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Words: John Bennett
Photography: John Bennett
Featured in the February 2018 issue

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Many readers will have heard of Hartsholme Park, or Lincoln South Common, or Whisby Nature Park. But as John Bennett explains Witham Valley Country Park deserves the same appreciation.

Rather than being a single entity, Witham Valley Country Park (WVCP) is actually a collection of existing parks and woodland areas within and to the south-west of Lincoln. Some are already well known, others less so, comprising a total area of 10,500 hectares.

The concept of WVCP came out of a partnership between City of Lincoln Council, Lincolnshire County Council, North Kesteven District Council, West Lindsey District Council, Natural England, the Environment Agency and the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. In creating a single, marketable identity the idea is to encourage more people to explore the green spaces in that part of Lincolnshire, especially the less well known ones.

With joint oversight it is also hoped that developments will be more compatible rather than standalone. Over time it is hoped to be able to add more areas to the country park, and further improve their facilities, as well as access to and between them all. Joined up thinking for joined up green spaces?

There are currently eleven individual areas within WVCP: Hartsholme Park, Swanholme Lakes, Boultham Park, Lincoln South and West Commons, the wonderfully named Cow Paddle, Whisby Nature Park, Tunman Wood, Hill Holt Wood, North Hykeham Millennium Green and Skellingthorpe Old Wood. Some of these already have many facilities such as a cafe and visitor centre, whereas others don’t even have a dedicated car park.

The areas have incredibly rich and diverse flora and fauna, some that are rare to Lincolnshire. There are nature reserves and Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), and opportunities for numerous leisure activities. Some of the areas are perfect for a family day out, complete with play areas for children and award-winning cuisine, whereas others simply offer peace, quiet and solitude for nature lovers.

The plan is to continue developing the areas, increasing the opportunities for walking, cycling, camping, fishing, horse riding, bird watching etc. There are also sporting facilities such as tennis courts and football pitches on some of the areas, so whether you want time out to recharge your batteries in peaceful surroundings, or more adrenaline charged fun with friends, there will be something for you in WVCP.

New improved signage is being created to raise the profile of WVCP and direct people to the more unfamiliar areas. You may have already seen some of these. It is hoped that by making people more aware of the wonderful opportunities and biodiversity across WVCP that the areas will be more highly valued than before, which in turn will protect them for future generations.

There is an excellent website at withamvalleypark.co.uk which details all the areas in Witham Valley Country Park, and it is regularly updated with developments and events, I can’t recommend it highly enough. But for now here are some brief descriptions of those areas and the facilities they offer.

Two miles from Lincoln city centre, Boultham Park was originally a much larger private estate complete with a lake and hall. It was bought by the City of Lincoln council in 1929 and opened up for the people of the city. There is a car park and it is readily accessible from the riverside footpath and cycle tracks. The park has attracted £3.7 million in funding to restore the area and add a brand new visitor centre/café. There is a play area for young children, a zip wire, bandstand, and well surfaced paths throughout the open parkland and woods. There is also a Summer Fair every year. These are exciting times for Boultham Park, you can keep up to date with developments at boulthampark.co.uk.

Three miles from Lincoln city centre Hartsholme Country Park was also originally a private estate. It is a mix of open grassland, woodland, heath land and has a large lake. There is a visitor centre, cafe and recently upgraded children’s play area. Hartsholme can get incredibly busy, but it is always possible to escape the crowds who tend to congregate around the cafe, play area and main lake. A local model boat club meets there on Sunday mornings. The Rangers run regular nature walks and other events throughout the year, and there is a camp/caravan site with excellent facilities.

The beautiful local nature reserve Swanholme Lakes is adjacent to Hartsholme Park to the south and was originally a sand and gravel quarry. Work finished in the 1960s, leaving a series of lakes. It was designated a SSSI in 1985 and a local nature reserve in 1991. The area is now a wonderful mix of habitats, some of them very fragile so access is limited in places. To my mind it is without doubt the finest green space within the city, still relatively unknown to the crowds that gather in Hartsholme. The display of fungi in the autumn is fantastic and I never tire of walking round there. You would never know that you were completely surrounded by housing and industry.

