Narrowboat Tacet

Silent Movement - Our gap year travelling the inland waterways

Friday, 7 June 2013

Down in Downham

Boy it was an early start this morning, the Lock keeper had asked us to be ready for 7.30 to go out of Salters Lode lock on the tide for the short journey down to Denver Sluice.
Salters Lode (1)

It wasn’t too hard, the sun was shining, the sky blue and the water calm, a beautiful day.

The lock is small, we just fit in, longer boats than Tacet have to wait for the tidal river to be level with Well Creek and then the gates both ends of the lock can be opened to let them through.  Today we were locking up onto the river which seems strange.
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Turn right and down to the Denver complex where river meets drains, meets old river, meets relief channel.
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A sluice was first built here in1651 across the river, by dutchman Cornelius Vermuyden. The sluices play a major role in the drainage of the fens, being at the confluence of five watercourses. They were not always popular with local landowners though, who often sabotaged the work of building the drainage channels, breaking the banks and damaging the sluices.
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When the sluice was rebuilt  in the 1700’s a lock was put in to allow boats through when the water levels were different.  There was again opposition as some felt it slowed the river trade. The current sluice dates from 1834, designed by Rennie, it has 3 main sluice gates and he widened the lock.
In 1947 the worst flood in history swamped the fens and something else needed to be done.
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In 1949, Sir Murdoch MacDonalds Flood Protection Scheme was approved by Parliament. At a cost of 10.5m over more than 10 years it actually mirrored an original drawn up by that clever Mr Vermuyden, which he never got to carry out. A relief channel was dug parallel with the tidal Ouse from Denver to Saddlebow. It provided a second route for water to be sent quickly to the sea from Denver. The Ouse was widened and deepened to improve flow and connected to the new relief channel by a sluice. After 300 years the old problem of moving surplus water from the fens to the sea was solved on completion of the scheme in 1964.
It was down this relief channel that we travelled today. Stopping at Downham Market to look around this Norfolk town.

The water is wide,
but you can cross over, in just a couple of places.
This is the bridge at Saddlebow, where we had to turn around, as from here on the waterway is controlled by the King’s Lynn Port not Environment Agency.

There are moorings at Downham Market opposite the Heyfords flour mill.
The mill was built in 1851, originally steam driven and one of the first to change from milling using traditional grindstones to the roller mill system.  Today the mill produces 90,000 tons of flour a year. They run their own fleet of trucks delivering the flour around the UK.  Heygates have two other mills, both on the Grand Union Canal, at Tring (Wendover Arm) and Bugbrooke.

There is a market at Downham Market!  On Fridays and Saturdays, a good selection of stalls, greengrocery, bakery, butchers, hardware, plants, all the usual stuff. There are craft markets sometimes too.

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The Town Square at the heart of the town has a unique black and white clock tower, a Town Hall built to commemorate Queen Victoria’s jubilee in 1887, a modern water fountain replacing an ancient one and a friendship wall designed by children of the town.
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Some of the local buildings, including the parish church and railway station, built in the distinctive local carrstone, inspiring the nickname ‘Gingerbread Town’.
At the Relief Channel lock, the automatic station point includes a keyboard, and we were asked for our boat number and telephone number before we could work the lock.  We guess this is so the EA could contact us if the levels were changing whilst we were on the channel.

Here the water is released out of, or into the lock not through paddles or sluices, but ‘slackers’.
Back on the Great Ouse, we found a lovely mooring at Ten Mile Bank where we (I) washed down Tacet in the evening sun.
Another lovely day.
Salters Lode – Ten Mile Bank
19 miles, 4 locks

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