Will this boating challenge in the Fens succeed? If it does it will be the first time in 11 years

Veterans of several attempts to navigate the Old Bedford river. John Revell and his boat Olive Emil

Veterans of several attempts to navigate the Old Bedford river. John Revell and his boat Olive Emily (right) will be joined by Chris Howes and his boat Lily May for a fresh attempt on April 4 2017, possibly in the company of a third vessel, yet to be confirmed. - Credit: Archant

Boating fanatics plan to navigate the full stretch of the Old Bedford river - if they succeed it will be the first time it has been done in 11 years.

The river has sections that have become inaccessible because they need dredging or have sections which are overgrown.

But now, veterans who have made several attempts over the years, are going to try again.

John Revell and his boat Olive Emily will be joined by Chris Howes and his boat Lily May for a fresh attempt on April 4, possibly in the company of a third vessel, yet to be confirmed.

The venture follows the most recent attempt on the Old Bedford by John Revell last November, which was defeated by low water levels and a lack of dredging by the Environment Agency.


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Chris Howes said: “These efforts are being made as the inability to navigate some local waterways not only mars the enjoyment of local boaters, but significantly hampers the development of a tourist industry that could be very important to the Fens economy.

“Following a recent question in Parliament, we have been assured at the highest level of the Environment Agency’s Anglian Region that de-silting has been undertaken and with the EA’s support we are hoping to make it all the way to Welches Dam Lock.

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“Despite several attempts having been made, we are not aware that anyone has successfully managed to complete this journey since 2006.

“As the Old Bedford river remains a statutory navigation, we are hoping that with the EA.s support we will succeed this time.

“Onlookers, supporters, and strong bodies prepared if necessary to haul the boats through any unmaintained sections, are all welcome.”

The Old Bedford river was dug in 1630 as the first of Cornelius Vermuyden’s endeavours to drain the Fens.

It connects the Horseway Arm of the Forty Foot Navigation with the River Great Ouse just below Denver Sluice.

It has been navigated for over 350 years, since the ‘Pretended Act of 1649’.

Chris said: “Navigation was first impeded by the building of a sluice at Welney in 1973, and the connection with the Forty Foot was interrupted when the Environment Agency closed Welches Dam Lock by inexplicably piling across the face of it.

“Project Hereward are campaigning to restore the lock and connecting Horseway Arm.

“The Old Bedford River remains in water but navigation remains difficult through ill considered water level management and a lack of de-silting and weed clearance.”

• The attempt will start around 11.30am on April 4 at Salter’s Lode, between Upwell and Downham Market PE38 0BL.

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