Before reading this article further it is worth thinking back to 1984 when John Revell first visited the Middle Level Navigations. In those days entry by boat to the system was restricted to boats of 49 feet in length because of the short locks at Stanground, Ashline and Marmont Priory. Fortunately during the 1990’s thanks to campaigning the locks were lengthened to take full length narrowboats. Before that in the 1970’s our first holiday hire narrowboats transited the Old Bedford river to access the Great Ouse river system at Denver, the reason being Well Creek was not navigable. Thanks to the East Anglian Waterways Association, the Inland Waterways Association (Peterborough Branch) and the Well Creek Trust along with their campaigning members the waterways have been opened up for navigation, recreation and fishing to all. Their campaigning would have been fruitless without the willingness of the Middle Level Commissioners, the fourth largest and perhaps least well know navigation authority in the country.
Although I try and visit the main canal system in spring I usually leave my boat on the Middle Level for the summer and winter months. Not everyone is a fan of the Fens but I am.
On my first visit to the Middle Level in June 1984 I moored near a bridge and saw a narrow road leading towards what looked like a pub. I was right as I had arrived at the Three Horseshoes pub in Turves which was heaving with people on a Saturday night. My long journey had started at Bunbury near Chester and I was heading for the Fish and Duck near Ely. Both the pub locals and we were amazed that my journey had led me to Turves.
We returned to the Middle Level in August that year and visited some of the remoter parts. As we struggled along one somewhat weedy stretch a farmer came out to say hallo. He said he only ever saw weed boats there and added that he wished there were a few more boats passing as he was looking for a wife.
Away from the “Link Route” the Middle Level is little used, even in the height of summer. On a day’s journey from Holme to Floods Ferry this summer I met one moving narrow boat, passed 2 friendly fishermen when I went up to Ramsey basin for lunch and saw 5 kingfishers. If you want a good sunset or sunrise , lots of wildlife and peace and quiet this is the place to be.
Fox Narrowboats at March, Bill Fen Marina at Ramsey and Peterborough Boating Centre (just the other side of Stanground lock) provide most boating services. Whittlesey, Ramsey and March have a good range of shops and pubs, Upwell and Outwell provide a smaller choice of shops but convenient short term moorings plus 2 butchers, 2 fish and chip shops , the Globe PH, the Crown PH and the Crown Lodge Hotel and an amazing display of daffodils each year.
Away from the bright lights there are several pubs that have managed to survive, the Golden Lion at Stonea, the George at Ramsey Forty Foot, the Five Alls at Benwick, the Lion at Ramsey St Marys, the Admiral Wells at Holme and the Three Horseshoes at Turves. The shop at Three Holes next to the public landing stage (paid for by the Peterborough Branch of the Inland Waterways Association and built by the Middle Level Commissioners) has recently been renovated with a café and the Village shop at Ramsey St Marys is just before the Lion PH.
Now, if only we can restore Horseways Channel, Welches Dam lock and the Old Bedford to full navigation.
This is a guest blog by John Revell waterways campaigner and mooring customer here at Fox Narrowboats.