Take Me To The River

Canal Boat|February 2020

Take Me To The River
About 300 canal boats a year brave the Northampton Arm of the Grand Union to reach the Nene, Middle Level and the Great Ouse system. River boating is a quite different experience so Phil Thane, who now keeps his boat on the Ouse, has put together some useful invaluable for visitors

The Nene from Northampton to Peterborough is 87 miles (134km) long and has 37 locks. it passes one major town, Wellingborough, and a few small ones.

The Ouse is flatter, with 18 locks along the 74.8 miles (120.3km) of the main line of the river. In addition, there are several attractive tributaries; Little Ouse, Lark, Wissey and Cam, plus the navigable Relief Channel from Denver almost all the way to King’s Lynn and the New Bedford River which is a alternative to the meandering but pretty Ely Ouse if you’re in a hurry. The navigation ends at Kempston just past Bedford though there are plans to extend it to join the Grand Union at Milton Keynes. There are more big towns on the Great Ouse system, Ely and Cambridge are the standout places to visit but Bedford, St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives have their charms and useful shops for boaters.

On both rivers there are lots of pretty villages but most of them are set back from the river to avoid flooding.

Between the two lies the Middle Level (ML) a system of navigable drains built to drain the fens for agriculture and made navigable first to transport produce and later to bring in coal to fuel the 19th century steam pumps that replaced the 17th century wind pumps. There is a clearly marked ‘link route’ through the ML but you can explore more widely if you wish. A lot of it is quite boring because you can’t see over the flood banks either side of the channel.

Moorings and Facilities

Unlike the canal network with thousands of miles of towpath owned by CRT where you can moor free of charge, river banks are generally in private ownership and most owners don’t want people mooring on their land. There are public moorings in most of the towns and a few riverside pubs/hotels have moorings for patrons. Friends of the River Nene (FOTRN) and the Great Ouse Boating Association (GOBA) provide free 48-hour moorings for their members. If you are visiting the area it’s well worth joining both. FOTRN costs £12pa and has nine moorings spread out along the river. GOBA charges £25 for access to 25 moorings on the Ouse and its tributaries. It’s worth carrying mud weights onboard, in extremis you can pull in to the side and drop them fore and aft for a temporary stop.


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February 2020