The River Great Ouse & Cam
The River Great Ouse is 150 miles (240 km) long making it the major navigable river in East Anglia. It is the fourth longest river in the United Kingdom and flows through 5 counties; Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.
The source of the river is around Brackley, Northamptonshire roughly 150m above sea level. The river then flows 143 miles down to The Wash in Kings Lynn. From Bedfordshire the river becomes navigable and passes through St Neots, Godmanchester, Huntingdon, St Ives and Earith. From Earith the river is tidal for a section before it splits into the channelised Old & New Bedford River, which remain tidal, and the natural course of the river which is not tidal (the New Bedford River remains navigable in accordance with the tides). The natural course of the river then passes through Hermitage Lock into the Old West River where it is joined by the River Cam before reaching Ely and then Denver Sluice.
For the adventurous, the river continues past Denver Sluice in a tidal channel towards the port of Kings Lynn and the Wash. The experienced boater can enjoy the scenic North Norfolk coast and beyond.
The Great Ouse Relief channel was opened to navigation in 2001 by a lock at the Denver complex. This wide, straight waterway runs for 6.5 miles between Denver and Kings Lynn. There are moorings at Downham Market, Stowbridge near the Heron public house and Magdalene Bridge with the Cock Inn nearby.
The Great Ouse is serviced by a variety of tributaries. These include the River Cam, River Wissey, River Lark and the Little Ouse. There is also a selection of beautiful Lodes for smaller craft; these are generally accessible from the River Cam.
The Great Ouse connects to the Middle Level after a short tidal crossing below Denver Sluice at Salters Lode. This waterway passes through Outwell, Upwell, March and Whittlesey before entering the River Nene at Stanground in Peterborough. Once on the River Nene narrow beam craft can navigate through the Northampton arm onto the Grand Union Canal – the main artery of the inland waterways system.
There are several ambitious plans to extend cruising such as the Fens waterway link proposing to connect navigation from Lincoln to Cambridge. Another proposed scheme is a Bedford to Milton Keynes waterway thus connecting the Great Ouse and Grand Union Canal. There are also suggestions to extend the Great Ouse Relief Channel to connect with the River Nar creating non tidal access to Kings Lynn. All these proposals are long term and require huge capital expenditure.
The Great Ouse and Nene, with their locks, are managed by the Environment Agency. The Cam has its own conservation body and the Middle Level is administrated by the Middle Level Commisioners.
Interactive River Great Ouse Map & Navigation Times
St Neots to St Ives – 6 hours
St Ives to Ely – 6.5 hours
Ely to Cambridge – 5.5 hours
Ely to Denver – (tidal) 3 hours
Denver to Kings Lynn – (tidal) 1.5 hours
Hermitage to Denver via Hundred Foot (tidal) – 1.5 hours
The Ouse Valley with its lush open meadows and meandering watercourses provides a treasure trove of wildlife for the birdwatcher, fisherman and rambler.
The river is navigable from Bedford in its upper reaches, passing through woldy, wooded countryside taking in the towns of St Neots and Huntingdon with several attractive riverside villages en route.
The river changes at St Ives to a more flat, open landscape heralding the beginning of the fenlands. This region has a distinct character, with dramatic open vistas, vast skies and unforgettable sunsets. The river here has been modified and channelled to reduce flooding and provide a faster route upstream for commercial barges.
The deep layers of peat in the Fenlands created a vast watery landscape of marsh and bog, but in the 17th century channelisation and extensive draining dried up the area causing shrinkage and the lowering of land by up to 6m in places.
You can cruise in your boat to the cities of Cambridge and Ely, mooring at secluded waterside pubs as fen lightermen did many years ago.
The Ouse and surrounding fenlands are important areas for wildlife. Recently Otters have returned to the river as the water quality has improved. Seals are often spotted around Earith and further downstream.
A wide variety of ducks and other birds can be spotted along the Great Ouse.
Link to Wildlife Gallery