On the waterfront – a day out by Lincolnshire’s River Witham
For centuries, boats loaded with grain and wool plied between Lincoln and the seaport of Boston
Locals travelled on packet boats between the two locations until 1848, when the railway opened. Today, it is possible to enjoy a 10-mile stroll alongside the tranquil River Witham from the village of Bardney to Lincoln’s Brayford Waterfront. The sugar beet factory at Bardney, which lies east of Lincoln on the B1190, began processing beet grown in the rich fenlands soil in 1927.
Although sugar is no longer produced here, the silos continue to dominate the landscape. With the last goods train passing through in 1981, the disused railway line has since been transformed into a purpose-built path, known as the Water Rail Way, so named both for its former life, and the abundant birdlife that can be seen in this green corridor.
Although this walk can be done from both directions, I started from Bardney Heritage Centre. Heading across the road to the Water Rail Way, on my right lies a sadly neglected former canning factory, where railway wagons were once loaded with cans of vegetables and dog food at private sidings.
After a mile-and-a-half, I arrived at Bardney Lock. Run by the Great Northern Railway, the original timber bridge which carried the Lincoln to Boston railway across the river was the longest of its kind in the area. When lock keeper Mrs Wright arrived with her family in 1836, her job was unpaid in return for rent-free accommodation in a cottage sandwiched between the lock and the railway track. The land on the opposite side of the lock is virtually an island, created when a new cut was made in the 1800s to straighten the Witham.
As I arrived at a sharp bend, across the river lay Fiskerton Fen Nature Reserve, which is shaped with small reed planted islands and allowed to flood with rainwater. It was created by the extraction of clay to repair the river embankments. A viewing hide has been built in the style of a Mesolithic hut, similar to those inhabited in this area 10,000 years ago. As I progressed along the path, I shared the tranquility with large numbers of yearlong residents, including ducks, mute swans and moorhens.
The next major landmark is Five Mile House Bridge, the halfway point of the walk and from where there are splendid views of Lincoln Cathedral. The river and cathedral were important navigational landmarks for aircrews during the Second World War. Five Mile House Bridge was a railway station on the Lincolnshire Loop Line. Situated on the south bank of the Witham, passengers on the north bank had to use a ferry to reach it. This is a superb area for spotting common blue damselfly, stick insects, coots and great crested grebes.
Passing the former railway station at Washingborough, I continued two miles to Stamp End Lock. I walked past the factory buildings along Waterside South to the footbridge over Broadgate, with splendid views of the cathedral. Continuing by the river, I crossed the pedestrianised High Street and, facing Stokes High Bridge Café, walked down the steps to the right. With the river now to my left, I looked back along the narrow channel to High Bridge, whose restricted air draft gave it the name The Glory Hole. It has a narrow and crooked arch, which sets a limit on the size of boats using the Witham.
The High Bridge is the oldest bridge in the UK which still has buildings on it, the current row of shops dating from 1550. Bridges like this were common in the Middle Ages, but most have long since been demolished because of their obstruction to the river flow and shipping.
Arriving at Brayford Waterfront area, this naturally occurring lake at the junction of the Foss Dyke Canal and the River Witham proved to be the perfect place to relax at a pavement café after my riverside stroll.
Images from top: Interesting carvings are placed all along the Water Rail Way; Lincolnshire is fgamous for its big skies, as seen along the river; Mute swans are a common sight; Lincoln Cathedral seen from the pedestrian bridge over Broadgate; Statues span the Witham in Lincoln’s shopping district (© Michael Cowton)