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Fight the EA Cuts! Old Bedford Attempt—Success! AGM Report Easter Cruise

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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

Steady progress along Horseways Channel

Clearing the prop while going stern to stern along Horseways Channel

Old Bedford River — Success! The April attempt to navigate the Old Bedford River was this time a total success with three boats reaching Welches Dam. The story is told by CHRIS HOWES who crewed one of the boats. The boats make stately progress along the Old Bedford River with a good depth of water and no weed


on tidal access to the historic Old Bedford River was lost in 2006 when the EA closed Welches Dam Lock, thus stopping access to a waterway that had been navigated for over 350 years. Since the closure various attempts have been made to access the Old Bedford from its outfall into the tidal Great Ouse. In 2009 an enterprising couple, Lois and Roy Parker, succeeded in getting onto the river and through to Welches Dam in their shallow drafted cruiser, but no narrowboat is known to have managed it. On 4th April 2017 veteran of several previous tries, John Revell, lead another attempt in his 41ft narrowboat ‘Olive Emily’. He was joined by Chris Howes in his 45ft narrowboat ‘Lily May’ and Jeff Walters in his 50ft narrowboat ‘Ever After’. The boats marshalled at Salter’s Lode lock on the Well Creek. Currently access to the Old Bedford river can only be gained at low water on a ‘neap tide’ (which is the highest low tide, occurring only fortnightly). However because of silt build up at the mouth of the river to the Great Ouse, there is only a few inches of water and the passage can be described as between ‘very difficult’ and ‘damn near impossible’ ! However after much writhing about in the mud, and over an hour of trying, all three boats scraped through. The EA had kindly raised the water level in the river sufficient for comfortable passage to be made, and previous problems of cot weed and ‘bottoming out’ were avoided. The EA had also lifted the guillotine gate at Welney, which is generally an obstacle to navigation. 1

All three boats enjoyed glorious Fenland views all the way to Welches Dam lock, and being unable to progress through the lock, turned and returned to Welney, where they sampled the hospitality of the excellent local pub, the Lamb and Flag, before overnighting. In the morning the three returned to Salter’s Lode for low tide. Again it was very difficult to get through the sluice gates onto the Great Ouse, but after two hours of trying the happy trio and their mud splattered boats finally made it ! An emotional John Revell observed “I was one of the last boaters to use Welches Dam lock from Horseway Channel before EA suddenly piled across the lock entrance in 2006. I never thought it would take another 11 years to reach it from Salters Lode. I’d like to give a big ‘thank you’ to the EA for their support this time, without which the trip would have failed. I’d also like to pay tribute to the late, great, inspirational Charlie Fox, it can be no coincidence that 2 out of 3 of the boats that made the difficult passage were Fox boats !” Chris Howes added “after the great difficulties getting onto the Old Bedford through the silted up estuary entrance, the journey itself was lovely. The huge frustration was that when we eventually made it to Welches Dam Lock we were only one closed lock and approximately 2 miles of de-watered channel away from the navigable network.” Jeff Walters also added “I’d like to join in the thanks to the EA for their fantastic cooperation. As a member of the Project Hereward restoration team, can I make a heartfelt plea that the EA continue this invigorating, fresh spirit of working together by now facilitating the entry of the IWA’s highly qualified engineers into Welches Dam Lock to assess the true extent of necessary restoration?” Over to you EA!

Welches Dam Lock viewed from a boat—the first time in many years. The infamous sheet piling clearly preventing through navigation


The boats making successful progress along the Old Bedford River on 4th April cruise

Leaving the channel after the successful cruise along the Old Bedford River when the boats reached Welches Dam Lock


Caption Competition This picture was taken at one of the Branch’s winter work party sessions and shows David and Chris hard at work scrub bashing on the Horseways Channel. Can anybody come up with an amusing caption? No prize just a bit of fun. Entries to the Editor at Printable ones will be published in the next issue of Hereward.




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his issue’s cover photo is a graphic take produced by Chris Howes intended to promote awareness to the current risk the Anglian waterways face in terms of cuts and potential closures. As a result of a Freedom of Information request IWA has discovered that some waterways in their Anglian Region may have to be closed to navigation on health and safety grounds. Subsequent correspondence with EA at the highest level has done nothing to allay IWA’s concerns. The risk of closures is not necessarily imminent, but IWA considers that the risk of future closures due to lack of funding is a very real possibility.

