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Cycling across Lincolnshire’s Living Landscapes

Posted: Wednesday 29th April 2015 by Robert

Robert Enderby

Communications Officer Robert Enderby sets out to explore Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust's new Living Landscape Cycle Route on an epic adventure around the county.

The Living Landscape Cycle Route is designed to encourage people of all abilities to explore the varied geography of Lincolnshire, providing a pleasant sporting experience along the county’s quiet roads.

As a keen cyclist I was eager to be one of the first to test out the route and so in early April I set out to complete the long version (there are also short and medium alternatives). At over 70 miles it’s a challenging day out, allowing for an expansive exploration of many Lincolnshire habitats.

There was a strong westerly wind on the day but the sun was shining as I set out from the small tourist town of Woodhall Spa where the route begins. After leaving Woodhall I quickly turned south to ride along the River Witham, which at any time of year is a defining feature of central Lincolnshire, meandering elegantly through the heart of the county.

The Witham Fens

There is something extremely tranquil about riding along the Witham and despite being close to Woodhall I was the only person exploring its course, which made it even more special. At Chapel Farm the route turned east towards the Limestone uplands of North Kesteven. However, between the Witham and the Limestone uplands are the Witham Fens, a wide open landscape that can make you feel very small as you ride along its ancient drove roads.

Almost immediately I encountered wildlife in the skulking form of a long thin weasel quietly ambling across the road. For a moment it felt like I'd cycled into a chapter of Wind in the Willows! In startled surprise we both stared at each other for a few seconds before the weasel leapt (quite comically) head first into a nearby ditch. These drainage ditches contain reeds that provide important fenland habitats for small birds like reed bunting. While many creatures were probably sheltering in such places from the wind the weather proved no deterrent for a number of kestrels I saw gliding through the air tracking the arable landscape for prey.

Lincolnshire Limestone

The village of Timberland marks the beginning of the Lincolnshire Limestone Living Landscape. The route then becomes gently undulating and winding on its way to the beautiful village of Scopwick, which has a crystal clear stream running through its centre. Like the chalk streams of the Wolds, the streams in Lincolnshire’s Limestone can be very clear, providing a special habitat for wildlife.

It was early in the year so the roadside grass verges hadn’t yet developed a bloom of wildflowers. In summer this can be an excellent place to find rare wild plants. Non-native garden plants like daffodils and crocuses were more evident at this time of year though, lining the roadsides in lush colour.

The hallmark of this landscape is of course limestone, which subtly defines the area but is most visible on local dry stone walls and buildings that reveal its distinctive light yellowish tinge.

Lincolnshire Limewoods

After racing down the Roman built Car Dyke at Potterhanworth and then speeding back across the fens with a backwind to Bardney I entered the Limewoods Living Landscape. It may be hard to spot lime trees if you are unfamiliar with them (leaves are heart shaped with a pointed three tip), but it is easy for anyone to observe the many small woodlands that appear on the route. They appear like wild islands connected by hedgerows in a sea of arable farmland.

The road from Bardney to Stainton by Langworth is particularly pleasant and very easy to visit from Lincoln. It quietly weaves around a variety of woods that harbour some of Lincolnshire’s most ancient woodland, woodland that has been managed by people here for at least 5000 years. Because of their longevity and the way they have been managed, ancient woodlands are renowned as havens for wildlife. 

Lincolnshire Wolds

Red Hill

After leaving the Limewoods I was quickly blown eastwards into the Lincolnshire Wolds, which rise gradually at that point towards the iconic tower of Belmont television transmitter (once the highest structure in Western Europe). The road became a lot more undulating in this area and the ascent to Belmont was a welcome uphill effort following the flatlands.

From Belmont the road then descends rapidly past trees, hedgerows and pastoral fields into Donnington on Bain and then rolls along the exquisitely picturesque valley of the river. At this point the Wolds rear up in a large escarpment with a high point at Red Hill, 150m above sea level. This is a long tough climb, over a kilometre in length, with over 80m in elevation gain and gradients over 10%. It’s certainly worth it though. There are breath-taking views across the valley to your right, while to your left the distinctive red chalk of the hill (a unique geological feature) is clearly visible.

Red Hill Nature Reserve covers both sides of the hill, with a coronation meadow of wildflowers on the other side of the road from the car park. The Trust has used seed from here to create new wildflower meadows across Lincolnshire. These meadows are hugely important places for biodiversity.

The route then follows the ancient Bluestone Heath road south. This is one of my favourite roads in Lincolnshire because its high vantage point allows rare views through the valleys of both the east and west side of the Wolds and beyond. On the high Bluestone I was fortunate to hear the distinctive call of lapwings over a nearby field before witnessing their graceful arcs of flight in the air.

After passing through the delightful village of Tetford and over the very steep climb of Fulletby hill the route becomes gentler as it slowly descends back down towards the River Bain, all the while providing glimpses of Lincoln Cathedral in the distance.

Kirkby Moor and the Bain Valley

Kirkby Moor

As the route becomes less hilly it enters the Kirkby Moor and Bain Valley Living Landscape. After crossing the Bain the route then enters the enclosed world of Kirkby Moor. While only just over a mile long, the road past Kirkby Moor is in some ways the most interesting part of the route.

The mix of heathland, bracken, moss covered dry stone walls and wild looking woodland gives this landscape a feel unlike anything you’ve previously experienced in other landscapes.

The sudden absence of surrounding arable fields is incredibly apparent. After spending over five hours riding through Lincolnshire the differences between the living landscapes are clear to see, each having its own unique character, but they are also unified by farming. Intensely farmed arable fields dominate the route. Only at Kirkby Moor does this change and for a magical moment it seems like you’ve entered a different, deeper, more ancient world… and the good thing is, you have!

In fact Kirkby Moor is the last remnant of the once extensive ancient heathlands that covered the landscape around Woodhall Spa. As a result it is a very special place for both conservation and heritage, providing a haven for many rare and threatened species.

Kirkby Moor provides a welcome distraction from the growing feeling of tired legs after riding over 70 miles. Fortunately the return to Woodhall Spa follows soon after, as does the welcome appearance of cake shops, cafes and pubs, all of which can provide a well-earned and well-deserved recovery meal!

Click here to find out more about the Living Landscape Cycle Route

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