Page published 8 April 2008

At approximately 13:00 on 6 August 2001, in weather that was not the best, 71'6" nb Fulbourne, a 1936 built old working boat, successfully passed from the Middle Level through Salters Lode Lock and the two locks at Denver to pass onto the Gt Ouse Relief Channel. Martin Ludgate very kindly invited me aboard for the trip between Salters Lode and Denver Lock.

Fulbourne waiting for level water

Fulbourne overhanging the staging,
while waiting her turn to pass through the lock.

With levels equalised and the outer guillotine just clearing the cratch, Fulbourne leaves Salters Lode Lock. Paul, the lock-keeper, is on VHF radio to Mike, the lock-keeper at Denver. Paul's children keep an eye on things, while waiting for the weather to improve, as they've been promised some boating later.

The outer gate almost fully open

The lock-keepers at Salters Lode and Denver Sluice keep in contact via VHF radio.

The tide is now ebbing fast. Fulbourne's bows are caught in the current, which is flowing at a fast walking pace, long before the stern is clear of the lock. Fulbourne is taken broadside towards Kings Lynn. There is some initial trouble making the turn. Finally, with a thump the transmission bites and full power is applied. Meanwhile a cruiser waiting to make an entrance into the Lock, had to run for it, downstream, as Fulbourne's stern had threatened to come even closer as it made its turn!

Full power is applied as, finally, the gear is engaged.

Caught in the current, Fulbourne is swept broadside downstream. A cruiser, waiting to enter the lock, is forced to run further downstream.

Once properly underway Fulbourne proceeds upstream revealing proof that a level crossing can be done... The gaping archway, under the guillotine gate, can be seen through to the Middle Level.

Both Gates at Salters Lode fully open

The gates don't stay open for long.
The sandbanks indicate a rapidly falling tide.

After a half mile slog upstream we approach Denver. The mud banks demonstrate the speed with which the level is falling. Just out of site to the right, there is already an exposed bank of silt where the channels from the New Bedford and main Denver Sluice meet.

The lock in the Sluice is against the eastern bank of the Great Ouse.

The guillotine gate is open, so there's no need to use the pontoon to moor.

Here is that sandbank, with the start of the twenty mile straight run up the tidal New Bedford River in the background. I was told, on the day that this picture was taken, that they used this waterway, in calm conditions, to measure the curvature of the earth, though other sources say that that was done on the parallel Old Bedford River!

Silt accumulates between the channels below the Sluice

Take care to keep left as you approach the Sluice to avoid the sandbanks and take advice if intended to proceed up the New Bedford River.

After a brief stop after passing through the lock, an initial push off fails to make a successful departure. Fulbourne's high and shallow draughted bow, just gets blown straight back onto the staithe (a good Norfolk term!) just above the lock. A second attempt was needed to clear the willows overhanging the water, just out of shot in this picture.

It was a struggle to get the bow of the bank

nb Fulbourne finally leaves Denver, after I have a chance to get my bike ashore for the long ride back to Salters Lode.

Now through the new lock and over a mile down the Relief Channel, Fulbourne proceeds past Heygates Mill and under Denver Bridge. Seen in the foreground are the interpretation boards, hiding the majority of the gangway down to the newly installed pontoon moorings. Had the crew decided to stop here it would be a ¾ mile uphill climb to the centre of Downham Market, which is right on the edge of the fens on a 30m high hill.

Fulbourne passing Heygates Mill at Denver

Fulbourne, probably the first full-length traditional working narrowboat to pass down the Relief Channel.

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