Friday 25 September 2015


The boy who stuck his finger / hand / arm or whatever in the dyke, and so saved Holland, would probably have felt at home in this part of England. It's flat and criss-crossed with ditches that drain the water from the land.

Mind you, I've never really got to grips with what goes on with this sort of water management, especially in Holland where so much of the country is below sea level. In my experience, water flows downhill most of the time, so how can you drain land that is at the level of, or below, the sea? I guess you need pumps, and that presumably has something to do with windmills, but whoever thought of it in the first place? Genius!

Perhaps you can let it run out at low tide, and stop the gap when the tide rises again, but that must need a lot of cooperation between interested parties and work-forces.

I remember the chapter in Edward Rutherford's Sarum where the water meadows around Salisbury begin to get managed, to the benefit of the local community, but I still have no clear idea what it was they were actually doing.

It's interesting that one of our guide books says the ditches in this neck of the woods serve for both drainage and irrigation. Presumably, with the east of the country being drier than the west, there is a regular need to get the water out of the ditches and back onto the land. I suppose you just hope that it hasn't all drained away in the meantime.

Anyway, clearly the Fossdyke and Witham Navigation has this dual purpose of transport and drainage. Near Torksey Lock the rather ugly concrete outflow point from a pumping station feeds the canal.

And all this is just as well for the trip-boat industry. As we pulled out this morning, another narrowboat was about 200 yards behind, and I kept an eye on it as we sauntered past the long line of boats on the long-term moorings. What they hadn't bargained for, I imagine, was the Brayford Belle coming up behind them, and apparently not the slightest bit interested in the polite practice of keeping its speed down.

We saw the narrowboat pull across and the Belle surge past. Perhaps they have a special dispensation to break speed limits in the interests of the local economy. I was determined they weren't going to get past me, so when the line of moored boats came to an end I applied the throttle, and stayed well ahead all the way to the pub where they do their about-turn.

Which law is it? Apart from the Brayford Belle and ourselves, hardly anyone was moving on this stretch of water this morning. And there are only about two twists in the miles of straight canal. What is it that specifies that it's precisely at one of those corners that you meet a cruiser coming the other way on the outside of the bend, at a speed that would have made the Belle proud?

They probably matched each other all the way back to Lincoln, to which we ourselves have, for the moment, said farewell. Now, with its unexpected and considerable hill, there's a city that would survive even if all the drains failed for a whole winter.


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