Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Wissey Exploration

The 10th day of the 10th month of two thousand and ten dawned bright and cloudless in Norfolk. Just the day to explore a new river. Tony and Adrian hitched Osprey, Tony's 16' Salter Skiff, to the Skoda for the road trip to the river Wissey.
The Wissey rises near Shipdham in central Norfolk and flows into the Great Ouse 3 kms west of Hilgay. It is navigable from above Whittington to the confluence. There are no locks and it is non-tidal.
We launched Osprey from the public slipway (no charge?) beside the bridge in Hilgay and parked the car and trailer on a parking area 100yds up Bridge Street past The Rose and Crown. Hilgay also provides public
conveniences near the visitors' moorings upstream from the bridge.
A few minutes rowing into a stiff headwind took us clear of the moorings and into open country. To the south the low bank revealed cows grazing on Hilgay Fen and to the north a row of tall poplars marked the bank of the Cut Off Channel, one of the main drains of the fenland drainage and flood defence network. We soon parted company with this oversized ditch, knowing that we would
meet again at the mysteriously named Syphon.
The Wissey proved to be wider, quieter and more attractive than we had anticipated; broad in places and with mature trees to the water's edge. All peaceful and rural until, after 4 kms, the belching chimney, unpleasant aroma and mechanical din of the Wissington sugar beat factory assaults all of the senses. I suppose that the giant pipes and conveyors are of some interest, but I could have done without them.

3 kms further on and the Wissey takes a sharp bend to the north. At this point the Methwold Lode joins the main stream. Although not shown as a navigable waterway on our map, it looked wide enough for Osprey,so in we went. Passing some fine willows the "Lode" runs straight for several hundred metres. We stopped and climbed onto the bank well short of the possible limit of navigation. From the bank you look down into the surrounding fields; sheep on one side and cows the other. The OS map shows a spot height of just 2 metres here.
Back to the Wissey, the next highlight is the aqueduct and syphon, where the Cut Off Channel flows under the river. As a feat of engineering this is quite remarkable, but it is far from picturesque. The river runs in a concrete trough with sides so high that you can't see out. The only way to gain a view of the aqueduct is to moor in a tree, brave nettles and climb a wire fence. The reward is a view of the ruler straight Cut Off Channel apparently stopping abruptly at an impenetrable barrier, but reappearing on the other side of the Wissey. All this framed in concrete and adorned with railings and notices warning of what you are not allowed to do.
The flood barrier, which comes next, is a delicate structure in comparison with the Syphon. But once past this, nature reasserts itself and the row up to Stoke Ferry is pleasant. Facilities at Stoke Ferry are, however, lacking. Once upon a time there was a pub by the bridge, but this closed years ago. Between the old and new bridges there are private moorings and once past the new road bridge we had reached Whittington, with its tidy riverside camping site, slipway and public moorings.
This is where we turned Osprey's bow back towards Hilgay. The row upstream into a headwind took two and a quarter hours. We made the return trip in one and three quarter hours. Within 15 minutes of our return to Hilgay, Osprey was back on her trailer and we were on the road for home.
A good day out, we agreed and that the Wissey was, in most parts, more attractive than we had anticipted, but we felt that we had ticked another river off the list and would not be back, except, perhaps, to launch at Hilgay again and explore downstream and dip our oars into The Great Ouse.

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