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River Little Ouse

The River Little Ouse rises (like the River Waveney) at South Lopham Fen. From here it flows westwards forming the border between Norfolk and Suffolk.

The River Little Ouse

The Little Ouse, Thetford

It flows close to Blo' Norton Hall, the moated Elizabethan house, which Virginia Woolf visited in 1906 and which provided inspiration for her short story The Journal of Mistress Joan Martyn. While staying at the hall she kept a journal of her own in which she mentions the river:

'The river, the Little Ouse deserves its diminutive; you may leap it - fall in as I did this afternoon - but all the same it is not a hazardous jump. You are sure of the mud at any rate. And there radiate various minor tributaries, ditches I should call them, did not I know of their relationship with the river.....'

Just south of Thetford the Little Ouse is joined by the Black Bourn which flows northwards through Suffolk. Then, in the centre of Thetford at Butten Island, it is joined by the River Thet.

George Bloomfield, the brother of Robert Bloomfield (author of The Farmer's Boy) wrote a poem about Thetford which mentions the Little Ouse:

Thy sloping hills and wooded vallies gay,
Whose silv'ry Ouse meand'ring winds his way.

Just to the west of the town, the river enters the vast plantations of Thetford Forest and winds its way to Santon Downham. Roger Deakin, the author of Waterlog, went wild-swimming here. His book was inspired by John Cheever's classic short story The Swimmer and is a record of his wild-swimming exploits across the UK.

Little Ouse at Santon Downham

A wintry Little Ouse at Santon Downham

Tragically Deakin died from a brain tumour at the age of 63 just when he was at the height of his creative powers. In 2007, he published a superb follow-up to Waterlog entitled Wildwood - which was an account of his relationship with trees. However, here is his wonderful description of the Little Ouse:

'The Little Ouse is a wadi running through the Breckland desert. It comes as a surprise to find a river of such beauty in this arid, sandy place, like coming over a barren ridge and seeing the lush palm groves of the Draa Valley of Marrakesh. In the neolithic days when the whole area was a populous centre of industrial flint-mining, the river must have been a busy place.'

After Santon the Little Ouse flows through the town of Brandon which lies close to Weeting. Weeting has two literary connections: it was the birthplace of the poet Thomas Shadwell who had a famous war of words with John Dryden and Weeting Castle is where Hereward the Wake fooled the Norman king in Charles Kingsley's story.

Beyond Lakenheath the Little Ouse eventually merges with the River Great Ouse at Brandon Creek.


The Little Ouse Headwaters Project





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