The long steady climb along the Bluestone Heath Road out of South Ormsby eventually takes you to the top of Dog Hill. From here the road continues along the ridge top for a few kilometres offering expansive views on both sides of the road. Before this however it is worth stopping to consider the view to the north and east. The first thing to notice is how the landscape is much more open than the one just passed through. There is barely a hedge or tree to be seen until reaching the valley bottom.
Although still in the parish of South Ormsby on the south side of the Bluestone Heath Road is the Ormsby Estate but to the north of the road is the Ketsby Estate. Before the Second World War the two estates were similar with well wooded parkland filling the valley. In the case of the Ketsby Estate this stretched for two kilometres up the valley of the Ketsby Beck. North of the beck is the Walmsgate Estate, which remains well wooded and has a footpath running diagonally through it down to the beck. Pre war maps show two footbridges crossing the beck allowing two footpaths to continue across the Ketsby Estate. On post war maps however these disappeared along with scores of trees and hundreds of metres of hedgerows to be replaced by the open arable landscape we see today.
Similar clearances took place in other parts of the Wolds and across the country during this period with the encouragement of successive governments. The Ketsby Dale though was once well endowed with several wooded estates, which are now much depleted. As one of the deepest Wold valleys containing a series of interesting peri-glacial features it is one of the gems of the Lincolnshire Wolds but there is now no public access to be able to enjoy this natural beauty. The original Ketsby parish lay north of South Ormsby beyond the Bluestone Heath Road and is quite different from the parishes surrounding it, which are criss-crossed by footpaths. Ketsby has none with some paths from other parishes stopping abruptly at the parish boundary. Even the old traditional paths that once led down to the mill have long disappeared. This would be a serious loss anywhere but in one of the Wolds most beautiful and interesting valleys it is a tragic loss of an important habitat that wooded parkland provides, which once stretched continuously through three adjoining parishes. Higher up the dale is a continuous corridor of woodland along the beck. Starting with Jericho Plantation it continues downstream with Ruckland and Ketsby Carrs. After Walmsgate Carr the chain in this important wildlife corridor is broken. When this was parkland it was less of an issue but now this area is open and exposed.
Walmsgate straddles a ridge and now comprises only a few houses among trees strung out along the main road (A16) which crosses over Walmsgate Rigg. Yet in true Wolds fashion this parish, which it is possible to drive through in little more than a minute, hides a wealth of interesting features. Most are due to the gradual retreat of the ice after the last glacial maximum. The maximum point the ice reached was just a mile west of the A16 at Deepdale and just three hundred metres east of the road where it paused for some time it created a second spillway. This is a long sinuous melt water channel mostly hidden among tall trees whose tops can clearly be seen from the road.
Starting by the A16 at the junction for Ketsby and following the parish boundary is the best way to describe these features. Just a short distance back up the hill is a large Neolithic long barrow hidden among trees next to a lay-by, which when it was built five thousand years ago would have been gleaming white and would have been in a commanding position by the ridgeway overlooking the whole valley of Ketsby beck.
The HG website states “The Neolithic long barrow in Beacon Plantation is the largest example of extant Lincolnshire long barrows. It is a fine example of a long barrow in a good state of preservation. It is 275 feet long, with a maximum width of 64 feet and a height of 7 feet. The depression on it was almost certainly made by a medieval beacon. ” The lay-by right beside the barrow allows you to examine this fine specimen at close quarters.
Below is the little hamlet of Ketsby which retains its water mill in an attractive setting. Ketsby is in South Ormsby parish so Walmsgate’s parish boundary stops just short of the hamlet and passes beside a lake (a recent but not unattractive feature) to follow the valley upstream overlooking the left bank of the beck. Unfortunately the right of way that followed the beck as I described is no longer. On the opposite bank was the medieval village of Walmsgate but judging by the proximity of the long barrow on the hill above it existed on this pleasant south facing slope beside the clear chalk stream way back into prehistoric times. Today there is just manor farm set in mature parkland, which has a footpath from the main road leading through it to the scant remains of a church and then stopping abruptly at the beck. Here the old footbridge which allowed you to cross the beck and continue into Ketsby is now lost.
Walmsgate church was lost some centuries ago but in Tennyson’s time, as is shown clearly on the earliest OS maps, a tiny nucleated village was still located in the valley around the ruins of the church but with no buildings strung out along the main road as is the case today.
A little further upstream is Low Farm, which stands on a mound by the beck and is part of the terminal moraine extending up from Keal Hill. Ahead is the steep sided scar of Deepdale cutting a gash through Walmsgate Rigg, which marks the last glacial maximum of 20,000 years ago. The glacier filled the valley of the beck and was thick enough to even cover the ridge to the east but here it finally stopped for a time before beginning to slowly recede. The evidence for this is not just Deepdale which was formed when melt water from the north was forced to find its way along the edge of the ice by cutting through the chalk ridge but a series of less distinct parallel features marking its gradual retreat.
From back up on the Bluestone Heath Road the steep sides of Deepdale commands your attention but standing here on a sunny summer’s evening the low sun will pick out the series of lesser meltwater channels or spillways etched into Walmsgate Rigg between Deepdale and the A16. These are 2, 3 and 4 marked on the feature image above with 5 and 6 being part of the South Ormsby cluster by the Bluestone Heath Road. They are much less dramatic than Deepdale because the retreating glacier probably only paused briefly at each, possibly for even only one year, where as the formation of Deepdale will have taken many years. Also the profile of these smaller spillways has been softened due to ploughing whereas Deepdale is too steep to ever have been put to the plough.
Over the horizon, on the far side of the A16 however, hidden beneath a line of tall ash trees that follows its winding course, is a second impressive spillway. It is not as deep as Deepdale but it is longer and even continues beyond the Skirbeck valley as Swaby Dale another deep cut in the chalk hills. Beyond the Wolds on the coastal marsh this line of spillways ties in neatly with the general line of the Huttoft moraine. This marks the position where the retreating glacier paused for a time allowing in more recent times a line of villages to be built on the line of low hills it formed.
I will call this spillway Cowdyke Dale as it is crossed by Cowdyke Lane an ancient way leading to the coast. As with Deepdale Walmsgate’s parish boundary follows most of its length. In between the two dales at their northern ends the boundary follows the line of Ruckland Gate part of an ancient ridgeway that connects with Oslear Lane passing over a high point of the Wolds at nearly 150 metres asl before plunging down Rowgate Hill. Meanwhile after leaving Cowdyke Dale at its southern end the parish boundary crosses the ridge and the A16 to close the circle around Walmsgate village. The choice of using two major spillways, marking two main places where a major glacier halted for a time, to make up a large part of its boundary must make this otherwise unassuming village quite unique.