The River Welland rises in the Hothorpe Hills in North Northamptonshire and flows in a northeasterly direction for approximately 105km before emptying into The Wash at Fosdyke.
For much of its length the River Welland forms the historic county boundary between Northamptonshire and Leicestershire or Rutland and then between Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire.
From humble beginnings near Sibbertoft, the River Welland soon reaches Market Harborough, making a significant contribution to the character of the town centre. This was the site of a restoration project by The Welland Rivers Trust between 2012 and 2015 that sought to restore the characteristic features of a headwater stream, long since lost by dredging works that had left the river deep, dark and sluggish.
Downstream of the town centre, the Welland then picks up flow from the River Jordan and makes its way out towards the productive agricultural landscape of the Welland floodplain. The Langton, Stonton, Medbourne and Great Easton Brooks then all join the Welland from the North with the small Stoke Albany Brook joining from the South.
From here, the floodplain widens, and during times of high flow, fills spectacularly creating a watery vista visible from miles around. From the watchful eye of thousand year old Rockingham Castle, the Eye Brook contributes a significant amount of flow, regulated by the outfall of the Eyebrook Reservoir – famous for its role as a training ground to pilots of the Dambusters mission during World War II.
The next feature of the Welland valley is the impressive Harringworth Viaduct. Opened to railway traffic in 1880, it is the longest masonry viaduct across a river valley in the United Kingdom and serves as an important local landmark.
The Welland then continues to meander gently through several charming rural villages on the Northants / Rutland border. Along the way, it is joined from the south by the Fineshade Brook that drains part of the ancient Rockingham Forest, popular for its woodland walks and wildlife. The River Chater then joins from the North after flowing through the pretty village of Ketton, known for its extensive quarrying and cement works.
The charming medieval market town of Stamford is our next destination and is often famed as the finest stone town in England. The River Welland is a much loved amenity for residents and visitors alike, with the banks and adjoining meadows full of picnickers and anglers in the summer months. The historic Stamford Millstream, originally cut from the Welland before the Domesday Book, joins the Welland near the picturesque limestone Town Bridge; it is currently the focus of a community led restoration project.
Downstream of Stamford, the River Welland skirts the edge of the grandiose Burghley Estate, whose horse trials are a nationally important fixture in the equestrian calendar. The River Gwash then joins the Welland from the North containing the outfall from Rutland Water – one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe. The Gwash boasts some fantastic brown trout fishing and has been the focus of a progressive restoration programme to improve habitat and river function.
From here onwards, the landscape surrounding the River Welland becomes staggeringly flat and a network of relief drainage channels protect local communities from high flows. A small amount of flow is allowed to pass through Market Deeping in an old gravel bottomed channel thought to have existed since the Ice Age.
After the confluence of the Folly River, which drains northern Peterborough, the River Welland takes on an entirely different character as a deep, wide and straight drainage channel above the level of the surrounding Fenland. Much of the Welland’s flow is then diverted around the market town of Spalding by the Coronation Channel, built after the floods of 1947. Finally, the Welland becomes tidal at Fulney Lock and receives its last contribution of flow from the River Glen at Surfleet, having drained the gently rolling limestone hills of south Lincolnshire. At Fosdyke, the Welland eventually meets the sea flanked by birdwatching paradise at Moulton Marsh and Frampton Marsh.