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HEREWARD AUTUMN 2015 Lee & Stort Rochdale Reminiscences Old Bedford

River and Rail - The Nene at Wansford Martin S Vos

The IWA charity registered number 212342

The views expressed in this publication are not necessarily those of the Inland Waterways Association or of the Peterborough Branch. They are, however, published as being of interest to our members and readers

Garthagena Lock on the Stort

Tradition al river launch on end of garden mooring

Lee Valley White Water Centre

Views of the

Upper Lee & stort navigation

Hertford Castle

Distinctive gazeebos lining the Lee at Ware

THE LEE & STORT NAVIGATION By the Editor on his bike (again!)


n a Tuesday in June I fulfilled an item that’s been long on my ‘to do’ list by doing a towpath bike ride on the upper sections of the Lee & Stort Navigation . The day was picked as the weather forecast was for wall to wall sunshine so good photos could be expected. While getting prepared on the selected morning the clouds quickly filled in and there was even a light shower of rain as preparations were made to leave home. The journey with the bike in the back of the car involved a drive down the A1 to Stevenage then cut across to Hertford which is the head of navigation of the Lee. A free place to park was found behind Hertford East station and the bike was unpacked and ready for the off. I decided to take the train down towards London to save having to cycle the same way back and went to Enfield Lock which seemed from the map to be where the urban sprawl of the East London suburbs more or less ends. With a Railcard £4.20 single seemed a good deal. Alighting at Enfield Lock station the towpath was soon found after a short ride through the busy traffic, and this is well out into suburbia. I set off north on a good surface and made good progress. Unfortunately the sky was now grey with thick cloud so photographs were not looking to be very promising. The Lee Valley White Water Centre was the first point of interest and this looked fantastic. A man-made circuit with twists and turns and some very fast currents for white water rafting, canoeing and kayaking and much more! A tremendous resource forming part of the Lee Valley Country Park. I carried on and noted quite a few boats moving, some narrowboats and some cruisers. There was a lot of towpath mooring, some obviously ‘long term’ but they were generally tidy with well-kept boats with no evidence of domestic rubbish that has been a blight on some waterways with a high resident population. I chatted to a couple on a Hotel Boat working through one of the locks. They had come from Kings Cross and travelled via the Regents Canal and Limehouse and were enjoying their voyage. The navigation is fairly straight and well maintained and while the scenery is not ‘chocolate box’ it is green and pleasant with the water meadows of the river always alongside and the railway not far away. There were some pretty pubs and locks and a pause was made for a bacon butty and tea at a little country park at Broxbourne. There was also evidence here of a water mill. The junction with the River Stort was reached just after Dobbs Weir where there is a large flow of water into the adjacent River Lea via a complex of weirs and sluices. Quite a pretty place. Fields Weir is situated at the junction and is a large structure under the control of the EA. Again plenty of water was coming down from the Lee Navigation despite the long dry spell we had been enjoying at that time. Moving onto the River Stort one soon notices the different character of the waterway. It is much narrower and more twisty and the towpath is much more uneven, OK for walking but for cyclists giving some hammer to the nether regions. The scenery is much more ‘natural’ with less of a man-made air. There are some massive marinas at Roydon 1

