Ouse Washes Landscape
The Ouse Washes Landscape in the heart of the Cambridgeshire and Norfolk Fens has a unique character and is a fascinating place to visit whether you’re looking for fun-filled outdoor activities, rich and diverse history and culture or perfect tranquillity!
The Ouse Washes and surrounding Fenland is spectacularly important, much of the area would be flooded if it wasn’t for some magnificent drainage engineering back in the 17th century. This involved the digging of two diversion channels of the Great River Ouse, the Old and New Bedford Rivers. The Ouse Washes is the rich washland area between the two, which allows floodwater to be stored safely in winter and protects the prime agricultural soil of the area. Watch an animated history of the Ouse Washes here
All of this makes for an entirely distinctive landscape that also happens to be immensely beautiful. Huge open skies, expansive views, strongly linear landscape features and isolated settlements only add to the sense of mystery and tranquillity. It’s been home to Oliver Cromwell, the Hovertrain trials of the 1970s and Fen Skating champions. Daniel Defoe once said ‘Here are the most beautiful meadows on the banks of the River Ouse, that are to be seen in any part of England, and to see them in the summer season, covered with such innumerable stocks of cattle and sheep, is one of the most agreeable sights in the world.’
The largely man-made landscape stretches for 48km between Denver near Downham Market and Fen Drayton Lakes near Cambridge. It has a strong sense of place arising from its very specific and unique historic, wildlife and cultural origins and significance. This makes it a fascinating place to visit no matter what you’re in to. Here’s a Top Five Things to Do:
The diverse wetland habitats of the Ouse Washes Landscape are of international significance and crucial for the survival of a large number of rare species, including booming bitterns, Bewick’s swans and barn owls. Have incredible wildlife encounters throughout the year by visiting WWT Welney Wetland Centre or the RSPB Ouse Washes, Ouse Fen and Fen Drayton Lakes nature reserves.
Learn about the strategically important drainage channels keeping the Fens drained to this day and the 11,000 men who dug them by hand, the rich archaeological heritage, the Ely & Littleport Riots and the historic significance of eels. Take a trip to the hugely important Denver Sluice Complex or visit one of the fantastic museums in the area such as Ely Museum, Prickwillow Drainage Engine Museum and Norris Museum in St Ives.
With all this talk of water, a visit to the Ouse Washes Landscape would not be complete without exploring the vast river network. Take boat trips or be your own captain starting in Ely, St Ives or March. Rowing boats and family dinghies can also be sailed from Denver Sailing Club.
The Ouse Washes Landscape is rich with distinctive Fenland customs, traditions, folklore and arts including Molly Dancing and Plough Monday celebrations. A huge programme of festivals, exhibitions and performances take place throughout the year, including Fen Speak open mic poetry evenings, Isle of Ely Arts Festival and the spectacular OuseFest (Twitter link: @OuseFest) fortnight in July.
The Ouse Washes Landscape has plenty of exciting pursuits for the more energetic! Try a range of activities including archery and canoeing at Mepal Outdoor Centre, fly a microlight with Airplay Aviation or take a trip on the Fenland Light Railway.
This is only a small taster of course. Events and more ideas for things to do can be found on the Ouse Washes Landscape Partnership’s website www.ousewashes.org.uk including a What’s On Calendar and Interactive Map.