The River Welland is a small, and in parts beautiful, river in the east of England, 56 km (35 m) long, forming much of the county boundaries between Leicestershire, Rutland and Northamptonshire, and it has been a main waterway across the part of The Fens called "South Holland" for thousands of years.
It rises in the Hothorpe Hills, (adjoining Welland Rise, Sibbertoft) in Northamptonshire, then flows generally eastwards creating a broad, flat valley through Market Harborough, Ketton, Stamford, and then onto the Fens and The Deepings, Crowland, Cowbit and Spalding, then into The Wash at Fosdyke Bridge.
It collects water along its course from tributaries flowing from the North, but very little from the south. The most important of these are the Chater, the Gwash, which includes Rutland Water, and the Glen draining south-west Lincolnshire.
Its recorded history stretches back several thousands of years, from Stone Age remains at the edge of the Fens, Roman settlement at its river crossings, a unique triangular bridge crossing two channels as they joined, dating from 850, at Crowland, through the rise of medieval Stamford and the importance of the limestone quarries at Barnack, to the Victorian railway boom with the viaduct at Harringworth.
In the 19th–early 20th Century the Welland was famous for fattening beef destined for Smithfield market in London. In the mid- later 20th Century its water became increasingly economically important. The Eyebrook reservoir provided water for the development of the steel industry just over the watershed at Corby in the 1930s, then from the mid 1970s, the catchment hosted the controversial new Empingham reservoir to provide water for the expanding and new towns further south – such as Peterborough, Milton Keynes & Northampton. A small part of the water supply for what is now called Rutland Water (no longer controversial but considered a national asset) is pumped up from the Welland, just upstream of Stamford at Tinwell, but most comes from the adjacent and larger catchment to the south, the Nene.
The natural character of the lower river was lost centuries ago when the Cambridgeshire/Lincoln Fens were drained for agriculture and that of most of its middle reaches destroyed in the 1960s by an excessively-robust land drainage engineering scheme which widened, straightened and lowered the river bed to enable the floodplain to be converted to intensive agriculture, as had most of the sloping land already. The re-creation of naturalness and the re-connection of water, people and nature has begun in the Welland, as it has in many parts of Britain. The middle Welland is the only place in the country where one might see both English osprey and red kite wheeling in the skies at the same time, as a result of successful re-introductions at different parts of the catchment.
HAVE YOUR SAY: in the Environment Agency's "Challenges and Choices" consultation running until December 2013.
The river name is from Celtic, and may mean something like "good river" (equivalent to Humber). An undated record of the name refers to the place as Weolud.
The current spelling of the name is a corruption of the Celtic, and appears to have been influenced by "well land", implying fertile land for pastures.