Press Release: IWA Campaign Cruise on the Old Bedford River

Issue date: 24th August 2018

A campaign cruise led by The Inland Waterways Association took place on the 19th and 20th August, in the lead up to IWA's Festival of Water at St Neots. The event was organised to highlight the continued closure of Welches Dam Lock, which via the Horseway Channel provides an alternate route from the Middle Level Navigations, along with current problems navigating the Old Bedford River, a statutory navigation.

Only one narrow boat made it through the Old Bedford Sluice at Salter's Lode, which demonstrates the difficulties in accessing the Old Bedford River from the tidal Ouse. Two other narrow boats and a 22ft sailing yacht, which had crossed The Wash to take part, also attempted to get through the sluice gate, but failed despite valiant efforts by all concerned. These attempts took place over three different tidal windows when a level was reached, to allow passage through the single guillotine gate, but the tidal entrance was too shallow and silted to allow any but the shallowest draughted boat through.

Three portable craft were put directly into the Old Bedford River by the sluice gate at Salter's Lode, and so a flotilla of 4 boats set off and reached Welney, about half way along the waterway, by the Sunday evening.

On the Monday morning the four boats continued their journey along the river, encountering much more weed along this section which made the passage slower, and arrived at the closed lock at Welches Dam soon after midday. Those supporters viewing the flotilla from the bank included some of the boaters who had been unsuccessful in getting through the sluice, the crew of a boat who had arrived at the other end of the Horseway Channel (who had walked the short distance to Welches Dam lock along the towpath of the derelict Horseway channel), and a TV news reporter with camera and drone. After photos and interviews had taken place, the flotilla set off to return to Salter's Lode, and the narrow boat successfully passed back through the Old Bedford Sluice on the ebbing tide on the Monday evening.

Chris Howes, IWA Eastern Region Chairman and skipper of Lily May, the one narrow boat that managed to get on to the river, said "On behalf of IWA and the other boaters taking part in this event I would like to thank EA and MLC staff for their support in enabling the campaign cruise to take place. We look forward to working further with EA to come to a resolution regarding the continued closure of Welches Dam and the difficulties in accessing the Old Bedford River, as well as working with them on other initiatives in the Anglian Region."


Notes for Editors


"Old Bedford River Campaign Cruise flotilla reaches the closed lock at Welches Dam, 20th August 2018" - photo by Mike Daines.

Higher resolution photograph and alternative images available on request.

Additional Information

IWA would like to thank the following organisations for their assistance with the campaign cruise: Fox Narrowboats, Lamb & Flag PH at Welney, Welney Angling Club, Middle Level Watermens Club, Middle Level Commissioners and the Environment Agency.

Background to the navigation issues

Welches Dam Lock - Welches Dam (Cambridgeshire) is a navigation managed by EA, which together with the Old Bedford River and Horseway Channel form one of the routes from the Middle Level to the Great Ouse. This lock was closed in 2006 by EA without notice. EA piled the lock entrance and made passage by boats impossible. This remains the case despite campaigning by IWA and other local waterways groups. At the time of writing (12 years later) no agreement has been reached with EA either for them to restore the lock or to allow the voluntary sector to restore it. The original reason given for this abrupt lock closure was that EA was concerned about leakage but there is a 1.5m gap in the piling. This means that the lock gates (rather than the piling) are preventing leakage but no boats can use the lock.

Horseway Channel (Forty Foot Drain/Vermuyden's Drain) - Horseway Channel (2½ miles) is currently impassable despite being a navigation managed by EA. It connects Welches Dam Lock which EA closed in 2006 (see above) and Horseway Lock which is owned and maintained by the Middle Level Commissioners. Horseway Channel is now choked with weeds and silt and unnavigable even by the smallest boat. This channel was once part of the main navigable route through the Middle Level, before Well Creek was restored and reopened.

Old Bedford River - The Old Bedford River is a statutory navigation which runs for 12 miles from Salter's Lode to Welches Dam. Navigation has become extremely difficult due to lack of routine dredging and the operation of Welney Sluice, a single vertical sluice gate which when built in 1973 was intended to only be closed when Welches Dam Pumping Station was operating.

Since EA closed Welches Dam Lock (see above) and removed the slipway the only way in is via the tidal sluice at Salter's Lode. Arranging access to navigate the route involves obtaining permission from EA and the Middle Level Commissioners. The tidal channel is in poor condition and depending on the river level and time of year navigators may encounter floating weed and/or silt. There is no proper turning point until Welches Dam is reached, and this has been reduced by the piles which are blocking the lock entrance.

Press Contact

For further information please contact Alison Smedley, Press Office, The Inland Waterways Association, by emailing or phoning 07779 090915.

About The Inland Waterways Association

The Inland Waterways Association is the membership charity that works to protect and restore the country's 6,500 miles of canals and rivers. IWA is a national organisation with a network of volunteers and branches who deploy their expertise and knowledge to work constructively with navigation authorities, government and other organisations. The Association also provides practical and technical support to restoration projects through its expert Waterway Recovery Group.


IWA Campaign Cruise on the Old Bedford River

"Old Bedford River Campaign Cruise flotilla reaches the closed lock at Welches Dam, 20th August 2018" - photo by Mike Daines.

Higher resolution photograph and alternative images available on request.