An enigmatic outing to the ruined abbeys around Bardney, east of Lincoln.
Distance 7.8 miles (12.5km)
Minimum time 4hrs
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Easy field paths and bridleways
Landscape Flat and open arable land, punctuated by woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 273 Lincolnshire Wolds South
Start/finish TF 120694
Dog friendliness Mostly good, watch for livestock
Parking Horncastle Road, centre of Bardney
Public toilets None on route (nearest at Woodhall Spa)
© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
1 From the RAF memorial opposite Bardney post office, walk along the adjacent Church Lane. Just beyond St Lawrence Church take the public footpath indicated on the left, which squeezes between two fences and turns right along the end of some gardens. (This path can get a little overgrown in the height of summer, in which case follow the road around to the right, past the Methodist chapel, and then left on to the main road, turning off left at the sign for the Viking Way.)
2 At the end of the path turn left on to a wide track through the fields, with the huge sugar factory away to your right. Ignore the inviting permissive bridleways into Southrey Wood (left).
3 When the wood finishes continue along the main track, which despite a kink maintains its south easterly direction. When it reaches the buildings of Southrey it swings left past Poplars Farm. Take the first road on the right (compare the sight of the old thatched cottage with the modern brick-built village hall next door). At the end of the road go right again to reach the pub at the far end of Ferry Road.
4 Turn left on to the raised bank of the River Witham. The overgrown platforms and signs of the former waterside railway station make a strange spectacle, and now you follow the old trackbed alongside the anglers by the river for 650yds (594m).
5 Go left at a public footpath sign and across a footbridge over a drainage dyke for a track across a field. Continue straight on as it turns into a firmer track and then the surfaced Campney Lane.
6 At the road junction at the end turn left and, after a sharp left bend, turn right on to a signposted public bridleway. Follow this wide grassy ride between hedges. Go through a gate and past a farm to reach the remains of Tupholme Abbey.
7 Beyond the abbey turn right on to the road and then almost immediately left on to a quiet lane. About 750yds (686m) after Low Road Farm take the public footpath indicated between two fields on the left. The fence is first of all on your right, but when the small dividing dyke appears keep both it and the fence on your left. Go across a small wooden bridge and through another field to turn right on to a cross track all the way to the road.
8 Turn left for the verge and then pavement back into Bardney.
The gentle valley of the River Witham, east of Lincoln, has long been a fertile place, and for more than just potatoes and sugar beet. Once upon a time it housed as many as nine separate monasteries or religious houses, virtually in sight of one another, attracted by the accessibility that the river afforded as well as the ecclesiastical standing of nearby Lincoln.
The first to be built was Bardney, endowed by Ethelred, King of Mercia, and its fame and popularity was sealed when it became the shrine to St Oswald. King Oswald was killed in battle in ad 642 and his body was brought to Bardney - even though his head went separately to Lindisfarne and his arms to Bamburgh. According to the story, Oswald's remains arrived at night, and the monks at Bardney initially refused to allow the cart to enter. Suddenly a 'pillar of light' shone skywards from the coffin, convincing them that this was indeed a saintly person, and after that they never shut their gates. The local Lincolnshire saying for when someone leaves a door open is: 'Do you come from Bardney?'
Whereas the Benedictine monks of Bardney wore black habits, the Premonstratensian monks (from Premontre, in France) at Tupholme Abbey, which is also visited on this walk, wore a white habit and cap and were known as the 'White Canons'. From Matins at 2am through to Compline at dusk, they spent their days in prayer and recitation, although they also found time to rear sheep and sell wool as well as importing building stone via a canal-link to the nearby River Witham. Beyond the solitary remaining wall of Tupholme Abbey is a moated field where the canons dug their fish ponds.
But like all the other local religious houses, its decline and ruin was swift once the 16th-century Dissolution Act came into force. Before long it was raided for building material and had farm cottages built against it. In 1972 a large open-air pop festival even took place on the site, featuring such big names as the Beach Boys and Rod Stewart! Fortunately, in 1998, the Heritage Trust managed to step in and save what was left.
On the edge of Bardney, British Sugar's enormous factory was, in its heyday, a hectic place, operating around the clock from September to February in order to process the millions of tonnes of locally grown sugar beet. The huge silos remain, but the plant, built in 1927, has been scaled down in recent years and now only produces 'liquid sugar' (syrup, treacle, and so on), with the mainstream refining switched to Newark and elsewhere.
The Black Horse pub and licensed tea room, on Wragby Road in Bardney, serves all-day meals and light snacks and welcomes walkers. Food is also served daily at The Bards ('family pub and restaurant'), also in the centre of Bardney, and at the Riverside Inn at Southrey.
On a neat green in the centre of Bardney, opposite the post office, is an aviation memorial featuring a gleaming black propeller. There were airfields dotted across Lincolnshire, of course, but this one commemorates the men of IX Squadron who flew Lancaster bombers out of RAF Bardney between 1943 and 1945. Probably their greatest moment was when they sank the German battleship Tirpitz in Norway.