Tuesday, 29 April 2014

End of the Lode

Moored on Reach Lode by the bridge over Wicken Lode
Apologies; it's been a while. A combination of visits to family  and a spell in the land of internot means that only now can I resume normal service.
You left us at Prickwillow on the River Lark and you pick us up again on the Cambridgeshire Lodes; at a delightfully tranquil mooring by the start of the Wicken Lode. Those of you who know your fenland geography will know that we must have passed through Ely on the way and indeed we did. We left Harry on the fine waterfront there while we headed off by train to visit the kids. We will certainly be returning so I will say more about the city and its sumptuous cathedral on our return.
I have also overlooked any real description of the lower reaches of the Great Ouse itself. To be honest, there isn't a lot to say: it's wide, straight and offers far reaching views across the distant fenland fields - those at the river's edge being often obscured by the high flood banks.
But back to the Lodes. Not far upstream from Ely the Great Ouse divides with the Cam (and us) heading off to the left. The end of navigation for powered boats on the Cam used to be Cambridge but few visitors bother now as the Cam Conservators demand payment of a fiendishly expensive extra licence for their final few miles - thus Conserving the Cam and the city from boating visitors.
Instead, we went as far as the entertainingly titled Five Miles From Anywhere pub at Upware - which is certainly at least five miles from anywhere - where Reach Lode lock takes one into the Lodes.
It was way back in Whittlesey near the start of the Middle Level that I worked my last lock which is probably why I fumbled with this one a bit, not helped by a warning notice saying that the lock would start to reset itself after 15 minutes whether we were out or not. In fact the water level changed only slightly and the resetting process simply lifts both guillotine gates a little for flood control.
A wilderness landscape of reeds, sedge and water
Through the lock we found ourselves in another world, the long, narrow and largely straight water courses track across a wild and unspoiled landscape of reeds, sedge grass, shrubby trees and waterlands with not a house or a road in sight. It's a landscape that probably hasn't changed significantly in hundreds of years. Wildlife is abundant: we spotted roe deer, buzzards, terns, pike in the clear water and konik semi-wild horses introduced to graze the fens as part of its management.
The semi-wild Konik horses introduced from Poland to graze the fen
The Lodes themselves are man-made waterways that run from chalk streams on the edge of the fenland and believed to be Roman in origin, who used them as transport canals and they became important cargo waterways in the 17th and 18th centuries.
From Upware the initial Reach Lode splits into three. First the narrow Wicken Lode turns left under a bridge and runs for just over a mile through the National Trust Nature Reserve of Wicken Fen to moorings and a turning point at the end. Nervous of its narrowness and also our draft we headed straight on instead to the next junction taking Burwell Lode, longest of the three, where it splits left from Reach Lode.
Yes, it's a hovercraft spotted at the edge of Burwell Lode
It's wide and relatively deep along most of its length but as we neared the end and wilderness gave way to farmland we started to churn up the dreaded blanket weed from its bottom and were reduced to a painful crawl. In summer when the weed is at its peak I imagine these Lodes might be seriously tricky going for long stretches.
It was easy enough winding at the end where there's a sort of T-junction with a feeder stream coming in from each side plus a pleasant 48hour EA mooring.
Another peaceful spot, the Burwell 48 hour mooring
Burwell itself is a large sprawling village with pubs and shops. It feels a little lacking in character but look more closely and you notice how many of the houses are built end-on to the road and a surprising number of large stone barns set in among them which are now converted to fancy homes.
It's a pointer to Burwell's prosperous past as an inland port - the houses and barns were built to serve wharves and canals that fed into the Lode. It's the same again at Reach, whose Lode we didn't visit (you can get over-loded!).
Nor did we take the boat down Wicken Lode, chickening out and mooring at the EA visitor mooring by its start as we were worried about the depth and the weed. Just as well, since when we walked down it we discovered the mooring at the end was full up with four boats.

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