Millennium Green is a small area in North Hykeham. Bought in 2000, it is now managed by a board of trustees and volunteers. The area is mainly a large lake, surrounded by a well made path through the surrounding trees that is suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. There is also a track/footpath linking Millennium Green to the much larger Whisby Nature Park, and this makes a lovely walk.

Whisby Nature Park And Natural World Centre is another ex-sand and gravel quarry that is now a major local nature reserve, straddling the A46 Lincoln bypass. There are many large lakes and smaller ponds, with over six miles of footpaths winding through the surrounding woodland and heath habitats. There are excellent facilities at Whisby to cater for everyone. The Natural World Centre includes a gift shop, cafe selling local produce and spaces for environmental exhibitions and displays of art. There is also a separate education centre used by schools, and a spectacular award-winning play area for children. The Rangers organise many activities throughout the year. The area around the Centre can be very busy, but you can quickly find peace and quiet a few minutes away. There really is something for everyone here. Explore on your own or follow one of the way marked trails. One of the many highlights at Whisby is the display of wild orchids during June and July.

Skellingthorpe Old Wood is a large ancient woodland now owned and managed by the Woodland Trust. It is best accessed on foot, by bike or on horseback as there is no car park. There is a complex network of tracks and footpaths, but many can get very muddy so good footwear is advised. There is major work going on to steadily replace the conifers that were planted during the 1950s and ’60s with native broadleaves. Many wildflowers and insects can be found here, and also deer, but my favourite time to visit is spring, when the wood anemones and bluebells create a beautiful carpet of colour. There is also a woodland sculpture trail.

Tunman Wood is a small area of ancient woodland about seven miles from Lincoln and currently managed by the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust. Despite the planting of conifers by the Forestry Commission from the 1940s onwards there are still many areas of native broadleaf such as ash, beech, birch and oak. There is no car park, so access is best on foot or by bike. It is possible to park at Whisby Nature Park and walk to Tunman Wood if you are fit! 

West Common is 100 hectares of sloping grassland on the western edge of Lincoln. Numerous sports are supported on the area, including football, tennis, bowls, cricket and golf, centred around the old sports pavilion. It was also the site of Lincoln racecourse until 1964. The old grandstand remains and you can still see remnants of the racecourse on the Common, but it is slowly disappearing. There is a small pond that is currently being renovated and several small wooded plantations scattered across the area. Other than that, it is all rough open grassland with grazing horses.

South Common is another area of sloping grassland on the south-eastern edge of Lincoln with magnificent views across the city to the Cathedral on the opposite hilltop. Much of the grassland is quite rough and tussocky, there are three small ponds and areas of scrub and small woods. The Viking Way long distance footpath runs along the southern edge of the Common at the top of the hill. There used to be football pitches and a golf course here, but now there is just the hillside and grazing horses. A fun fair is held regularly on an adjacent field in the north-west corner; otherwise the Common is the preserve of dog walkers, runners and those just out for fresh air and a stroll with great views. The area also has a rich and fascinating history that I have written about before in Lincolnshire Life.

Cow Paddle is another area of common land just to the east of the South Common across Canwick Road. In fact, before the road was constructed it was part of the Common itself. It is small and largely flat, often waterlogged – there used to be football pitches here too but they have long gone. Despite being so close to the city centre, it is rarely visited, so peace and quiet is guaranteed. There are no facilities here, just rough grassland, brambles, occasional scattered trees and birdsong.

Hill Holt Wood is a small area of ancient woodland off the A46 between Lincoln and Newark. It has been run by a volunteer board of directors since 2002 as a social enterprise with charitable status. The wood is open to the public ‘dusk til dawn’ every day of the week and there is a cafe. The concept of Hill Holt Wood is to manage the forest in an environmentally sustainable fashion, while also providing various services to the local community. It has gained a well-deserved national reputation for the work done there.

In the current climate the budgets for promoting green spaces are increasingly tight, but there is an argument to be made that they are more necessary than ever at times like these. Expect to see and hear more about Witham Valley Country Park in the future, and maybe visit the places you never knew about before. Also expect more areas to be added as and when possible. Keep an eye on the website for developments and news.

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