The River Ouse: From Source to Mouth

Guest blog: Jo Goad, RRC summer intern 2021

The Sussex Ouse is one of the four Ouse’s in the UK and runs for about 42 miles but if you include all of the tributaries, it is 140 miles long. While it’s not as well-known as the Yorkshire Ouse and the Great Ouse, the Sussex Ouse has still shaped the area for a long time. I’m currently interning at the RRC, and I thought I’d use the opportunity to showcase the full (42 mile) length of my local river. Luckily for me, my dad also loves rivers, so he agreed to drive me from the source to the mouth and to stop off at some points of interest along the way.

The Source: Slaugham Mill Pond

The Sussex Ouse has a vast network of tributaries so finding ‘the source’ is probably not the right choice of words. However, my dad and I visited ‘a source’ at Slaugham Mill Pond. The pond is a popular angling spot so has plenty of jetties and spaces to access the pond. My dad and I traced the path round until we found a boggy area that we guessed was ‘a source’. When imagining finding the source of the river, I’d visioned a small spring rising up from the ground (if anybody watched that documentary where Joanna Lumley found the source of the Nile, that is what I’d imagined) but what we found was a bit less impressive. Nevertheless, we’d found a source. It turns out that the pond had been created with an Earth dam and when crossing the road by the pond, we found the culvert that the river first emerged from. The river was gushing down a man-made cascade, travelling south-east to the main river channel.

Stop 1: The Ouse Valley Viaduct

The next stop on the tour was the Ouse Valley Viaduct. Not to sound too cliché but this is a marvel of Victorian engineering. Built in 1842, the Viaduct includes 37 arches and is a popular destination for photography- hopefully from my pictures you can understand why! The viaduct carries trains from London to the south-east coast and as it is on my local train line, I go over it pretty much every time I take the train north. My friends are probably bored of hearing me say that it is my favourite part of the journey, but the views are stunning, so I have to let them know. Equally impressive is the view from the footpath that goes under it. As is a rite of passage, my dad and I took the tourist-type photos of us standing in the arches before moving on to photograph the River Ouse. The river width has grown a lot by this point but was mostly shaded by vegetation. Nevertheless, we still managed to get some nice snaps.

Stop 2: The Harveys Brewery, Lewes


A staple in any Sussex pub, Harveys Best Bitter is something that I’ve grown up watching my dad drink. While Lewes is somewhere that I have visited a few times through my life, I had never seen the brewery from this angle before. It is right on the banks of the River Ouse and makes for a beautiful view. The proximity to the river however was the cause of disaster during the floods of 2000. After heavy rainfall, the river burst its banks on the 12th of October 2000 (the day I was born!) flooding the brewery. By December, the rainfall had subsided and some barrels of beer that had been fermenting since the floods were found to be salvageable. So called ‘Ouse Booze’ was sold with the proceeds going towards the flood clean-up effort and contained a much higher alcohol percentage than the normal brew. When walking through Lewes, you can understand how the flooding became so devastating. The streets are narrow and steep and lead down very quickly to the river, the perfect topography for flash flooding. North of Lewes the Ouse had been straightened at Barcombe Mills but since the flooding, and old meander was restored here with a sluice that opens to allow excess floodwater to inundate the floodplain here. There have also been reconnection works within Lewes, notably Railway Land, which provides community benefits also. If you are in Sussex, I would recommend visiting Lewes, as well as the river, the town is steeped in history and has plenty of attractions.

The Mouth, Newhaven

The final stop on our tour of the Ouse is where the River Ouse meets the English Channel at Newhaven. The river used to meet the sea at Seaford but as it silted up, a new cut was made diverting the river to the newly named Newhaven. Newhaven also has lots of history- I would recommend visiting Newhaven Fort if you’re interested in military history. Previously, Newhaven had been a port but since my dad had last visited, industrial activity had scaled down here with only two ferries operating a day and a few jetties still in use. This reminded me of the economic importance of rivers as I found out that the navigable section of the river had been extended to reach Lewes in the 19th century. After an ice cream, my dad and I made our way home.

While our journey along the Ouse was brief and only covered a few of the landmarks, I understood more about the importance of the Ouse. The benefits it brings to wildlife, agriculture, recreation, and industry are at odds with the risk of flooding. On a personal note, the stories of how the Ouse flooded the day I was born, the views from the train across the viaduct, and the days out along the river when I was younger make the Ouse prominent in my life and while it isn’t as big as the Yorkshire or Wash Ouse, it is integral to life for many in the Southeast.



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