Thursday 6 July 2017

Tales of the Riverbank

A swan on the Coronation Channel at Spalding
South Lincolnshire is mostly fenland and is probably the most productive agricultural land in the UK. The southwest corner of the county in which I live is rather different and its 19th and 20th century history has been more in engineering and heavy industry, although you'd never know it to look at Stamford now. Not far away is Spalding, centre of the regional food industry and until recently of the British flower industry.

A group of us took a day trip to explore Spalding, a very different town from our home in Stamford, although with some similarities. It is on the same river, the Welland,  but Spalding is a former port town, the river having been navigable by sailing ships as far as the the town centre where goods were transferred to and from barges. Spalding has not been used by commercial shipping for a very long time but in recent years a water "taxi" service has been operating on the river to take people to and from the Springfields Outlet Centre, an edge-of-town bargain shopping development on the site of the former bulb industry show ground.

Eight of us left Stamford on the 09:00 train to Peterborough and changed there for the 09:35 Lincoln train which took us on to Spalding. We had reserved seats together on the Cross Country train to Peterborough; East Midlands Trains do not reserve seats on their local services in Lincolnshire but we were among the first to board and were easily able to find eight seats together. From the train we could see many church spires on the flat fenland horizon, and of particular interest was Crowland Abbey in the east, a short, broad tower with a low spire, and beside it the vacant arch of the ruined part of the abbey. We passed the lakes at Deeping St James where the gravel was extracted for the building of the line and is now a wildlife sanctuary.

Boarding the Spalding Water Taxi
We soon arrived in Spalding and walked together to the Market Place where the Tuesday market was in full swing. We had an hour before our booked Water Taxi tour and most of us took a coffee break at one of the many cafés in the town centre. Some also made a start to their day's shopping!

We were met at the Water Taxi landing stage at the agreed time by our pilot Marcus who took us on an hour's tour of the river and the Coronation Channel, a flood relief channel dug after the 1952 east coast floods and opened the following year. The Coronation Channel has become a nature reserve and many waterfowl were spotted by the keen naturalists in our group.

The Water Taxi dropped us at the Springfields Outlet Centre and Festival Gardens. Here we all went our separate ways until our agreed rendezvous at 14:30. Everyone found their own lunch at one of the many venues and many also did some shopping. The gardens are also worth a visit and in retrospect perhaps I did not allow quite enough time here. Some people took a bus back to the town centre (route 505 runs roughly every 20 minutes through the day) and most of us walked along the riverside which provides a very pleasant stroll through Spalding's mercantile past (and my teenage years - I lived here between the ages of 10 and 26!).

Back in town we relaxed over a pint at the Lincolnshire Poacher inn - formerly The Crane, named after the dockside hoist, not the bird - and then used a town tour booklet to guide us through some historic sights on the east bank of the river, Ayscoughfee Gardens in particular, and then crossed over to take in Welland Terrace and the Grammar School. By now it was time to gather at Prezzo where our dinner table was booked; Prezzo is located in Elsom House in Broad Street, a wonderful art deco building which used to be the head office and retail outlet for Elsoms Seeds, for whom I use to work in my summer holidays when I was an undergraduate student over forty years ago. It was great to be back enjoying a pizza where I used to collect my P45 each September!

After dinner we strolled back to the station and arrived on the platform just as the train arrived from Peterborough which would form the service back to Stamford. This was the last train of the day and was a through service to Nottingham via Melton Mowbray and took us direct to Stamford without a change.  Everyone seemed to have had a thoroughly good time, and for me it was really odd to be visiting a place I knew so well and yet seeing it as a tourist!

A word about tickets!

Half of our party had Senior Railcards and received discounts on their tickets. Two had a Two Together Railcard which only allowed a discount off-peak and we left too early to use that, so I tried an experiment before booking and split the journey at Peterborough, looking at prices between Stamford and Peterborough and Peterborough and Spalding.  It worked: I could get a discount for the Two Together Railcard holders for the second half of the outward journey (the return timing, well into the evening, was never part of the problem); to my surprise the price for everyone else was a bit less, too, with the the two part returns being cheaper than returns for the whole trip. So that was what I booked! It meant everyone had four ticket coupons but it saved everyone some money. The moral is that it is always worth looking at splitting the journey, even for very short trips.

Spalding Water Taxi

Taxi awaiting next turn of duty!
We booked a charter tour on the Water Taxi, £60 for an hour's tour for up to 12 people. We only mustered eight, so it cost us £7.50 per head.

If you just turn up on the day and use the public service, then it costs just £3 per head for a half-hour trip direct to Springfields. It is also possible to book a self-drive hire boat but I did not look into that possibility for this trip and cannot say what that would cost. The company is really friendly and I can recommend using this service for a relaxing and interesting trip on the river.

If you live near Stamford, Oakham or Peterborough and are interested in joining me on some of these day trips, please see the "Come with me!" Page.

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