Tuesday 26 June 2018

Denver Relief Channel

Today's Navigations - Great River Ouse, Denver Relief Channel

When Mike woke around 5 o'clock there was quite a bit of mist blowing up the river. He then went back to sleep!

However we were woken properly at 7 by the sound of an engine. At first Christine thought that someone had started their generator rather early but it soon became apparent that it was a team of grass cutting contractors working right alongside the mooring. When we took a proper look outside we found that they had strimmed the edge without any regard for how much they deposited onto the boats! We were not amused.

Before we set off, Mike managed to brush most of the grass away bit it still left the side looking even dirtier than it already was.

We set off towards the lock to go down to the Relief Channel but first planned a short stop on the water point. However, a hire boat had come up through the lock on an early tide and had has directions for the water. They were still there quite some time later when we headed that way but as we knew that there was water at Downham Market pontoon we left them to it and changed direction into the lock.

Despite the signs saying it is a manual lock, it is electrified but emptied very slowly indeed!.

Shortly after leaving the lock we joined the main channel just below the weir that was part of the huge construction project in the 1960's. Since the channel is only used when there are floods and normally most of the water goes down the tidal river (principally to help flush away the build up of silt) there is really no flow  in the channel. In practice it is a very long linear lake! It is also perhaps the widest man-made navigation we have been on.

It was not long before we arrived at Downham Market pontoon - there was just one space left and it did seem as if at least two of those already there had taken up long term residence.

We needed to top up our stores so walked into the town. Originally before the Fens were drained this was one of the towns that were effectively islands in the flooding. When we were at Salters Lode yesterday we could see how the town sticks up on a low hill.

It was around 20 minutes to walk to the shopping area - along the way we passed one of the few older properties which is now called Dial House and converted to a B&B. However it had various roles in the past including being a school. The sundial that give the house its name is very splendid indeed. No excuse for children being late for lessons!

The centre of the town is where once two main roads intersected - today through traffic is diverted around the edge of town.

We did most of our shopping at Morrisons although we picked up a couple of items in smaller local stores.

When the railway arrived at Downham Market, a large flour mill developed alongside. Originally established as J M Bird in 1851 (and still known to some as Birds Mill) it later was run by his but it is now part of the Heygates group. They have three milling sites (and are one of the larger suppliers of flour to industrial bakeries) all close to navigations.

Back at the boat we had lunch and then washed off the rest of the grass from the boat side before continuing our journey down the Relief Channel.

On a hot day like today the wide expanse of water allowed us to experience a gentle cooling breeze! However, the only landmarks were a few bridges that cross the channel - most also cross the river which runs very close by.

We noticed several signs on the banks but they were too small to read from a distance. We could just make out what seemed to be a No Mooring sign but the rest was a mystery until later we magnified a photo and could see what was being warned about. Just as well we did not stray too close just to read them!

As we neared Magdalen Bridge we could see several young people using the pontoon for swimming and the bridge for diving! By the time we were within camera range they were being rather timid in their exploits - so no pix!

Fortunately one of our guide books had told us that the end of the navigable section was at Wiggenhall Bridge with the rest of the channel down to Tail Sluice at Kings Lynn being reserved for water skiing. Just as well we knew since these signs were hardly visible and less than clear in their intent.

We had thought about stopping at Magdalen Bridge to explore the village church but it was still rather busy with swimmers so we carried on, knowing that Stow pontoon was empty when we passed by and also has a water point.

An old railway bridge crosses just above Magdalen bridge - now marked on our map as a footbridge it does not seem to link with anything obvious. We did find out that this was once a branch lone between Kings Lynn and Wisbech. (Sadly, Wisbech having had a number of rail connections at one time, including the tramway from Upwell, now has none) It seems likely that this bridge was built in the early 1960's as part of the Relief Channel project, only to be closed in the wake of thew Beeching Report just a small number of years later.

When we reached Stow pontoon it was still empty although during the afternoon and evening it was visited by several groups either for swimming or canoeing. They were all - young and old alike - in good spirits, pleased to make good use of the hot sunshine.

It was around half past four when we moored and so plenty of time for Mike to continue with a good clean of the boat outside, starting with the roof which took several washed to look anywhere near clean.

Christine took a look at the nearby Great Ouse and was amazed by how swiftly the tide was coming in - even after having witnessed it yesterday.

She also spotted a couple of interesting buildings being renovated, This one was on the other side of the river but adjacent to the channel the Heron pub was also being extensively developed. She had a chat with someone working there and it seems that there are great plans for how it will expand once it re-opens.

Mike finished his cleaning in time to have a shower and be ready for the evening meal - but the second side (the one that was washed earlier) will need polishing in the morning after we have turned the boat around.

13.4 Miles - 1 Lock

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