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Old Bedford Attempt—Thwarted Again! Views on the Middle Level Simple Safety Device Easter Cruise — AGM Notices 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

Cover Photo: A sight rarely seen these days! NB Olive Emily pictured on the Old Bedford river in aid of a campaign to maintain the river as a navigable asset to the East Anglian waterways system. Mike Daines

Olive Emily's volunteer crew man the poles to extract her from the silt.

Old Bedford attempt thwarted The Salters Lode sluice pictured from the Old Bedford. The water mark on the guillotine door is clearly marked and was a good two feet lower on this occasion.

Photos: Mike Daines


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Navigating the Old Bedford River Yet again an attempt to navigate the Old Bedford River was thwarted by lack of water, mud and weed. JOHN REVELL tells the story with photographs provided by MIKE DAINES John Revell reverses Olive Emily into and through the Salters Lode sluice gate to join the Old Bedford river.


n November 2016 I took my narrowboat Olive Emily, based at Fox's Marina in March, into the Old Bedford River via the tidal river Great Ouse at Salter's Lode. This is not as simple as it sounds. It has to be done ‘on the level’ and the Old Bedford and the narrow tidal channel which leads to it are in poor condition. As a result few boats have been willing or able to do this in recent years. I attempted the same journey in November 2015 and managed about a mile before being forced to turn round through lack of water and a massive amount of cott weed which completely clogged up the propeller. This year I emailed the Environment Agency (EA) well in advance on the 7th October advising them that I proposed to navigate the Old Bedford during the period 3 November to 5 November. I further explained that I would aim to cruise all the way to Welches Dam lock and I asked for confirmation that the Welney Guillotine Gate, through which we would have to pass, would be left in the raised (navigable) position. I never received a reply from EA. I successfully entered the Old Bedford at 7.45 am on Saturday November 5. This was not straightforward (see photos) but the Middle Level Lock keeper and an EA staff member were very helpful and together with a volunteer crew of David Venn, Chairman of IWA Peterborough branch, Chris Howes, Ivan Cane and Mike Daines, I headed off towards Welches Dam. 1

We made quite good progress at first and soon we managed to pass our one mile progress marker from the previous year. After another mile or so there was evidence of dredging on the west bank with the spoil piled up along the bank and the digger visible in the far distance. It was this dredging that had quite obviously enabled our progress up to and beyond our one mile limit of the previous year. Further ahead were the overhead electrical power lines that cross the river around three miles in from Salters Lode. A previous attempt in July 2008 to reach Welches Dam in my narrowboat, accompanied by Lois and Roy Parker in their cruiser Marie 2, had failed because this section hadn’t been dredged for years. As we approached the power lines the river took on a glazed and milky look and we became engulfed in a mass of cott weed with the water level dropping to a silted muddy depth of just one foot. It immediately became obvious that we couldn’t proceed any further and once again we would reluctantly have to abandon our goal and turn around. With much prodigious poling by the crew Olive Emily was slowly extracted from the glue and turned back into deeper water to make her return to Salters Lode. We had again been defeated by the same problems as last year, insufficient depth of water, lack of dredging and masses of cott weed. We had failed in our objective to reach Welches Dam lock which was stanked off by the EA in 2006. This lock has remained closed and imJust enough depth for a swan to swim! The section of Old Bedford river that is silted and clogged with masses of cott weed.

passable for 10 years despite the efforts of the IWA locally and nationally, the East Anglian Waterways Association and the Project Hereward team. The ‘temporary’ piling which was installed by the EA in 2006 covers most of the entrance to the lock so it is very effective at stopping boats but rather less effective at stopping leaks which was claimed to be the reason for the piling in the first place. Two developments occurred between my email to the EA on 7 October and my passage on 5 November. Firstly, I found out late on 3 November that the Welney guillotine gate was in the down (unnavigable) position. This came as a surprise as I had been assured that it would remain up (navigable) position unless there was a change in river conditions. 2

