Dusk on the Foss Dyke


If you turn off Carholme road onto Harvey Street, Westfield Street, or any of the other residential lanes that lead off in that direction, a thirty second stroll will bring you away from the drone of Lincoln’s traffic nightmare-realm and onto Foss Bank, beside Foss Dyke navigation.

Follow the Foss Dyke long enough, and you’ll eventually reach the River Trent. It’s a hugely important canal (rumoured to be the oldest in England that’s still in use) that was built by the Romans which, for almost 2000 years, according to Visit Lincoln, was used for transporting cargo – including the stones used to build Lincoln Cathedral.

Surprisingly, though coal and wool moved to railway routes as the canals lost their profitability, grain continued to be transported into the modern era, and the last commercial operation was in 1972. The Brayford Mere Trust (now Lincoln BIG) were responsible for the regeneration of the marina, and Lincolnshire Waterways Partnership for the foot and cyclepaths that run from Lincoln to Torksey.

I had intended to catch the sunset, but, forgetting we’re still in March’s wintry grasp, the day’s light was down earlier than I expected. No matter; an evening walk is one of the best ways to wind down after a day’s work, and even with the waning light there is enough to see to enjoy a peaceful walk along one of Lincoln’s waterways.

At around 6:30, the trail beside Fossdyke is virtually abandoned. Scintillations of yellow orb-lights glimmer on the surface of gentle currents as you pass by narrow boat after narrow boat lined up nose to tail. There’s scant wildlife to be spotted at the hour, not without some patience, but walking through that dreamy half-lit world gives the impression that it’s a place that probably doesn’t get the appreciation it deserves.

At this hour it’s nice to stop and hear the noises. Even at 7pm, there is a myriad bird calls to be heard. I was even lucky enough to catch a swan spreading his wings.


Evenings are a popular time to go jogging or cycling. Don’t forget, that while walking or exercising in the evenings may be nice, walking expert Wendy Bumgardner recommends at least 3 hours to wind down afterwards to help you get to sleep. Remember, it’s not the time of day that counts – it’s the time that fits in best for you.

Evidence points to the Foss Dyke being constructed around 120AD, but there is a lack of consensus among researchers.

Mark Bennett, writing for the East Midlands Archaeological Reasearch Framwork, is one of many who believe the evidence, which included an inscribed statuette of the god Mars found at Torksey (now in the British Museum)!

He said:

“The Foss Dyke is almost certainly Roman. No quay has been identified at Lincoln as yet although a length of wall suggestive of a quay was uncovered in the 1950s at the site of the Telephone Exchange east of the walled city and north of the Witham.”

However, in the year 1121 Symeon of Durham wrote in his Historia Regium:

“In the same year, king Henry cut a large canal from Torksey to Lincoln, and by causing the River Trent to flow into it, he made it navigable for vessels.”

This suggests that king Henry himself created the Foss Dyke Canal, casting doubt on the Foss Dyke’s claim to historic fame – nonetheless, it’s importance as a trade route is not disputed. Improvements to the Foss Dyke nearly led to the demolition of High Bridge in the 1800s, to improve access through the city – but neither action was followed, and Lincoln is doubtless the better for it.

Canals are starting to get better coverage. Timothy West and Prunella Scales can be seen on Channel 4 on their highly-rated program Great Canal Journeys, and this writer recommends it.


Article by Alex


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