The River Snail & Soham Lode

River SnailThe river 'Snail' rises at Snailwell and makes meandering progress towards Soham, approaching from the East. It's course across East Fen Common was altered during the first decades of the 20th century as a precaution against flooding. From there it runs into an ancient ford called Brook Dam known locally as 'the Duck Pond'. This is little more than a broad elbow which diverts the course of the narrow river around what would once have been the town wall.

The river 'Snail' continues, hidden, through Soham, flowing past The Ship public house. From Stone Bridge, which echoes Saxon origins, the watercourse is a manmade cut which would once have issued directly into Soham Mere.

For hundreds of years it has passed through the watermill near Angle Common where it once drove a waterwheel 18 feet in diameter, powering four pairs of stones. The river reappears as the old millpond which is lined with ageing Willow trees painting a picturesque scene.


From this point onwards, the river becomes Soham Lode, a long canal type watercourse which was dug in the seventeenth century, possibly by Dutch prisoners of war, in order to divert water away from Soham Mere. The term "navvies" has often been applied to the general workforce, this being a nineteenth century name for canal diggers.

Loftus Bridge 1950s

'The Lode' as it is known locally follows it's high banked route around what was once the edge of Soham Mere, and then crosses it from 'The Coates' in a direct course to Barway where it joins the River Ouse. Horse drawn gangs of fen lighters used the waterway to haul cargo's to and from the town until the building of the Railway in the 1870's prevented access. Navigation to Soham finally ceased in the early 1900's when Barway lock 'blew up'.

Navigation to Barway from the River Ouse is still possible and occasional pleasure craft still visit and can reach Goose Fen Bridge just to the East of the village but turning is not possible for craft longer than 10 feet. Small craft can reach the millpond at Soham with great difficulty, as there are a number of obstructions along the route where boats needs to be manhandled. Most of the bridges have good air draft but during the Summer months water levels can become very shallow on the approach to the millpond.

Brook Dam Lane 1930s

The flood precaution works at Barway, first built in the early 1900s and renewed in the 1970s, include mitre gates, which are held open in the Summer months. During flood times they close to hold the water back from the River Ouse and the Lode is pumped out to the main River. Walkers will enjoy the opportunity to follow the route of the Lode from Angle Common and out into the Mere, where, from the high bank there are splendid views of the Mere basin and Ely Cathedral.

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