Richard's Retirement Blog


April 2011

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Living below the sea?

... or at least, below sea level.

That's right. Some of the land heareabouts is below sea level. The drainage system is enormous, the amounts of water involved stupendous. And the heart of it is here - Denver Sluice. Who controls that, can drown everything from Bedford to the Wash.

On my way to see the sluice, I called at Denver Windmill. It is complete and working an the flour is for sale. The mechanism is very similar to the watermill at Shugborough which I visited a couple of years ago; but note the clever mechanism for keeping the sail turned to the wind: the small sail at the back only turns when it is not perpendicular to the wind, and when it does, it drives gears which turn it back to the perpendicular again. The main sail turns too, but being at right-angles to the little sail, it is turned to be always facing the wind. Simple.

I'm not going to try to explain the workings of the sluice - which is actually about five sluices. It's complicated, and hard to grasp if you don't know the area intimately. If you want to know, google it!

Views of the River Great Ouse below the sluice. I think these show the original course of the river.

In the next pics you can see how the land lies below the river. This is because the peat, once drained, shrank - and is still shrinking in places. Water has to be pumped into the rivers, natural and artificial.

The sluice is at the downstream end of the Great Ouse (which, being a river, winds around rather), the Old Bedford River (which is 300 years old) and the Hundred-Foot Drain (aka New Bedford River) which is twenty years younger. The two artificial rivers are ruler-straight and cut around ten miles off the journey to the sea, meaning water can be got rid of more quickly. There is another purpose: the area beween them is a "wash". If they can't get rid of the water, they can flood the wash (which is used as pasture), thus protecting the arable land. Think about it: that's quite some tank. It's 20 miles long and about 3/4 mile wide.

Meanwhile, back at the van,

two's company, three's a crowd, eight is...

... just ducky!

(Taken from my door the second morning of my stay.)

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