Thursday, November 08, 2012

The Ouse Washes

click photo to enlarge
When, in the seventeenth century, further concerted attempts were made to increase the agricultural potential of the Fens, the 4th Earl of Bedford and his financial partners employed the Dutch engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden (1595-1677), to undertake a programme of drainage.The aim was to make pasture available for summer grazing. As part of his works Vermuyden created, on the course of the River Ouse, two straight channels. These were designed to more speedily and effectively transfer water from the rivers and drains of the Fenland area into the sea near King's Lynn. Today these straight channels, about two thirds of a mile apart, are known as the Old Bedford River and the New Bedford River (formerly the Hundred Foot River). Both are embanked, but the banking is lower on the sides where the parallel channels face each other. The purpose of this is so that when they flood they overflow into the land between the channels and the floodwater is managed  without detriment to nearby villages and more productive farmland. In England land subject to periodic flooding is often called a wash, and this particular land is known as the Ouse Washes (not to be confused with the large bay and estuary near King's Lynn called The Wash). It is rough pasture and wet land when not inundated, and in winter when it is most likely to be flooded, teems with waterfowl (particularly geese and whooper swans) and waders.
The other day we went to Ely. Our preferred route takes us over the twin Bedford channels and the Ouse Washes. However, as we drove onto the bridge over the Old Bedford River we were confronted with a sign saying, "Road closed due to flooding". It hadn't occurred to me that the Ouse Washes would be under water and that our road might be affected. We drove a short way to see how bad it was, and after negotiating a small area of floodwater came upon a place where the road disappeared under a quickly flowing current. Needless to say we stopped. A tractor found the depth of water of no consequence and went through, water flying everywhere, but we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and beat a retreat. Then we consulted our maps for an alternate route, though not before I'd got out of the car to take a few photographs of the floodwaters around us. The early morning light, plus the glow of blue sky on the water all around us gave something of the feel of being on a boat on a lake. The smaller photographs were taken from the road, the larger one from the bridge over the Old Bedford River, its banks and tree trunks hidden beneath the flow.

photographs and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/125
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  -0.67 EV
Image Stabilisation: On