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ivan&alice

Watford to Bedford along GU, Nene, MLN and Ouse

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Planning my first really long boating adventure for between April and July when the warmer weather hits.

 

The farthest north I have been is just before Lock 74, Lady Capels near the Huntingdon Bridge interchange. I have family in East Anglia so from there I'd like to head north on the Grand Union through Milton Keynes and the Blisworth Tunnel, then take a right through Northampton and onto EA waters. From there, the River Nene to Peterborough and the Middle Levels to Salters Lode. Then the Old Bedford River / Hundred Foot Drain to join up with the Great Ouse at Earith. I then want to follow the Great Ouse to Bedford.

 

Is this all feasible with our 65' narrowboat?

 

Is the time of year appropriate?

 

Where is the head of navigation on the Great Ouse?

 

Am I going to have any trouble finding moorings along this route?

 

Will a gold license be enough or do I need other special licenses for this route?

 

I have not yet been on any rivers other than the Lea and Stort which for the most part were no different to canals. I have read the handbook about river navigation and it seems deceptively straightforward. However I have also read on this forum that flooding and tides can be an issue on these rivers. What else do I need to know and how can I find this out?

 

Any other advice for me?

 

Thanks!!

 

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The Nene is a beautiful river and a lot of fun, but this will be the biggest factor in planning your journey. The levels can change spectacularly with rainfall, so it would be wise to allow much more time than the actual journey would take. Finding moorings can be a challenge for a boat that size but there is a 'friends of the Nene' that you can join cheaply for access to more options. Another factor is a complete lack of riverside shops to restock supplies, and a similar lack of elsan, etc.

  You need to book Salters lode/Denver sluice which is fairly straightforward unless there are exceptional tides. Not far from here is a small river called the Whissey, which is worth a run up and down if you have time (it will only take a few hours) 

  It is a great trip and well worth the effort, just remember to duck at many of the bridges - whoever built them muat have hated boats!

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Yes you can do it. I have done it in Fulbourne (71ft 6ins long and drawing 3ft). Gold licence covers you for the Nene, Ouse and tributaries (other than the top end of the Cam). Middle Level was free, but I'm not sure of the position now they have their act of parliament.

You need to book the lock at Stanground where you enter the MLN from the Nene. At 65ft you are too long for the lock at Salters Lode, so you need to go through when the tide makes a level. The lockkeeper will sort that for you.

From Salters Lode to Earith you take the New Bedford River - the Old doesn"t connect through. The NBR is 20 miles long and dead straight apart from one slight wiggle, so not the most interesting part of the trip, but does have a curious fascination. There are two low railway bridges in Bedford, but if you can get under these the river is navigable up to just below Kempston Mill. We got there in 2001, but on our last trip in 2018, Fulbourne grounded some distance before that -a shallower craft may well get further. If you have time, on the way back go via the Old West River and Ely Ouse, together with the Cam, Lark, Wissey, Litle Ouse and the Relief Channel. 

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Apart from a gap of three days The Nene has been on SSA since October.

Supermarkets at Northampton, Wellingborough, Irthlingborogh, Islip/Thrapston, Oundle and Peterborough. None are canal side most involve a reasonable walk.

 

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Join Friends of the River Nene  http://www.friendsoftherivernene.co.uk/m.home.html and GOBA http://www.goba.org.uk/ 

They are not expensive and give you loads more places to moor up.

As Loddon says the Nene has been shut for ages , April can be wet so sign up for Strong Stream Alerts on the EA site- https://www.gov.uk/guidance/anglian-waterways-river-conditions-closures-and-restrictions

and this website will give you details of all the closures and stuff - https://www.visitanglianwaterways.org/

 

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If no Gold licence, you'll need a STL fron the EA for the Nene - but it's not expensive.

The Thames has been 'shut' for months this and last year - so nothing special about the Nene. Being a narrower river than the Thames, yo have to be very careful or savvy about flows around weirs (cross currents), thus neither the Thames or the Nene are like canals

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We've also done the trip twice in our 67ft narrowboat. It's a great trip, well worthwhile, and similarly to David Mack we reached Kempston Mill above Bedford the first time but not the second because the river was lower and too shallow. I definitely recommend the Lark and the Wissey if you have time too.

 

You may like to read my accounts here and here - with lots of pictures for you to enjoy!

