The Lincolnshire Wolds

25 02 2007

24-25 February 2007

A Sort of Freedom

On Friday evening I stayed back at office for an extra hour trying to sort out my accommodation for the weekend. The idea was to cover as much of the Wolds as possible in these two days. I considered staying at Horncastle, Market Rasen or Louth. None of these were suitable. In some cases, the prices were above my budget. In all cases, it just seemed impossible to walk more than 25 km in a single day. The real problem was that although there was public transport between Market Rasen and Lincoln on a Saturday, there was none on a Sunday – neither train nor bus. The most suitable transport for Sunday was from Horncastle. So I had to stay on Saturday night within 25 km of Horncastle. The YHA at Woody’s Top was closed. The other YHA in Lincolnshire was not even within the boundary of the Wolds. After visiting numerous websites followed by many phone calls, I finally gave up.

I almost dropped the idea of visiting the Wolds but I knew that a weekend lost in this way would mean that I would never have another chance to visit the Wolds. So I decided to forget about accommodation and leave for the Wolds. I did not even consider taking my tent or my sleeping bag. In my experience, the lighter the load, all the more enjoyable is the walk. The overnight temperature was predicted to be 3 degrees at its minimum. All I needed was enough clothes and a sense of adventure.

There is a sort of freedom that comes when one has boldly accepted the worst of situations. To paraphrase Dale Carnegie, nothing worse could possibly happen. One need not operate within traditional constraints. The day is for the taking and so is the night. Every hour and minute is one’s own. Every moment can then be tuned to the sole goal for which it was born. For these two days, I belonged to the Wolds and the Wolds belonged to me. Every thought and vision was about the Wolds, village to village and hill to hill. I did not bother with trivialities – the warm comfort of a bed, the sure shelter of a B&B, a vegetarian breakfast to start the day, the timetables of buses or trains, the routine of brushing my teeth, the necessary chore of drying wet clothes overnight, the refreshment of sleep…

The freedom was about not knowing where I would sleep for the night. The freedom was in accepting that I may not sleep at all. The freedom was about not knowing where I would be when the sun set. The freedom was about not caring about the weather. The freedom was in not rushing to meet set time-plans, the arrivals and departures. The freedom was all about being open to anything. The freedom was all about embracing and being embraced by the sky, the sun, the moon, the stars, the wind, the rain, the clouds…

I started my walk on Saturday at 1 pm from the town of Caistor. Just a little after sunset, when darkness was descending quickly, I had almost reached the town of Ludford. Just then, I found a derelict and abandoned farm building. This is where I stayed for the night. At the first light of day, I started on a longer walk that finally ended at about 3 pm at the town of Horncastle. I had my lunch at a pub before boarding a bus to Lincoln at about 5 pm.

The farm building had been a shed for livestock. It had not been used for sometime. There was a doorway without a door. There were some windows which had been boarded up. There was dirt and compost everywhere. Broken glass bottles and rags were present. Still, it had two important things that made it good enough for me. It had a proper roof although one section of the roof had no tiles. This shelter kept me dry during the night when it rained a lot. Secondly, it had a wooden beam running across the length of the building. Livestock would probably have been tied to this beam. This beam was about four feet from the floor. It was no more than four inches wide. I could sit on this beam comfortably. Soon I accustomed myself to lying on it. So for twelve hours, from about sunset to sunrise, I lay on this beam, adjusting my position once in a while to relieve the hardness of the surface. Although I hardly slept, I could rest my legs completely. Looking back, this was probably an excellent choice given the circumstances. The beam kept me away from all the rubbish on the floor. The beam kept me a great deal warmer. Lying on the ground is always difficult because the earth is a giant heat sink. To lie on a four-inch beam for twelve hours was a test of mental stamina. The fact that I did it is simply a demonstration of the great strength of human will-power.

I was not alone in here. Briefly, I was joined by an owl. The silence of the night was broken only by the hooting of owls and the rain. Later at night, for about twenty minutes, the moon peeped in through a gap in the roof. Its bright light came in through the doorway. I found myself acknowledging its company and just lay spellbound watching it as it edged across the night sky.

At no point through the night did I feel that I had made the wrong decision or that I was in a wretched situation. Looking back, the whole experience can be expressed in one word: equanimity.

The Wolds

While in the Cotwolds, picturesque villages are the main draw for visitors and deserve every bit of their admiration, the same cannot be said of the Wolds here. In contrast, for me the attraction in Lincolnshire was in the rolling hills, the flowing streams, the far-reaching and open views, and the easy walks on quiet country roads. On this particular weekend things have been very quiet. I hardly saw or spoke to anyone. As the hours came and went, the seclusion deepened. The Wolds provided the only company and it was beautiful.

