Discovering Southwell with Albus

The Southwell Trail: From the Final Whistle to Maythorne Mill

A living tunnel

A balmy Sunday morning and perfect weather for Albus and I to explore the first section of the Southwell Trail. Accompanying us today were Sarah and Rob, both from the Discovering Southwell team and Nikki. All are residents in or near to Southwell, only Rob had been on the trail before so my landscape mapping walks were the perfect motivation to get them exploring a part of Southwell that they’ve been meaning to 'do', but just hadn’t got around to doing yet. (The excellent café at Maythorne also added a certain incentive).

Opened by Nottinghamshire County Council in the 1970’s the Trail follows a 7.5 mile section of the disused Midlands Railway between Southwell and White Post Farm, with a spur out to Bilsthorpe. Extensive work in 2005/6 made it into an accessible car free route for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. It provides a rich and varied habitat and vital wildlife corridor through agricultural land and villages that has earned it declaration as a Local Nature Reserve (LNR).

Nikki, Sarah and Rob

Caudwell's Mill

We began at the car park by the extremely popular Final Whistle pub, and across the road from the old station house (now a private residence). Water features prominently in all of Southwell’s history and the River Greet, running along Southwell’s north-west border here, has powered mills along its banks since medieval times. The old Caudwell’s Flour Mill buildings still stand just beyond the old railway line here.

 

Appropriately, a Gatekeeper butterfly paused sentinel on path-side vegetation as we began. Sweet Chestnut, willow and Hawthorn form a green tunnel into which to walk. Semi-enclosed, views are glimpsed through. Houses on the left, fields to the right. Open sections bright in the sunshine.

 

Gatekeeper

Horses graze the meadows along side the Trail

Walking as a group is a different experience to walking a place on your own. One’s thoughts tend to turn outward and conversation flows rather than the quiet internal contemplation of solitude. As we walk Rob tells me how he regularly cycles the trail, enjoying the wide variety of wildlife that he finds, and photographs, along its length but he had never walked it before so he was experiencing the trail at a different pace. He also tells me of the connections that he has to Maythorne through four generations of his family living and working on the estate throughout the 19th century, either as agricultural labourers, working in the hop fields and osier beds (willow beds for basket-making), or in the silk mill itself in a variety of roles.

 

The Trail’s popularity has seen it been given as a favourite place of the community during Discovering Southwell’s consultation process is evident this morning as walkers, families, dogs, joggers and cyclists were out in number but it never felt too crowded. The value of having a car-free, safe and accessible route in encouraging active social interaction, health and wellbeing is clear.

Bramble on Maythorne Lane

Within twenty minutes we’d reached Maythorne Lane where we turned right and gain a view of the Mill and estate buildings. We pause for refreshments at the ‘All Mine Cakes by the Lake’ café seemingly along with half of Southwell. Always a good sign when somewhere is so popular! They were celebrating their 1st anniversary today so it was an auspicious time for our first visit. Lovely tea from a local Nottingham tea-blender drank whilst sat on the large terrace overlooking the lake energised us and we headed off to see the Mill buildings up close.

Maythorne Lane

Rob & Albus on Maythorne Lane

Cafe by the Lake

Maythorne Mill estate

Built in 1785 as a cotton mill based on the Arkwright model, it supplied the framework knitting industry with yarn, such as the framework knitters who had lived and worked in Westhorpe that I had found out about in walk 2. As cheap imports made cotton less profitable in the early 19th century the mill was converted to producing silk thread. 

It is said that the mill owners grew their own mulberry trees so they could raise their own silk-worms rather than rely on Japanese imports..

Former mill managers house

Rob contemplating the cottages where four generations of his family lived.

Today the estate buildings, all converted to dwellings, form a beautiful quaint and quiet setting for the residents. It must be quite different from the noise and bustle of the working mill when Rob’s ancestors had lived in the row of workers cottages.

Flowers outside a cottage door.

The Old Silk Mill

Old sluice gate and footbridge across the River Greet allowing access to the hop fields and osier beds.

On the far side of the mill buildings I got my first sight of the River Greet. The old sluice gate, still in situ, that controlled the flow to the mill's reservoir, race and wheel that powered the industry and also combined with a footbridge that allowed the hop and osier workers to access the fields on the far bank. The divide between the fields and the mill was mostly gendered with the women, and children, working in the mill. Most men worked the fields which supplied the Southwell maltings and brewing industry and basket makers. Except one of Rob’s great, great, great grandfathers who, as carpenter, was one of the few men in the mills. Walking around the site where so many of his forebears had lived and worked evoked thoughts and emotions for Rob. Sharing their story with the rest of us gave a whole different dimension to how we experienced the site too. It made it richer and the history more present and tangible.

The river Greet

Blue plaque on the mill

We retraced our footsteps back along the trail to our starting point companionably and in conversation about the Roman history that links the villa at the town centre to further up the Trail to a Roman fort at Osmanthorpe and other favourite places around Southwell. Giving lots of ideas for further explorations around the town. 

 

Both the town council and Newark and Sherwood District council have produced good trail guides for the area available online and at the Tourist Information office in Southwell.