Monday, 23 July 2018


Today's Navigations - Relief Channel, River Great Ouse, Middle Level

If it is possible, today was even hotter than any so far - and the forecast (at least the tabloid version) expects even higher temperatures over the next few days. Probably an excuse for Parliament to go off on hols a week early, for all work to come to a standstill and for the scurrilous end of the media to blame it all on Brexit/No Brexit/The Government/Global Warming - just take your pick or fill in the blank! (As in Balgazette's days, the Great Stink at Westminster was becoming unbearable . . .)

We were not in a great hurry as the tide for the passage across from Denver to Salters Lode was not until late afternoon. At first there was so little breeze that the surface of the water was quite smooth apart from our wake.

We first cruised back the almost straight section of the Relief Channel to Downham Market where we were relieved to find just one mooring space available. Whilst Christine did some cleaning on the boat, Mike walked into town for milk and a newspaper - he was also give licence to find a 'proper' butcher with pork pies!

Just after passing the mill, Mike spotted this row of cottages - strangely in the middle was a much larger house of a very different style.

Another building was once a couple of shops but now in a sad state of disuse.

In the small, newer, shopping precinct  was this plaque. How times have changed - no-one stays put that long anymore.

By the time he reached the top of the hill (almost) Mike was too hot to make it right to the church - with the risk that on a Monday morning he would then find it closed.

He did however, after enquiring locally, find a 'good' butcher with a range of pies (including freshly baked strawberry pies, hot from the oven) but he resisted and limited himself to four small pork pies and four ginormous cheese scones. (Once of which was immediately on his return to the boat seized upon by Christine for a late coffee break!)

Walking back down from the centre, Mike spotted an information board about Paradise Road. No longer the main street it was once a significant road. Today, there are some older buildings interspersed by numerous modern, uninteresting, replacements. Even the old cinema is no more. It is said that it git its name from the time when public executions took place here and that the 'wrongdoers' would have their first experience of paradise from this spot!

The Methodist Church seems to be doing well - it has a dementia cafe today!

After calling at the supermarket for milk and a newspaper, Mike returned back down the hill. Along the way he noticed the Salvation Army Citadel originally built by the Quakers.

After a coffee break we set off up the remaining part of the Relief Channel to the lock down from the Great Ouse.

Whilst waiting for the lock to empty - it takes almost 20 minutes to fill or empty - Mike disposed of some rubbish and, on the way back, took a closer look at the Denver Impounding Sluice. Originally the Cut Off Channel was created to drain water from the Fens out through the Relief Channel. In the 1960s, a solution to a water shortage in Essex led to a plan to reverse the flow of water along this channel. It flows almost level for 140 km to Barton Mills in Suffolk. So a sluice was built to transfer water from the higher level of the Great Ouse, just enough to reverse the flow of the water and the Impounding Sluice only allows water out in times of flooding.

Once through the lock we moved to the water point across the other side before moving round to wait in the queue for Denver Lock. Two boats were already tied up there and which was one of them - Knot on Call, of course! Time then for a late lunch - including one of the fresh pork pies.

Shortly before the due time of 3:45 we were told that the tide looked like being rather late and it would be at least four if not five o'clock before any boats would be let through. This tempted Mike into making a lengthy phone call - he was nearing the end when he heard a shout 'We are on the move'.

After making a hurried end to the call it turned out that it was only the first two boats that were moving but we shuffled to be next. There has to be some wait between passages - there were two to come the other way - but the first ones down have to have cleared Salters Lode before any more can be cleared away. This is because there is a very difficult narrow turn into the lock with no lock landing.

Furthermore, the three cruisers (from Buckden) were next to go as they were heading down to the coast for their annual grip to Wells. They were able to go through on a level - we could not follow them as the way ahead for us was not yet cleared. By the time Paul at Slaters Lode was ready for us the tide had risen above the level above Denver Sluice.

Eventually we were ushered into the lock along with one more of the four or five narrowboats waiting behind us. The level change was still only a few centimetres!

And finally -  we were set on our way - with our fingers firmly crossed. It is only about five minutes before you have to set up the boat ready to make a swift turn, deciding just of strong the incoming tide is - it will want to push the boat onto a sandbank on the left approach to the lock entrance.

Until very near the turn it is impossible to see much of the entrance and the steerer is relying on memory of what lies ahead!

Even at this stage the narrow entrance is not obvious.

At last you can see that we have to pass the other side of that wooden railing.

Phew! We are now all lined up for the lock and can begin to relax.

Although Mike turned just a little early we managed to turn it first time only using the wall for a gentle nudge around.

Once through and a friendly chat with Paul as we waited for the lock to drop us down to the Middle
Level, we set off along Well Creek. as we have found before, the first part up to Nordelph is especially slow - even more so trying to adjust after the wide open spaces of the River Great Ouse!

We passed through the junction at Nordelph where it is no longer possible to navigate the very Old Pophams Eau.

We were heading towards a short mooring at Glady Dacks which we had seen on the way down when it looked rather doubtful - was the woodwork enough to hold a boat let along crew as they alighted to moor up?

In fact it was rather more stable, if basic, than we had imagined and - the best of all - it was empty!

It was a brilliant late evening with a glorious sunset.

9.7 Miles - 3 Locks

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