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The Middle Level


By Alan Faulkner

This project was launched by Roger Sexton, Chairman of the East Anglian Waterways Association on Saturday 28 August 1993 at the Inland Waterways Association's National Waterways Festival at Peterborough.
Its objective was to lengthen the locks on the Middle Level Navigations at Ashline (Whittlesey) and Marmont Priory to permit full-length narrow boats to pass through the system without having to navigate out into the tidal waters of The Wash. In part the project was prompted by the lengthening of Stanground Lock at the northern entrance into the system. A downstream extension was constructed to this lock in 1989/1990 with a formal opening ceremony taking place on 9 July 1990. The lock could then pass boats up to 80-feet in length and 11½-feet wide but the draught of boats over 36-feet in length was restricted to 2-feet.

Project Hereward's first success came on 21 March 1997 when Marmont Priory was officially re-opened after being lengthened at the downstream end. A formal opening ceremony was performed just over a year later on 12 May 1998. The lock can now pass boats almost up to 90-feet long with a width of 11½ feet.

Then at the beginning of November 1998 work started on Ashline Lock with the first boats passing through on 1 April 1999 and a formal opening ceremony being held on 9 September 1999. The lock can now pass boats up to 92-feet in length with a width of 12-feet.

Owing to the success of local authority funding applications EAWA only had to make a small contribution to the £56,000 cost of Marmont Priory but at Ashline it provided £8,000 towards the total cost of some £80,000.

The remaining lock on the route through to the River Great Ouse is at Salters Lode - this has not been lengthened and can normally pass boats up to 62-feet in length and 12½-feet width. Boats up to 80-feet long however can pass through in the short space of time when high tide in the Great Ouse makes a level.

EAWA and the Lincolnshire Branch of the IWA, began exploring the possible restoration of the Black Sluice Drainage & Navigation as the first stage in creating a "Witham to Nene Link".
This became EAWA's "Project Hereward 2". On Friday 24 August 2001 at the IWA's National Waterways Festival at Milton Keynes Roger Sexton launched the new project and it now forms a key part of the Fens Waterways Link that is designed to provide a navigable route link between the Witham, the Glen, the Welland, the Nene, and the Great Ouse rivers.

Alan Faulkner, October 2009

The entry to Old Bedford River, in the 1970's...

"Tried - but could do better"

The September 2009 Cruise onto the Old Bedford River

The IWA Peterborough Branch's cruise for the Old Bedford had been planned for the weekend of Saturday 26th September 2009. The entrance to the Old Bedford is via a tidal sluice, which can only be opened briefly when the tidal Great River Ouse is at low tide. Back in 1973, when the Old Bedford was the only open route through the Middle Levels for those attending the Ely Rally, over 40 boats were able to use the sluice on the one tide. Today, the silting of the Great Ouse below Denver has meant that it is over a year since a passage had been attempted.

Silted up entrance of the Old Bedford, from the opposite bank on September 18th, 2009.

Same, from the opposite bank after dredging on Sept 26th, 2009.

The EA, during the previous week had brought a floating Smalley excavator and a land based dredger, to open out the entrance, and the channel sides were re-profiled. To "test" the work on the Friday, a narrow boat cruiser, "Olive Emily", had locked out of Salter's Lode Lock (Well Creek) just before low tide and attempted to enter the mouth of the Old Bedford, but unfortunately not enough silt had been dredged from below the waterline for the boat to enter. Not wishing to miss the "window" of opening of the tidal doors, the boater decided to reverse in, using his propeller to carve out his own channel, and managed to reach the Old Bedford.

It was then hoped that the EA dredging contractors, now realising that some further deepening work was needed, would complete this on the Friday afternoon. Unfortunately no further work was undertaken.

On the Saturday morning the main contingent was due, and the first boat, "Hillpenny", locked down from Salter's Lode before low tide, but was unable to manoeuvre, despite many different attempts, through the mouth of the channel. Eventually, the boat became completely stemmed up, preventing any It was not until the incoming tide refloated the boat, that it was able to move, but by this time the "low tide window" for entry through the Old Bedford Sluice was past. Whilst the boat was stuck, checks were made on the depth available - although about 3 feet in the middle, about 1 foot on either side the "V" shaped channel was down to 2 foot, holding the boat by its "shoulders".

That afternoon both crews joined the "Olive Emily" to cruise the 12 miles up to Welches Dam and the junction with the Forty Foot. However, within 100 yards the boat had twice lifted over silt bars and became completely stuck 20 yards after the new bridge. In all 10 minutes cruising!. The boat was then reversed to the turning point and moored overnight at the Sluice.

The following day the "Olive Emily" left the Old Bedford sluice without problem - until it reached the junction with the tidal Great Ouse - and became firmly stuck at the same place that "Hillpenny" had been stemmed up the previous day. Only after an hour and half and with the assistance of water flushed down from Denver was the "Olive Emily" able to be refloated and return to Wells Creek via Salter's Lode Lock.

So the EA had tried to enable entry into the Old Bedford - but their contractors had not dug out those last few cubic metres to give the 7 foot wide channel and 2 foot depth required.

Tried - but could do better. Let's hope this will occur for the next attempted cruise in the spring of 2010

The Tuesday Night Club on Tour, Tour 2001, part "1" part "2" part "3" in 2, 2 and 3 parts!
The Middle Level:

The Fens Waterways Link includes - Creating a new navigation, using the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers southwards from Welches Dam to the Great Ouse at Earith, creating a landmark structure at Denver, involving flights of locks and an aqueduct over the New Bedford River, to eliminate the current tidal crossing, and creating a new direct waterway link from Chatteris to Earith.

Navigation of The Middle Level

Stanground Sluice 0.0 1
Whittlesey 4.0 1
Ashline Lock 5.0 2
Floods Ferry 11.0 2
March 15.0 2
Twenty Foot End 18.0 2
Junction Pophams Eau 20.0 2
Marmont Priory Lock 21.0 3
Upwell 22.0 3
Outwell 23.0 3
Mullicourt Aqueduct 25.0 3
Nordelph 27.0 3
Salters Lode 28.0 4

The Middle Level Watermen's club is only a few minutes walk from the centre of the town of March. Overnight mooring. Built for the members of the Middle Level Watermen’s Club, we would welcome any Comments, ideas, pictures, and information that can be Shared among the club and visitors!

( ( Harnser This web site is about Brian and Diana and their Narrowboat “Harnser”.
The building of their boat and the journeys they have enjoyed in her - and trip report (coming) in the Middle Level!
) )

Middle Level Commissioners

The Middle Level, apart from its flood protection role, is also the fourth largest navigation authority in the United Kingdom and is responsible for approximately 100 miles (160 kilometres) of statutory navigation and the operation of six navigation locks. The Nene-Ouse Navigation Link forms part of the Middle Level Navigation. The Link is at present the only connection between the Great Ouse and the Main Canal Network. During a normal summer, over 1,000 passages of the Link-Route are made by pleasure craft.

IWA - Middle Level

The East Anglian Waterways Association is a believer in "Waterways for All" - promoting access to our navigations for the community - whether walkers, nature lovers, anglers, canoeists, boaters or gongoozlers.  We work with and support many local societies, trusts and other user bodies in the area  -  Please visit our LINKS page for more information.
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