Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Monday, 16 December 2019

Walk Around the Wash - Boston to Fosdyke

Haven River

An 11 mile along the sea defence banks from Boston to Fosdyke

This walks follows the start of the Macmillan Way as the first stage of the walk around the Wash. The route follows the Haven river before heading down to Fosdyke bridge on the River Welland. The walk is typified with acres of flat marsh, water filled creeks, wide open skies and views for miles around.

Walk Around the Wash - Boston to Fosdyke - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

  • Start location: Boston 
  • End location: Fosdyke 
  • Distance:   miles (  km)
  • Total Gain:   ft (  metre)
  • Total Descent:   ft (  metre)
  • Min Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Max Height:   ft (  metre)
  • Walk Time:  
  • Walk type: Linear
  • Walk Grade: Easy
  • Terrain: Footpaths along defence banks


The following maps and services can assist in navigating this route. There are links to printed maps and links to downloadable GPX route data for importing into navigational software and apps.



Delph Bank Touring ParkcampsiteView in OS Map | View in Google Map
Five star family run site at Fleet Hargate just off the main A17 and a perfect location for walking the Wash footpaths. Peaceful and secluded site with easy access to local pub, village shop and a Chinese restaurant.


Details of public transport that is required for the walk

Brylaine - Bus Service
Service Details
G55 - Brylaine G55 service between Long Sutton and Boston. This only runs one service each way on schooldays only

Route Verification Details

  • Date of Walk: 2015-09-14
  • Walk Time: 10:00 to 14:30
  • Walkers: Griffmonster, Kat
  • Weather Conditions: Generally overcast although occasional blue skies showing

Walk Notes

The route for this walk follows the first 11 miles of the Macmillan Way, a 290 mile trail from Boston to Abbotsbury in Dorset. The trail leads away from the urbanisation of Boston along the southern side of the Haven river where access to the footpath is gained from the old London road. The river provides navigable access for shipping from the Wash as well as the outfall for the River Witham and several drains from the surrounding fenlands. The urbanisation continues along the northern bank of the river for the first mile of the walk with quaysides and docks where large ships sit aside the industrial area which is part of the Port of Boston. This is bounded by the Maud Foster Drain which flows into the Haven at the point where the church of St Nicholas stands with its distinctive round clerestory windows in an oasis of greenery. The church lies in the parish of Skirbeck and is said to be the oldest in Boston dating from pre-conquest times although the present structure is thought to date from the 12th century.

The urbanisation soon gives way to the more rural settings with Fishtoft parish on the far bank and Wyberton parish along which the path leads across the flood banks that bound the river. This makes for easy going although it must be noted that on this occasion there was a 400 yard section of path that was completely overgrown by shoulder high shrubs. This took a lot of perseverance and hacking to get through but was ultimately rewarded in a continuation of a well maintained footpath. At the far end of this obstacle, opposite the Sewage Farm on the far bank, the path turns to navigate around some lagoons and it was here that some makeshift signs indicated that the path towards Boston was in fact closed, although there was no indication of alternative routes or official notification of closure. This closure may have been due to the Defence Works that were undertaken after the damage caused by the December 2103 storm surge. This work was intended to provide repairs and improvements to the Slippery Gowt flood bank [in order] to reduce flood risk to people living and working in the area . Hopefully this has now been completed and the path fully reinstated.

The unique name of Slippery Gowt is worth more than a childish snigger, which it will inevitably provide on first reading. The Gowt part of the name, according to John Ash's 1775 publication The New and Complete Dictionary of the English Language derives from an old English term for a water course under ground, a pipe or canal for conveying water underground which aptly fits in with a sluice to carry out the waters from the various drains that take the water from the surrounding fields behind the defences. It is uncertain where the Slippery part of the name comes from, although there is a Slippery Gowt Farm and a Slippery Gowt Lane which probably derive from the sluice name itself rather than an area or landmark. This leaves us with either it being a corruption of a family name or plainly down to the area being slippery.

From this point onwards the trail is typified with the long straight paths along the defence banks that surround Wyberton Marsh and Frampton Marsh and onwards to join with the River Welland. The land is flat. The skies wide and open. The Haven river disappears into the horizon seemingly falling off the edge of the very earth. Decaying wooden walkways traverse the various creeks on the marsh. Cattle graze the marsh grass with herds hogging the defence bank in places. They are docile, unaffected by the passing humans and slothfully move away when approached. For this walk the skies were grey and foreboding providing a somewhat gloomy appearance across the marsh. One could only imagine a clear blue sky and a bright sun which would fill this landscape with awe and wonder.

Frampton Marsh is part of the RSPB Nature Reserve and extends across the land that bounds the rivers Haven and Welland before they join and flow into the Wash. The scene is flat marsh, creeks, more cows, occasional flocks of wild fowl and little else. Silence. Solitude. There are benches overlooking this scene but no-one taking advantage of the seat. Then, at the point where a roadway leads up to the marsh, a group of people emerge. Some 20 middle aged folk all kitted out in waterproofs, hatwear, boots and looking the part of stereotypical twitchers with their large lenses and tripods and such paraphernalia. Half of the group did not look as enthused, could these be the partners who had been cajoled into coming along for the walk? The grey sky solemnly gazed down on them. We passed through their numbers. 'Hello' was the only words spoken. The cows stared at this amusing scene.

