What a disaster!!! We rolled into the car park at the Riverside Inn at Southrey only to find it shut. With no other eatery nearby for lunch it looked like we were going to go hungry! Our journey had begun from the Rodney earlier in the day after the full English, which was now going to have to sustain us for much longer than anticipated. Brian and I had set off in beautiful conditions once more: warm and sunny with a gentle breeze. Our route started the same as yeasterday but we diverted at Martin Bridge; the road bridge over the old Horncastle branch line from Kirkstead Junction. As pupils at Horncastle Grammar School in the 1960s, we loved it when our double decker bus crossed at the same time as a steam loco was going under; the billowing smoke and steam delighted us. In those days I had a Saturday gardening job at Waterhouses Cafe and bakery in Woodhall Spa and the small garden was right on the side of the tracks. When the black tank engines huffed and puffed by, snorting steam and smoke, I thought it was wonderful.
Departing from the Spa Trail we followed the narrow winding back road through Roughton to Kirkby on Bain where we diverted to have a look at the old Kirkby Watermill. This was a touch of nostalgia for me as I remember fishing in the mill pool in my boyhood and catching large perch. We never managed to latch on to the large chub that now held position head into the current waiting for food to drift down. The mill is private now and there are two very large houses built on the opposite bank. Tempus as the saying goes fugit.
Leaving Kirkby on Bain we headed for Woodhall along Kirkby Lane, passing Wellsyke Farm, the old water works (now Kirkby Moor LWT reserve) and Ostler's Plantation; all scenes of boyhood exploits. We called in again at The Teahouse in the Woods for coffee before continuing down Green Lane to Mill Lane where I was born - it seems like yesterday. We rode through the hamlet of Kirkstead to the River Witham and stopped at Woodhall Junction station, the start of the branch line to Horncastle. The station is now a private house and, though much has changed, the ticket office buildings and platforms still remain. A new road bridge arches over both railway line and river replacing the old swing bridge from my childhood. The railway here was the Lincolnshire Loop Line and connected Lincoln and Boston. I remember journeys to Lincoln on steam hauled trains but the line went with the Beeching cuts and now the old track bed forms a superb walking and cycling route: the Water Rail Way. The railway is not the only thing to have changed: the river water is now clear rather than brown and sediment heavy and there are no anglers fishing it. In years gone by the Witham was the scene of fishing matches with hundreds of anglers, many travelling by train from Sheffield and other industrial cities, lining its banks and huge weights of fish being caught. On non match days we boys would fish there and retreat to the delphs, which drained the adjoing fens, on match days. The last fishermen's train rain in 1979.
The river seems more picturesque now and is probably richer in wild life. As Brian and I rode along to Southrey we heard many chiffchaff, whitethroat and blackcaps singing in the trees lining the trail and common terns were gliding above the river. Butterflies were plentiful, especially red admirals.
Having failed with lunch, Brian and I returned to Stixwould Station and then rode along byways to reach Woodhall Spa by Stixworld Road past the Petwood Hotel, once the officers' mess for the 617 Dambusters squadron. We visited the Lancaster Inn in Woodhall centre for a liquid lunch and I reminisced about teenage visits to the old Gamecock pub, now attached to it and the 617 bar.
Retracing our wheels down Stixworld Road we rode along Old Woodhall Road, past the Wellington Monument and wood, erected and planted to commemorate the Battle of Waterloo. We reached the Spa Trail once more and returned along it to Horncastle looking forward to some rehydration before dinner. I seemed to need a double brandy tonight.
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