and Harlow and these are no doubt very expensive being close to the Home Counties commuter belt. The canal skirts Harlow New Town with the concrete and glass blocks only seen on the horizon and only the railway stations close by the towpath giving the hints of urbanity. There was another outdoor activity centre by the canal at this point, Essex Outdoors. This seemed to be a climbing wall and mountaineering facility. It also included canoeing and kayaking which had been in evidence at several points on the journey right the way up to the terminal basin at Hertford. It is good to see the waterway being put to multiple use, including boating, walking and cycling, which is one of the cornerstones of the CRT ethos. The ride continued to Shawbridgeworth where the surrounding area once supported an extensive malting industry. Several former maltings still survive around the navigation with their distinctive cone shaped roofs and chimneys clearly identifying their origins. Most are now given over to modern commercial use or have been converted into apartments. Looking at the time it was felt this was the point to make the return. The rest of the route up to Bishops Stortford would have to wait for another day. The return to the junction in the opposite direction gave the opportunity to pick up some points missed on the way out and it was then back on the smoother surface of the Lee. Not only had the light failed to measure up but there was also a brisk north east wind making progress even on the good surface tough going. By this time knees and backside were beginning to complain. There was a large boatyard at Stanstead Abbotts with a work-a-day air and large cranes and maintenance facilities. Moored by the crane was a boat named Tetrad which I knew from the Macclesfield Canal years ago. It was skippered by a man named Jack (never knew his surname) who was a well-known character who got everywhere single-handed. He was getting on a bit even then and after a good ten years have passed since we left the Macc, it is to be wondered if he is still about. Incidentally, Jack made the first through passage of the Rochdale Canal with a friend of ours, Peter Killan after restoration was completed from Littleborough to Manchester in 2002. An upmarket air takes over through Stanstead Abbotts with the prosperous atmosphere of ‘stockbroker belt’ being much in evidence. Waterside eating houses rather than pubs pervade but it makes the towpath well used and pleasant. Ware is the next town and again it has the same affluent air. A pause was made for provisions and a convenient Tesco was found in the main street. The sun had made a brief appearance at this point but the town was so busy with traffic photography was limited. It would be good to have a more in-depth look on another occasion, perhaps a trip down to do Bishop Stortford as well. The main point of interest from the canal at Ware is the profusion of Gazeebos on the offside backs of houses. After falling into dereliction they have been restored and make an attractive fringe to the waterway at this pleasant town. The valley opens up significantly after Ware and after passing another large EA weir (with the lock managed by EA as well despite this being a CRT navigation) there is a remote stretch across the flood 2

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plain until the outskirts of Hertford are reached. River and Navigation now enter the town side by side until the head of navigation is reached at Mill Bridge in the town centre. Above the bridge is a weir and the river above passes through a pleasant park which includes the ruins of the original Hertford Castle and is also graced with a newer building which goes under that name. This magnificent Grade 1 listed building dates from the mid-15th century and was a Royal Palace for over 300 years, where Queen Elizabeth I spent much of her childhood. ‘Sods Law’ had it that by this time, around 7pm, the sun had finally got through and some reasonable photos of this area were obtained. A sit on a bench in the pleasant evening sunshine to finish the last of the sandwiches rounded off the trip. The bike was packed into the car and at least it was sunny for the drive back to Peterborough. A very interesting and enjoyable day. To visit the Lee and Stort by boat from the Peterborough area would take several days or weeks depending on your desired pace, but a visit ‘by land’ can be achieved in much less time. Being The head of navigation of the River Lee at Hertford with an example of paralleled by a a malting on the wharf to the right and the low Mill Bridge ahead railway line with a frequent service makes access easy and gives good opportunities for one way walks or rides. PH

WELCOME The Branch has received a welcome influx of new members and we offer a warm welcome to all of the following new recruits:Mr Chris Howes & Ms Christine Colbert, Chatteris Ms Ann Ferris, Dereham, Norfolk Mrs Leah Robinson-Savory, March Mr B & Mrs G Lockwood, Skegness

WINTER WORKS Work planned by the EA for the winter months includes the draining down, inspection and repair of Cardington, Denver and Upware locks on the Great Ouse system. Meanwhile the downstream landing stage of the Relief Channel Lock is being refurbished as are the 48-hour moorings to Stow Bridge and Wiggenhall St. Mary. On the Nene Ditchford and Yarwell locks are to be drained down and repaired but planned work for Lower Ringstead Lock has been postponed until next year. 4



