River Cam

River Cam

The River Cam is a tributary of the River Great Ouse in the east of England. The two rivers join to the south of Ely at Pope's Corner. The Great Ouse connects the Cam to England's canal system (via the Middle Level Navigations and the River Nene) and to the North Sea at King's Lynn. The total distance from Cambridge to the sea is about 40 miles (64 km).

In earlier times the Cam was named the Granta, but after the name of the Anglo-Saxon town of Grantebrycge had been modified to Cambridge, the river was renamed to match. It has no connection with the much smaller River Cam in Gloucestershire.

The lower river

An organisation called the Conservators of the River Cam was formed in 1702, charged with keeping the river navigable. The Conservators are responsible for the two locks in and north east of Cambridge: Jesus Lock (coord|52|12|46|N|0|7|15|E|region:GB_scale:1000_type:landmark) and Baits Bite Lock (coord|52|14|11|N|0|10|28|E|region:GB_scale:1000_type:landmark). The stretch north (downstream) of Jesus Lock is sometimes called the lower river.

The stretch between Jesus Lock and Baits Bite Lock is much used for rowing. There are also many residential boats on this stretch, their occupants forming a community who call themselves the Camboaters. [ [http://www.camboaters.co.uk/aboutus/ Camboaters Community Association] ]

Navigation on the lowest section of the Cam, below and including Bottisham Lock (coord|52|16|7|N|0|12|32|E|region:GB_scale:1000_type:landmark), is the responsibility of the [http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/subjects/navigation/ Environment Agency] .

From Jesus Lock and the Backs to Grantchester (middle & upper river)

The stretch above Jesus Lock is sometimes known as the middle river (with the section above the Mill Pond being referred to as the upper river). [cite web |url=http://www.camconservators.co.uk/notices.asp |title=Cam conservancy notices |accessdate=2008-09-20] Between Jesus Lock and the Mill Pond, it passes through the Backs below the walls of many of the colleges. This is the section of river most popular with tourists, with its picture-postcard views of elegant bridges, green lawns and graceful willows. This stretch also has the unusual feature of the remains of a submerged towpath: the riverside colleges did not permit barge horses on the Backs, so the beasts waded up the Cam to the mill pulling their loads behind them.

Access for mechanically powered boats is prohibited above 'La Mimosa' Pub (at the upstream end of Jesus Green) between 1 April and 30 September, when the middle and upper river are open only to manually propelled craft. The most common of these are the flat-bottomed punts.

Between 1 October and 31 March powered boats are allowed as far as Mill Pool, but few people take advantage of this, as there are very few public mooring places along the Backs, and the river is too narrow and the bridges too low to afford easy passing or turning for many boats.

Punts and canoes can be manhandled around the weir above the Mill Pool by means of the rollers, a slipway from lower to upper level. From the Mill Pool and its weir, the river can be followed upstream through Grantchester meadows to the village of Grantchester and Byron's Pool, where it is fed by many streams.


The two principal tributaries of the Cam are the Granta and the Rhee, though both are also officially known as the Cam. The Rhee begins just west of Ashwell in Hertfordshire running 12 miles through the farmland of southern Cambridgeshire. The longer tributary, the Granta, starts near the village of Widdington in Essex flowing the 15 miles north past Audley End House to merge with the Rhee a mile south of Grantchester. A further tributary, also known as the Granta, runs 10 miles from south of Haverhill to join the larger Granta south of Great Shelford. Another minor tributary is Bourn Brook which has its source near the village of Eltisley, 10 miles west of Cambridge, running east through Caxton, Bourn and Toft to join the Cam at Byron's Pool, where the poet, Lord Byron, is reputed to have swum.


Byron's Pool was certainly a bathing place for Rupert Brooke and the Cambridge neo-Pagans. Brooke used to canoe from Cambridge to lodgings in Granchester, which included the Old Vicarage. His homesick poem of 1912 evokes the river:

Oh! there the chestnuts, summer through,
Beside the river make for you
A tunnel of green gloom, and sleep
Deeply above; and green and deep
The stream mysterious glides beneath,
Green as a dream and deep as death.
To smell the thrilling-sweet and rotten
Unforgettable, unforgotten
River-smell, and hear the breeze
Sobbing in the little trees.
Say, do the elm-clumps greatly stand
Still guardians of that holy land?
The chestnuts shade, in reverend dream,
The yet unacademic stream?
—"The Old Vicarage, Grantchester", "Collected Poems" (1916) [gutenberg|no=262|name=The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke]

One of Brooke's contemporaries, Gwen Darwin, later Raverat, grew up in the old mill by the Mill Pond. Her book, "Period Piece", is a memoir of a childhood messing about on the river. The mill house is now part of Darwin College.

