River Great Ouse: Facts and Information

Here are some facts about the Great Ouse.

  • The River Great Ouse is about 230 km long, flowing from Syresham in Northamptonshire to the Wash. It’s the longest of several British rivers named the Ouse.
  • The Wash is one of the largest estuaries in Britain. It is known for deep channels, shallow water and salt marshes and is where King John supposedly lost the Crown Jewels in 1216.

  • The Great Ouse flows through several English counties, and towns including Bedford, Ely and Milton Keynes. Its catchment area covers 8,300 square km and about half its length is navigable.
  • King’s Lynn, on the banks of the Great Ouse was once one of Britain’s busiest ports. It is home to St. Margaret’s church, one of the largest in England.

River Great Ouse

  • The cathedral city of Ely lies on the Great Ouse. During the 18th century, it took boats about 6 hours to make the 32 km trip to Cambridge.
  • Canoeing and kayaking are popular on the river. In 1944, the Oxford and Cambridge boat race was held on the Great Ouse, the only time it didn’t take place on the River Thames.
  • The Ouse Valley Way is a footpath following the length of the river. The Pathfinder March takes place along some of the route; it celebrates the RAF bomb squadrons from World War II.
  • The Great Ouse flows through the Norfolk Fens, an area of low laying farmland. The area was originally swampland, and was drained in the 17th century by the Earl of Bedford.
  • During the Middle Ages, the Great Ouse flooded often, and sometimes changed its course. A 1600 act of Parliament allowed land owners to be paid for drained land.
  • The Bedford River Festival has been held every two years since 1978. The Great Ouse linking Bedford to the coast is celebrated with illuminated floats, dragon boats and a kayak slalom.

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