| MAPS AND DIRECTIONS
View the River Heritage Walks
View the Heritage Walk Map
View the map of event locations in and around Ely
View how to get there and transport information
The River Great Ouse is 150 miles long, rising in
Buckinghamshire and discharging into The Wash at
King’s Lynn. The route through Cambridgeshire has
changed many times over the centuries. As the Industrial
Revolution progressed there was a need to improve the
navigation between the important inland dock at Littleport
and the Cathedral City of Ely to allow larger vessels further
upstream and shorten voyage times.
In 1830 the excavation of Sandys Cut was completed
from Littleport to Queen Adelaide. The River Lark was
extended westward to join the new man-made channel
and the old meandering course of the Ouse via
Prickwillow became redundant.
By then, the drainage of the fens had been underway for
more than two hundred years with steam pumps replacing
wind pumps at a time when agriculture was largely
powered by heavy horses.
The railway age reached the area in 1845 and an
interchange dock was constructed near Ely station to
enable heavy goods to be moved by barge to and from
remote areas of the fens and to be transferred on and off
the new rail network.
The first University Boat Race had been contested at
Henley-on-Thames on the 10th of June 1829 and later
the Adelaide Course became Cambridge University Boat
Club’s training base. On the 26th of February, 1944 the
third wartime boat race was contested there to avoid the
dangers of London and the Thames. At the time the crews
and spectators were unaware of the number of munitions
trains passing through the village in preparation for DDay.
The history of Sandys Cut and the walks will help you
retrace the rich heritage, linking generations of people
who competed, lived and worked on and beside these
Walk 1: The Adelaide Course - Variable distance
From Queen Adelaide
Bridge head north towards
Littleport on the Prickwillow bank.
Find the large Portland Stone marker
on top of the bank, which marks the
line where the 1944 and 2004
Oxford and Cambridge University
Boat Races finished. If you
continue walking you will find
another three markers at
half-mile intervals before
reaching the junction
with The River Lark.
Walk 2: Padnal Fen - 6 miles – 2 to 3 hours
After visiting the Prickwillow Drainage Engine
Museum head along the south bank of the
River Lark to the junction with the River Great
Ouse and the start of the Adelaide Course.
In 1944 the Oxford and Cambridge Boat
Race took place here and
commemorative Portland Stone
markers can be found on top of the
bank at half-mile intervals leading
to a finish marker near Queen
Adelaide Bridge. Follow
Prickwillow Road over
the Norwich railway
crossing and then a
footpath to the right,
which leads to the old
river bank. Just after
the Old Plough, once
a riverside public
house, there is an open,
banana shaped field with a
distinct meander, which
was once the riverbed.
Follow Old Bank back
to the Museum in
The idea to straighten the circuitous route of the River
Great Ouse between Littleport and Ely was first
suggested in the 17th century by Sir Miles Sandys, Lord
of the Manor of Littleport. He began to dig a channel
at Littleport but his bankruptcy halted the work.
It was not until 1826 that the Drainage & Navigation
Commission decided to recommence the
project. Work began in 1827 cutting the
channel 74 feet wide, six feet deep and
four miles in length. More than 400
labourers were employed on the
excavation, which took three years to
complete. The channel was officially
opened on Monday 19th April, 1830.
Walk 3: Old River Course. 9 miles - 4 to 5 hours including train journey back from Littleport
From Ely Railway Station walk to the Quayside near The Old Boathouse Restaurant and follow the towpath along Ely’s riverside under
the railway bridge and onto open meadowland leading to the water depot, Cuckoo Bridge and the iron footbridge across the River
Great Ouse near Queen Adelaide. Looking towards Ely from the bridge you can clearly see where the old course once joined
today’s river. Cross the road immediately over the bridge, turning right along the verge to track on the left leading to
Prickwillow. The redundant pump house here was once a wind pump, which was replace by a steam
pump in the 1830s and later to diesel.
With the nature reserve on your left, walk along the track to the Old Plough, once a riverside
public house, and find an open, banana shaped field with a distinct meander showing the old river course. Follow Old Bank
and join the main road through the village, which is actually built on the old riverbed. Before reaching the Museum, take a note of
the dates on the older buildings.
After a break, continue by crossing bridge over The River Lark, taking the first left into Branch Bank road, passing under the railway
bridge before climbing to the top of the river bank to view the surrounding countryside with Ely Cathedral in the distance. A World
War Two pillbox across the road on your right marks the point where the old riverbed heads North and another ‘meandering’ fieldshape
shows the old river course. This section of the walk is largely unmarked and Ordinance Survey Map – Explorer 228 shows the
path along ditches, field edges and tracks to Littleport. Occasionally sections of old bank can be seen and when the land is freshly
ploughed the riverbed clay is clearly visible. Visit the Black Horse Inn before catching a train back to Ely from Littleport Station.