Tag Archives: Lincolnshire

Forest of Dean – Birthday Celebrations

 

We are all getting older.  This year my sister turned sixty-five and my younger brother hit the big sixty.  We all agreed to get together for a weekend at my sister’s place in Gloucestershire.  I had nothing to celebrate, I am sixty-eight so nothing special about that.

Lindsay lives in Lydbrook, close to one of my favourite towns in England, Ross-on-Wye, and has a lovely house and garden which stretches into the boundary of the forest,

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I tend to think that she lives a long way from me but to put things into some kind of  perspective, four hundred miles is not so far if you live in Australia, just short of driving from Melbourne to Adelaide or in the USA, Phoenix in Arizona to Los Angeles in California.  I live in the UK and like most other people that live here I just think that four hundred miles is a long way!

Lydbrook is in the Forest of Dean.  The UK is the second-least wooded country in Europe and only Ireland has less trees. There are not any forests where we live in Lincolnshire, it is the most treeless county in England where the land is mostly given over to arable farming which produces almost all of the vegetables for the entire country.  According to a recent survey Surrey is surprisingly the most wooded County in England.  The nearest to us, I guess, is Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire but there really isn’t much of that left either, Robin Hood wouldn’t be able to hide in it for long these days that’s for sure!

The forest is an area of about forty-five square miles of mixed woodland, one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in England. A large area that was once reserved for royal hunting after 1066 and until quite recently remained the second largest crown forest in England.

Forest Law finally came to an end during the second half of the seventeenth century but by then newly secured enclosures had taken a large bite out of the forests which were also sources of fuel for a rapidly growing population.

The forest was used exclusively as a royal hunting ground by the Tudor kings and subsequently a source of food for the royal court. Later its rich deposits of ore led to its becoming a major source of iron. Forest of Dean timber was particularly fine and was regarded as the best source for building ships.

The navy had, for many years, depended on English forests for their ships. According to legend, the Spanish asked one of their ambassadors during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to sneak up and set fire to the Forest of Dean, hoping it would give their Armada an advantage.

As England’s navy grew larger and Brittania ruled the waves the need for timber began to seriously pick away at the woodland and from an estimated land coverage of 15% in 1086 as recorded in the Doomsday Book, England’s forests and woods had reduced to just 5% by 1905.

Where did all of these trees go? Well, for example It is estimated it took six thousand trees to build Nelson’s battleship HMS Victory, five thousand of which were oak. There were twenty-seven ships of the line at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 so that was an astounding one hundred and sixty thousand trees.  The French and Spanish fleet had thirty-three ships and they were generally bigger than those in the English fleet.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Forest was a complex industrial region with deep coal mines, iron mines, iron and tinplate works, foundries, quarries and stone-dressing works, wood distillation works producing chemicals and with a sinuous network of railways but these are all gone now.

The Forest of Dean is not a big forest, the three largest in England are Kielder in Northumberland, The New Forest in Hampshire and Thetford Forest in Norfolk.  Kielder and Thetford are both recent forests both planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation following the First-World-War but the Forest of Dean like the New Forest and Sherwood is an ancient forest of medieval England.

We managed a couple of rural walks in the Autumn sunshine,  I liked it, a place of retreat and gentle reflection amongst statuesque trees, leaves falling like confetti, pregnant leaf buds and gently shifting branches with brief glimpses of the clear blue sky above, a place deliciously cool and damp with the diffused sun casting mysterious shadows over tiny clearings.

Living in Lincolnshire I don’t get to stroll through forests very often, I mostly walk through wide open fields.  Quite a contrast.

We also got to go on a train ride.  It was supposed to be a steam train ride but the engine broke down just the day before so we got a diesel train instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil looking for something beneath and around the base of the larger trees were deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.

Sunday Sunset – The Field

This is the field opposite the house where we live. It is not a great picture, I was panicing and in a hurry and I snatched it before it was gone but it is a great burning sunset…

Trees in Threes

I like these trees, I can’t explain why, I just do!

Blue Door of Keelby

I usually associate Blue Doors with the Greek Islands but I chanced upon these barely two miles from home in the North Lincolnshire village of Keelby.

A to Z of Statues – F is for Matthew Flinders

Matthew Flinders was a Royal Navy officer and an English navigator and cartographer of very special talent who led the second circumnavigation of what was then called in equal parts New Holland (named by Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer) and New South Wales. The name Australia derives from Latin australis meaning southern, and dates back to 2nd century legends of an “unknown southern land” . The explorer Matthew Flinders renamed the land Terra Australis, which was later abbreviated to the current form. The name Australia stuck, there is still a part of Australia called New South Wales but there is no New Holland. There is a Tasmania of course.

Although he was modest enough to never name for any feature in all his discoveries, Flinders’ name is now associated with over one hundred geographical features and places in Australia and after Queen Victoria there are more statues of Flinders in Australia than anyone else.

