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The Foss Dyke, or Fossdyke, may be the oldest canal in England that is still in use.
It was long thought to have been constructed by the Romans around 120 AD, though this is now considered doubtful. Kevin Leahy points out: "The first record we have of it is that of Simeon of Durham who records its construction by Henry I in around 1121 (Historia Regium ii 260). Even if the Fossdyke had been built by the Romans it needs a high level of maintenance and after a few hundred years of neglect it would have been difficult to find, let alone navigate.
The canal connects the River Trent at Torksey in Lincolnshire to the River Witham Navigation at Lincoln, and is about 18 km (11 miles) long. It possibly follows an earlier line of the Trent, which emptied into the Wash in prehistoric times. Together with the 90 km (56 miles) of Car Dyke it formed part an important transport route from Peterborough to York.
It was reputedly used by the Danes when they invaded England and by the Normans to carry stone to build Lincoln Cathedral in the 11th century.
During the reign of King Henry I the canal is recorded as having been scoured out to increase its depth in 1121 but it deteriorated until by the 17th century it was virtually impassible. Katherine Swynford, who lived in the area, is credited with having organized a protest to repair it, in 1375. King James I transferred ownership to the Corporation of Lincoln and acts of Parliament were passed in 1753 and 1762 for straightening and dredging it.
It received further work in 1840 but with the coming of the railways its use declined. The Great Northern Railway bought the lease in 1846, and offered tolls on the railway which were significantly cheaper than those on the canal, with the result that the traffic declined quickly, although grain traffic continued to use the waterway until 1972.
At one time a major waterway for the transport of wool, it is now mostly used for leisure purposes.
It has one lock at Torksey, which has five sets of gates, three sets facing Lincoln, and two sets facing the River Trent, which is tidal at this point, and so its level can be higher than the level of the canal.
The canal has a new marina which was constructed as part of the housing development at Burton Waters, and passes through the village of Saxilby.