A long road across the Wolds

A long road across the Wolds

The hills are spread out in gentle slopes and clean curves. Sometimes they are so small that they are no more than mounds of earth covered with turf. At this scale, one even doubts if they are not Iron Age barrows. As one hill falls, another rises in its turn just behind. As one curve turns and disappears, another enters in its place to perpetuate the still motion of this green landscape. But the landscape is not all green and colour does bring out the contrasts: stubble fields are brown, tilled fields are dark brown or even black, grass patches are yellow, and even green comes in different shades. Then we have the ubiquitous hedgerows to add greater dynamism and dimension to the whole landscape. I remember a saucer-shaped curve of a hill topped by a hedgerow silhouetted against the afternoon sky.

At the heart of the Wolds are the streams and rivers. River Bain was the main one for me this weekend and my path followed this river for some distance. A little way from Biscathorpe, the river is dammed to create a pond. Here I observed many waders. In fact, the Wolds proved to be an excellent area for bird-watching in general although I could not identify most of them.

If admiring the Wolds in this way is considered “looking-in”, “looking-out” happens on the approach to Normanby-le-Wold. The road to this village is long and splendid. The views to the west stretch for miles as far as Lincoln’s Cathedral. It is possible to discern not just the towers of the Cathedral but also the length of the nave. Yet another long country road with excellent views on both sides is the one from Goulceby to Hemingby. With such views of the flat country that surrounds the Wolds, it is not just the farms and fields that we see. We also see the clouds blanketing the country for miles. This flatness, above and below, lengthens the perspective in a natural way. When even a small gap in the cloud cover allows the sun to peep and bless, there is drama, beauty and wonder.

Villages and Towns

I started the weekend at Market Rasen. Being a market town, I had hoped to witness a lively market square at Saturday Market which is so common in towns all across England. The town was close to being dead. Some of the shops were open but there was no life. The market square itself was empty except for a couple of mobile shops. I found out that market day at Market Rasen is only on Tuesdays and Fridays, not on Saturdays as I had imagined. Earlier that day I had seen much activity at Lincoln. I wished I had spent the extra hour at Lincoln instead.

When I reached Caistor, things only got worse. At least, Market Rasen had some respectability to it. It was clean and neat. Caistor was terrible. Many buildings were covered up in scaffolding. Buildings looked ugly and badly maintained. Thanks to this depressing look, I started my weekend walk earlier than planned.

At Nettleton I noticed for the first time buildings constructed in stone that are neither the warm stones of the Cotwolds, nor the grey slates of Keswick, nor the black flints of East Anglia. The stones are pretty much regular in shape unlike the irregularity of those that make up dry-stone walls in Cumbria or the Yorkshire Dales. The most striking difference is the colour which is sort of brownish-yellow. This they call ironstone. Many churches or houses I encountered for the rest of the trip used the same type of stone. Such buildings do not have a monopoly these days. At Nettleton I noted red-brick buildings as well.

About Normanby-le-Wold, I do not recall anything worth noting. Either I must have passed this really small village quickly; or the village had nothing unique to deserve my attention; or my attention had been diverted by the surrounding Wolds to take much notice of the village itself.

The next village was Walesby. I could actually see the village from far as I descended from the high ground on which Normanby-le-Wold is situated. On the outskirts of Walesby is a church which is curiously named the Ramblers’ Church. As the church was locked I could not find out why this name has come to be. The church is on a hill. It is not too far from the village in that it is easily accessible. At the same time, it is far enough to afford that quietude for prayer and reflection. This church is of the same ironstone material I mentioned earlier.

From Walesby the Viking Way led me to the village of Tealby. En route I passed Risby where I noted a small flock of sheep of a breed I have seen nowhere else. The strands of wool on their rain-drenched fleece hung like waterfall frozen in mid-cascade. Long strands of wool fell from their forehead to cover their eyes completely. Yet, with these eyes covered over with wool, they could see perfectly. All in all, they looked like miniature yaks of Tibet. An information board nearby names this breed as “The Risby Flock of Lincoln Longwools”, its fleece being renowned for great weight, staple length and lustre. Two organisations have a hand in maintaining this flock – the Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeders Association and the Rare Breeds Survival Trust.

