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Sewstern Lane 1

A noble green highway follows the Leicestershire-Lincolnshire border down towards London.  Used by the Scottish drovers, it is called variously “Sewstern Lane”, “Viking Way” and “The Drift” on OS Explorer 247 (Grantham).


Bits are roughly metalled and the southern stretch below Sewstern Village is properly  tarmacked, but much of the central section from Sewstern up to Woolsthorp is green lane.  I was surprised and delighted by the beauty of a piece of England I had never visited before.  It is a land of big skies and wide horizons, unlike the cosy piece of Northamptonshire where I live.


W.G. Hoskins writes (in The Making of the English Landscape):

       “For many miles….there runs a green lane known as Sewstern Lane or The Drift.  The road has a continuous history from the Bronze Age onwards.  After it had been superseded in the seventeenth century by the Great North Road, which runs to the east of it through more inhabited country, Sewstern Lane became a recognised route by which cattle from Scotland and the North of England reached the Midland pastures and London: hence its later name of The Drift.  Parts of it have been taken over for a secondary road, but much of it remains remote and quiet, rarely disturbed by a human voice.”


WGH goes on to say that by using The Drift, drovers would have avoided the tolls on the Great North Road.  (The hard surface and continuous traffic would have been absent too.)


As for the absence of a human voice – so true.  We saw one walker in two days, and he was monosyllabic.  Other surprises were the hills around Belvoir Castle – see pics. – and the monuments to the Manners family in Bottesford Church. 


Finally there is Grantham’s splendid spire, which apparently caused Ruskin to swoon!

Pictures: 1 & 2 start at SK 839419 (Thackson's Well Fm.), going south.  3, 4 & 5 start at the water tower (SK 889238), going north.

ADDITION (Oct 2019)

Hanna Lindon emailed me to ask about the routes taken to market by the droves of geese.  I was flummoxed at first: I knew they were driven from East Anglia to London but had no idea of the details of the route.  Then I thought of Nottingham Goose Fair, googled "Sewstern Lane geese" and I had the (well, one) answer. 

Nottingham Goose Fair was licensed in 1284.  The charter was for 3 days - it later expanded to eight, apparently - starting the first Thursday in October, the time of year when many labourers were idle after the harvest had been gathered.  As for the geese, descendants of the greylag, they had a short breeding season: the first eggs were laid on February 2nd (!!) and by Michaelmas the youngsters were ready to be driven to market1.

The driver made sure the weary ones were put to the front, so they would be pushed on by the less weary behind them.  (The same system was operating in Roman times.  Pliny wrote about it.)  They either went South to Leadenhall Market via Goswell St., St Pauls & The Poultry OR they went North.  And that's where Sewstern Lane comes in.

From Stamford, where the flocks were gathered, it's 40 miles to Nottingham and I have read, though it's hard to believe, that the drove only went a mile and a half a day.  Nearly a month on the road, then.  They went via the Fosse Way and S.L. into Nottingham via Goose Gate - where else? - on the eastern edge of the city.

They must have been a damned nuisance for the Scottish drovers travelling down to St Faiths in the opposite direction.  Can't see the men having anything to talk about, either.

Thanks, Hanna.

1 I'm not certain whether the geese went straight to the poulterer & the table or whether they were fattened over the next year before slaughter.  They didn't stop to digest food, as turkeys did, so they must have lost weight on the drove.  Perhaps someone can tell me?


Nick Molyneux emailed to ask if I'd heard of "Longhedge Lane" linking Hazelford Lock (on the Trent east of Bleasby) to SL.  He said the Long Hedge was probably there to stop cattle straying on to fields in pre-enclosure times.  The lane joins SL at Woolsthorpe, having passed through Sibthorpe, Shelton, Flawborough, Alverton & Bottesford.  Thanks, Nick.