The Fens, River Nene, River Great Ouse, Middle Levels

The heavily locked Northampton Arm of the Grand Union Canal leaves the mainline at Gayton Junction and joins the River Nene in the centre of Northampton. The River Nene runs into the tidal Wash, but most boaters will turn into the network of waterways known as the Middle Levels, which give access to the River Great Ouse and River Cam.

The East Anglian Waterways offer an unique and beautiful cruising area, scattered with interesting villages and market towns, but often there’s just land and sky and utter solitude! Cruising is on the increase and more facilities are being installed.

The River Nene

The River Nene takes a twisting course to Peterborough through pleasant rural surroundings, becoming tidal as it crosses the flat Fenlands on its way to the sea. You can enter the Middle Levels which provide a way to avoid the difficult tidal stretch via hundreds of miles of peaceful waterways. The Nene originally joined the Great Ouse to flow together into the Wash, but the course of the Great Ouse was moved in the twelfth century to a more easterly outlet near King’s Lynn. Nature, and then man from the Romans onward, have been continually altering watercourses of this large area of marshes between and around the rivers to farm the rich soils.

The River Great Ouse

The Great Ouse flows over 70 miles from Bedford out into the Wash, linking to the River Cam coming down from Cambridge and a series of other navigable rivers along its way.

The Middle Levels

The Middle Levels are a network of rivers, manmade drainage ditches and sluices intended to drain the low lying area between Peterborough and the cathedral city of Ely. However they also offer a navigable route between the River Nene and the fenland rivers. The Dutch engineer Vermuyden created many of them when he drained the Fens in the 17th century. One of them, the Old Bedford Level, runs dead straight for 20 miles and was the location for a series of experiments in the 19th and early 20th centuries to prove, or disprove that the Earth was round.

Denver Sluice

More Info

The main concern of these rivers and drains is water control.

Many are managed by the Environment Agency. A EA licence is not required to cruise the middle middle level navigations between the Nene and the Great Ouse.

The drains are run by the Middle Level Commissioners. A key for the sanitation station at March can bought from the locks at Peterborough and their offices in March.

An additional licence may be required by CRT licensed boats to cruise other waterways which are not managed by the EA or Middle Level Commissioners.

St Ives on the Great Ouse.
St Ives on the Great Ouse
Photos Waterway Images

Canal Rings

You could spend most of your summer exploring the myriad of circular routes on the Middle Levels between the River Nene and the River Great Ouse!

Also there’s an ambitious scheme to link Lincolnshire and the River Witham with Cambridgeshire and the River Great Ouse. The ‘Fens Waterway Link‘ would comprise of some 50 miles of new waterways and connect the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely with the market towns of Boston, Spalding, Crowland and Ramsey. For more details see

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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