ollowing a summer of pleasant cruisin g on our local waterways now is probably the time to remove the rose tinted glasses and ta ke stock of what is required from the navigation authorities. The M iddle Levels are looking particularly prist ine here at Nordelph follo win g grass and weed cutting, but throughout the summer weed was a problem. So the question is why is the maintenance left so late in the season? Welches Dam remains an ongoing project, the approaches to this lock are not easy and the article in this issue by John Revell highlights the glaring neglect of our waterways by the Environment Agency. Whilst on the subject of Welches Dam the branch has recently purchased a gazebo to display “Project Hereward” and had its first outing at the Northampton Festival of Water over the August Bank Holiday weekend. The display was well attended and a number of signatories obtained for the petition to reopen Horseways channel and Welches Dam along with several gratefully received donations to the project. I would like to thank Steve Heywood and Jeff Walters for manning the display over the weekend. Travellin g to and from the show highlighted the problems facing river users. There is a chronic lack of mooring facilities on the Nene, compounded by the EA usin g the 48 mooring at Titchmarsh as a lock lay-by. This was as an alternative to repairing the said lock landing stage. Other problems are shoaling at various points, some of which are now becoming a permanent feature, lack of sa nitary stations, and obstructions to naviga tion in a number of places mainly by fallen trees. – I could go on! On a brighter note I have recently had discussions with the Middle Level Commissioners on the subject of the use of IWA volunteers. Subject to a formal application being approved the response was favourable. The branch will therefore submit an application to clear vegetation at Ramsey Basin and the off-side of Horseway channel from the bridge to Horseways Lock, in addition to “drag-lin ing” Horseways channel. Hopefully this will take place over the coming winter

David Venn

BRANCH NEWS Here are some general news sn ippets gleamed over the Summer by Branch delegates to the various bodies involved with the region’s waterways. Anglian Waterways Group: It has been reported that there will be a reduction in the public visitor moorings at Ely but the EA has stated that where such moorings remain they will be rigorously monitored to ensure that the 48 hour mooring limit is not exceeded. Over-staying boats will be moved on and this control should allow space for boats wishing to pause at Ely. The series of lock closures on the Ouse over the Summer were due to new components installed on the lock gear proving unsuitable. The locks at Brownshill and Denver are now operational but St Neots Lock is still limited to 10am –4pm passage. Cont’d on Page 14……………………...



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AN ATTEMPT AT THE OLD BEDFORD RIVER A recent experienc e as reported by John Revell


ois and Roy Parker in their cruiser and Alastair and Jonathan Chambers and myself in my narrowboat attempted to enter the Old Bedford river at Salters Lode on Saturday 5th September 2015. The Parkers were successful and locked through the Old Bedford sluice into the Old Bedford River. They then proceeded along the Old Bedford for about a mile, negotiating their way through dense clumps of floating reeds before being stopped by an impassable mass of cott weed. They then turned round and made their way back through the sluice and returned to the Middle Level via the main lock at Salters Lode. Both tidal doors and guillotine gate at the Old Bedford sluice worked well and the Middle Level Commissioners' relief lock keeper was very helpful. I had no problems reaching the tidal doors in my narrowboat but was unable to enter the Old Bedford "on the level" on this occasion. A common seal watched as I reversed into the main tidal river. Some comments on the attempt are as follows. 1. The Parker's had written to the Environment Agency (EA) and liaised with the Middle Level lock keeper (who operates the Old Bedford sluice on EA's behalf) beforehand. It was accepted by all concerned that the Old Bedford River remains open for boats. While we were there a canoe was launched and set off for Manea. 2. The problems we encountered reflect significant practical difficulties in using the route. The depth of water in the Old Bedford does not take into account the needs of boats and boaters so that even cruisers with shallow drafts will struggle. 3. The lack of depth is made worse by the condition of the river with dense clumps of floating reeds which almost stretch from bank to bank in places and accumulations of cott weed growing on the bottom which bring even the most determined boaters to a standstill. It seems that any recent dredging has been either insufficient or ineffective. 4. Larger craft eg most narrowboats can only enter the Old Bedford at Salters Lode "on the level" ie when the level in the short tidal creek is the same as in the non-tidal Old Bedford. The tidal creek is shallow and has not been dredged in recent years so that even if a level is reached it may be impossible to enter the Old Bedford because boats are stuck in the mud in the undredged tidal stretch. 5. The river level in the non-tidal Old Bedford is normally kept higher in the winter months. I can vouch from personal experience that this makes the entry into the Old Bedford much easier but is of little comfort to anyone wanting to explore the river at leisure during the main boating season. 6. Had the Parker's been able to get through the impenetrable mass of cott weed they could then have reached Manea where the next obstacle is a single guillotine gate which is often left down and therefore impedes navigation. Whether the gate is up or down is a matter for the EA and again it seems that this is without regard to boats or boaters. My last information is that the gate is controlled and managed by EA's Engineering Department though this is a little unclear. 7

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7. Beyond Manea is the next stretch to Welches Dam lock. The entrance to this lock was piled by EA in 2006, preventing boats from using it to reach the 40 Foot navigation on the Middle Level. It is now clear that EA's claim that this was done because the lock gates leaked was spurious since the piles do not extend across the full width across the lock. This means that the lock gates, not the interlocked piles, are preventing leaks. 8. The navigable Old Bedford continues for a few miles further as far as Mepal pumping station.

