road goes across both main sluices.

The 20 C AG Wright Sluice controls water going from the Great Ouse down the Relief Channel as an alternative drainage route when waters are high.

An alternative route for boats has now been provided which enables navigation down to Downham Market on the Relief Channel. We may possible explore that tomorrow.

At least there is a good pontoon below the lock.

As we made our way back to the boat we took a quick look at the Hundred Foot River - as we said, dead straight for a very long way!

6.8 Miles - 2 Locks

1 comment:

  1. There is one bend in the 100ft river. The highlight of the trip!!