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I live in East Anglia and I knew that the weather in East Anglia had been dry for some time so the closure of the Welney gate was puzzling. More importantly, the water level in the Old Bedford had been dropped by a foot in the week after I had notified EA of the dates of my proposed passage. This is even more puzzling and I have been unable to find out why this was done and by whom. EA is a multi-functional organisation so any part of it might have authorised this action. It might have been done by flood control, it might have been fishing, it might have been engineering, it might have been navigation, it might have been environment. Who knows? Whatever the reason, this had made the tidal passage into the Old Bedford at Salters Lode unnecessarily difficult and muddy. It meant that that the depth of water in the Old Bedford was shallow throughout. It also meant that an attempt to enter the Old Bedford the previous day (November 4) had been unsuccessful and had had to be abandoned. The general lack of depth became an insuperable problem when I had reached the stretch of very shallow undredged water, deep mud and glutinous cott weed close to the overhead electrical lines. Everyone knows that special precautions must be taken when working near them but this situation arises routinely on other rivers and canals and is easily overcome. Indeed the same overhead lines cross the nearby navigable New Bedford river, Well Creek at Nordelph and the Great Ouse at Littleport.

Olive Emily returns along the narrow tidal channel to the tidal River Great Ouse

The Old Bedford is not a dead end waterway leading nowhere but is part of a long established route that needs to be restored to full navigation. It would make an interesting cruising ring. It has been navigable since 1637, well before the main canal era started. It is a statutory navigation and it needs to be maintained. Although the Old Bedford remains officially open it will remain off limits for all but the most determined boater until it is deep enough, and dredged properly. The Canal and River Trust (CRT) has built on the long experience of British Waterways in managing rivers so that they remain navigable most of the time but are closed when flood conditions require. Just think of the Rivers Soar, Trent, Severn, Avon, Weaver or the river sections of the Trent and Mersey or the Caldon or the Calder and Hebble to name just a few. Would the current lamentable state of affairs in this part of the Fens be tolerated elsewhere on the system? Would this have been allowed to go on for so long if CRT managed it? Would it not be better if responsibility for navigation matters on waterways that are currently managed by EA be transferred to CRT? 4


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A flashback to March 2010 when John Revell managed to navigate Olive Emily onto the Old Bedford and got as far as the Welney Gate. Here John is seen at the gate when conditions in the channel were obviously far better than they are today.

STOP PRESS! As we went to press the breaking news was that Chris Howes and John Revell are planning another attempt on the Old Bedford with both their boats Lily May and Olive Emily. This will take place on 4th April 2017. An invitation has been extended to others including Ivan Cane and the Parkers so it may well be that a flotilla of boats are on hand to make the attempt.

Photo: John Revell


Chairman’s Report Winter 2017


t is the season for reflections and resolutions. 2016 was a relatively successful year for our branch. We believe we have reached an understanding with the Middle Level Commissioners in that while we support their application for an Act of Parliament and the principles defined in the order the practicalities of new legislation will be in the bye laws. The Commissioners wish to ensure the bye laws are both encompassing and workable. At an earlier meeting the MLC solicitor stated he would like to have a member of the Peterborough IWA on the committee, yet to be formed, to represent boater interests.

A partially successful attempt to navigate the Old Bedford river was undertaken by John Revell on nb Olive Emily in appalling conditions in November 2016. Although help on the ground from MLC and EA personnel could not be faulted the same could not be said of the senior management and certainly highlighted the lack of communication between the different offices of the Environment Agency. [See page 6—STOP PRESS—Ed] The ongoing negotiations regarding the transfer of EA navigations to CRT does not appear to be achieving much progress. A recent request under the Freedom of Information Act to make copies of minutes available revealed interesting information relating to the EA’s attitude and lack of records. Our partnership with Project Hereward is working well. A report on the coffer dam has proved what the IWA have stated for a long time, the structure is not fit for purpose and requires re-enforcement to hold back any head of water. Talks are ongoing with the EA to enable the lock to be drained and a survey of the structure undertaken. A small but dedicated and enthusiastic group of volunteers are making progress with the bank clearance at Horseways channel and will be having a week end work party over the last week -end in February. Please feel free to come and join us. The IWA 2018 Festival of Water will not be able to take place at Peterborough embankment due to the Local Authority having concerns for the safety of the public, our festival would have been taking place whilst the beer festival site is being dismantled. The site however is eminently suitable for a trail boat/campaign festival rally which is under consideration as a possible event in the future. At this time developments are awaited and any news will be communicated through Hereward. The group of Branch members present at the last work party at David Venn

Horseways channel in December. These sessions have been an important part of the Branch activities in 2016 with more planned for 2017