Lois and Roy Parker managed to navigate onto the Old Bedford River during September’s attempt but the proliferation of reeds in the channel can be seen behind their cruiser. John failed to get through the sluice with his narrowboat on this occasion 9. This may all sound rather depressing but it is worth remembering that until the derelict Well Creek was restored to navigation there were only two ways to get from the Nene to the Ouse; either a sea crossing of The Wash or using the route via the Old Bedford, Welches Dam lock, Horseways Channel and Horseways Lock. It is not surprising that most boats, including Fox's Hire Fleet chose this route rather than The Wash. Indeed many of the 255 boats attending the IWA National Rally in Ely in 1973 would have taken this route. 10. Finally, the amount of money and work required to restore this route to full navigation is a fraction of that required to restore for example the Kennet and Avon canal (reopened by the Queen exactly 25 years ago), the Rochdale, the Huddersfield Narrow canal and much of the Chesterfield canal. As I have written before, I cannot believe that this state of affairs would have taken so long to resolve had this happened on the main canal system where Canal and River Trust, formerly British Waterways were the Navigation Authority. 9





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Nene Task Group: The design of the replacement for Islip Brid ge on the Nene is almost complete and when a funding package supported by Northants CC is in p lace the construction phase can begin. This is expected to take place during 2016/7. A Lottery funding has application has been made to provide a Waterways Centre at Thrapston and the bevel gearing on all Nene locks will be examined and where found defective the gear will be replaced. A new marina at White Mills is under construction and due to open in the near future. Investigations are taking place to provide new moorings at Wellin gborough using a disused wharf and the good news is that there will be no increase in boat licences next year although the whole funding situation of EA navigation will be rev iewed the year after. Mi ddle Levels: A successful meeting with the Commissioners has resulted in agreement being reached for the Branch to undertake some voluntary work on the Horseways route. This will involve work parties carrying out bank vegetation clearance to alleviate the overgrown state of the channel banks. More information will be announced when method statements etc have been agreed and a work programme finalised. PROJECT HEREWARD UPDATE


roject Hereward has continued to develop over the summer and good news in September was the receipt of a £10,000 donation from an anonymous benefactor to go towards the cost of restoring Welches Dam Lock. Meanwhile the steering group has continued to meet regularly and has been looking at other restoration schemes to try and determine the best way forward for dealing with the leaks from the Forty Foot River. It seems that puddled clay, the traditional way of lining the bed of a waterway, would be far too expensive, and might not even be practical. Instead the group, led by Andrew Storrar, has been looking at alternatives. As already reported in Hereward in February they visited the Wendover Branch of the Grand Union Canal where a team of volunteers has been working for several years to restore a stretch of canal that has a long history of leakage. It involves lining the canal with strips of a sealing material called “Bentomat” and the current phase involves just over 1¼ miles of waterway. Then on 5 June work on the Montgomery Canal was inspected – here a lighter but more expensive material called “Sahara” is being used which can be man handled, whereas Bentomat is heavy and needs machinery. Using voluntary labour the cost of the work on the channel and the lock has been estimated at around £2.3M. The present position is that permission from the EA to enter the lock to undertake a structural survey is still awaited. The project team believe that with the recent completion of an Invasive species survey they have now completed all the statutory investigations and procedures necessary for this permission to be granted. Until this occurs the preparation of a programme cannot be finalised. 14


