Lincoln really has the best of both worlds when it comes to city and nature. The city centre is a hive of activity, but you don’t have to walk very far from the hubbub before you emerge into glorious countryside. You can explore the many open plains, waterways and parks around Lincoln via a number of little-known walking routes, perfect for a quiet afternoon in the outdoors. One of our favourites of these walks is Catchwater Drain.
Running between Skellingthorpe village and the River Witham near Boultham Park, this serene waterway stretches out into Lincoln’s backfields and offers some fantastic views of the cathedral and surrounding area. Luckily for me, this route is less than ten minutes’ walk from my house, and so it’s my go-to daily dog walk. In this article I’ll explain the route, where you will find it, and what you can expect to see.
Where is Catchwater Drain, and what exactly is it?
The countryside around Lincoln is riddled with artificial waterways, or ‘drains’, that were built in the early 19th century to protect against flooding coming in from the Trent Valley. This network of drainage waterways was created in response to a huge flood in 1795, when the Trent broke its banks at Spalford. This left thousands of acres of land between Lincoln and Newark submerged in up to ten feet of water. Some villages could only be accessed by boat!
These artificial drainage waterways resemble miniature rivers, typically long and straight, with grassy banks and pathways alongside. Lincoln’s Catchwater Drain is a section of it that stretches from the village of Skellingthorpe almost all the way to Lincoln High Street, meeting the River Witham along Altham Terrace.
(Note: if you look up Catchwater Drain on Google Maps, you might be confused, as there are several dykes around the area with the same name. They’re all part of the same drainage system, and many of the others make for good walks too! This article focuses on the section between Skellingthorpe and the Boultham Park area of Lincoln.)
Where do you start the walk?
There are several sections of Catchwater Drain between Altham Terrace and Skellingthorpe you can walk along. Together it makes a complete trail, but you may prefer to explore it in shorter stretches. If you’re up for the full distance, it’s about 5–6 kilometres in total and will take you perhaps 90 minutes one way at a steady walking pace.
On the Lincoln side, there are a few convenient places to join the Catchwater Drain walk. It begins at Altham Terrace, which is just off Lincoln High Street by the roundabout on the corner of South Park. If you are beginning from city centre, you can walk down the River Witham from the Brayford Waterfront, and after about 20–25 minutes you will cross over Catchwater Drain at Altham Terrace, where you can turn right and start following the trail.
A little way along, the drain passes underneath Boultham Park Road; there is plenty of street parking around here if you want to start the walk at this point. I usually pick up the route further up, where Catchwater Drain passes beneath Tritton Road.
Bear in mind you’ll need to get back afterwards if you go the full way! The number 19 bus runs between Skellingthorpe and Lincoln, or you could make a day of it and walk back. If you started in the city centre, you can loop back by incorporating the N64 cycle track between Skellingthorpe and Lincoln. Follow this back towards Lincoln, and you can cut across another section of the Catchwater Drain that passes Boultham Mere Nature Reserve, or continue and walk along the Foss Dyke canal back to the city centre.
Following the trail into the countryside
After crossing Tritton Road from Hunt Lea Avenue, where Catchwater Drain passes underneath it, you will see a gate leading onto a railway crossing. Take care crossing the tracks and then continue on the path. You will pass a farmhouse on the right-hand side, and then emerge into lovely open countryside. At this point you can cross a small stone bridge to follow the path on the left bank, or continue along the right.
Looking to your right across the fields as you walk along this section, you will see Lincoln Cathedral high on the hill:
Keep an eye out for wildlife too. It’s not unusual to see a herd of deer around here, especially early in the morning. I regularly see herons, rabbits and swans too. (If you are on the right-hand side of the bank, you can extend the trail by following one of the paths into the fields to the right, and looping back around to the waterway. This will increase your chance of spotting some deer – I see a small herd of them prancing around these fields probably 80% of the time!)
Continuing along the path
About 10–15 minutes past the stone bridge by the farmhouse, you will reach another bridge across the drain. After this, the path continues only on the left-hand side of the bank. (At this point, you can also choose to take another detour and visit Hartsholme Country Park. Turn left along the path that leads away from the waterway. You will reach the park after passing through a small residential estate and crossing Skellingthorpe Road.)
Continuing along the Catchwater Drain path, you will now pass through some quiet woodland, and behind some housing. The pathway reaches a track, where you will need to cross over to the right-hand side of the drain to continue. Keep to the waterway and eventually you will pass under the A46. This is the final straight. Continue another half a kilometre or so, crossing the N64 cycle path along the way, and you will arrive at Skellingthorpe. The path comes out at the village onto Lower Church Road.
Tip: if you turn right onto the N64 cycle route instead of continuing ahead to Skellingthorpe, you can walk to Lincoln via the Foss Dyke or another parallel section of the Catchwater Drain. This way you can also reach the Pyewipe pub, perfect for a Sunday roast and a pint!
When we recently walked the Catchwater Drain trail, we looped back via the N64 cycle route and didn’t continue all the way up to Skellingthorpe. We’re yet to do this final section yet! Once restrictions are eased, we’re planning to do the full walk up to Skellingthorpe in 2021, just as soon as The Plough pub in Skellingthorpe opens again. We hear it’s a lovely village pub, and it’s dog-friendly too, so we definitely need to check it out. And who doesn’t want a pint after a good walk? We’ll update this article with our review as soon as we’ve completed this final section.
Catchwater Drain in all seasons
Any waterside walk is going to be pretty and enjoyable in the summer sunshine. But Catchwater Drain takes on a different appeal as the seasons change through the year. In autumn, the yellow-orange hues give the surrounding countryside a burst of colour. As the nights draw in through winter, frost on the ground brings that special festive seasonal feel. Here are a few photos I’ve captured on my phone while out on the walk around the year:
Catchwater Drain walk map
Such is the undiscovered nature of this walking route, not even Google Maps has picked up on it! However, on the map below, I have pinpointed some of the key locations on and around it, so you can plot your trail.
Have you walked along the Catchwater Drain trail? Let us know about your experience in the comments below.
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