Photo: The Fens Waterways Link route to Spalding is from the River Glen (foreground) right into the River Welland (middle distance) by Graham Horn
The Fens Waterways Link is 150 miles (241.4km) long, has artificial drainage channels and rivers and is controlled by the EA and others.
The re-opening of Black Sluice, and re-opening South Forty Foot Drain in 2009, is the first stage of the Fens Waterways Link, which is intended to be the biggest waterway enhancement project in Europe and would open up 150 miles of waterway, comprising 50 miles of new waterway and increased access to an existing 100 miles of poorly visited waterways. The Link would connect the cathedral cities of Lincoln, Peterborough and Ely, with the market towns of Boston, Spalding, Crowland and Ramsey and, in association with other waterway regeneration schemes, create a new circular waterway for recreation, tourism and the environment through the Fens.
South Forty Foot or Black Sluice Drain & Navigation was quietly closed in the 1960s without any navigation interests appearing to be aware. The waterway extends from the tidal Witham at Boston, where a pumping station has been built alongside the entrance lock, which would need to be repaired, to near Guthram Gowt. A new lock and road crossing for the A151 here would provide a navigable link to the rivers Glen and Welland. The other major work to restore navigation would be the construction of a lock to bypass Black Hole Drove pumping station (19½ miles from Boston), which has been built across the Drain. Following promotion of the restoration of this waterway by East Anglian Waterways Association, Fens Tourism (a consortium of local authorities) undertook a feasibility study of the route. This report was encouraging and EA adopted the project as ‘The Fens Waterways Link’, which it launched in 2004 with support from local authorities, EAWA and IWA.
The Link envisages (a) connecting the Witham to the South Forty Foot Drain at Boston, (b) restoring the South Forty Foot, (c) linking the South Forty Foot to the river Glen at Guthram Gowt, (d) improving the Glen downstream to the Welland at Surfleet Seas End, (e) creating a new non-tidal navigation from Surfleet Seas End upstream to Spalding, (f) improving the Welland from Spalding up to Crowland, (g) creating a new waterway from Crowland across to the Nene at Padholme Pumping Station, (h) improving the route through the Middle Level to Salters Lode on the Great Ouse, (i) improving the alternative Middle Level route via the Forty Foot River to Welches Dam lock, (j) creating a new navigation, using the Old Bedford and New Bedford rivers southwards from Welches Dam to the Great Ouse at Earith, (k) creating a landmark structure at Denver, involving flights of locks and an aqueduct over the New Bedford River, to eliminate the current tidal crossing, and (l) creating a new direct waterway link from Chatteris to Earith.
EAWA is also promoting restoration of Bourne Eau (to connect Bourne to the Glen), the Stamford Canal (a canalised extension of the Welland into Stamford) and Clay Dike, (which connects the Sleaford Navigation to South Forty Foot Drain, via the former Maryland Lock.