What is in a name? – The Ouses of Britain

Heritage Lottery FundIf you thought that there was only one River Ouse in the UK you are going to need to read this article as I think you may be surprised to learn of all the different ‘Ouses’ around. To understand the reason why there are so many rivers called Ouse, it is the name that gives it away: the name Ouse is thought to have Celtic origins, meaning ‘water’; therefore when saying the River Ouse or the Great River Ouse you are actually saying the ‘river water’ or ‘great water river’.

There are 5 ‘Ouses’ around the UK, from high up in Orkney to the Ouse River down in Sussex; from north to south, these are:

  • The Ouse Orkney
  • The Yorkshire Ouse
  • The Great Ouse
  • The Little Ouse
  • The Sussex Ouse

The Sussex Ouse itself is 42 miles long, but with all its tributaries runs over 140 miles long. Although the Sussex Ouse is not one of the longest rivers, it is the only Ouse River to flow into the English Channel, through Newhaven. The River Ouse in the 18th century was navigable up to its tidal reach at Lewes, but at the end of the 18th century the UK economy was booming and the river was extended to Balcombe. Compared to other rivers and canals that were extended in the north or the midlands, the River Ouse does not flow through a large urban town as it was a rural canal, extended to reach  the clay land of The Weald to transport lime, chalk and manure along the River Ouse.

The Yorkshire Ouse is 52 miles long and flows between the River Ure and ends in the Humber. It flows through the city of York down to the Humber and is tidal between Naburn village and Goole. Some boats such as canal boats are unable to cope with the tidal changes because of their small engines. The Ouse River, when combined with the Ure River, is the 6th longest river in the UK.

The Ouse on Orkney Source  ;http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/492043

The Ouse on Orkney Source ;http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/492043

The Orkney Ouse is a tidal estuary which is at the mouth of a small river and an upland spring next to the village of Finstown. This is the smallest Ouse in the UK and is not a river, and is affected by tidal changes along the coast and enters into the North Sea. It is the most northerly Ouse in Britain.

The Little Ouse is a tributary to the Great Ouse River. The Little River Ouse is 37 miles long and it flows along the border between Suffolk and Norfolk and travels passed Blo’Norton which owes its name to the area, as the Fenland area around the village is called the Blo’Norton Fens. Just north of Littleport the Little Ouse River joins the River Great Ouse.

The River Great Ouse is the river which flows through the Ouse Washes and it is the 4th longest river in the UK with an overall length of 143 miles (only the Severn, Thames and Trent are longer). The source of the River Great Ouse is all the way in Wappenham in Northamptonshire and the mouth of the Great Ouse is in King’s Lynn where it flows into the Wash.

An interesting fact about the Great River Ouse is that in 1944 [during World War 2] the famous Oxford and Cambridge boat race was staged on the river between Littleport and Ely. This is the only time that the race was not held on the river Thames and the winner that Year was Oxford University. (To see Photos of the race in 1944 visit http://www.ely-news.co.uk/Nostalgia/SLIDESHOW-Do-you-remember-when-the-1944-University-boat-race-came-to-Ely-20130509094855.htm)`

The Ouse Washes are vitally important as, with all the water coming from the Midlands entering the Fens at Earith, the areas it cuts through are susceptible to flooding. The Ouse Washes stores water in times of high rainfall and releases it at a slower rate, thereby preventing the River Ouse from overflowing. See here for an overview of how the Ouse washes work and how they prevent vast amounts of land and settlements from flooding.

Watch this video to see how the Ouse Washes links in with the Great Ouse river (Source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x3cvCWnZMGQ):

 

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6 thoughts on “What is in a name? – The Ouses of Britain

  1. The “how it works” video has a number of inaccuracies. I understood that Green Ventures were going to produce an updated version.

    Colin Dodd

    • Hi Colin. I would be keen to hear from you where there are inaccuracies in the video animation – I am still learning about this complex yet intriguing landscape, so would very much like to hear other people’s views.

      I also did not know about the plans for an updated version of this animation – if you have any more details on this, I am keen to hear about it. Thanks.

      • I spent some time talking to Phil Newby of Green Ventures about this at a meeting we had at WWT. I then produced about half a page of A4 with my thoughts. I just wonder if the project on the Ouse Washes finished and they have moved on. If the animation is not completely correct do we need it in the public domain.

        Colin Dodd

        • As far as I am aware, this is a finished product. A series of videos were created in 2012 by Green Ventures/ Royal Haskoning for the Environment Agency, including the one shown in this blog post.

          See their website at http://www.ousewashes.org/resources for all videos created as part of this visualisation project.

          • The biggest disappointment with the animation is that it does not show how the tidal 100′ river works. The video would suggest that the tidal flow is via Ely. Denver Sluice and the Hermitage Lock isolate the Ely Ouse from the tidal flows.

            Colin Dodd

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