East Midlands archeological days out: Fossdyke Navigation

Explore a Roman canal that leads to the Roman city of Lincoln

Archeology on the Fossdyke Navigation


There are many significant Roman archaeological sites in the UK, but the Fossdyke is unique. This canal was believed to have been first dug by the Romans themselves, making it the oldest canal in the UK. Built to connect the River Witham with the Trent, the canal ends at the city of Lincoln, which was itself founded as a Roman settlement. A Roman trail around the city allows visitors to explore the Roman history of Lincoln, which includes a Roman arch that is still used as part of the modern road system.

It’s claimed that the Romans dug the Fossdyke in 120 AD to connect the River Witham with the Trent, and a beautiful copper statue of a nude Mars, now in the British Museum, has been found in Torksey. The cutting was then remade in 1121 and again in 1744. Engineers William Jessop, John Rennie and Isambard all surveyed the route at various times to see if improvements could be made. Although the canal declined in the 20th century, it has now been fully restored and is a historic jewel in the nation’s network. The final destination of this Roman waterway is the city of Lincoln, itself a city that is rich in Roman archaeology.

The Romans arrived in Lincoln in around AD 50 following Claudius’s invasion of Britain. They first built a fort with four gates. The settlement eventually became a self-governing home for retired legionaries and as such was a typical Roman town, built of stone and containing a forum, basilica, markets and stone gates. Bits of Roman history remain dotted all around the city, but one of the most impressive is the Newport Arch, which is the oldest arch in the UK still actively used by traffic.

Some of the finds taken from Lincoln can be seen at The Collection, the city’s archaeological museum. This contains not just Roman remains, but also artefacts dating back to the Stone Age, as well as Anglo-Saxon and Viking eras. The museum also features a Roman mosaic, which was discovered during the construction of the building.

Plan your visit to the Fossdyke Navigation on our website and find out more about The Collection.

Liz Smith