In 2013/14 Government Grant in Aid for Anglian Waterways was over £3,400,000; in the current financial year it is just over £1,800,000. The impact this could have to the waterways in our area can be highlighted as follows. River Nene A reduction in routine dredging has resulted in gravel shoals downstream of three locks, Denford, Alwalton and Orton. These being marked by buoys and left, rather than being dredged. Two of these date back to at least May 2014 and urgently need dredging. In the meantime the signage needs improvement, as in two cases it is not obvious which side of the marker buoys the deep water is. A reduction in vegetation management has resulted in overhanging trees restricting the navigable channel making it dangerous to boaters, particularly when meeting boats going the other way. Obstructions are often caused by a fallen tree that hasn't been cleared and continues growing consolidating the hazard and cost of later removal. Locations where these problems occur include Milton Park near Peterborough, between Wansford and Yarwell Lock, upstream of Yarwell Lock, downstream of Perio Lock, on the approach to downstream lock landing at Lower Barnwell lock and immediately downstream of Islip footbridge. In recent years there has been a reduction in the number of EA visitor moorings available with several official EA mooring sites being overgrown or non-existent. This makes it extremely difficult for boaters to find somewhere to moor overnight, and deters many people from visiting the River Nene. Examples of locations where this has occurred include Dog in a Doublet Lock, and at Titchmarsh Lock, where the lock landing is closed and boaters are having to use the visitor mooring for accessing the lock, thus reducing the amount of visitor mooring available. Islip footbridge has very low headroom which is always a problem from autumn through to Easter when water levels are higher. Replacement of this bridge could alleviate this danger and local groups have been campaigning for this for some time. A general lack of facilities for boaters along the River Nene makes things difficult for boaters. New facilities at Wellingborough, only recently opened, have now been closed for the winter. River Great Ouse There are many places where overgrown trees and vegetation are obscuring the navigation channel along the River Great Ouse and its tributaries. Examples include: The Old West River around Stretham, above and below St Neots Lock, between Eynesbury and Eaton Socon 6

Lock, above Isleham Lock on the River Lark and in various locations downstream of Brandon on the Little Ouse. This creates a danger to boaters, particularly when passing other boats and when approaching locks and bridges. A lack of dredging, ongoing siltation and low water levels are all combining to make the channel very shallow in some places on the Great Ouse and its tributaries. The downstream entrance to Brandon Lock on the Little Ouse is extremely shallow and many boats that would otherwise fit through this very short lock will soon not be able to navigate into the town of Brandon. Longer boats, which are normally able to travel up the river and turn below Brandon Lock, are having difficulties in turning due to another gravel shoal across the whole river below the lock and weir. There is concern over the recent number of guillotine gate failures and how EA will plan to deal with further failures in the coming months/years. Recent (2015) failures occurred at St Ives, St Neots, Brownshill and Denver. An unresolved ongoing problem at St Neots Lock requires EA staff to operate the lock. Failure of the sluice gate at Castle Mills lock on the Great Ouse means that the water levels remain low between there and Cardington lock. Old Bedford River and Welches Dam Despite still being officially navigable, the Old Bedford River is little used and navigation has become extremely difficult due to lack of routine dredging. Welches Dam Lock remains stanked off due to leakage in Horseway Channel and issues around the structural stability of the lock. EA closed the lock in 2006 and local waterway groups have been campaigning for it to be reopened ever since. Its closure prevents the use of one of the routes from the Middle Level to the Great Ouse and this is having an impact on the connecting waterways, such as the Old Bedford River, above, and the Forty Foot Drain on the Middle Level. River Welland Fulney Lock has been inoperable due to siltation for a number of years but after strong campaigning the silt has now been flushed away and the lock is operational again. Fens Waterways Link This project, which was being led by the Environment Agency, and would connect the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely, has ground to a halt due to lack of available EA staff. Opportunities for improving navigation in the Boston area by the installation of a sea lock in the proposed Boston Barrier (currently not included in the proposals by EA) would be more likely to be realised if CRT were the navigation authority for other waterways in the area. Black Sluice Navigation (South Forty Foot Drain) - unused for nearly 40 years, it re-opened in 2009 as the first phase of the Fens Waterways Link and currently provides access to 12 miles of new waterway. Ongoing problems with Black Sluice Lock mean that is often not available for navigation. Proposals for extending the navigation further as part of the Fens Waterways Link are currently unresolved. Whether or not EA’s waterways are transferred to CRT, these navigations need to receive increased funding from Government in order to halt the progressive deterioration that is currently taking place. Anything else is simply unacceptable given the benefits that waterways provide to the nation in terms of health benefits, recreation and regeneration. Your support for this campaign is critical to achieving this. Everyone who uses EA navigations for boating, livelihood or recreation is encouraged to contact their local constituency MP about these concerns.


