Old Bedford is finally conquered
MIDDLE LEVEL NAVIGATIONS
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.