This is not a particularly lengthy walk, even so there are no amenities so it is wise to take enough water and food for the duration. On this occasion, the style adjacent to Black Sluice Pumping Station on Kirton Marsh served as a makeshift seat for lunch of pasty and chocolate. The loo was nothing more than hiding down the defence bank, not that it provided much of a hide. There were probably some eyes gazing from miles away across this blank landscape to witness the toilet habits of the lesser spotted rambler. The Black Sluice Drainage board holds an interesting history, dating from the 17th century when the Earl of Lindsey made the initial attempts to drain the area. A full history can be found on the Black Sluice Drain Board website and is worth the read.

The pumping station is on the flood bank which slowly converges onto the straight course River Welland. The river can not be seen until one is almost upon it, although no doubt with the tide in flood then one can pick it out by the ships that must steam down the channel, seemingly gliding across the land. A waymarker declares the Brown Fen Waterway Trail. One may think that this is nothing more than a local circular route. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is a 62 mile circular trail that runs from Boston, south towards Spalding and Crowland, returning to Boston via Donington. However little can be found about this trail and the route map, or where to obtain one from, is severely lacking.

With the river close by, one can soon see the hamlet of Fosdyke in the distance. That is a problem. In the flat open marshland one meanders without haste or longing to get anywhere, ambling along taking in the subtlest changes of feature. Then as soon as a landmark such as Fosdyke materializes on the horizon, it presents a goal. It is miles away yet every few paces one cannot help but turn ones gaze upon it to see how much closer one is, with the dejection that it still appears to be the same distance as it was the last time one took a glance. This gives the allusion that one is not actually getting anywhere. No matter how fast one paces, it stays the same distance. Despite the threatening dark clouds heading towards the wash with a promise of a drenching, Fosdyke stuck stubbornly in the distance. Lightning streaks split the dark foreboding heavens. Fosdyke stayed the same distance away.

Luckily, as the quays and moorings that accompany Fosdyke bridge were finally reached, and with spits of rain starting to fall, the sanctuary of the pub was sought before the promised drenching. And none too soon either for no sooner than the pub door closed, a bright flash of lightning and a loud crash of thunder was followed by a deluge of rain that would have half drowned even the most weather prepared of wanderers.

An interesting story

Fosdyke is somewhat isolated from public transport with only a single service that runs once daily in each direction linking Boston with Long Sutton and operated by the Brylaine bus company as service G55. This was caught on the outward journey to Boston with the intention of catching the return service from Fosdyke. If that was missed then there was little alternatives with either a seven mile walk continuing along the river side path into Spalding which is a transport hub, or a 4 mile walk into the village of Sutterton where there is a frequent bus service between Boston and Spalding. I would hasten to add that this second alternative, one really needs to keep away from the horrendously busy main A17 trunk road and use the back roads and lanes.

One would expect that the pub would have its own bus stop as together with the surrounding boatyards, they are the only civilisation around. Unfortunately this was not the case and there was no indication as to where to hail the bus down. The bar staff in the pub were queried. They, in turn, queried the local customers and all agreed that they never knew that a bus service served Fosdyke. That had gone long ago, they assured us! The timetable begged to differ and distinctly quoted a vague Fosdyke/A17 as the stop. A quick phone call to the bus company for advice resulted in a cordial and pleasant lady stating that one just needs to find a suitable place where the driver will see you and give plenty of indication and the bus will stop.

Whether this method would work was left open to debate, for after standing aside the road for five minutes, an elderly gentleman, whom we had exchanged a few words of conversation in the pub, walked by us and asked if we wanted a lift as he was driving through to Holbeach, or 'arlbeach' as he pronounced the town. This was a welcome lift and could not be turned down.

The chap was most informative and clearly a local who loved this small corner of fenland. He could tell loads of tales about the folk, the places and the history of the area and liberally furnished us with such stories. Among these anecdotes came a story about the actor James Robertson Justice, that mountain of a man who starred in the Doctors films as Sir Lancelot Spratt. Our host assured us that this man used to moor his boat at Fosdyke and had once managed to accidentally drop his expensive pocket watch into the river. We had heard of King John losing his treasures in these parts but not James Robertson Justice.

The time-frame for this event is unknown. Considering Mr Justice died penniless in 1975, one would expect it to be during the height of his career some decades prior to this. Now, I may have got the personality incorrect as the driver could not immediately remember the name of the man but his description of the large man with the beard who starred in the 'Doctors' films fits no other character than James Robertson Justice. Despite this, I can find no reference that he owned a boat or had any connection with Lincolnshire. However one cannot discount these local bits of folk tale and it is worth recording this snippet of Fosdyke history.



