Secrets of the Middle Level Waterways

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Image: Holme Fen – Silver Birch Woodland – By Wehh*

There’s nothing like a canal boat holiday for getting away from it all, and there’s nothing like The Middle Level in Cambridgeshire, for getting even further away from it all, exploring the little places off the main routes, and places that only the locals would know.

The Middle Level is a fascinating interconnected waterway combining natural rivers and manmade canals, and dating back to the 17th century. Since the draining of the Fen, over the years the land here has sunk, and most of the area is now below sea-level. The Middle Level rivers now have to be pumped up to sea-level to drain the land.

Our marina in March, Cambridgeshire, is the ideal starting point for exploring these lesser-known waterways. Here are three things you must not miss on your Middle Level adventure.

1) The Three Churches in March, Upwell and Outwell.

St Wendreda’s Church is a short walk from our marina and is locally known for its beautiful double-hammer beam roof with 120 carved angels. St Peter’s Church in Upwell, dating back to the 13th century, is worth a visit because of the unusual tower. Inside there are 25 carved oak angels in the roof looking down into two Victorian galleries. St Clement’s Church, in the middle of Outwell village, is a treasure-house of unique mediaeval sculptures and beautiful stained glass. Check out: Four Churches to Visit When it’s not Even Christmas.

2) This Low Point is a Highlight

The lowest point in England: Holme Fen nature reserve, is a beautiful place for a stroll. Holme Fen is quite a walk from the nearest navigable waterway, which itself is quite remote from the main link route. But if you’re a bit of an explorer and like to go off the beaten track you will find the 19th century Holme Post, which measures the ongoing land shrinkage, worth a visit. Explore the finest silver birch woodland, and discover the birds, dragonflies, marsh plants and fungi, that make the reserve a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Read more: Middle Level Navigations – Points of interest.

3) Rare Animals and Plants

Woodwalton Fen is a nature reserve and wetland site west of Ramsey. If you’re cruising towards Ramsey there is a mooring just under the second bridge, and a village shop with a pub there. This beautiful reserve is internationally important for wildlife, and provides a refuge for thousands of species of fen animals and plants, many of which are found nowhere else in the country. Ramsey is four hours cruise from March marina, and is also home to the Ramsey Rural Museum. This fascinating little museum is currently closed due to the pandemic, but keep an eye on their website for up to date information. https://ramseyruralmuseum.co.uk

Where to Moor on the Middle Level

There are pub moorings, visitor moorings and wild moorings on The Middle Level. However, mooring is a little limited through the Levels, so journeys do have to be planned. Try playing with the https://canalplan.uk/ website if you want to “geek out” before your holiday! Alternatively, the guidebook supplied with your hire boat will show you available moorings. Public moorings have a 48 hour maximum stay time.

There are visitor moorings in March town centre, which is good for shops and pubs. The Ship is directly opposite the moorings, and there is also The Griffin and a Wetherspoons.

The mooring at Whittlesey, on Kings Dyke, by the leisure centre is not too far to walk to the pubs. There are also a few nice wild moorings. For example on Beavills Leam, (near Whittlesey) you can moor to the left bank; there is plenty of room to turn around.

You can moor at Three Holes Bridge on the Main Drain/Sixteen Foot River. There are also visitor moorings in the villages of Outwell and Upwell. In Upwell it’s possible to moor at Church Bridge, and in Outwell moor at Boat Basin.

There are moorings at Benwick, on the old River Nene, and a good pub called The Five Alls, about 10 minutes’ walk from the moorings. This rural, family-friendly pub offers food to eat in or takeaway. From March marina it’s about two hours cruise on the River Nene, old course. Keep an eye on their Facebook page for up to date information and the current menu. https://www.facebook.com/fivealls/

If you’re heading onto the River Great Ouse there are holding moorings at Salter’s Lode that you can moor on overnight, or there is a nice mooring, Gladys Dacks, just west of Nordelph.

If you’re looking for something a little different, off the beaten track, The Middle Levels are a great place to explore by narrowboat.

Watch our Middle Level Boating Video on Facebook.

You may also like: Seven Surprising Differences We Discovered Cruising the Middle Levels

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Image Attribution: By *Wehha – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

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