History of the River Ouse

City Cruises York are proud to continue the long tradition of river cruises on the River Ouse; people have been enjoying cruises on the river in York since the 1840’s!

York was actually built on the joining of two rivers, the Ouse and the Foss. The choosing of this site was for military and practical purposes; the land between two rivers was easily defended from invaders and also supplied two supply routes for trade in and out of the city.

The Romans are believed to have used both rivers for trade purposes nearly two millennia ago. Evidence has also been found of a Roman river crossing just a few metres downstream of our boat yard at Lendal Bridge.

The Vikings famously arrived in York by river as well back in the 9th Century. They were famed for their seamanship and navigation skills as well as being excellent ship builders. The River Ouse may have delivered us the Vikings but in later years it also delivered various commodities to the riverside warehouses that used to line the banks of the river; many have now been commodified into apartments. At one time York was the third largest inland port in the country behind London and then Bristol. Wool was exported from the city to Northern Europe and goods like coal, butter and olive oil were all delivered into the city by barge.

Rowntree’s and Terry’s had their cocoa beans delivered up river into the city to their riverside warehouse before processing them in their factories and churning our millions of Chocolate Oranges and Kit Kats. The last commodity to be delivered by river was the paper for the printing of the York Press; this ceased in the 1990’s.

At one time, rowing boats could be hired from our boat yard at Lendal Bridge. Sadly this is no longer the case although the river is home to four rowing clubs. It is also regularly populated by a number of private motor cruisers and narrow boats visit the City from as far afield as London; the Ouse connects to the rest of the inland waterways network and you can get as far as Regent’s Park from York, this takes around a fortnight.

We can operate as far as the village of Poppleton upstream and downstream the terminus of our area of operation is the village of Acaster Malbis; the weir at Naburn prevents us from sailing any further. The river is also still tidal beyond Naburn weir as well. From this point though it is approximately 78 miles out to the sea at Spurn Point. However, it is not the Ouse when it reaches the sea; it joins the River Trent at Trent Falls downstream of York and is renamed at this point as the Humber.