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Sewstern Lane or The Drift
I am including Sewstern Lane – otherwise known as The Drift – in the medieval section simply because that's when we begin to have documented references.
However it was in use from at least as far back as the Iron Age when it was part of a route from East Anglia which crossed the Welland at Stamford, and then ran north-west over the limestone uplands and across the Vale of Belvoir to the Trent at Newark.
The boundary between Lincolnshire and Leicestershire follows Sewstern Lane for many miles. Which means it is also the western boundary of Barrowby parish, where Sewstern Lane survives as a minor trackway running north-south between Breeder Hills and Stenwith.
Looking north along Sewstern Lane (a.k.a. The Drift, a.k.a. the Viking Way) where it crosses the lane running east out of Stenwith.
During the era of horse-drawn coaches and wagons Sewstern Lane was not a minor trackway but a major route. The only problem was that there were few villages on the route so refreshments and accomodation were not readily available. The lane takes its name from Sewstern as this is the only village for many miles north or south.
The turnpiking of the Great North Road between 1663 and the 1750s – and the increase in coaching inns at Grantham and Stamford – reduced the significance of Sewstern Lane. But the track was still used by cattle drovers, 'drifting' their herds down to the London market – hence 'The Drift'.
Traditional cattle 'drifting' (but not along Sewstern Lane).
From Stenwith the lane heads north to Long Benington, where it merges with the Great North Road (A1).
Going south the track skirts Woolsthorpe, passes between Harston and Denton then rises over the summit of the hill between Denton and Croxton Kerrial. A short way to the south, at a remote crossroads with a minor road, once stood the Three Queens Inn. This was regarded as rather notorious, for reasons unspecified. But so were most inns on drovers' routes...
However until recent centuries the word 'queen' did not simply refer to the wife of the king. Traditionally, the word 'queen' had connotations of 'whore'. So, at the very least, the meaning of Old English cwen and Middle English quene overlapped with the modern expression 'gold digger'.
Almost certainly the Three Queens Inn's name alluded to the 'ladies of pleasure' who might be encountered there. Conceivably there were three matriarchal women running the establishment and brewing the ale.
Being on a county boundary meant that the forces of law and order (more strictly county-based than in recent times) could never arrest anyone for illegal activities as they merely had to step into the 'other' county to evade any constables.
On a different north-south droving route, now the A46, was a pub called the Durham Ox. The name is associated with many pubs on droving routes. This one was on the Leicestershire-Nottinghamshire border and, until the late nineteenth century, on a small area of extra-parochial grazing where no less than eight parishes came together like the slices of a pie. In more recent years it was known as the Six Hills Hotel.
Continuing south The Drift traverses Saltby Heath, before forming the eastern part of Sewstern, then crossing into Rutland close to the former Roman small town at Thistleton.
The original route was cut by the construction of Saltby and Cottesmore airfields in the early 1940s. A short detour to the east of the Cottesmore runway enables the historic routeway to be rejoined to the south a little way north-west of where the route branches off from the Greet North Road near Greetham.
The entire route can be walked, allowing for a few detours (such as at Cottesmore, and for the Grantham Canal near Barrowby). Most can be cycled (although some parts can be very muddy, as I discovered in the early 1990s). It is shown on modern maps as the Viking Way. (Note that the Viking Way does not terminate near Greetham but continues south to the north shore of Rutland Water.)
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Copyright Bob Trubshaw 2021
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Articles about BarrowbyBarrowby's location and geology
Seventeenth and eighteenth centuries
Articles and web links for nearby places
rare seventeenth fonts at Muston, Bottesford and Orston from Project Gargoyle Newsletter 2020
Ironstone quarries of Leicestershire
The Grantham Canal
Croxton Kerrial manor house excavations