The Great Ouse

Historical Profiles: NarrowBoat, Autumn 2013

Alan Faulkner

Alan Faulkner explores the history of this navigation and its involvement in the drainage of the Fens

The River Great Ouse rises not far from Brackley in Northamptonshire and passes through Buckingham before reaching the Grand Union Canal aqueduct at Wolverton. From there it pursues a very circuitous course via Newport Pagnell and Olney before reaching the Town Bridge at Bedford, which is generally regarded as the head of the navigation. From the aqueduct to Bedford is some 16 miles as the crow flies, but no less than 49 miles by river. From Bedford the river flows north-east, passing through St Neots, Huntingdon and St Ives before dividing. The original course enters what is now known as the Old West River that is joined by the River Cam at Pope’s Corner before passing through Ely and Littleport to Denver in Norfolk, where it becomes tidal. The alternative is the New Bedford River which provides a direct 20-mile channel to Denver where it joins up with the original course. The combined rivers then pass through Downham Market and King’s Lynn before flowing out into the Was…

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