Village Walks – Blow Wells and Watercress Beds

Old Watercress Beds 01

One of the positives of the lockdown is exploring discovering and researching our own local area.  We have lived in the village of Healing in North Lincolnshire for over two years but have really seen very little of it but with wider restrictions on travel we have been exploring the lanes and bridlepaths nearby.

Today we walked in a different direction because I wanted to find the redundant watercress beds which I had read were once numerous here and about.

Cress Cottage

The area was perfect for watercress production on account of the many underlying aquifers which brought spring water with a slight alkalinity, perfect for watercress from the chalk layers in the nearby Lincolnshire Wolds, just a few miles to the south. As well as the natural ‘blow wells’ bore holes were sunk to bring this pure alkaline water to the surface.

‘Blow wells’ are a type of groundwater spring and are a unique feature of North Lincolnshire. A blow well is a type of groundwater spring, which is seldom (if at all) found across the British Isles except for the coastal margins of Lincolnshire.

This a simple geological explanation (simple because I am not a real geologist).

Rain falling and percolating through the chalk of the Lincolnshire Wolds creates underground streams that flow under the marshland towards the Humber Estuary and becomes covered by impermeable compressed clay.  Under this heavy boulder clay the groundwater is under great pressure (artesian) and in certain conditions, where there is an opening in the clays from the chalk to the surface and there is sufficient downward pressure from the heavy soil above, the groundwater emerges – a ‘Blow well’.

Blow Wells Diagram

Today Anglian Water Company supplies water to North Lincolnshire by sinking bore holes several hundred feet deep to release the water from the chalk below (abstraction) before it flows away into the Humber and out into the North Sea.  Water here is not provided from surface reservoirs.

The watercress beds were built with a slight gradient and water was directed through a channel into the highest end and then allowed flow gently down the length of the bed before leaving through a narrow opening at the lower end. The watercress was gathered by hand and put onto wooden trays before being taken to a packing shed where it was divided into bundles, labelled and then the roots cut off. The bunches were then packed into wooden baskets, known as chips and transported by away for delivery to customers. The severed roots were returned to the watercress bed where they were replanted.

Healing Station

The site is near Healing Station, and much of the watercress produced was transported by train to towns throughout the North of England. However, as British Rail cut back on their freight services in the 1960s, the watercress trade at Healing was badly affected as it was much more difficult to get the cress to the town markets early enough by road (there was no motorway link until 1983) so commercial production of watercress at Healing finally came to an end in 1970.

Healing Station today is a village stop with infrequent trains but a hundred years ago was a busy commercial station with a goods yard  and a steady turnover of freight.  All gone now of course.

There is no watercress farming now either and the site is a nature reserve but watercress continues to grow in the dykes and drainage ditches that drain the land.  Kim challenged me to pick some for our salad but the ditches are steep sided and challenging and the water a little dirty so I got some from the supermarket the next day instead.

Water Cress in Dyke

Bagged watercress

45 responses to “Village Walks – Blow Wells and Watercress Beds

  1. At least you can still go for a walk. We here in Spain have to wait until this Saturday before we are allowed to go out.

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  2. Fascinating info about a subject I didn’t think would be so! A tad damper today!

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    • We travel thousands of miles to learn new things and sometimes they turn up on our doorstep!
      No rain here, been none for several weeks. A good job we are on lockdown and I have got spare time to water the garden!

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  3. A beautiful part of the world. I remember staying in an old farm house somewhere near Louth once. I think we also ventured to Skegness.

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  4. what lovely walks, andrew

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  5. I birdwatched near Ipswich years ago and there were cress beds there. That must have been a chalk area because the water was absolutely transparent. Overall, quite a strange landscape, much of it accessible only by boat.

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  6. We too of necessity are finding out more about where we live. Not that we can stray far, it’s just in the Domaine’s gardens.

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  7. nice walk, we can here as I am close to a big forested sports park but full out begins slowly after May 11th in France. In Spain too slowly letting out by then too. in the country near Toledo they do go out but in Madrid apts is harder. Cheers

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  8. Fascinating story about the blow wells. (I have a degree in geology). And the history of the village also interesting to learn. Stay safe, Andrew!

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  9. I’ve never dared pick wild watercress. I was brought up as a child to consider that sheep might have passed liver-fluke into the water and therefore the plant. It’s one of those commandments that’s stuck with me.

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  10. I so wanted a photo of you harvesting some . . . but, I’d have settled for one of you picking some up at the market.

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  11. It is good that you are going local. I am, as you know, picking up short sections of walks I once did regularly – and yet I am looking at things anew.

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  12. I like that ditch full of cress. Fascinating.

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  13. I was all set to chastise you for not picking the watercress till Margaret waded in with her warning. A couple of my walking friends are keen foragers and are forever picking wild spinach and asparagus. I have the devil of a job recognising these things. At least they’re labelled in the supermarket. 🙂 🙂

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  14. I have a small spring in our yard that grows watercress, Andrew. I need to harvest it. When we were growing up, we often gathered watercress for our salads. –Curt

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  15. This takes me back to being pregnant. I once spent weeks eating not much else but watercress and tuna!

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  16. Yes, I’d have gone for the supermarket bag too. Happy for someone else to do the work!

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  17. You sook. If she wanted cress from the creek, surely you could have kicked of your boots. rolled up your trousers and jumped right in. If she asked me I would have.

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  18. Very interesting, Andrew. I had no idea Lincolnshire had blow wells but vaguely remember from somewhere that watercress had been grown commercially there. I sometimes see it round here in Suffolk in streams, especially near water mills. I have been enjoying all your posts but haven’t commented recently because I’d got behind with my reading and my hands have been painful with arthritis. All improving now! Hope you and the family are keeping safe and well.

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  19. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Vaqueiros, Cheese fest & the choir | restlessjo

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