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LOCAL NEWS ITEMS Branch Work Party Update A productive work party was held by the Branch on 30th November. Seven volunteers carefully removed 50 metres of brush and overhanging trees from Horseways channel which is the approach route to the section of Horseways channel and Welches Dam Lock. The north side, under EA management, is heavily overgrown and due to the amount of wildlife inhabiting the bank, the clearance has to be undertaken with hand tools and light mechanical equipment. The owner of the approach, the Middle Level Commissioners maintain the south side in good repair. The Branch's final work party before the festive break was held on 14th December. The team of six volunteers worked in glorious sunshine on the Horseways channel and cleared 40 metres of overhanging trees and undergrowth. This was no mean feat as the team used mainly hand tools due to the close proximity of a large badger sett. Further work parties will take place on 11th January, 25th January, 8th February and 22nd February. There will also be a weekend work party on 25th & 26th February. All are welcome to join in. Easter Cruise The Easter cruise this year will take a slightly different route from the previous couple of years. We hope to cruise some of the lesser frequented navigation channels of the MLC system and make use of the new facilities at Ramsey. The itinerary we hope to achieve will be as follows:Good Friday: - Approximately 1pm meet High Lode lock. Cruise to Holme Fen and turn at the winding hole, moor for the night in this remote, peaceful location. Saturday: - Depart around 10am. Cruise to Ramsey Basin and tie up for lunch at the new moorings then proceed to Ramsey 40 foot. We will stay here for the night whilst highlighting the need for mooring and service facilities that boaters will start demanding when the new MLC legislation is in place. Easter Sunday: - Cruise to Horseways Lock to prove to the EA we are determined in our efforts to have Welches Dam Lock and Horseways channel open for through navigation on a regular basis. We can also see the efforts being made by both the MLC and Peterborough IWA to maintain this important and historical navigation. Adjourn here for lunch then forward to the Golden Lion at Stonea for our last night. Easter Monday: - Depart with heavy heads for our home moorings. For those of you wishing to eat at the Golden Lion it is advisable to pre book. The phone No. is 01354 680732. All boaters are welcome to join the cruise and if required further details can be obtained from David Venn.

Welcome The Branch offers a warm welcome to George and Jane Wells of Kimbolton and Graham Brooks of Crowland who have recently joined our ranks. 9




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Middle Level Closures The Middle Level Commissioners have announced a series of closures between Christmas 2016 and Easter 2017 for the undertaking of maintenance work. Stanground Lock will be closed between 6th – 20th February 2017. Marmont Priory Lock will be closed between 20th February – 6th March 2017 Dredging of Well Creek around Outwell/Upwell began first week in January. Road Closure until 30th March. Anticipate dredging will be complete by end of February if there are no delays due to weather conditions There will be closures at Salters Lode but at the time of going to press full details were not known. Contact MLC or Salters Lode lock keeper for information.

As an addition to the formal business of the AGM include in the evening’s programme will be a talk by Eddie Edwards who is an authority on the Ouse Washes which form the largest area of washland in the UK. The reserve attracts thousands of ducks and swans in winter, and in spring, hundreds of snipe, lapwings and redshanks breed. The theme of the talk will be ‘The various and torturous routes of the waters of the Great Ouse from Earith to King’s Lynn’. Eddie Edwards is the originator of the http:// web site which is well worth a visit for anyone interested in the area. 11




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 COMMITTEE MEMBERS Roger Sexton Stephen Heywood

Andrew Storrar Chris Howes

December social meeting — Taking boats uphill


embers who attended the social meeting in December were entertained to a very interesting and informative talk by Ivan Cane. The talk covered the origin and development of staunches or stanches as they are sometimes known, flash locks and the pound locks that we all know today. Ivan’s story was well illustrated by a series of excellent graphics and photographs which were very professionally presented. He outlined how the conflicting interests of navigation and generating power from the water flowing in our rivers for milling led to the need to provide a solution which suited all parties. Some of the solutions seemed very ’exciting’ to put it mildly and one wonders what present day H & S would have thought about it all. The Branch would like to record thanks to Ivan for a very enjoyable and interesting evening. 13