COMMITTEE MEMBERS CHAIRMAN: David Venn, Bruffs Lodge, High Street, Nordelph, Downham Market PE38 0BL Tel: 01366 324102 SECRETARY: Roger Green, 70 Windmill Close, Ellington, Huntingdon, Cambs PE28 0AJ Tel: 01480 890215 Mobile: 07799 066001 e-mail: TREASURER: Roger Mungham Boatmans Cottage, Workhouse Lane, Upwell, Wisbech PE14 9ET Tel: 01945 773002 e-mail: EDITOR: Philip Halstead, 20 Cane Avenue, Peterborough PE2 9QT Tel: 01733 348500 e-mail: ENTERTAINMENTS OFFICER: Richard Fairman, The Old Railway House, Cowbit, Spalding, Lincs PE12 0XD Tel: 01406 380575 Roger Sexton, 2 Shaw Drive, March, Cambridgeshire PE15 9TB Tel: 01354 652329 Andrew Storrar, 48 Station Road, Morton, Bourne, Lincolnshire PE10 0NN Tel: 01778 570610 e-mail: Stephen Heywood, Whitehouse Farm, Nordelph, Downham Market PE38 0BG Tel: 01366 324470


THE ROCHDALE CANAL Reminisc ences with a Pertinent Point from John Revell


he whole of the Rochdale Cana l from Manchester to Sowerby Brid ge wa s reopened to navigation during 2002, some 32 miles long with 91 broad locks. Much of it had been shut for years a nd the last working boat to cross the full len gth of the Rochdale Cana l had been in 1937. As Hugh McKn ight ha d written as recently as 1988 “any prospect of ever being a ble to travel by wa ter from Sowerby Bridge to Manchester is inevitably remote”. Yet, there I was in 2003, moored overnight in the centre of Manchester waiting to begin early the followin g day. At 8a m we were met by the British Waterwa ys staff who were to accompa ny us from Ducie St (Lock 83) to Fa ilswo rth (Lock 65). One of the staff told this story. He ha d always lived near the ca nal in East Manchester a nd had remembered when the entire section near his father’s house had been filled in. When he wa s older he a ttended various meetings a t which possible restoration wa s discussed. He volunteered to help when restoration ha d started and several years later he had been taken on as an employee by British Wa terways to work on the restoration. Now it wa s open he was employed by British Waterwa ys a s a lengthsman helping boaters use the stretch he ha d seen filled in years before. I think you could say he was a happy ma n. The Ca nal and River Trust’s website sa ys tha t restoration of the Rochdale Cana l entailed the total refurbishment of 24 locks, cutting of a new section of channel, massive dredging of the original line and the construction of 12 new road bridges. This should give hea rt to all of us workin g to restore to full na vigation Horseways Channel, Welches Dam lock and the Old Bedford River. Your Editor adds: The summer of 2002 has very found memories for me as living in Rochdale I was out and about every evening photographing the myriad of works that were going on all along the Lancashire section of the canal. It was a very exciting time. In addition to the work John refers to, the restoration also included the complete demolition of a Co-op supermarket in Failsworth, three motorway crossings with lengthy new tunnels, complete rebuild of a major motorway junction at the A627M, several new alignments including the M62 culvert, several changes to levels and the list goes on. I had the experience of walking through the new tunnels at Tuel Lane (in wellies) and the A627M junction in Rochdale, both during the respective construction phases. It gives you a kind of lasting memory of the sheer scale of the operation. When I look at what was achieved on the Rochdale (and of course the Huddersfield, opened the previous year), I agree with John that the work needed at Welches Dam and Horseways is simple. We should take no excuses for not getting it done! 16

One of the many locks and canal sections that had to be completely rebuilt as part of the restoration. There are visitor moorings in Dale Street basin between locks 83 and 84 which provide access to the centre of Manchester. This whole area has been transformed in recent times.

John Revell on the ROCHDALE CANAL The summit pound of the Rochdale is approximately 600 feet above sea level. The towpath forms part of the long distance Pennine way. Restoring the canal has made this section very popular with walkers.

The Tuel Lane tunnel at the eastern end of the Rochdale Canal was constructed along with the deep lock on the far side on an earlier part of the restoration. This work was required to replace two previous locks which were demolished and in-filled as part of road improvements in Sowerby Bridge in the 1960’s. On completion but prior to re-watering an open day was held and the public were invited to walk through the tunnel and into the lock. Your editor took this once in a lifetime opportunity.

New mooring basins have been provided in the New Islington development between the Rochdale and Ashton Canals in Manchester

Profile for The Inland Waterways Association

Hereward Autumn 2015  

Hereward Autumn 2015