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
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
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
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: http://laurie-sandra.fotopic.net
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")