Day 18 – Dunham to Marton/Gainsborough

Miles walked: about 14

Weather: More glorious sunshine. I definitely think the river goddesses have been smiling on our trip.

I’ll give you a bit of advice for free. If you ever stay in the Bridge Inn in Dunham, ask for one of the rooms at the back. There’s no double glazing in the pub. The sound of lorries barrelling up the A46 right past your ear from 6am onwards is not the best wake-up experience I’ve ever had.

In some infuriating way, Ross managed to sleep through the lorries, so I didn’t even have any company. I decided to have a bath and read more of Tom Fort’s most excellent book about a journey down the Trent. I’ve begun to feel that the inestimable Mr Fort is our guide on our epic journey. He’s always been everywhere before we have, and clearly done far more thorough research. There’s a fascinating gem on every page. Today I read up on the draining of the Isle of Axholme and the commoners revolting against it. ‘Go commoners!’, I thought.

I got up and tried to catch up with blogging. The landlord made me a cup of tea and pottered. It was most companiable. He doesn’t do breakfasts, but had made us a packed lunch, in lieu of the evening meal we’d arrived too late for. This consisted of pork products and a great deal of carbohydrate in various forms. The packed lunch:-

  • Crisps
  • Mini cheddars
  • Cake
  • Jumbo sausage roll
  • Two sandwiches each (i.e. four slices of bread each) – one cheese, one ham.

A nutritionist might quibble with the lack of any kind of fruit or vegetable matter, but a hungry walker in need of calories had no argument with it.

Eventually the landlord indicated that he needed to go out and do some errands before opening at 11, so I went and woke Ross up with a cup of tea. Having lots of curly hair, Ross always looks adorably comic when he’s just woken up. However, I womanfully resisted the urge to get back in to bed, and contented myself with taking the piss out of him.

We set off, pausing only to look at Dunham church. It was lovely, but apparently closed last year because they couldn’t raise the money to repair the roof. Ross did some yoga stretches in the graveyard, it felt very peaceful. At this point we thought we only needed to do about 8 miles today, so felt pretty relaxed. We planned to visit various interesting things on our way to the village of Marton.

We crossed Dunham bridge. It’s a toll bridge, and because of a royal charter granted ages ago, it’s the only road bridge for ten miles in either direction. To protect the investment of the Dunham bridge company who built it. As walkers we didn’t have to pay the toll, hurrah! We’d have liked more bridges to choose from for our journey though. There are huge gaps between bridges along this stretch of the Trent, which adds complications to planning a walk along it.

We made good time, striding along the flood defence embankments. Everything’s so flat around here and the sky is huge. Cottam power station was looming at us from the distance, and looking a lot nearer than it is, as it’s so big. We seemed to walk for miles and still be no nearer to it. It was like the eye of Sauron, following us wherever we went.

Eventually we passed the power station, although it still seemed near to us for miles after. We made it to Torksey Lock not much after 12. This is the start of the Foss Dyke – the first canal ever built in England. If you’d asked me to guess the date of Britain’s first canal I’d have guessed 17something. In fact it was built in 120AD, by the Romans. It connected the Trent to the Wytham, so they could take stuff to Lincoln, and then out to sea that way.

We found Neil, the lockkeeper (or, The Keeper of The Lock, as we like to think of him). Torksey Lock was very pretty and made me think of childhood holidays to Cornwall. Neil told us that it takes about 2 days for water to get from the early Staffs bit of the Trent to him, and probably another day to get to the Humber. We felt like slackers.

After a most excellent cup of tea at the lock tea rooms (and a fairy cake that cost only 30p!), we pushed on to Marton. This was a lovely little village, and we saw an old windmill near Trent Port, as we entered the village. We found out later that’s now a holiday cottage, which seemed a bit of a shame.

We found the Village Hall and proudly admired our poster on the noticeboard. Chatted to some guys fixing the roof. They didn’t know where the community archaeological dig was, but they did advise us that Gainsborough (the town up ahead) was ‘a shithole’. They were from Gainsborough, so I guess they are allowed to say that.

We did find the dig in the end, off the Littleborough Road down to the Trent. Almost everywhere we went through on this stretch of the river, there’d be two matching villages either side of the river (West Stockwith and East Stockwith, etc). In the olden days there’d have been a ferry, and anyway, everyone in the village would have had a rowboat. So the village across the water would have been the nearest place. Now there’s no ferries, it can be a 20 mile round trip by road to get to the village on the other side.

Marton and Littleborough are either side of the river and would have been connected by a ferry. A Roman road (now the A1500) went straight through both of them, and both would have been sizeable settlements catering to travellers. There’d have been cafes, taverns, shops selling stuff travellers need, markets, etc.

