7Hrs / Day • Locks: 10
March to Cambridge – through Marmont Priory Lock, Salter’s Lode Lock, Denver Tidal Sluice and back
Experience landscapes full of sky, and skies full of birds, along this route that communes with nature. The journey also takes you travelling through time to touch some of Britain's most potent history. You'll cruise across a place described as the ‘Holy Land of the English’ because of its cathedrals, and its celestial reputation makes sense as you steep in far-reaching panoramas of the charismatic flat fenlands.
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. The roof from inside is a terrific vision of over a hundred carved angels that hail the beautiful silence of a 15th-century church.
Leaving March behind, 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 battled with taming the water here and successfully used Wella as an inland port until they left in 407 and then left the fenland to return to swamp. The Vikings were bound to spy their chance too, and in 850 AD, they roared down the Wash, storming through Upwell on their way for a good looting opportunity in Ely. As well as herculean tales from history, Upwell has a more gentle and recent connection - from 1953-1965, Revd Wilbert Awdry was a vicar nearby and it is said he 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.
As you enter 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 in his time 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.
From Ely you'll cruise the River Ouse to Wicken Fen where there is a wetland nature reserve owned by the National Trust. They say it is home to over 9000 recorded species - bitterns, swallows, sand martins, swifts, warblers, cuckoos, Bewick & Whooper swans, pink-footed & white-fronted geese, widgeon, teal and countless more - as well as butterflies, dragonflies, damselflies and wildflowers with heaven's scents and all shades of English colours to fill your senses!
Heading along the River Cam, amongst the silent echoes of Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, you pass through some locks and then reach Cambridge, world famous for its university founded in 1209. The city is bursting with places to eat, shop and enjoy the cerebral culture of museums and art galleries. Whilst sightseeing in the city you may hear the seats of the church and choirs of Kings College Chapel descanting to the fens - and in the stillness you'll know a feeling of remoteness and tranquillity is calling for your return journey.
The following are examples of the boats that you can hire from ABC Boat Hire at March Marina:
Alvechurch Duck - For a maximum of 6 people, 4+2 Berth, Length 60ft, Cruiser Stern
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