Since leaving Caistor, Tealby was the first village that had major roads bisected by minor ones. It has a considerable number of houses and a church too as one would expect. While Normanby-le-Wold looks over the surrounding expanses of the Wolds and even to great distances beyond, the picture at Walesby is complete in itself. It is in a valley. A stream flows by it. Nice houses surrounded by neat gardens line the stream. There is Memorial Hall with connections to the Tennyson family. Finally, there is a plaque that reads:

LINCOLNSHIRE BEST KEPT
VILLAGE COMPETITION

PAST WINNERS’ CLASS
AWARD 1992

The A631 cuts through Ludford which has a couple of pubs and churches, besides the usual private houses. From here I had a pleasant morning walk to Burgh-on-Bain. The story of Burgh-on-Bain is quite simple. It is a settlement by the River Bain. The church here was open. I peeped in for a few minutes. It is a small local church to meet the needs of a small local community. Restoration work, aided by Lincolnshire Old Churches Trust, has been going on at this church for sometime and I noted some of the restored stonework. There is still much to be done and resources are apparently short. I suppose this is not because people are poor but that only very few care. However, I have no evidence to make this claim. As I left this church I remembered to abide by the following handwritten note:

Dear Everyone!
Could you please switch all
lights off on leaving the church
… We need those “£s” for the
Restoration work.
Thanks!

The presence of River Bain is more prominent at Biscathorpe. The river meanders through the valley in a quiet way. It cannot be compared to the picturesque beauty and grand scale of Nant Ffrancon. Yet, Biscathorpe has its share of beauty too in a small scale. Both are creations of nature and natural beauty is almost always scalable. Biscathorpe has an additional interest of being the site of a medieval village of which only some ditches and mounds are to be seen. The village has a church with a small attractive spire, carved corbels, decorated pinnacles and trefoil motifs.

The Viking Way entered and exited Donnington-on-Bain quite quickly. Therefore I have little to write about it. I did note someone learning to be an equestrian. She was aided by one tutor and another who helped in arranging the obstacles. At Goulceby I took a few minutes to pause in its little church; nothing remarkable here but one does not need much to pray sincerely. In this church I found a brochure printed by Church Tourism Network. It listed the interesting churches of East Lindsey including relevant details for any visitor.

Since leaving Caistor on Saturday afternoon, I had not been able to find a single place to have a proper meal. Far from that, not even a single shop lay on my way. It didn’t really matter because I had done some shopping at Market Rasen. But on Sunday morning, I very much wanted to have a wholesome breakfast. I passed Ludford at 7 am. I was right not to expect anything to be open. From there onwards, till I reached Hemingby, I found nothing. I reached Hemingby at 1.30 pm. A local gastropub (a word I have learnt in Britain) was open. It was crowded and busy. I did not have the patience to wait for my food. I had a drink and continued to my final point of the walk, Horncastle. It is to be noted that just before reaching Hemingby I passed a field by which were heaped up hundreds of rotten turnips. Some of them had overgrown to the size of coconuts. In Nottinghamshire I remember seeing unharvested turnip fields in a state of abandonment. Turnips grow easily and I should conclude that profit margins are not sufficiently attractive; and people are still starving in Africa. Yet this custom of cultivating unwanted turnips may have something to do with increasing the fertility of the soil. I remember vaguely reading about some scheme of crop rotation in Corbett’s Rural Rides, a valuable book which I did not read fully.

Horncastle turned out to be another boring town. The only entertainment was from the youths in town, doing nothing useful but just hanging around, making themselves an annoyance to the public by their unruly behaviour. To say it is a boring town is to expect too much. It is not a city. A more favourable statement would be to say that it is quiet town. If there was nothing going on in town, I didn’t need to go far to sample the company of locals. I stopped at a pub for a meal. Here I found a gathering of men watching live telecast of the Carling Cup, a football final between teams Arsenal and Chelsea. This is a typical English town.

Three Conversations

The journey from Luton to Lincoln by train had nothing remarkable or exciting. It was exactly the same route and the same trains that I had taken two weeks ago. En route I had almost an hour’s wait at Loughborough. In the waiting room of Loughborough train station there is a certificate that stands almost unnoticed, behind a sheet of glass. It reads,

BRITISH TRANSPORT COMMISSION
BRITISH RAILWAYS
LONDON MIDLAND REGION

STATION COMPETITION
1960

THIS STATION
has been
COMMENDED
in the competition
for
BEST KEPT STATION GARDENS
for the year 1960

Next to it is a similar notice from 1962 commending the station for cleanliness and tidiness. In the intervening two score years nothing else has been achieved, or so we must conclude. The station is still clean and tidy but there was no garden as far as I could see. At the station I met an officer who lives in Derby and works at Loughborough. He does the morning shift, starting at 7 am and finishing at 3 pm. He works six days a week, being off on Sundays. When he came to know of my destination he told me his mother’s last wish. She had visited many great cathedrals of the country but never the one at Lincoln. So one day they had driven from Derby, wheeled her in her wheelchair and life-support systems for a visit to Lincoln’s Cathedral. In this manner her last wish had been fulfilled. She died last year.