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AGM Report Chairman’s Summary of the Year “The past 12 months have been very productive for both the branch and the committee. The branch finances are in a healthy state, as the treasurer will shortly explain – he’s not exactly smiling, but at least he’s not weeping. Our quarterly magazine Hereward is not only an excellent and well-edited publication, but also features a number of advertisers, which contribute to our well being. Thank you Philip for all your hard efforts. The work parties that take place on alternate Wednesdays between October and February are well supported by a small but dedicated work force. Not withstanding all the chocolate biscuits, mince pies etc. our efforts have produced good results in clearing the off side approach to Horseways lock. A recent work party has now cleared the bridge hole of overhanging vegetation in readiness for the Easter cruise. The assault on the Old Bedford River last year was partially successful in so much that entry was gained on the second attempt, and Olive Emily proceeded approximately 1½ miles before lack of water and the dreaded cott weed won. Another attempt with at least two craft will hopefully be carried out later this year. The EA have been notified of this and have acknowledged receipt of the intention. Their response for once has been positive so we will have to see what transpires on the day (4th April) but we do not give up. Following on from a request under the F o I act where the EA stated navigations in the Anglia region may have to close due to insufficient funds the IWA through the parliamentary waterways group has tabled questions to the minister responsible. The reply to these questions has been disingenuous to say the least. The minister has been made aware of this and further questions will now be made. – We do not give up. Now to the question of what is happening with regard to Welches Dam. Following a meeting with the EA where we were informed of the conditions that would have to be adhered to before consideration could be given to an inspection of the lock a survey of the coffer dam was commissioned by a respected civil engineer with a wealth of experience in waterway restoration. The result confirmed what we have suspected for a long time. The dam is not fit for purpose and in all probability would fail if the water behind the dam were drained. As the lock gates are fulfilling their task quite adequately another request has been made to access the lock and carry out a visual inspection of its integrity. As per usual we are still awaiting a reply from the EA. But still we do not give up. Our partnership with Project Hereward is rewarding, and beginning to produce results for all. Look on their website for a link to a drone flight video of the channel, a commentary will soon accompany this production The PH Facebook account contains dates of the work parties. I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the committee and John Revel for their tenacity, determination and hard work in driving forward the branch aims. As the activities we have undertaken this year have expanded I am sure you will appreciate the workload has increased exponentially. Extra help at all levels is therefore not only welcome but also becoming crucial. At the next committee meeting the branch officers will be elected; as I understand it our secretary and treasurer are eligible and willing to carry on. I however due to personal circumstances will be looking to step down in the not too distant future although I will of course be prepared to complete my term as a committee member. Thank you all for your support in contributing to a satisfying and successful year” 9

David Venn





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Welches Dam — What is at stake here? I have been involved in this struggle for a long time and it now seems that matters are coming to a head. We should perhaps reflect on what is at stake. 1.

IWA was set up to deal with seemingly intractable problems just like the Old Bedford, Welches Dam, Horseways Channel. We owe it to those who founded IWA and those who follow us to succeed. 2. I cannot believe this situation would have been left unresolved if BW/CRT were the navigation authority and if this had occurred on the main canal system. Compared with other restoration projects such as the Rochdale, Huddersfield Narrow, the Liverpool link, the Chesterfield, the Kennet and Avon what is required is extraordinarily simple. 3. A short leaking section needs to be re-lined - remember that restoring the leaking pound at Limpley Stoke on the K & A was just a small part of that project re-opened 25 years ago. 4. A single lock, Welches Dam lock, needs to be modernised and lengthened and the piling removed. CRT and WRG do this all the time 5. The Old Bedford (about 14 miles) needs to be made deep enough for boats either by dredging or putting more water in. It has not been filled in or covered by car parks or roads and buildings, it holds water, and it flows through countryside. 6. The operation of Welney guillotine gate needs to be sorted out. Even if ultimately a proper lock is required this hardly compares with tunnelling under Asda or restoring a 3 mile tunnel (both on the Huddersfield Narrow) or restoring a long flight of locks (Caen Hill K&A, or above Worksop Chesterfield canal). 7. A more user friendly and practical way is needed for entering and leaving at Salters Lode. In the short term dredging/deeper water in the OB and dredging the tidal channel would help a great deal. 8. One short tidal channel needs to be regularly dredged or flushed out with water just like Denver or Torksey, Cromwell or Brentford. 9. None of this is cheap but the real stumbling block is not money but the unwillingness of EA (the navigation authority), to tackle the problems that exist either themselves or by using the voluntary sector or by transferring responsibility for navigation to someone else who can. 10. I believe we must all enthusiastically support IWA's EA/CRT transfer campaign and waterways organisations need to pull together at local and national level, whatever their differences in the past.

