Text and photographs copyright of Jim Shead.
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FROM BOSTON TO LINCOLN ON THE RIVER WITHAM.
FROM the River Nene, continuing our tour, we had our skiff entrained from Sutton Bridge to Boston (Lincs), some 30 miles' railway journey. There, on the following morning, we found our craft awaiting us at the Rowing Club's landing stage, close to the Tidal Lock known as the Grand Sluice. This lock is of considerable proportions, and was originally erected in 1764 at great cost, its object being also to hold up and utilize the water for distribution and draining purposes on the land along the banks of the Witham. Prior to that time the tide is said to have flowed up near to Lincoln City.
The River Witham rises in Rutlandshire, and flows in all some 80 miles; the navigable portion from Boston near the Wash to Lincoln is 36 miles in length. This was the scene of our excursion. As this latter place it joins the Fossdyke Canal, thereby making a through communication to the Trent and Humber from Boston. The Witham Navigation, after several proprietorships, is now owned by the Great Northern Railway Company; the traffic, however, is comparatively little on this waterway, the reason being that the railway runs in such close proximity to the water course.
In bygone times monasteries were much in evidence on the banks of the Witham, so much so that it is said they were more numerous there than on any other river in England. It is characteristic to note in passing that wherever monasteries were situated, a river was always found adjacent, and there the monks indulged in their favourite pastime of fishing.
Our abode at Boston was the Peacock Hotel, and in the morning we took a ramble through this old-fashioned market town, and at one time an important seaport on the East Coast. Particularly interesting is the fine old church - St. Botolph's - with its remarkable tower known as the Boston Stump. It is a grand piece of work and stands some 270 feet in height, and is a conspicuous landmark for many miles around by land and sea.
We made our start up stream at noon under somewhat different conditions to our sailing experiences on the Nene. The wind overnight had risen to quite a gale and was blowing dead ahead. This being so we enlisted the services of a man to assist us in towing the boat, as progress by any other means was impossible, and, after extending our tow line to double the ordinary length so as to reach the towpath on the high banks, we at length got "under way." We learned that these strong gales are not infrequent in this part of the country, partly owing to the flat character of the Fen district.
We were only making headway of about a mile an hour, as it was difficult work to get along. We found it the stiffest bit of towing we had ever experienced. On the route there is little to arrest the attention of the traveller, and the scenery from the river, partly obscured by the high banks, is generally of a common place character. There are long straight reaches on the course with a good depth of water; the width, too, is considerable, and continues so for about twelve miles up stream, when it narrows somewhat, and the surroundings as one progresses improve in some measure. On the route we came to the Bain River, this tributary leading to Horncastle, then to the Sleaford Canal Junction, but both these waterways are now reported to be in disuse. We also passed Langrick Ferry, likewise Tattersall with its bridge, castle and church - these places are mentioned as landmarks are few on this journey.
Later in the day the weather conditions improved and we made more progress, and eventually, after a hard day's work, reached Kirkstead Bridge, having travelled a distance of 16 miles without any lock interruptions, and here we left our boat for the night. Woodhall Spa was, however, our destination, over a mile inland from the riverside. This well-known place is described as the Queen of Health resorts, and we took advantage of our opportunity to view the surroundings. We stayed at the Hotel Victoria, a well-equipped modern house situated in its fine grounds of many acres, all adjoining the famous Bath and Pump Rooms to which visitors come from all parts in search of health. It is curious to find such a popular resort situated in the midst of a flat and comparatively uninteresting country, as we found from the riverside approach; but there the magic waters are!
The town reminded us of Droitwich, with its Baths and Sanatorium, where we stayed when on the Worcester and Birmingham Canal. Sitting in front of the hotel one watches with interest the continuous procession of people on their way to take the famous cure, a sight which brought to one's mind the pilgrimage to Lourdes. Woodhall Spa was a pleasant break in our journey, and on driving back to the Witham next morning, we took what is a favourite route and passed the ruins of Kirkstead Abbey, of great antiquity, dating back to 1139. Two of our crew had returned to town after doing the Nene, and here at Woodhall we lost the services of another of the party, who was hors de combat through a mishap. However, with some difficulty we again procured assistance, this time a youth from one of the farms, and we proceeded once more on our cruise. This lad, who was about 18 years old, had never been more than a mile or so on either side of the river banks from his native village, although he was by no means unintelligent. The local inlander, as a rule, does not take kindly to the water, although he is to be found as a keen fisherman in some parts.
In starting on this our second day on the river, the wind, although still against us, had abated considerably, and we were at last able to do some sculling at intervals. There is no doubt that the Witham, with its low running current, is a good waterman's stream and an enjoyable one to row on, although the monotony of the surroundings makes it somewhat uninteresting travelling. At various points en route there are pumping stations for draining the water off the land after the floods, this being necessary as the water at times rises considerably up the high river banks. The pumps are likewise used for irrigation purposes at other times.
We landed at Bardney Village on the right bank, and thereafter our course took us sharply to the right to Bardney Lock, the only one on the through route which leads through a long cutting. We had a talk with the old lock-keeper, who turned out to be rather a character. He had been for nearly twenty years at this lock, and previously had been a passenger guard, but afterwards was given this post. When he heard we had travelled all the way from Northampton, he expressed considerable surprise, and ejaculated "Well! that licks fire," and we had to explain our route to overcome his disbelief. Others we spoke to as we went along considered it an ideal type of holiday, which appealed to them as just the way they would like to roam about and enjoy themselves. Here at Bardney the piscatorial art is much indulged in, and as many as 500 fishermen had come from Sheffield a few days previously to our visit to take part in a fishing competition for which prizes were distributed.
At last we reached Lincoln, and from the river one gets an excellent view of the famous cathedral on the hill. Nearing our destination for the day we now approached the lock just outside the town, to find it closed for the day (7 p.m.), but after some gentle persuasion the lock-keeper let us through the gates. We were glad of this, as boats cannot be very well left thereabouts with any safety. After going through the canal cutting which leads through the town, we arrived at Brayford Pool, a large expanse of water which might be described as the " Port" of Lincoln, and there we got our gear stored. We then made our way to the Saracen's Head Hotel, a good old-fashioned Lincolnshire hostelry, where we put up for the night.
So finished our cruise on the Witham, and we were glad to have done it, thus adding to our list another geographical experience.
The distances covered were :-
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