The river nearest to me growing up was called the Ouse – or more specifically, “The Great Ouse” cos there is another Ouse in the UK, (its a different river) which passes through York, but we didn’t know about that, cos it was a long way away. Yes, you’re right, this is interesting! At least from where I’m sitting – I now live much closer to York and the other Ouse, but its the Great Ouse I woke up dreaming about. We used to get in canoes, in the youth club and go from the village I lived in Clapham, Bedfordshire, and paddle down towards Bedford town, but then it does a U-turn, and goes to Bromham or something. mostly we’d go upstream to the next village of Oakley, this makes perfect sense, because the road runs the same way – you can’t see the road from the river, as its a way off, and anyhow, you’re down there in the river channel, looking at ducks, swans, water rats, fish, rocks, stuff like that. Its harder going upstream than down, it makes your arms ache a bit.
Its a very gentle river, and pretty easy to go along – only when the level is really low you might have to get out and carry your boat near Oakley, where there’s a weir, and some rapid bits.
But where does the river go beyond Oakley? I know it goes through Felmersham and Pavenham, and Carlton, and Harold I think, and the other way, it goes towards Bedford, but first it does a U turn, and goes to Bromham, or was that before Oakley? Ok lets have a look at the map –
Well you can see it bends about quite a bit – You might be going along a road and think, “whats the river doing here? I thought it went the other way?” It runs rings around you, you have no idea where its going. Its just as bad if you go along the railway line, it crosses the river 5 times in a few miles – WTAF??
Yes, its pretty flat landscape, the river can hardly tell which way is downhill, hence the meandering. Clapham to Bedford on foot, is about 2 miles, if you went by boat, it would be more like 8 or 10, and you’d have to navigate all sorts of weirs, go past loads of farmland and peoples back gardens – at Bromham, its all water lilies, very pretty, people have long gardens with tall trees, nice lawns, boat houses, that sort of thing – then you get to Kempston, which is all drug addicts and finally Bedford, which is a mixture of posh folk from rowing clubs, and more drug addicts and goths!
But I digress, when you look at a map, you can see where you are and where everything else is, but when you’re actually down there on the ground, its all about what it feels like to be where you are, you got no real idea of where anything else is, you got to experience the journey to know what its going to be like when you get to where you’re going, and what that will be like when you get there. It won’t have much to do with the map.
I lived in Kempston for a bit, so I know what the river is like there, and I know all those villages from the roads, cos the school bus went through picking everyone up. The river used to flood at some of those places, it would flood in Clapham when I was young, you’d need wellies to go down the high street, so I’d usually just go the other way if it was in flood.
Also, if you go west of this map, I used to work in Olney, where the Ouse passes through there, we used to swim in it at lunch break, its still quite deep there, but its quite a shallow river at many points along it. I see from a bigger map view, after Olney, it goes through Milton Keynes and Buckingham, then ends near there, so if you got in your canoe round there, it would be all downstream to Bedford, but it’d still probably take about a week to do it – it would be nice if the weather was ok, a worthwhile trip, but I don’t know if I’d recommend it? You would need to take a tent, and there’d be no TV etc.
The river is only really navigable from Bedford to the sea, about 60 miles east. Mostly thats all managed water ways, they drained the marshes (Fens) altering the rivers course, but you can take a bigger boat along there.
Here’s the Ouse at Bedford
Turvey is nice too!
Here’s a flood
And here’s what its like at Kings Lynn, going out towards the sea!