Great Ouse seven boating tips

Seven magic facts about Britain’s hidden gem

The River Great Ouse navigation is one of Britain’s lesser discovered great places to wind down and Step off the Earth for a While.

When you include its tributaries – the rivers Cam, Lark, Little Ouse and Wissey, the Great Ouse offers approximately 140 miles of navigable waterway flowing through peaceful countryside and attractive rural villages and towns. That makes it fourth only in length to the mighty rivers Severn, Thames and Trent.

It is one thing to admire our waterways from the bankside, but another experience again to explore them in full while afloat. Those on the right kind of boats with unlimited horizons can travel further afield too, reaching The Wash in one direction, or heading for the River Nene and the Grand Union to access Britain’s vast canal network beyond.

Please read on to discover seven things you might not know about the Great Ouse. Or contact us today if you’d like to learn more about boating on the Great Ouse from the experienced and friendly team at Hartford Marina.

Bedford Riverside on the Great Ouse River credit Gordon Bell / Shutterstock

Boating is often portrayed as a pastime of ‘fat cats’ – but the reality is the Great Ouse and waterways like it are enjoyed by people from all walks of life, who choose to spend their relaxation time by going afloat, in all manner of ways, from kayaks to paddleboards and cruisers to narrowboats. A boat with accommodation to look after you for a weekend or more on the Great Ouse can be purchased for no more than the value of a new or secondhand car, but it won’t depreciate in the same way. You can start small too and still enjoy all the benefits of a life afloat – a 5m (16ft) motorboat will cost less than £2000 annually for a river licence, insurance and a pontoon mooring at a top-grade secure haven with full family facilities like those found at Hartford Marina.

Chinese Bridge at Godmanchester spanning a mill stream off the River Great Ouse credit Linda Cooke Words and Images / Shutterstock

If you need a change of pace in your life, then the Great Ouse offers that in abundance. You cruise on calm river waters at not much more than walking pace, taking in the Fenland landscape and breath-taking sights like the dominant towers of Ely Cathedral. There are plenty of rural visitor moorings too so you can lose yourself for a while. Or for days…or weeks…

Boats moored on Great Ouse River, Ely, Cambridgeshire, England
credit Peter Moulton / Shutterstock

Have you ever thought it would be handy to park your bed outside the pub? Dream about it no more. On a quick count, we found at least 30 pubs that are by the water, or within easy walking distance from it, between Denver and Bedford. Plus, you’ll find a lot of other cafes and restaurants to cater for all tastes.

A view of Bedford Lock on the River Great Ouse / Bedford Lock on the River Great Ouse - Image Kevinr4 / Shutterstock

Although it runs through the Fenlands, which we all like to think of as flat, the Great Ouse and its tributaries use a total of 22 locks to deal with the river’s gentle descent to the sea. These are some of the shallowest locks in Britain and are mostly operated by boat owners themselves, an easy and fascinating process in which you can involve family and friends. Cruising time between locks varies between around 30 minutes and four hours, depending on where you are.

River Great Ouse at St Ives
credit David Hughes / Shutterstock

Boating on the Great Ouse not only opens a unique perspective on the Fenland countryside but it also provides a very different viewpoint of the cities, towns and villages along its path. These include Bedford, St Neots, Huntington and Godmanchester, Hartford, Hemingford Grey, St Ives, Earith, Cambridge (via the Cam) and Ely. That also illustrates just how accessible the Great Ouse is, with excellent road and rail connections to quickly transport you from work to play at weekends and even perhaps a cheeky midweek visit on long summer evenings.

Tree Sparrow, Ouse Washes RSPB Reserve, Cambridgeshire, England, UK. - Image Tony Mills Shutterstock

Given the regularity of towns and villages along your path, you are never short of things to do. But for extra interest there are many additional features in this historic area. For example, you can learn about how the Fens are managed by an incredible system of drains and pumping stations at the Prickwillow Museum in Ely. Or visit the wildlife sanctuaries of the Ouse Washes and Welney Wildfowl Trust. Or perhaps swat up at the schoolhouse of Britain’s original republican by visiting the Cromwell Museum in Huntingdon.

The Great Ouse might be a hidden gem and, in many respects, a lazy backwater. But it also enjoys significant investment too. Hartford Marina, perfectly placed in the middle of the navigation for explorations to the west or east, has been a popular place for people to base their boats since it was first developed in the 1960s. Now it is receiving more than £1m of upgrade work, to provide moorings on the very latest design of pontoons. There’s every conceivable service here for you and your boat, including knowledgeable and friendly staff, a boat sales operation, on-site restaurant, a laid back social club and seasonal canoe hire.

Experience the Great Ouse for yourself

To discover more about the Great Ouse, its connecting Fenland waterways and the people from every walk of life that call it their getaway second home, then please call in or contact us below.

Here at Hartford Marina we are perfectly placed to show you something of the delights of the river, how to experience and get great enjoyment from it. We can also explain the relaxation to be had by making our marina your home from home.