Edited by Keeping Up

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We did the Nene, Middle Levels and Great Ouse to Bedford in 2015 and enjoyed it very much.

We joined GOBA, Friends of the River Nene didn't exist at that time, and that made finding a place to moor much easier.

 

NB No Problem has written a very useful guide to the River Nene, you will find it here: https://noproblem.org.uk/blog/nene/    (Copy and paste into your browser) 

 

We used these Imray guides: 

- The River Nene by Iain Smith, ISBN 978-1846231681

- Fenland Waterways by Andrew  Hynter Blair, ISBN 978-1846234408

- The River Great Ouse and tributaries by Andrew Hunter Blair, ISBN 978-1846235252

 

We are now considering to go back to the Nene etc. for our long summer trip

 

Helen

 

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As an alternative, when the proposed Milton Keynes - Bedford link is open, it will be a relatively simple journey. The opening date will probably be just after the first private pilots license is issued to a pig.

  • Greenie 1

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I see that FOTRN is 12 GBP for the year and GOBA is 25 GBP. Both very reasonable. How does the mooring work - do they have moorings that they maintain / pay for for the use of members? Are there any facilities at these moorings or are they just bits of river that are open to members only? And if I didn't join these, are there any spots that qualify as visitors moorings along the rivers?

 

8 hours ago, BWM said:

You need to book Salters lode/Denver sluice which is fairly straightforward unless there are exceptional tides.

On my map it doesn't look like I'll need Denver Sluice to get onto the New Bedford River / Hundred Foot Drain. For Salters Lode lock, do they

just open both gates at high tide so you can cruise directly through??

 

7 hours ago, OldGoat said:

If no Gold licence, you'll need a STL fron the EA for the Nene - but it's not expensive.

Would a STL for the Nene be cheaper than upgrading to a gold license for 2020? (At my pace I'm not sure how many other EA waterways I'd get to this year).

 

8 hours ago, Loddon said:

Apart from a gap of three days The Nene has been on SSA since October.

Supermarkets at Northampton, Wellingborough, Irthlingborogh, Islip/Thrapston, Oundle and Peterborough. None are canal side most involve a reasonable walk.

 

Is this normal? Is SSA likely around April-July? Does this mean I'm stranded wherever I am for potentially months if SSA is declared??

 

8 hours ago, David Mack said:

the river is navigable up to just below Kempston Mill

Thanks. At this point I presume you are grounded and need to back up until I find a 65' hole to turn in...

 

 

Thanks all for the links and blogs, I'll look at these as soon as I can.

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1 hour ago, ivan&alice said:

I see that FOTRN is 12 GBP for the year and GOBA is 25 GBP. Both very reasonable. How does the mooring work - do they have moorings that they maintain / pay for for the use of members? Are there any facilities at these moorings or are they just bits of river that are open to members only? And if I didn't join these, are there any spots that qualify as visitors moorings along the rivers?

 

I've only been down the river as far as Thrapston but apart from Earthlingborough I didn't see any other moorings besides FOTRN ones. The have some lovely moorings so it's well worth joining. They're all well signposted so you just moor up to one that has space that you like the look of, but you won't find much in terms of facilities.

 

IMG_20190821_105309_1.jpg

IMG_20190822_172544_8.jpg

Edited by blackrose

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1 hour ago, ivan&alice said:

On my map it doesn't look like I'll need Denver Sluice to get onto the New Bedford River / Hundred Foot Drain. For Salters Lode lock, do they

just open both gates at high tide so you can cruise directly through??

 

Yes, you only need Denver Sluice if you are going via the Ely Ouse.

 

At Salters Lode there is a guillotine gate at  the River Ouse end of the lock and pairs of gates facing both ways at the other. When the tide makes a level all gates can be opened and you pass straight through. When we took Fulbourne through in 2007 there was a lot of water coming down the river, meaning even at low tide the level didn't get down quite low enough. So we locked through using the 'wrong' set of gates, which are far enough back to get a full length narrow boat in. In this picture the level in the lock is about 6 inches higher than the water beyond, and the chap on the left (from the boat behind) has his finger on the 'Close' button for the hydraulic gate gear, to keep the gates closed against the head of water.

