Sunday, 4 May 2014

Out on the Old West

The delightful Old West River
We've spent the last 24 hours out along the old west. Not the old west of cowboy fame but something altogether much more tranquil, the Old West river, the oddly named stretch of river that runs between the Ely Ouse and the Bedford Ouse.
Last time we headed upstream from Ely we branched left onto the River Cam. This time we forked right, in front of the recently reburbished Fish & Duck marina, onto the Old West.
Passing the restored steam powered fen pump house at Stretham
The character of the river immediately changes from wide, straight and deep to narrow, winding and in places relatively shallow. A quiet, rural river of great charm and variety compared with the often featureless Ely Ouse. There are less floodbanks so the views are more open, more trees and there's plenty of wild life.
The reason for the change of pace lie in the origins of the river. Originally it was a meandering stream flowing westwards (hence the name) which the Romans linked by canal to the Bedford Ouse at Earith and then in medieval times the river was joined to the Cam to complete the current route.
Lovely narrow tree lined stretch above The Lazy Otter pub
 For boats this is now the accepted inland waterway route from the upstream Ouse through to Ely and Denver though at Earith there is a direct - and tidal - connection to the Ouse just beyond Denver, the New Bedford River, created as part of the fenland drainage network. There's a substantial manned lock at the meeting of the Old West and the Ouse and Bedford waterways, the result of all this is being that the Old West is a very placid and slow flowing river.
Derelict boat slowly being reclaimed by the countryside
A few years ago when we boated in this area, a jaunt from Earith or St Ives to Ely for an overnight stop and an Indian take-away or fish and chips was our regular weekend trip and I suppose familiarity made us a little bored with the route. Returning to it after time away was a chance to see again just how pretty it can be, mixing wide sweeping bends with narrow tree-lined stretches, clear sections where we spotted a grebe swimming underwater and others where the dreaded blanket weed started to roll up round our prop.
We moored for the night at the GOBA moorings near Aldreth, a spot of utter tranquility with not a sound to be heard apart from the occasional bird call. The sun had shone all the way from Ely and it continued to shine today as we continued toward Earith.
Our remote and peaaceful mooring near Aldreth
The lock here is manned by a keeper as it is a tidal one, with the lock chamber being under the main road from Cambridge. We emerged from it into a completely different river, once more wide and deep - wider even than the Ely Ouse and with signs of winter flooding still obvious in the swampy meadows.
And we were greeted by another old friend - the famous Earith seal, swimming happily in the river and a few minutes later munching on a large fish. Because of the open link through to the Wash seals routinely find their way here and bask on the jetties at nearby Westview Marina. Which is where we too basked in the evening sun at the end of a delightful day.

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