Ouse Washes

Rivers, wherever they are found, are all different and unique, each with its own distinct course and history.

There’s one particular river, the Great Ouse, that flows through Cambridgeshire and Norfolk.

There’s a section of it where two artificial river channels have been created – the Old and New Bedford Rivers – that divert the main water flow in a straight line for 20 miles, for a more direct and faster route to the sea, with the purpose of draining the Fens to create farmland. The two rivers are bounded by earth embankments, one on each side. The area between is the Ouse Washes, an area of fields and marshes that is grazed in summer.

In winter, the volume of water that flows along here floods the area between the two rivers – it’s designed like that, to prevent the rest of the Fens flooding, thereby drying out and draining what would otherwise be marsh land.

This time of year, the flooded Wash is a physical measure of how much water has been drained the Fens.

It’s a strange place. It shows how much effort it takes to sustain life. In other places, on other rivers, the river is essential to bring an area to life, being used by industry, transport, or fishing. But here, the river has been straightened, to remove water from the land as quickly as possible, as though water is an inconvenience.

Flood water at the ouse washes. Very grey

Looking across the flooded Ouse Washes.