PICT0392.JPG.9dda8b618de22ff43195987c17af027e.JPG

 

 

1 hour ago, ivan&alice said:

Thanks. At this point I presume you are grounded and need to back up until I find a 65' hole to turn in...

 

Yup. But the current carries you back downstream, so you just need a few bursts from the engine and tiller to keep the boat in line until you get to somewhere you can turn.

Edited by David Mack

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1 hour ago, ivan&alice said:

Is SSA likely around April-July? Does this mean I'm stranded wherever I am for potentially months if SSA is declared??

In the past few years it would be very unlikely, however it does happen, and it is sensible to watch the weather and if it looks likely get to a safe mooring. 

No one has mentioned it but an anchor is a must.

The Nene is a beautiful sometimes navigable flood control system.......but then I would say that wouldn't I. ;)

 

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43 minutes ago, David Mack said:

 

Yes, you only need Denver Sluice if you are going via the Ely Ouse.

 

At Salters Lode there is a guillotine gate at  the River Ouse end of the lock and pairs of gates facing both ways at the other. When the tide makes a level all gates can be opened and you pass straight through. When we took Fulbourne through in 2007 there was a lot of water coming down the river, meaning even at low tide the level didn't get down quite low enough. So we locked through using the 'wrong' set of gates, which are far enough back to get a full length narrow boat in. In this picture the level in the lock is about 6 inches higher than the water beyond, and the chap on the left (from the boat behind) has his finger on the 'Close' button for the hydraulic gate gear, to keep the gates closed against the head of water.

PICT0392.JPG.9dda8b618de22ff43195987c17af027e.JPG

 

 

 

Yup. But the current carries you back downstream, so you just need a few bursts from the engine and tiller to keep the boat in line until you get to somewhere you can turn.

I'm surprised you had enough headroom to get through with that much water!

2 hours ago, rusty69 said:

The corner at Whittlesey is fun. 

Just past the 90 degrees i think, we came across it in the dark. Nice pub nearby called the letter B, we just tied up onto the roadside railings just past the crazy bend.

1 hour ago, ivan&alice said:

I see that FOTRN is 12 GBP for the year and GOBA is 25 GBP. Both very reasonable. How does the mooring work - do they have moorings that they maintain / pay for for the use of members? Are there any facilities at these moorings or are they just bits of river that are open to members only? And if I didn't join these, are there any spots that qualify as visitors moorings along the rivers?

 

On my map it doesn't look like I'll need Denver Sluice to get onto the New Bedford River / Hundred Foot Drain. For Salters Lode lock, do they

just open both gates at high tide so you can cruise directly through??

 

Would a STL for the Nene be cheaper than upgrading to a gold license for 2020? (At my pace I'm not sure how many other EA waterways I'd get to this year).

 

Is this normal? Is SSA likely around April-July? Does this mean I'm stranded wherever I am for potentially months if SSA is declared??

 

Thanks. At this point I presume you are grounded and need to back up until I find a 65' hole to turn in...

 

 

Thanks all for the links and blogs, I'll look at these as soon as I can.

Very few facilities or moorings anywhere, the most extensive one we found was at Fotheringhay and this is well worth a stop. You will have a lot more options with F of the Nene but even these are nobbly and nothing like those on the canal. Finding shops will be harder than finding moorings though. 

 You don't have to use Denver but whilst you're there...

 Before I forget, i believe the EA stoppages close the Nene pretty much completely between November and March. 

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We did the Nene and ML 3 years ago, but ran out of time to get onto the Great Ouse.  There are not many moorings at all on the Nene, and I joined FOTRN and used a couple of theirs each way.  I am still a member as I think they are doing good work in making the river more accessible and it is worth a few quid a year to see that happen.
 

On the MIddle Levels it is worth if you have time to go a bit off piste, to Ramsey for example, but watch for the low bridges.  Even less mooring on the ML.

 

Our current tentative plan is to go that way this June and make it to the Great Ouse, and will I join GOBA for this year to be able to use their moorings.  
 

Interested as to why the OP would not be going through Denver, isn’t that the way most would go?

 

Also I need to do some maths in the next couple of weeks; as we will also be going on the Thames it may be worth getting a gold licence, and given I have already lost a month by not sorting that in December, I need to do it before Feb so I don’t loose another month, in which case I suspect it may be cheaper to just buy visitor licences.
 