Children's author Philippa Pearce, who lived in Great Shelford until her death in December 2006, featured the Cam in her books, most notably "Minnow on the Say". The river is re-named the River Say, with Great and Little Shelford becoming Great and Little Barley, and Cambridge becoming "Castleford" (not to be confused with the real town of the same name in West Yorkshire).

River Cam is referred to as "Camus, reverend Sire" in line 103 of John Milton's pastoral elegy "Lycidas". Edward King, in whose memory the elegy was composed, was a fellow student at Cambridge.

Use for recreation

Like many rivers, the Cam is extensively used for several forms of recreational activity. These include angling, swimming and various kinds of boating.


The water isn't murky and is clean enough from its source to its confluence with the Great Ouse to support fish. The fishing rights on the west bank are leased annually to the Cambridge Fish Preservation and Angling Society. [ [http://www.camconservators.co.uk/fishing.html Conservators of the River Cam -- fishing] ]

The Cam below Bottisham Sluice may still hold Burbot, a fish thought to be extinct in English waters since the early seventies. A novice fisherman named Phil describes a fish he caught there that matches the distinct characteristics of the Burbot.Fact|date=October 2007


All boats require a navigation licence [ [http://www.camconservators.co.uk/registration.html Conservators of the River Cam -- boat registration] ] from either the Conservators of the River Cam or the Environment Agency.

There are public moorings just below Jesus Lock on both sides of the river and on the western bank just north of the bridge at Clayhithe (both with a maximum stay of 48 hours), and on the railings adjoining Riverside in Cambridge (unlimited stay, but usually fully occupied). The moorings on the commons in Cambridge (Jesus Green, Midsummer Common and Stourbridge Common) are reserved by the City Council for holders of its long-term mooring permits. There are also some privately owned moorings.

There is a public slipway next to the garden of the Green Dragon pub in Water Steet, Chesterton. This is occasionally used for launching small boats.


Punting is the most popular form of boating on the stretch of the river between Jesus Lock and Grantchester. Several of the colleges own punts, and they can also be hired from various companies, either with or without a person to operate them (a "punt chauffeur").

Powered boating

Powered boats may navigate as far upstream as La Mimosa pub (next to Jesus Green) all year round, and as far as the Mill Pool between 1 October and 31 March.


The lower river between Jesus Lock and Baits Bite Lock is the training and racing home of the university college and town rowing teams. The Cambridge Lent, May and Town Bumps rowing races are held here.


The Cam Sailing Club was founded in 1899. It is based at Clayhithe near Waterbeach and organises sailing races most weekends between March and November. [ [http://www.cam.net.uk/~aaa049/ Cam Sailing Club] ]


The local swimming club's annual swim from the Mill pond to Jesus Green was cancelled for some years in the past because of higher pollution levels.Fact|date=February 2007However, swimming on the upper river is very popular in the summer, with many people bathing at Grantchester Meadows all year round. The New Year's Day swim is also a treat for more hardy bathers.


The Cam is normally a placid river but flooding does occasionally happen. The most recent serious floods were in 2001, first in February and again on 22–-23 October [ [http://www.cambridge2000.com/cam_flood/0110/index.html Photographs of the October 2001 Cam floods] on the [http://www.cambridge2000.com/index.html Cambridge 2000] site] .

The [http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/subjects/flood/ Environment Agency] is responsible for managing water levels and issuing flood warnings for the entire river.


ee also

*Bridges in Cambridge
*Jesus Green Swimming Pool
*Punting in Cambridge
*Rivers of the United Kingdom

External links

* [http://www.camconservators.org.uk/ Conservators of the River Cam]
* [http://www.firstandthird.org/tables/information/camwater.shtml First and Third Trinity Boat Club guide to the Cam]
* [http://www.cambridge-fpas.co.uk/ Cambridge Fish Preservation and Angling Society]
* [http://www.camboaters.co.uk/aboutus/history.html History of the River Cam (on the Camboaters site)]

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