In February 2020 my blogging pal John from Australia came to the UK and we met up. I took him to the village of his birthplace, Donington in Lincolnshire…

We visited the village market square where he was born. The house is sadly now gone, demolished a hundred years ago or so and then on to the Parish Church with a soaring tower and steeple which is a sort of museum about his life and achievements.

There is an interesting story about his coffin. his coffin. England is currently building an unnecessary and very expensive new high speed rail service from London to the north and during excavations near Euston Station in London the coffin of Matthew Flinders was discovered in a graveyard that had been built over a hundred years or so ago. The discovery was almost as big a thing as finding King Richard III underneath a car park in Leicester.

The coffin and the remains are currently undergoing scientific analysis but once this is complete the body will be returned to Donington and interred with special rejoicing and appropriate reverence in the church in the village.

Donington is miles and miles away from anywhere that tourists normally go but will almost certainly become a place of pilgrimage for visitors from Australia.

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

Staycation 2020 – North and South of the Humber

Growing weary of the tedium of the lock-down and with holiday plans to Sicily in tatters we decided to meet with our friends and spend an evening together for a meal in a nearby pub. Kim tracked down an excellent deal of only £50 each for bed, breakfast and evening meal at a well recommended place with a two star AA rosette. Unlikely as it sounds owned by chef Colin McGurran who was a winner one time on ‘Great British Menu’.

It turned out to be a very good deal, placed on the south bank of the Humber Estuary, comfortable rooms, good views and an excellent meal. Kim had posh burger and I had East coast mussels.

The Hope and Anchor (above) is in the unfortunately named hamlet of Ferriby Sluice and is at the point where the River Ancholme drains into the Humber Estuary via a sluice gate and a set of locks. A hundred years or so ago it was a busy marina and a departure and return point for the leisure and packet boats that regularly used the Humber.

Boats have always left Ferriby (the clue is in the name). The Romans stopped here in Lincolnshire at the end of their great road, Ermine Street which linked London and Lincoln before continuing to the Humber and then crossed the river to the north bank to continue into Yorkshire. The Romans were famous for straight roads and the section from Lincoln to the Humber, a distance of thirty-five miles is one of the straightest in England.

Ferries on the Humber continued to be important until the construction of the Humber Bridge in 1981. 

After breakfast we walked for a while along the banks of the River Ancholme butI have to say that it is not an especially thrilling or picturesque sort of place, a carpet of smelly algae on the river (thank goodness for coronavirus masks), a redundant cement works and a marine breakers yard. It does however have a National Historic Ship – The Amy Howson, a sloop that once worked the Humber and the Rivers and tributaries along the way to towns and cities as far apart as Grimsby and Sheffield.

It was rather chilly so we didn’t stay long this morning before driving across the River Ancholme and away along the south bank of the Humber.

This was a day for crossing rivers and driving west we crossed the Trent and then turning north the Ouse, the third and fourth longest rivers in England (after the Severn and the Thames). We were more or less at the point where they converge to form the River Humber. Other rivers contribute as well, principally the Don and the Aire and we crossed those as well.

Actually, the Humber isn’t really a river at all because for its entire length of only forty miles or so it is tidal so technically it is an estuary (I only mention this here in case someone challenges me on this important point of detail).

It may be one of the shortest rivers in England but it is also one of the most important as it deals with natural drainage from everything on the east side of the Pennines, the North Midlands and the Yorkshire Moors.

We rather rudely passed through Goole, Britain’s furthest inland port without stopping, I must go back and visit one day, but today we continued to the market town of Howden, a place that I have wanted to visit for some time.

Howden is a small historic market town lying in the Vale of York in the East Riding of Yorkshire, three miles north of the port town of Goole, it regularly features in lists of desirable places to live and is high up on a standard of living index. I liked it immediately and not just for the fact that it has free car parking.

All roads in Howden lead to the attractive Market Place next to the ruins of the sixteenth century Abbey and Minster, one of thirteen in the county of Yorkshire. Here is a curious fact, Howden was granted to the Bishop of Durham by William the Conqueror in 1080 and the town remained an enclave of Durham until 1846.

I imagine the Minster was once a fine building but it lost its status during the Reformation, was vandalised by Parliamentary soldiers in the English Civil War, the roof collapsed in 1696 and over the next hundred years or so the site was looted for its stone for alternative construction projects in and about the town and whilst the Minster lies in ruins the town has a network of streets with very fine Georgian buildings.

The Minster is currently undergoing restoration and we found it closed today which may have been due to the work or alternatively the dreaded coronavirus.

We found the town very agreeable and liked it very much so we walked the streets of the historic centre before stopping for coffee and cake at a town centre tea shop. We left in mid-afternoon and followed a route along the north bank of the estuary before crossing over the Humber Bridge back to North Lincolnshire which completed our quest of crossing all major rivers of the area.