Flood defence banks lead the entire distance from Boston to Fosdyke

Leave Boston on the old London Road. Where this crosses the river, take the path on the right that leads alongside the river. The path is self explanatory with the only ambiguity where it cross a track that leads off to the head of the Haven River. Even here, waymarkers direct across this track.

St Nicholas Church, Skirbeck
St Nicholas Church, Skirbeck


The Ship Inn, Fosdyke View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Main Road, Fosdyke

Well presented roadside pub by the Fosdyke bridge which is popular with the passing road users and the adjacent marina. Lunchtime and evening meals available with the pub staying open throughout the day, each day of the week. Ales from Adnams and Batemans.


It is not often one finds a pub that serves lunch on a Monday, especially in this part of the country where there is plenty of evidence of more and more pubs closing down for good. Not only does this somewhat isolated local serve food it appears to do a thriving trade in doing so. Cheerful staff and friendly locals together with an excellent example of Bateman's XB ale

Ramshackle walkways across the marsh
Ramshackle walkways across the marsh


FosdykeView in OS Map | View in Google Map

The 1814 publication of The history of Lincolnshire by William Marrat asserts that the name of Fosdyke is derived from the Roman road known as the Fossway, which he goes on to state that it crossed the stream and swamps of the Welland. Although this area was almost certainly swamp and marsh before it was drained, the existence of the Fossway through these parts is questionable. It has long been known that the Fossway ran from Leicester to Lincoln along the route of the modern day A46 so Marrats assumption may have been incorrect and we need to look elsewhere for the origins of the name.

According to the Internet Surname Database, the surname of Fosdyke originates from the Lincolnshire village of the same name. The village name, it states, was first recorded in the 1183 Pipe Rolls of Lincolnshire county as Fotesdic and is derived from either the pre 7th Century old English word "Fotes" meaning foot or the similar word from Old Norse "Fotr" with the same meaning. The second part of the name also comes from Olde English "dic", itch, dyke. This seems a much more likely origin and the Roman connection is probably down to the assumption of the Roman occupation in these parts to account for ancient features such as the old sea wall. This was still marked on OS maps of the late 19th century as the Roman Bank even though it was constructed long after the Romans had left Britain.

During the middle ages, the River Welland was navigable from the sea through to Surfleet, near Spalding. The passage was not easy and the main channel regularly suffered from silting up to the extent that during the seventeenth century boats needed to be transported overland by cart from Fosdyke. To alleviate the silting, a sluice was constructed in 1739 at Surfleet which was later replaced in 1879. This together with the drainage of the land assisted in creating the well defined course of the modern day River Welland through this area of Lincolnshire.

Back in the middle ages, there was also no easy passage for those wishing to cross the course of the Welland and the extensive marshland. Anyone venturing across this landscape would either need an experienced guide or a ferry to negotiate the hazardous swamp. At the start of the 19th century an act of parliament for the construction of a bridge at Fosdyke gained Royal Assent on 14th of May 1811. The bridge was to be of timber construction, designed by John Rennie and funded by a company named the Proprietors of the Fosdyke Bridge. The work also included the provision for the construction of a road from the East bank through to Moulton where it joined the road leading into Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk and would thus provide passage from the eastern counties through to Boston.

The road was completed on January 3rd 1814 with the bridge completion following a few months later on May 11th on that year. There was an official opening of the bridge September 26th which was recorded in The Literary Panorama which stated

A numerous and highly respectable party had a public breakfast on the occasion at the Inn near the bridge. This beautiful structure does great credit to Mr Rennie and others concerned in its erection, and affords, what was so much wanted, a safe passage over Fosdyke Wash

The oak bridge became a successful means of passage for travellers and an income was gained from a toll that was charged to cross it. Even so, access was still limited and it was said that for four months of the year it was unusable due to impassable roads on either side of the bridge.

Extensive repairs to the bridge were undertaken during 1836 and this maintained the bridge until 1911 when an iron swing bridge was constructed alongside the original bridge. With modern times and increasing traffic flows, by the 1970s it was clearly not adequate to cater for the demand, with traffic lights having to be installed to restrict the flow of vehicles across its narrow structure to a single lane. An act of parliament paved the way for a brand new bridge by repealing earlier acts which were implemented when the river carried commercial sailing vessels and the bridge needed enough headroom to allow for the passage of such craft. With the legislation repealed, the need to cater for the large headroom of sailing craft was removed and a brand new bridge was constructed designed for the flow of late 20th century traffic travelling the A17 trunk road between Norfolk and Lincolnshire.

Fosdyke Marsh Nature Reserve
Fosdyke Marsh Nature Reserve


Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on an image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2021-12-07

2016-08-03 : Initial publication
2017-12-19 : general maintenance updates
2019-01-27 : general maintenance updates
2019-12-16 : general maintenance updates
2021-03-17 : Update website improvements and removal of ViewRanger reliance
2021-12-01 : Removal of ViewRanger links due to its imminent demise


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