What’s so ‘great’ about the Great Ouse?

There are four rivers in England which are all called ‘Ouse’.

The Sussex Ouse is a 42 mile long river which joins the sea at Newhaven.

Sussex Ouse

Sussex Ouse looking down stream from Mount Caburn

The Little Ouse flows from the Norfolk/Suffolk border for 37 miles to join the Great Ouse near Littleport in Cambridgeshire.

The Yorkshire Ouse flows for 52 miles until it meets the River Trent at Trentfalls, where they both join the Humber estuary. The tidal section of the Yorkshire Ouse is a truly mighty river, as anyone who has seen the photos of Naburn Lock (below York) completely submerged below floods, or who has tried to steer from the Ouse on a falling tide into the lock at Selby, will testify.

Lendel Bridge

Lendel Bridge Yorkshire Ouse

The Great Ouse rises in Northamptonshire. Originally it found the sea below Wisbech, via the River Nene. It now joins the sea near King’s Lynn after a comparatively sedate 162 mile journey from its source.

So what makes this Ouse ‘Great’ – in comparison to its mighty ‘big brother’ in Yorkshire ? It was probably first called the ‘Great Ouse’ to differentiate it from the ‘Little Ouse’ which joins it below Ely. But round here, we believe that it is called ‘Great’ because it is simply the only one where you can hire a fox narrow boat!

derelict watermans arms

Derelict Watermans arms


The bewildered raindrop 



The southern and western upland areas of Northamptonshire are the source of a number of southern England’s major rivers. The Great Ouse rises in Wappenham and flows east to the Wash. The Upper Avon rises in Naseby and flows west into Warwickshire. The River Cherwell rises in Hellingdon and flows south to join the Thames in Oxford, and the River Nene rises on Arbury Hill and flows northeast, also to the Wash.

Any drop of rain, falling within this comparatively small area of land, could be forgiven for not having the faintest idea whether it was going to end up in the Bristol Channel, the Thames Estuary, or the Wash.

If our confused rain drop has come down the Great Ouse, just as it reaches Denver, only 14 miles from the sea, it might be diverted into the Great Ouse Cut-Off Channel via the Diversion Sluice and pumped off in the opposite direction To Essex

If you are interested in exploring the Fenland Waterways Foxs have day hire narrowboats and holiday boats available.

image credits Watermans Arms Chris Howes all others Shutterstock.

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