For much of Autumn this year Lincolnshire has suffered far more rain than this normally dry county usually receives. This was due to a series of slow moving depressions passing over southern Britain pulling in winds off the North Sea. This meant that rather than being in the rain shadow of high ground to the west Lincolnshire was in the frontline. By mid November it was already a record breaking wet Autumn. On one of the odd dry days I took the chance to get out to see the last flourish of autumn colour.
I headed for Bag Enderby and parked by St. Margaret’s. This prominent medieval church of heavily weathered greenstone overlooks the small but disparate village of cottages and farms. On the southern edge of the village there is the large white building of Hall Farm. Between the church and farm a track leaves the village and winds its way down to the River Lymn. After the heavy rains the broad track was half submerged by a series of extensive puddles. There were so many, with some spreading the width of the track, that they were difficult to avoid but having stepped into a couple they were not particularly deep or muddy. This is because the track has a hard core. This firm base continued out of the village where the track skirted round a small wood and continued down to the river. This section despite the recent heavy rains was still firm and mostly grassed over track with just rutted puddle pocked lines either side. A long time ago this mostly forgotten track was a metalled by-way that linked Bag Enderby to Hagworthingham but the fact that a bridge was never built across the river here condemned the narrow lane, which had once been similar to others around about, to become mostly forgotten.
It is now a very quiet bridle way used by farm vehicles and the occasional walker. The still solid core though means potentially the by-way is still suitable for other vehicles but the depth of the ford through the river means that only bikes could cross the river by the adjacent footbridge and make it through to Hagworthingham. Beyond the ford the by-way is even less used and passes beside a strip of land close to the river, which has been allowed to become overgrown for many years. The river either side of the ford makes a series of looping meanders so that the land close to it was never able to be cultivated. The land between the river and the by-way makes a small linear reserve of land of naturally regenerated native species.
There is a well established tradition in the Wolds for the maintenance of highway and by-way margins for the benefit of wildlife. These are usually the broad grass verges of straight lanes crossing the chalk wolds but where they are tree lined areas of natural woodland this too could be appropriate.
A mile upstream from the ford is a road that crosses the River Lymn on the far side of Somersby. In fact there are two bridges with a second crossing the river’s first sizeable tributary just 400 metres further on. From Tennyson’s Somersby over the two bridges, and up the hill beyond the second, the lane is tree lined. Sometimes with woods and in other places with tall trees often of lime and oak. The latter lining the road most of the way back to Bag Enderby from where I had just come.
One wood called Old Woman’s Holt has a third stream running through it which has emerged from the narrow hidden Snake Holes Dale and opposite is another more narrow piece of woodland flanking the road. Neither are fenced off from the road and though not completely natural are planted with a variety of attractive trees. The lane that passes between them I have called Snake Lane (See Ashby & Stainsby Blog) partly because of its winding nature. It is little used and in common with some other similar lanes west of Somersby has been allowed to fall into disrepair by the county council, which is the way the by-way south of Bag Enderby ended up as a farm track. Both the track and Snake Lane have a strong amenity value and provide access to some of the most unspoilt stretches of Tennyson’s Lymndale. Rather than allowing these places to fall into disrepair they should be maintained to allow access for walkers and cyclists with their verges managed for wildlife
The bridge over the River Lymn just west of Somersby is perhaps the more interesting because it too is flanked by small woods of trees of mixed size, age and species. When I visited after weeks of heavy rain the river had swollen so much that it revealed another previously hidden feature. On the south side of the bridge the river had widened in one spot to reveal the place where it had been forded previous to the bridge being built. This was two hundred years ago when Alfred was still just a boy living in the Rectory just up the hill with his parents Doctor and Mrs. George Clayton Tennyson and his many siblings.
The exceptionally heavy rains had flattened the dead winter vegetation and swollen the river to reveal the depression that had been worn down either side of the Lymn by countless years of traffic crossing the river at this point. Most of the year this is covered in undergrowth but the heavy rain had flattened this and partly flooded the depression where the old course of the road crossed the river, which must have been difficult during heavy winter rains. It has been 200 years since this was abandoned in favour of the bridge, which is probably a similar length of time that the small quarry a little further along Bridge Road was last used. This was probably to do with Somersby church being restored in the 1830s. Now it is half hidden by oak trees growing among the buttresses of weathered sandstone providing an ideal sheltered picnic spot.
Three hundred metres beyond the abandoned quarry the road makes a sharp left turn to avoid the near precipitous slope where the River Lymn passes fifteen metres below the road on its sinuous journey through the New England Ravine. Beside this sharp bend is a large beech tree which is the best place to see over the dense growth of the ravine to the base of Warden Hill on the far side. The northern end of the ravine is protected as an SSSI but protection ought to stretch much further across the mostly wooded rolling landscape that stretches south of here. First through the rest of the ravine then beyond the bridge west of Somersby and up onto the knolls immortalised by Tennyson in In Memoriam AHH (See Tennyson Knolls Blog.) and along the length of Snake Holes Dale, which is a deep narrow valley that cuts into the Stainsby sandstone plateau south of the second bridge, which crosses the River Lymn’s first large tributary shortly before the two streams merge to create a river by form as well as name.
This whole area is naturally and historically significant containing many features such as the ford/bridge, quarry and knolls that would have been all familiar to Tennyson as a boy growing up close by and stretches of non commercial woodland growth and unimproved pasture first along Snake Lane and then Snake Holes Dale which are worth preserving and compliments the already recognised important natural habitat of the New England Ravine. The three streams that come together in the heart of this unusually unspoilt piece of normally intensively farmed Lincolnshire land create and important wildlife corridor that stretches over two kilometres. If continued downstream past the ford south of Bag Enderby, itself hidden among an oasis of natural regeneration as described above, to Stockwith Mill this length of mostly natural riverine habitat stretches five kilometres before meeting a road that is used by any amount of traffic. This is the Lincolnshire Wolds at is very best and measures should be taken to ensure that it is not lost.