Cruising Through History: Exploring Cambridgeshire’s Waterways with Fox Narrowboats

Houghton Mill 1966 cc wiki BesselDekker PD

Houghton Mill 1966 -BesselDekker Public Domain

Do you enjoy spending time exploring England’s rich heritage and visiting places that evoke a nostalgic charm? Isn’t it wonderful when an ancient building sparks your imagination, transporting you back to a distant past? Here are just some of the historical gems you can visit on a canal boat holiday in Cambridgeshire.

Houghton Mill

Houghton Mill is a National Trust property on the River Great Ouse. Centred on an island on the river, this large timber-built watermill still has operational machinery. Flour is still milled and sold to visitors at the weekends.

Houghton Mill CC BY SA 3.0 Cmglee

Houghton Mill CC BY SA 3.0 Cmglee

Stretham Engine

Five miles south of Ely on the Old West River is the sole surviving operational steam engine in the Black Fen. It was installed in 1831, replacing four wind pumps. This steam-powered pumping station was used to drain the Fens in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It is open to the public on selected Sundays between April and October, 1:00pm to 5:00pm.

old stretham engine inside cc 2.0 Ashley Dace

old stretham engine inside cc 2.0 Ashley Dace

Peterborough Cathedral

This cathedral was rebuilt in the 12th century, and has remained mostly intact. It is the burial place of Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon. On the approach to Peterborough by narrowboat, the cathedral can be clearly seen across the flat fields that lead to Stanground Lock.

peterborough cathedral-old image cc wiki public domain

peterborough cathedral-old image cc wiki public domain

The Nene Valley Railway

This historic railway can be visited from the Environment Agency moorings at Wansford Station. From here you can take a trip aboard a heritage steam or diesel train. This can be included as part of a narrowboat cruise towards Peterborough. Read: The Canal Boat Holiday That Train Enthusiasts Will Love.

Ely Cathedral

This cathedral is known as the ‘ship of the Fens’ because it is visible from miles away as you approach it. Enjoy the cathedral shops, and a cathedral tour, including access to the unique Octagon Tower and the Monastic Buildings around the cathedral grounds. While you are there you can also visit the Stained Glass Museum.

Oliver Cromwell’s House

Also in Ely you can see Oliver Cromwell’s House, which is now a museum. There’s so much to see in Ely it’s worth stopping overnight. If you’re visiting Ely by narrowboat the city centre is just a short walk away from the moorings, up a steep hill.


Cambridgeshire’s local museums are often low-cost or free. Wherever you travel by narrowboat you are likely to come across one. There is one in March, Whittlesey, one in Peterborough, and one in Ely. The more unusual ones are Oliver Cromwell’s House, and The Stained Glass Museum. Prickwillow Museum tells the story of the drainage of the Fens, the history of the local area, and showcases restored diesel engines.


One of the most popular destinations for foreign tourists visiting the UK, this ‘city of perspiring dreams’; is a world famous university city. Cambridge is good for shopping, restaurants, and getting cosy in ancient English pubs. Try punting on the river, stroll around some of the 31 colleges looking at impressive architecture, and wander among the bicycles and students.

Cruising Through History

Among these eight suggestions you will find quirkiness, famous sights, nostalgia, heritage and heaps of British charm. What could be more quintessentially English than visiting these ancient places by narrowboat?

cruising with fox narrowboats Nassington

cruising with fox narrowboats Nassington

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