To get to Ely the normal procedure is to join the River Great Ouse at Salter’s Lode, where the river is tidal (and how!), then travel upstream for about a third of a mile to Denver Sluice, part of a major flood defence, whereupon the river becomes non-tidal again. But one can only get through Salter’s Lode Lock/Sluice for short period after high tide. As two high tides roughly twelve hours apart rarely fall into the same working day for the lockkeeper, one is rather restricted in passing through. “0800 to 0830” said the lockkeeper, so it was clear that if we wanted to get through in Saturday morning we’d have to get to Salter’s Lode on Friday night.
There are quite a few ways through the mysterious and multifarious Middle Levels, some more navigable than others but we’d bravely decided to follow the recommended route. This takes us through Upwell & Outwell, seemingly once a single riverside village that underwent binary fission sometime in the long distant past, and then grew back together more recently: you can’t really see the join.
Setting out from March, on wide and straight water, with mainly high banks again, the most obvious crops were wind turbines and big sky, and no other visible boaters.
Approaching Marmont Priory Lock, which we had expected to be manned (or more specifically womanned), we found a day-hire narrowboat out of March that was just starting to tackle the lock with staggering quantities of enthusiasm, energy, and ignorance. We managed, just in time, to stop them opening all the paddles (sorry, penstocks) and draining all the water out of Well Creek: good job we arrived when we did. Before we’d got them sorted out, another utterly unprepared day boat from the same outfit turned up, and had to breast up to Song & Dance because the lock landing only has room for 1 short boat. Biggles had taken umbrage at these strangers traipsing over the back of his boat, had gone ashore, and was heading at some rate of knots down the road to Norfolk. The second day boat crew at least admitted they hadn’t a clue. So we by the time we’d sorted out all that, (6 penstocks all needing 60+ winds to operate) and retrieved the Captain, lunch in Upwell & Outwell looked good… and fortunately the good burghers of Outwell & Upwell had put in some excellent moorings (or staithes, as they call them hereabouts). Splendid café right next to the church, where an interesting array of people in their finery were assembling for a wedding. The bride was late, by the looks of it, so we missed that bit.
All of which meant it was rather late in the afternoon when we finally made Salter’s Lode; fortunately there was room for us on the moorings, and we seemed to be number three in the queue going through the lock. Another long day.