Old Bed­ford is fi­nally con­quered

MID­DLE LEVEL NAVIGATIONS

Canal Boat - - News -

AF­TER NUMER­OUS un­suc­cess­ful at­tempts in re­cent years, a cam­paign cruise in April by three Fen­land nar­row-boaters fi­nally suc­ceeded in cruis­ing up the Old Bed­ford River all the way from Sal­ters lode to Welches Dam – the first nar­row­boats to ar­rive there in 11 years.

The Old Bed­ford River and the east­ern end of the Forty Foot River be­tween them pro­vide an al­ter­na­tive route through the Mid­dle Level Navigations to the Great Ouse. But de­spite a statu­tory obli­ga­tion to main­tain it (not to men­tion con­sid­er­able vol­un­teer ef­fort hav­ing been put into restor­ing it), Welches Dam Lock on the Old Bed­ford River was de­clared un­safe in 2006 by the En­vi­ron­ment Agency (the nav­i­ga­tion author­ity for this part of the Mid­dle Level sys­tem) and a line of steel piles were in­stalled, cut­ting off the through route. Since then, the Old Bed­ford has, in the­ory, still been nav­i­ga­ble as a dead-end from the Sal­ters Lode di­rec­tion, but a com­bi­na­tion of weed, lack of dredg­ing, and a tricky tidal ac­cess have de­feated all at­tempts since a shal­low-draught cruiser last made it in 2009.

How­ever on April 4, nar­row­boats Olive Emily, Lily May and Ever Af­ter suc­ceeded in sail­ing through the silted-up en­trance into the Old Bed­ford, where thanks to the EA rais­ing the water level they were able to cruise through to Welches Dam be­fore overnight­ing and re­turn­ing.

Af­ter the suc­cess­ful trip, Jeff Wal­ters of Ever Af­ter urged the agency to “con­tinue this fresh spirit of work­ing to­gether” by fa­cil­i­tat­ing the In­land Wa­ter­ways As­so­ci­a­tion and ‘Project Here­ward’ team in their pro­pos­als to as­sess Welches Dam Lock with a view to restora­tion.

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