The Middle Level

£12.99

This programme explores not just the recommended route across the fens, but the many back-waters, and the towns and villages along them. Running time 60 minutes

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A Fen is a freshwater lake, and 500 years ago, that’s exactly what Fenland Britain was; a series of vast freshwater lakes, with a few sporadic islands sticking up above the water; islands like Ely, Manea, March, and Whittlesea. Some of the islands were joined by causeways; others could only be reached by boat. The earliest attempts to drain the fens were sponsored by the great abbey at Ely, with the construction of Bishop Morton’s Leam in 1490. Then in 1626, King Charles 1st commissioned the Dutch Engineer, Cornelius Vermuyden to carry out the task, which he started to do using Dutch labourers. There was a popular uprising from the Fenmen, and in 1630, Kings Charles decreed that only English labour would be used, and the Fenmen compensated. Today, the drained fens are the richest farmland in Britain, and Vermuyden’s legacy is a system of drainage channels, which fortunately for us may be navigated, and which link the River Nene at Peterborough to the River Great Ouse at Denver. This programme explores not just the recommended route across the fens, but the many back-waters, and the towns and villages along them.

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