 

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12 minutes ago, john6767 said:

it may be worth getting a gold licence, and given I have already lost a month by not sorting that in December, I need to do it before Feb so I don’t loose another month, in which case I suspect it may be cheaper to just buy visitor licences.

I'm pretty sure that if you buy a Gold licence it is backdated to 1 January and CRT will give you a pro rata refund for the portion of your your CRT licence from 1 January. Ring CRT licencing, they are helpful.

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3 hours ago, ivan&alice said:

 

 

Thanks. At this point I presume you are grounded and need to back up until I find a 65' hole to turn in...

 

 

 

Yes.  When we tried it https://narrowboattacet.blogspot.com/search?q=kempston and grounded before the mill, reversing back with the fairly strong flow looked to be daunting.  It was quite a distance back before an opportunity to turn about, and there are plenty of trees waiting to shove a branch through a window.  But we got back without any trouble, somehow.

 

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1 hour ago, David Mack said:

I'm pretty sure that if you buy a Gold licence it is backdated to 1 January and CRT will give you a pro rata refund for the portion of your your CRT licence from 1 January. Ring CRT licencing, they are helpful.

OK, I was thinking it was like car tax where you only get the unused months back.  If you get all the time from 1st Jan that would be great, I will check that out, thanks.

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Its on the application form on the CRT website (although they haven't updated the form to 2020 yet):

 

"All Gold licences run from 1st January – 31st December 2019 respective of when you apply.Your home navigation may issue a pro rata refund for full months unused, should you choose to upgrade to a gold licence."

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Lots of photos of the Fenland waterways here (I've had my boat here since 2015). Happy to answer any questions: https://scholargypsy.org.uk/contents/  I would particularly recommend a diversion to Wicken Fen, accessible via Upware lock (not Upwell!) on the EA part of the Cam. The blog also includes a couple of posts about the New Bedford River, if you go that way.

 

Last time I went to the head of navigation I turned here (57' boat). One side of the island was too shallow, the other side had too much vegetation.

 

I don't think anyone has yet mentioned the Abloy key that you need to access the lock control panels, water points etc on the Nene and Ouse systems. Not as easy to find as a CRT key...

 

The Imrays guide to the Great Ouse is being rewritten, I think the new edition should be out soon.

 

Get advice from the EA lockkeeper at Denver if you want to try the NBR, it can be tricky on weak neap tides.

 

Make sure you subscribe to the email alerts for the Nene and the Bedford Ouse. There is at present no such system for the Ely Ouse but it's not really necessary.  On both the Nene and Bedford Ouse there are at the  moment several locks where the V doors are open at one end (what are known as mitre gates on the rest of the system!) and the guillotine is up at the other end.

 

There are quite lively groups for both rivers on Facebook.

 

If you like flags then I would encourage you to fly the Fenland flag ....spacer.png

Edited by Scholar Gypsy

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7 minutes ago, Scholar Gypsy said:

On both the Nene and Bedford Ouse there are at the  moment several locks where the V doors are open at one end (what are known as mitre gates on the rest of the system!) and the guillotine is up at the other end.

 

Taken a couple of days ago and a good reason not to go out on Reds..

 

20200118_144703.jpg

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2 hours ago, David Mack said:

Its on the application form on the CRT website (although they haven't updated the form to 2020 yet):

 

"All Gold licences run from 1st January – 31st December 2019 respective of when you apply.Your home navigation may issue a pro rata refund for full months unused, should you choose to upgrade to a gold licence."

That is what I was thinking, “pro rate refund for full months unused”, you don’t get it all back just unused months.  So I have lost Jan now and once we get to Feb I loose Feb as well.  I need to call them I guess, if I want to do it.

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7 hours ago, PaulJ said:

Taken a couple of days ago and a good reason not to go out on Reds..

 

20200118_144703.jpg

Cardington, I think? One of the few guillotine locks that is not D shaped....

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1 hour ago, Scholar Gypsy said:

Cardington, I think? One of the few guillotine locks that is not D shaped....

It is-and with the wind blowing down the river and a bit of flow on probably the most horrible to get in or out of on the upstream end.

Got me thinking on that one-there are only actually 6 'D' shaped with 6 straight guillotine locks (including Denver). I too would have sworn the D,s are the most common on the Ouse but actually arent.

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