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 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 1998, the Lincolnshire Heritage Trust managed to step in and save what was left.
To learn more about Bardney's history, visit the Bardney Heritage Centre (open Thurs to Sun), which opened in the former railway goods shed. There is a tea room in a replica of the old station, exhibitions on Bardney Abbey and RAF IX Squadron, and you can hire bikes to explore the Water Rail Way, a pleasant 31-mile (50km) route beside the River Witham.
From the RAF memorial opposite Bardney post office, walk along the adjacent Church Lane. Just beyond St Lawrence Church take the public footpath on the left, between two fences, and then right along the end of some gardens.
At the end of the path turn left on to a wide track through the fields, with the huge British Sugar beet factory away to your right. Ignore the inviting permissive bridleways into Southrey Wood (left).
When the wood finishes continue along the main track, which despite a kink maintains its southeasterly direction. When it reaches the buildings of Southrey it swings left past Poplars Farm. Take the first road on the right. At the end of the road go right again to reach the Riverside Inn at the far end of Ferry Road.
Turn left on to the raised bank of the River Witham. Walk past the overgrown platforms and the sign of the former waterside railway station to follow the trackbed beside the river for 650yds (594m). 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, then the surfaced Campney Lane.
At the road junction turn left and, after a sharp left bend, turn right on to a signposted public bridleway. Follow this wide grassy ride between hedges. Go past a farm to reach the remains of Tupholme Abbey.
Beyond the abbey turn right on to the road, then almost immediately left on to a quiet lane. About 750yds (686m) after Low Road Farm take a public footpath 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 through another field to turn right on to a signposted cross track past Rose Cottage Farm all the way to the road.
Go across the road and to the left of some large farm sheds. Turn left before a metal barrier on to a grassy ride along the edge of the woods. When the trees finish continue straight on to reach the road. Turn right and in a few paces cross over for the wide track across the fields on the left, past the mysterious mound known as King’s Hill. Continue all the way to Abbey Farm.
Turn right on to the road through the farm buildings to reach the car parking area for Bardney Abbey at the far side, from where you can access the abbey site. To return to the start simply turn round and follow the road all the way back into the centre of Bardney.
Easy field paths and bridleways, country lanes, several stiles
Flat, open arable land with woodland
Very good, but on lead crossing roads
OS Explorer 273 Lincolnshire Wolds South
Horncastle Road, centre of Bardney
None on route (nearest in Wragby)
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
Much of the fenland around the Wash has been drained of its marshes and reclaimed as highly productive farmland. Further north, the coastline, with its sandy beaches, has been developed to accommodate the holiday industry, with caravans, campsites and the usual seaside paraphernalia. The main resorts are Skegness, Mablethorpe, Cleethorpes and Ingoldmells. Inland, the chalky margin of the Lincolnshire Wolds offers an undulating landscape of hills and valleys, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Lincoln, the county town, is dominated by its magnificent cathedral. Most of interest in the city is in the uphill area, Steep Hill, ascending from the River Witham; the Bailgate spanned by the Newport Arch, and the Minster Yard with its medieval and Georgian architecture. Boston, on the banks of Witham, was England’s second biggest seaport in the 13th and 14th centuries, when the wool trade was at its height. There are market towns all over the county still holding weekly markets, including Barton-upon-Humber, Boston, Bourne, Brigg, Crowland, Gainsborough, Grantham, Great Grimsby, Holbeach, Horncastle, Long Sutton, Louth, Market Rasen, Scunthorpe, Sleaford, Spalding (the centre of the flower industry), and the elegant Edwardian spa resort of Woodhall Spa.