The dig is on some farmland at the point where geophys suggests two old Roman ditches used to meet. These were possibly property boundaries. We talked to the archaeologist and she said they’ve found lots of Roman pottery so far, including a lot of rooftiles. They think this means it would have been a fairly high-status house, rather than an agricultural building – not a Governor’s villa or anything, but perhaps a merchant’s house.

I asked what the difference was between ‘normal’ archaeological digs and community digs like this one. She said there’s always a lovely atmosphere at community digs. You aren’t under time pressures because the land is about to be built on, you’re doing it just for the joy of the archaeology. Also, volunteers aren’t jaded about archaeology and they’ll all be really jolly. And they often bring cake.

We set off again to try to find somewhere to stay. Marton’s only B&B – the Black Swan Guesthouse – had no rooms. But John the owner was an incredibly nice man, and set to to find us somewhere to stay that night. He got us a room in Gainsborough and even offered to drive us there. I said that would be cheating as we’d miss out a big bit of the river. He countered that we couldn’t walk along the river to Gainsborough as most of it was through private land, so we’d have to walk along the road anyway. We compromised on him driving us part of the way, until the bit where the road actually has a pavement.

Ross smugly pointed out that the further north you go, the nicer people are. John really couldn’t have been nicer, or gone more out of his way for us. I kept apologising profusely for our ineptness.

We settled in to our rather grand guesthouse in Gainsborough – right by the bridge! – and then got a taxi back to Marton. At Marton Village Hall a trio of old ladies were already waiting for us, and as the time of the performance drew near, more arrived. We ended up with about 12 older ladies, and one guy. They were apologising for the poor turn out, while we said, ‘No, this is a big audience for us!’

Apart from Nottingham Uni, all our biggest audiences have been in little villages. We’ve developed the theory that this is because in little places, it’s easy for word to go around. If you’ve got hold of the right local person, they’ll tell everyone. Hester, the community development officer for Trent Vale Partnerships has been so helpful for that in this strecth. For every little community she’d know exactly who to talk to to make sure everyone knew about it.

The Marton audience were fantastic. It was only the second show we’d done without Dad, which threw me a bit. I’m used to being able to do 5-10 minute segments, between his songs. Then when he’s playing I can get ready in my head what I’m going to do in the next bit. Here, I didn’t have that. After about 30 mins of me talking, I realised I wasn’t sure what to do next and there was going to be no chance to pause while something else was happening and gather my thoughts. I’m afraid I rather trailed off rather than finishing with some oomph.

However, the ladies were lovely, and they all happily chipped in with their memories of the river, questions about our journey, bits of history. There must be something special about living in a little place that has got a history going back at least 2,000 years.

The thing they were most struck by in our tales was how the Trent starts as a tiny trickle. To them it’s a huge impassable river that people can drown in. Walking along the whole river gives you a glimpse of how people’s views of it change. I suppose people in Stoke on Trent would be amazed to think of it being a massive, dangerous river.

I grew up in Nottingham, where the river is sizeable. But thinking about it, until the last couple of days, I suppose I vaguely thought it carried on much the same from there to the sea. Stupidly, I didn’t realise it would get so much wider. And although I knew intellectually that it was tidal from Cromwell Weir onwards, I didn’t really process that. Yesterday afternoon when I glanced round and saw the tide coming in up the river it totally took me aback. Look, look, the river’s flowing backwards!

The Marton audience were all brilliant, but one woman in particular stuck in my mind. She reminded me a lot of my Auntie Angela when she was younger. Unsentimental and down-to-earth in that country way, but kindly, and with a comfy, capacious-looking bosom. She said she wonders about all the people who’ve lived there for thousands of years, and where they all are. There’s only people in the church yard from the past few hundred years. Where are all the others?

She also said she’d have given us a cup of tea earlier if she’d known. Did we want one now maybe? We’d have loved to go round for tea, but it was getting late and we needed to get back to Gainsborough. So she gave us each a sweet she had in her pocket, and when we explained we weren’t sending a hat round or anything, we were just doing this for the love of it, she gave us a pound anyway, and told us to buy a cup of tea with it the next day.

There’s something beautiful in the way we brush lives with people as we pass through. I wish them all well, and I hope they think as kindly of us as we do of them.

Then incredibly kind John gave us a lift back to Gainsborough. We felt bad, so offered to tell him a story in exchange. We therefore spent the drive telling him the story of why Burton beer was the best. Ross playing ukelele in the front seat, me leaning in from the back doing the talking. It was our most bizarre performance of the trip.

John asked if we’d found most people kind and helpful on our journey and we said, ‘Very much so!’ He firmly believes most people are kind and good, but the media focusses on the the minority who aren’t and the bad things they do, so everyone ends up scared in their houses. We agreed. This trip has shown us nothing but the kindness of people 95% of the time.

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