John Revell

John makes reference to the extensive work required in the restoration of the Rochdale and Huddersfield Canals. This view on the Rochdale restoration is typical of what was involved. A channel diversion with a significant length of tunnel to avoid the blockage inflicted by the A627(M) link road. Heavy civil engineering work in an urban environment on roadways carrying high volumes of traffic. This comparison highlights the relative simplicity of the Welches Dam issue and begs the question why has nothing at all happened in the last ten years.






COMMITTEE MEMBERS CHAIRMAN: David Venn, Bruffs Lodge, High Street, Nordelph, Downham Market PE38 0BL Tel: 01366 324102 DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: Chris Howes e-mail: 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

Andrew Storrar

Stephen Heywood,


The Branch offers a warm welcome to new members Christopher Toomer of Peterborough, Julie Henderson of St Ives and the Middle Level Watermans Club.


Please note that the Editor’s e-mail address has changed to This should be used for all future correspondence.


Thanks are recorded to the following for written and photographic contribution to this issue of Hereward. David Venn, Chris Howes, John Revell, Stephen Heywood and Roger Sexton. 13

Email: 14

Easter Cruise Report The assembly point for this year’s Easter cruise, High Lode lock, necessitated an early start for some of the crews. Meeting up with Strait N Narrow on Thursday afternoon we set off from Nordelph arriving in the early evening at March town mooring to find “no room at the inn”. After a shouting match with the geese we moored up on the offside. The following morning we travelled in the company of Megan and Nouveau Lady through a mixture of sun, intermittent showers and a cold breeze. By the time we reached Benwick Lily May from Fox’s marina had caught us up and joined the convoy. Arriving at High Lode Lock we joined Hillpenny, Kathleen Margaret and Rodgy Dodgy who had kindly set the lock for us, and we were able to travel through on level water. A pleasant sight, eight boats in line heading for Holme. A tranquil journey on a little used section of the Middle Level. The only sound coming from the resident peacocks. The MLC had been busy and for that we thank you. The channel was clear, the “winding hole” dredged and the island removed. The crew from Hillpenny ensured we all moored safely and had a clear path through the stinging nettles. A quiet rural mooring with a short walk to the local pub. The goal of this year’s Easter Cruise was to reach Horseways Lock and here the assembled boats take a welcome break at the Lock having achieved that goal

Saturday we woke to a stiff breeze, blue skies and sunshine. Our destination this morning being the basin at Ramsey. By the time we arrived the temperature had increased and the breeze had abated. The Section 106 works have been partially implemented, the footbridge is in place, but unfortunately the Local Authority has still not released the money for the long promised moorings which would give a substantial boost to the local economy from visiting boats. After successfully turning all the boats (including a 60’ without removing fenders) we continued to Ramsey Forty Foot. Although not the easiest of places to moor our little flotilla stayed for the night. Come Sunday we were all up for a 9am start. Our first destination of the day being Horseways Lock and by 11am we reached the junction of Horseways Channel. After some competent maneuvering all boats were positioned stern to stern for the assault on this section.


Boats on the Easter Cruise manoeuvring at the junction of the Forty Foot and Sixteen Foot channels on the Middle Levels system

A branch work party had cleared the bridge hole of vegetation and trees earlier in the year, and fallen trees from storm Doris had been removed in a matter of days by the MLC. The journey to the lock was a challenge. The channel in places was extremely weedy and very shallow; a few weed hatches were up to clear fouled propellers and shafts, but by midday we had all arrived at the lock. Following the earlier successful navigation of the Old Bedford River we had now achieved access to both ends of the section the Environment Agency have allowed to fall into a state of disrepair. Fortified by various liquid refreshments we began the outward journey that was every bit as fractious as the inward passage. After uncoupling the boats we headed for Stonea, where we planned to stay for our last night. Easter Monday we headed for our home moorings. Kathleen Margaret turning around and leaving for Ramsey, the remainder cruising together as for as the Nene link route, where three headed for March, the last four heading back to the Well Creek. Thank you to all who participated, your company and sense of camaraderie made for a very enjoyable cruise. The Middle Levels are a very pleasant waterway to cruise and the MLC do an excellent job with their very limited resources. This cruise has highlighted the need for more facilities to be provided for visiting boats. When the MLC new Act of Parliament goes through the legislative procedure and becomes law, boaters who will then be paying to cruise the Middle Levels will demand these facilities to bring them in line with other navigation authorities. This cruise has also highlighted the fact that boaters want all of the Horseway channel open and we will continue to fight the efforts of the EA who appear to have no interest in keeping open a statutory right of navigation. David Venn 16

Above: Lily May enters the channel with the second boat behind

Below: The boats passing through the Welney guillotine gate

Profile for The Inland Waterways Association

Hereward Spring 2017 by The Inland Waterways Association  

Hereward Spring 2017 by The Inland Waterways Association