The Horncastle Ramblers

The Horncastle Ramblers

The second notable conversation of the trip occurred on Saturday as I was approaching Glouceby. I crossed the path of about twenty-five walkers who were on a five-mile walk. They were the Horncastle Ramblers. I quickly took a picture as they were coming up the road towards me.

“You are not one of those DSS people, are you?” one elderly man asked.
“What’s DSS?”
“Those bloody benefits people”, he replied, while others around him laughed along loudly.

I have seen this acronym before although I never knew what it meant. For example, when house owners place advertisements for room lettings, some stipulate “no DSS”. It’s a difficult thing to understand why people on benefits are often looked upon with disdain, disrepute or even hatred; and why should they not deserve to enjoy the beauty of Wolds? I guess it’s because some people on benefits have a history of abusing the system. It is these few who cause the unfavourable public opinion of the group as a whole. The evolution of the welfare system since the days of the workhouse has solved some problems but introduced others. Those who pay taxes will always feel injustice for it’s a lot easier these days to presume guilt than innocence.

The third conversation happened as I was entering Horncastle where I ended my walk. I met a man taking an afternoon stroll. It was a warm afternoon for me but his view was different.

“Nippy, isn’t it”, he said. He was ninety-two.
“That’s my little chateau”, he said pointing to a large house which had its own garden and driveway.

He had made all his money as a wine-and-spirits merchant. Now he spends his money on wines and spirits. “I’ve kept in the trade”, he said with a light laugh. He plans to write his wealth to his grandchildren. I wonder what happened to his children.

Three Businesses

I had exactly an hour at Market Rasen before taking another bus to Caistor where I commenced my walk for the weekend. In that hour I walked the streets of town. There was nothing exceptional. However, I noted that for a small town, it had a number of charity shops, a little too many. I noted the following:

  • Age Concern – Charity Shop, Lindsey
  • Air Ambulance Charity Shop
  • China Choice – Fine China, Glass, & Giftware
  • Oxfam
  • Sally Ann’s
  • The Lincolnshire Trust For Cats
  • The Rainbow Room

The curious traveller will ask and observe “What do all these shops sell?” So I went into some of them to find out. Basically, they all sell mostly second-hand goods discarded by previous owners but still in fairly good condition to be useful. They sell books, magazines and maps; clothes, belts and handbags; dinner sets and tea sets; chinaware and glassware; decorative items; greeting cards; framed photographs, prints or paintings; toys and board games; radios; lamps and lamp shades…

What is their mode of operation? Since most of the goods are second-hand, the cost of acquiring them is nil. The goods are donated by those who no longer need them. While some may take the trouble to sell them at weekend “car boot” sales, others simply donate them to charity shops. Those who give get the “feel-good” factor. They who sell do their part by channelling the profits to charities that they support. Thus, there is charity from both parties. However, the cynics amongst us can view the whole thing differently. Those who give, rarely think of such noble purposes. They merely view such shops as convenient dumping grounds. Those who sell find it lucrative and even profitable to start such shops. They may siphon more than the minimum as administrative costs; and the cynics are left to question how much of the profits really get to the charities.

Not very different from the charity shops are yet another genre of shops that collect and sell old stuff but at a higher price. They cater for a more exclusive market. These are the antique shops. At Horncastle, there is a poster on a notice board which displays a map under the heading “Enjoy Horncastle’s Antiques & Collectables Trail”. Horncastle itself is claimed to be Lincolnshire’s award-winning antiques town. Who gives such meaningless awards, I wonder? I didn’t really explore Horncastle much but the poster listed more than a dozen such shops.

The third business that deserves a mention was seen in Casitor perhaps (I don’t really remember). There is nothing unusual here. I am sure it could be found in many other places. There is a photo shop in town that does the normal developing of films and printing. More importantly, the owner has diversified into selling and servicing of computers and laptops. This is a sensible way to diversify in order to keep pace with the changing marketplace. Developing of films will soon be a thing of the past as photography for the common man becomes completely digital. If photography is going to be digital, why not diversify into its related fields that include computers?

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One response

3 08 2008
Louise Whiting

The Risby Flock of Lincoln Longwools are a privately owned and funded, award-winning flock. We are members of the Lincoln Longwool Sheep Breeders Association and our flock is registered with them. Neither this association or the Rare Breeds Survival Trust has a hand in the maintenance of this flock. Their websites are listed on our sign purely as a reference for further information on Lincoln Longwools!

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