 

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

Village Walks – Solitree

I have mentioned before that where I live is very flat and the farming is intensive arable.  Hedges and fences have gone to make bigger more economically productive fields that grow wheat and barley and rape.

A few trees have managed to survive the removal of the hedgerows and the expansion of the fields.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

This is a tree that really intrigues me.  It is a solitree in a big field and for some reason it has been left there and not only that it has a metal tree guard around it to protect it…

Single Tree

This is the field where it stands,

I have no explanation…

The Field

Same Walk, New Pictures

A lovely Spring morning today so took a walk around the village Bridle Paths and saw …

A Woodland Path

A Pointless Gate

A Yellow Tree

A Dock Leaf, No Nettles (for Derrick)

A Hoof Print

A lonely Tree

A Drainage Ditch

A Wind Turbine

A Tractor Track

A Path and a Church

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

The Story of an Aussie in The English Fens (Part Four)

The Fens Map

From the village of Donington and the birthplace of Matthew Flinders we travelled east towards the coast and the North Sea.

This area was once marsh and fen but has been successfully reclaimed from the water to turn it into a highly productive arable farming industry.  Driving on the roads takes great care and undivided attention because it isn’t so difficult to slip off the tarmac and into one of the roadside drainage ditches.  People who move to the area to live are only ever really accepted into the community after they have paid a visit to the bottom of a ditch and become a member of The Fens ‘Dyke Club’.

South Holland Dyke

This was an area of wetland for two reasons, first it is barely at sea level and high tides would swamp the land and secondly because four major rivers flow into The Wash, The Witham, The Welland, The Nene and the Great Ouse, all of which drain the English Midlands into the sea.  At times when there was too much water there was inevitable flooding.  The East Coast Fens are simply former marshland.  This was a place where you almost always needed to wear wellington boots.

The Romans came to The Fens and built the first sea defence wall about ten miles inland and which stretched for thirty miles or so.  It is still called the Roman Bank.  Beyond the Bank they maintained salt pans.

For several hundred years a battle was fought to reclaim land from the sea and the prize was access to very valuable fertile farming land.  Several walls and enclosures were built in the late nineteenth century and many thousands of acres reclaimed for farming.  During the Second World-War Britain was short of food so more farming land was required so at about this time the final and present sea wall was built to provide even more arable farming land to feed the nation.  It is doubtful that they will ever build another one because with modern methods of farming there is enough land now for the time being.

After leaving the A17 and driving north there are miles and miles of absolutely bugger all.  A couple of small villages, some isolated farm workers cottages and modern industrial scale farms where there is rarely any sign of life.  It is a ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ sort of place where local people look at strangers with suspicion and wonder if they are not driving a mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough just what they are doing there.

This is a remote place without visitors.  There are no tourist signposts and I wasn’t sure after ten years away  if I could confidently remember exactly how to reach the place that I was trying to get to.  With the help of the SatNav (working again now) a huge slice of luck and a fading memory I found the road/track that leads to the sea wall and we made it to our destination.  A narrow pot-holed track and not the sort of lane that you want to meet mud caked Land Rover or a Massey Ferguson Tractor pulling a plough coming in the opposite direction!

The orange arrow indicates approximately where we were…

Lincolnshire Sea Wall

… just farm fields at the edge of the World before the marshes and as close to the sea as you can get without wellington boots.

This part of Lincolnshire can be inhospitable and bleak but on a blue sky day like today it is absolutely magnificent.  We parked the car and climbed to the top of the wall, not a brick or concrete structure but a stout earth wall decorated with concrete Second-World-War defence bunkers.  To the north-east we looked out over the marshes and the North Sea and behind us we stared out over acres and acres of patchwork farm land just waiting to leap into Spring.

John and I walked along the wall and swapped tales and stories from our lives separated by fifteen thousand miles or so geographically but what seemed to me now only as thin as a cigarette paper.

It occurred to me that John lives so far away in Australia and a thousand years or so ago someone may have stood in this exact place (in his wellington boots of course) and thought that it must surely be the edge of the World. Travel and friendship is so important in personal development and exploration and education.

On the way back we drove through the village of Moulton which has the tallest windmill in England (this part of Lincolnshire is full of surprises) and then to Cowbit, John thought it was a strange name and I told him that it is not pronounced how it looks on the sign but as ‘Cubit’.  Friendly sparring now, John told me that Melbourne is not pronounced in the same plummy way as Lord Melbourne but as ‘Melbun’.

It had been a very enjoyable and satisfying day.

Click on an image to scroll through the Gallery…

Almost forgot to mention that this is where I lived in The Fens for ten years, 2000-2010…

Pipwell Gate

Kim joined us and we spent a convivial time in the bar, drank more than we planned to and had an enjoyable evening meal.  I saw John again in the morning as he prepared to return home to Melbun in Australia…

South Holland Sea Wall

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