Email: 14

Man (woman) overboard drill A cautionary tale from Raymond Cross


t the end of our summer cruise in the Middle Level passing under White Fen Farm Bridge one of my wife’s cherished flower pots was dislodged by the underside of the bridge. My wife Jane set off along the gunwale to right the pot something that she had done on numerous occasions during our summer cruise. On this day it was wet & windy and she was wearing wellington boots and when she took her hands off the hand rail to right the pot her feet slipped off the gunwale and she ended up in the water. I immediately put the engine in neutral and Jane managed to grab one of the side fenders. I asked her to make her way to the stern of the boat so she could climb back on board using the foot plates at the stern. She could not grip the gunwale being low in the water so using one of the midi ropes I managed to pull her to the stern. The next problem was that she could not lift her feet high enough to get a foot on the step to raise herself out of the water even with my assistance. I tied off the midi rope to the stern dolly so she could hold on and I then I put my gang plank which is gang plank one side and ladder on the underside down the side of the boat and she was able to climb back on board. This was a potentially dangerous situation although Jane is a strong swimmer she could not swim in boots filled with water and was unable to remove them. So important things to note:The foot plates on a narrowboat if fitted are too high for a person to get a foot hold so are useless. It is impossible for one person to pull an adult back on board. So without my gangplank/ladder things could have had tragic consequences. Life jackets should be worn. It would not have helped to get Jane back on board but would have given us more time to think knowing that flotation wasn’t a problem. Please think in advance what you would do in a man overboard situation. Every boat should consider having a ladder of some sort of board to be lowered over the side to recover persons from the water. My ladder/gang plank I made myself and it has served us well as a gang plank for many years but this is the first time I have used the ladder side. Thank goodness it proved its worth on that day. My ladder was made from an 8’aluminium ladder with a 4mm aluminium plate pop riveted to one side. 8’ is a good length for a plank and recovery ladder for the Middle level and canals and it has a rope secured to one end so in deeper water it can be tied off to the boat. 15

The Middle Level - One Boater’s View by John Revell


lthough I try and visit the main canal system in spring I usually leave my boat on the Middle Level for the summer and winter months. Not everyone is a fan of the Fens but I am.

On my first visit to the Middle Level in June 1984 I moored near a bridge and saw a narrow road leading towards what looked like a pub. I was right as I had arrived at the Three Horseshoes pub in Turves which was heaving with people on a Saturday night. My long journey had started at Bunbury near Chester and I was heading for the Fish and Duck near Ely. Both the pub locals and we were amazed that my journey had led me to Turves. We returned to the Middle Level in August that year and visited some of the remoter parts. As we struggled along one somewhat weedy stretch a farmer came out to say hello. He said he only ever saw weed boats there and added that he wished there were a few more boats passing as he was looking for a wife.

Big skies and stunning sunsets are an attraction of the Middle Level waters

Away from the “Link Route” the Middle Level is little used, even in the height of summer. On a day’s journey from Holme to Floods Ferry this summer I met one moving narrow boat, passed two friendly fishermen when I went up to Ramsey basin for lunch and saw five kingfishers. If you want a good sunset or sunrise, lots of wildlife and peace and quiet this is the place to be. Fox Marina at March, Bill Fen Marina at Ramsey and Peterborough Boating Centre, just the other side of Stanground lock, provide most boating services. Whittlesey, Ramsey and March have a good range of shops and pubs, Upwell and Outwell provide a smaller choice of shops but convenient short term moorings plus two butchers, two fish and chip shops, the Globe PH, the Crown PH and the Crown Lodge Hotel and an amazing display of daffodils each year. Away from the bright lights there are several pubs that have managed to survive, the Golden Lion at Stonea, the George at Ramsey Forty Foot, the Five Alls at Benwick, the Lion at Ramsey St Marys, the Admiral Wells at Holme and the Three Horseshoes at Turves. The shop at Three Holes next to the public landing stage (paid for by IWA Peterborough Branch and built by the Middle Level Commissioners) has recently been renovated with a café and the Village Shop at Ramsey St Marys is just before the Lion PH. Now, if only we can restore Horseways Channel, Welches Dam lock and the Old Bedford to full navigation. 16

A dramatic sunset reflected in the quiet waters of the Middle Level system

The sun rises to give a misty dawn over the tranquil water

Photos: John Revell

Profile for The Inland Waterways Association

Hereward Winter 2016/7  

Hereward Winter 2016/7