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3 or 4 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 6
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 - 8.5 HOURS (18 HOURS IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: IM2, IM3, L26 | Click here buy maps
This route takes the water traveller on a journey bursting at its banks with history and wildlife - from the town that was once an island, following tranquil waters and wide skies, adventuring through the mighty Denver Tidal Sluice and reaching Cromwell's home territory in Ely.
Living history with emotional peaks and troughs is knitted into the flat landscapes of the Fenlands.
In the 1630s a Dutch hydraulic engineer named Cornelius Vermuyden was commissioned by the Earl of Bedford to drain the fenland. But, before the drainage of the Fens, March was once an island surrounded by marshes, so as you pass through the town your eye view is up from water level. Sir John Betjeman would be disappointed if you didn't moor up here to visit St Wendreda's church, just a short walk from the town centre. He once declared it was “worth cycling forty miles into a head wind” to see the angel roof of the church. From inside, the roof is a terrific vision of over a hundred carved angels that hail the beautiful silence of a 15th-century church.
Travelling on from March, you cruise through Marmont Priory Lock and then pass the distinctive Dutch style buildings of Upwell and Outwell. These two inseparable villages were once one, known as Welle or Wella. The Romans took on the task of taming the water here and successfully used Wella as an inland port until they left in 407, leaving the fenland to return to swamp. Later, in 850 AD, the Vikings couldn't resist roaring down the Wash and storming through Upwell on their way for a good looting session in Ely.
In recent times Upwell's stories have become gentler since the nearby vicar from 1953 to 1965, Revd Wilbert Awdry, was inspired by the Wisbech & Upwell Tramway at Upwell to write some of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories. The sustainability of the Fenlands, most of which lie within a few metres of sea level, relies on artificial drainage.
A couple of miles along Well Creek, the route crosses Middle Level Main Drain which showcases huge pumps that hurl water out to sea. As you pass through Salter’s Lode Lock, alongside your tranquil cruise through open countryside a fabulous tension rises with a short tidal approach to Denver.
A great feat of engineering, Denver Tidal Sluice protects thousands of homes in Cambridgeshire and Norfolk from flooding as incoming tides are diverted away from the Great Ouse River. Denver Sluice dates back 400 years, but was renewed by Rennie in 1749, and reinforced since.
After the achievement of cruising through this amazing distraction, there's the chance to moor up and explore the sights of the village and Denver Windmill. If you have time, you can also go through the new lock into the Relief Channel to visit Downham Market. Shortly beyond Denver you pass junctions with the River Wissey, the Little Ouse River, as well as the village of Littleport before your grand arrival in Ely. Entering the city you will be following the footsteps of many powerful figures of the past.
It's said King Canute regularly rowed into Ely in the 11th century and Oliver Cromwell lived here for around 10 years too. Visitor attractions include Cromwell's house, the Ely Museum at the Old Gaol, and a Stained Glass Museum at the cathedral. The extraordinary size of Ely Cathedral, in relation to its small city, reflects the steadfastly spiritual story of the land it occupies.
The location has been a place of worship since 673, and it was after Ely Cathedral was built in 1109 that the town grew up around it. Beyond steeping yourself in Cromwellian hats and helmets and godly matters, Ely invites you to shop, eat, drink and relax for a while before the return journey to March.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People