Witham Navigable Drains – the view from a narrowboat.

We spent an enjoyable and interesting half day in August 2015 exploring the Witham Navigable Drains. The waterways were well maintained, wide and deep, with minimal weed, and lots of wild flowers and other wildlife.

Other posts on the blog show what else we did on the Witham and our journey across the Wash

Some key sources of information:

  • the IWA’s guidance note and map, with convincing information on bridge heights;
  • OS map for the area. You do need good maps, as there are no signposts on these waterways
  • Keeping Up’s blog from 2006 (a bit out of date, of course – in particular the Maud Foster Windmill moorings are now repaired) and 2011;
  • TNC trip in 2005 – makes our trip look very easy.
  • Witham Fourth’s website which explains what is going on in land drainage terms. I rang them a few days beforehand to seek some advice, they were very helpful.
    See this page for information on  water levels  and pump operations: I think the Cowbridge link may tell you the level of the main section, relative to the datum used for bridge heights – see also the water gauge on the wing wall at Anton’s Gowt.

Captions are above the photographs to which they relate. The numbers [1] etc refers to waypoints on this map from Google Earth. In total we did about 13 miles on the drains.

Anton’s Gowt – entrance from the River Witham to the drains [1]


Turn right into Frith Bank DrainDSCF6011DSCF6012

Approaching Cowbridge lock – on the left [2]. See this article on the 2012 refurbishmentDSCF6016

Peter working out how to unlock the guillotineDSCF6019

Filling the lock – only a couple of feetDSCF6021DSCF6024

Maud Foster drain, leaving Cowbridge lock behind us. Stonebridge drain off to the right: we did not venture that way.DSCF6026 DSCF6028DSCF6030

Maud Foster Windmill – not open today [3]DSCF6032DSCF6035DSCF6036

We could turn at the steps by the windmill – putting the bows into the gap helped a bit. A 60 foot boat would struggle to turn here, I think.
It felt rather  incongruous to find bridges here from the Butterley Ironworks, and I was sad to read here that the firm has only recently closed downDSCF6039DSCF6041

Peter and Hugh jousting on the golf course.
The boathooks were needed to shut the bottom gates of the lock, which have no balance beams..DSCF6047

Continuing north up the Medlam Drain.
This bridge looked very low from a distance, but it’s an optical illusion.DSCF6049

These sluices take water down into Cowbridge drain, under an aqueduct, and thence to Hobhole sluice, which we should see on our way to the Wash tomorrow.DSCF6050DSCF6052

Another junction – straight on to New Bollingbroke, but we turn left into the West Fen Drain [4]DSCF6053

At this point various fishermen and other passers-by started saying
“It’s a dead end” or “You’ll have to turn around”.
The crew started to lose confidence in the skipper’s navigation skills. DSCF6055DSCF6057

A familiar landmark. Most of the time we were below the surrounding landscape, with water draining by gravity into the main drains. This is rather different from the Middle Level, where the water is pumped up into the drains.   DSCF6060

“Are you sure this is the right way?”
Just approaching the junction with Newham drain – we turn sharp left.
Straight on to Bunkers Hill and New York. [5]DSCF6062 Just around the hairpin bend into Newham drain  – only light use of the shaft. The householder on the corner said we were the sixth boat he had seen this year, and he was confident we could get through to Anton’s Gowt. Newham drain continues northwards through the tube, but we’ll leave that for another visit.DSCF6065

Jane feeling more confident we knew where we were going, but noting that this would not  be a good place to break down.DSCF6066DSCF6067

A comforting landmarkDSCF6068

The skipper remains quietly confident that we are not lostDSCF6070

The one remaining obstacle between us and escape from the Drains.
If necessary I can get out the hacksaw again … [1]DSCF6074

Antons Gowt: the only access to the lock  is up this ladder. The abutments of the  bridge for the disused Boston to Lincoln railway are clearly visible.DSCF6075

Back on the Witham – heading down to the visitor moorings at Boston [6]

DSCF6081DSCF6084Simon Judge
August 2015

One thought on “Witham Navigable Drains – the view from a narrowboat.

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