The River Great Ouse, Cambridgeshire.
by Laurie (aka "lauriesandra")

The River Great Ouse from St Neots to Littleport in Cambridgeshire area, is a fabulous region to consider for either a short break or longer holiday. The area is well suited for either a relaxing stay, sight seeing or activity break. The laid back towns and sleepy villages have a historical value and are very picturesque. Plenty to see and do or just relax. A real gem of an area and not that busy or well known. Being inland, it is away from the hustle and bustle of the more traditional coastal resorts. You can indulge in a spot of river fishing, a leisurely boat cruise to meander along the waterways, a riverside walk, bird watching, shopping, sight seeing or simply to relax and have a drink at one of the many welcoming riverside pubs.

Houghton Mill CC site is a great base from which to explore this beautiful and historical area. Other sites in the area include, St Neots C&CC site, or try the privately run commercial sites including Quiet Waters at Hemmingford; Huntingdon Boat Haven & Caravan Park at Huntingdon; Willows Caravan Park at Brampton; Westview Caravan Park & Marina at Earith; Riverside Caravan Park at Littleport, which are all on the banks of the river. There is excellent road access to all these sites, being convenient to the main trunk roads, A10, A1 and A14. There are more touring caravan sites on and near the river and even more around the area, including some very interesting looking Caravan Club Certified Location sites. So there's plenty to choose from to suit all tastes and age groups.

Every village seems to boast an olde worlde church with the traditional high pointy spires along with the traditional looking village houses, pubs, etc., some with the newer developments alongside that refreshingly seem to blend in the old and new architecture, quite nicely and tastefully.

Historically, Oliver Cromwell was from around these parts and lived in St Neots, Huntingdon, St. Ives and Ely. The Vikings even made it up as far as Ely on several rape and pillage invasion missions! This was possible then because the Great Ouse River was tidal from the Wash to Ely and beyond, before the main river was diverted along the now called Hundred Foot drain. The old river at Ely is now affectionately referred to as The Old West, from Hermitage Lock at Earith to Denver Sluice.

The Cathedral at Ely is an awesome building of intricate architectural design and well worth a visit. It was built on the highest point of Ely and stands predominantly over the region. As the surrounding land is flat for as far as the eye can see, it can be seen towering from many miles away, on a clear day. The shear size of it alone suggests that it was one of the most important buildings of it's time. Interestingly enough, Ely was once called the Isle of Ely. It was completely surrounded by water before The Fens were dug and the surrounding land drained off. Aptly named Ely because it was renowned for it's abundance of eels.

Ely Riverside is a pleasant spot for a stroll for watching the boats and local rowing crews practise. Perhaps even partake in a pub meal and refreshments, al fresco style, weather permitting, of course.

The village at Hemmingford is very quaint and picturesque. Good for a pleasant and relaxing riverside walk and a hearty lunch in the local pub.

The St Ives Bridge and The Quay are also nice to stroll and watch the boats. The famous bridge is only one of two bridges built in this country that has a Chapel on the middle of it. After that, why not take a well earned rest for afternoon tea in the old tea shop with a river view or something stronger in the Dolphin pub on the other side of the bridge.

Houghton Mill has been fully restored by National Trust and is the only working mill left on the river. You can even buy the flour made there from the NT shop on site. A short walk to the river and watch the boats lock through at Houghton Lock, which is a very busy lock and popular at weekends.

The market town of St Neots is conveniently within walking distance of the C&CC site, via the Great Ouse Valley Path which passes through the site, and through the parks in the town. It's a very pleasant and easy walk into the town centre. A walk upstream, in the other direction takes you to The Riverside Pub, for good food and ales and even weekend entertainment. Best to take a torch at night for the walk back to site.

The Great Ouse Valley path runs for practically the whole length of the river and is waiting to be explored by foot, cycle or boat. You can take a leisurely cruise on the river on a day hire boat from one of the many marinas spread along this great and spectacular river. You can even book a larger river cruiser for a family boating holiday to explore the hundreds of miles of The Great Ouse Navigation System from Denver to Bedford on the main river and the many tributaries going off to Cambridge, up the River Cam; West Row, up the River Lark; Brandon, up the River Little Ouse and even up the quiet and peaceful River Wissey, amongst many other Lodes and Drains. Hidden gems await almost around every corner of the region. The navigation system even connects to the national British Waterways run system of Canals and Inland Waterways at Peterborough, via the canalised River Nene and several navigable drains, which opens up literally thousands of miles of navigation options for the serious boating explorers and enthusiasts amongst us. Not many can say they have managed to cruise it all though as this would take a lifetime!

For shopping, Ely, Huntingdon and St Neots have the usual known high street names, as well as the many local specialised shops and traders. All these towns have traditional local markets on different days and some still have live stock markets, at certain times.

Whilst in the area you could explore the Fens, which are vast, steeped in a chequered history, wild life and nature, including the Wicken Fen Nature Reserve, Prickwillow Museum, Streatham Steam Museum amongst others.

Many centuries ago, The Fens were dug out as land drainage ditches, so that the rich arable marsh lands below the natural water table could be used for agriculture and farming. It still is to this day. As the Fens are below sea level, the expertise of The Dutch was drafted in to design and build the vast system. They utilised wind and steam driven pumps to keep the land drained and flood free. For the day, The Fens were a real feat of civil engineering and a daunting project to take on. The huge and dangerous task of digging the ditches and building the embankments was totally carried out manually with men with shovels that used horses and carts to move the millions of tonnes of removed earth. Hundreds of miles of ditches and drains were dug out this way and many perished from the hard labour in this harsh environment. The labour force was made up of mainly prisoners to do this gruelling manual work with soldiers as guards of the many working gangs. The unfortunate men of the workforce were referred to as Fenland Tigers and the name was eventually and affectionately adopted by the local Speedway racing team.

Nowadays, The Fens are maintained in a more civilised fashion, mainly by The Environmental Agency. The Fens are still an integral part of our essential water system, Inland Waterways and flood defence management. Amazingly, water flowing into the Great Ouse River from as far away as Milton Keynes in Buckinghamshire, is pumped and channelled as far as Hanningfield Reservoir in Essex, via various rivers, cuts, pipes and channels, to supply domestic mains water for Essex, up to 120 miles away. On top of that, The EA maintains and manages The Fens and it's heritage for our leisure and enjoyment, such as boating, angling and nature lovers alike.

Oh! Did I mention that the river fishing is pretty good too! In the last 10 or 15 years or so, the river has improved to the excellent condition it is in today and many species thrive on the natural food chain that is supported by this rich river system. In the summer you may be very lucky to locate the hard fighting but elusive river Carp or Barbel, but you are more likely to enjoy good, all season long sport from Chub, Dace, Roach, Bream, Perch, Eels, Pike and even Zander, if you get your tactics right. Some stretches are run by clubs but most areas can be fished for the price of a day ticket or even for free. But don't forget to buy your fishing license from the Post Office before you go.

This is just a taste of what this region offers. Explore it for yourself and you will find the hiddens gems that await.

The photos below were taken over the past couple of years, during our many stays and visits to the river and surrounding areas.

The photo below IS of the view of the Gt Ouse downstream at St Neots C+CC Site.

the photo below is the weir pool and Restaurant at Brampton Mill.

The photo below is of the marina and caravan pitches set amongst the trees at Huntingdon Boat Haven & Caravan Park.

The photo below is of Westview Marina & Caravan Park at Earith taken from my boat, on the Great Ouse River itself .

Even more photos and some site reviews here:

I hope you find my article and my photos interesting. I'm sure you will enjoy at least a visit or two to the area.

Laurie (aka "lauriesandra")