A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.
This autumn, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.
Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.
In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.
This week, the East coast including Lincolnshire and Norfolk.
The county of Lincolnshire links the English Midlands to the east coast, and Midlanders to the popular seaside resorts of Maplethorpe and Skegness (Skeggy!). Much of the county is flat, but a recommended route to the coast is via the Lincolnshire Wolds, an upland area registered as an area of outstanding natural beauty.
Lincolnshire and its people have had a major influence on English history. The Romans linked up the wealthier parts of the country via their famously straight roads. The Fosse Way went all the way from Devon to Lincolnshire crossing some of the most fertile land in Europe. Like neighbouring Nottinghamshire, the county also has links to the legends of Robin Hood, with his merry men, of course, famously dressed in ‘Lincoln green’.
It is possible the first sound of church bells in England was heard in Lincolnshire. In the tenth century, the Abbot of Crowland presented his abbey with Guthlac, a great bell named after a Lincolnshire saint. He later added six more to make the first tuned peal in England. In early monastic days, the sound of such a peal of bells was said to reflect the voices of angels. As such, they were blessed and dedicated. A passing bell was also tolled to keep off evil spirits from the dead. The bells of Crowland Abbey were the first peal heard across the nation when they broadcast over the radio in 1924.
It was from Lincolnshire that Edward I structured the funeral route of his beloved queen Eleanor of Castile in 1290. There were 12 stopping places on the 12-day journey down to Westminster Abbey in London, and at each stopping place, Edward decreed that a memorial should be erected, the famous Eleanor Crosses. There were three in the county of Lincolnshire, at Lincoln, Grantham and Stamford.
The Isle of Axholme is the only part of Lincolnshire west of the River Trent. Every year on January 6th, the inhabitants take part in the Haxey Hood Game, a tradition that goes back to the 14th century. The story goes that on that day (which is Twelfth Day or old Christmas Day) a gust of wind whipped the hood off Lady de Mowbray. Local farmworkers chased and retrieved the hood. She was so delighted her that she ordered the pursuit to be repeated. Now village pubs join the ‘sway’ to take the hood back to their local.
There is a major connection between the Lincolnshire town of Stamford and the universities of Oxford and Cambridge. In the 1330s, the rebellious student body of Oxford moved to Stamford. They were escaping the violence and chaos of medieval university life, often known as Town versus Gown. But their action threatened both universities, and so the experiment had to be suppressed. The sheriff of Lincoln, the Lord Chancellor, and King Edward III, no less, all put pressure on the students to swear the ‘Stamford Oath’. This meant that graduates of Oxford and Cambridge were not allowed to give lectures outside these two English universities. Oxbridge graduates continued to swear the oath until 1827.
The leading religious Separatists who voyaged to America 400 years ago in 1620 on the Mayflower mostly originated from the border areas of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Yorkshire. Regarded as heretics who rejected fundamental principles of the established Church of England, they worshipped in secret to avoid arrest. One group had been drawing members from villages surrounding the town of Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. They worshipped clandestinely under the guidance of John Smyth at the Gainsborough Old Hall. As the authorities cracked down on the Separatists, they decided to flee to Holland – seen. One night in 1607, having walked many miles, they secretly met a boat at Scotia Creek, near Boston in Lincolnshire. But the captain betrayed them. They were taken to Boston, tried and imprisoned. After eventual freedom, they made a second, successful attempt to get to Holland, this time setting off from Immingham, Lincolnshire. Later, they returned to England, but only to board the Mayflower to the New World. The monument at Scotia Creek that marks where the Pilgrims made their initial attempt for religious freedom.
Lincolnshire’s inhabitants also had a remarkable influence on history. They include: John Wesley (1703-91), born in Epworth Lincolnshire, the 15th child of Samuel Wesley (a Lincolnshire minister) and Susanna. John went onto establish the Methodist Church.
Born in Yorkshire, John Harrison (1693–1776) moved as a young boy with his family to the north Lincolnshire village of Barrow upon Humber. He learned his trade as a carpenter but discovered an interest in clocks. He went on to create the first chronometers that could accurately measure longitude, so establishing Britain’s mastery of the seas for centuries to come. Harrison also had a fascination for music, eventually becoming choirmaster for Barrow parish church.
During the First World War, London-born William Tritton (1875-1946) came to live in Lincolnshire. He produced the world’s first prototype military tank which he called the Number One Lincoln Machine. Tritton was knighted for his work and gave part of his share of his award money to help the City of Lincoln hospital.
Margaret Roberts (1925-2013), was born in Grantham, Lincolnshire, the daughter of a grocer. Under her married name of Margaret Thatcher, she went onto become Britain’s first female Prime Minister, a post she held from 1979–1990.
Local Lincolnshire delicacies include Lincolnshire sausages, Peasgood Nonsuch Apple, Plum Loaf and Grantham Gingerbread. For great Lincolnshire fish & chips, try ‘Elite’ in the Moorland Centre, Ruskington.
One of the world’s most famous cheeses is named after a town just south of Stamford over the Lincolnshire border in old Huntingdonshire. But Stilton was probably so-named after the town’s advantageous trading position on the Great North Road. It is claimed the cheese itself was created in the neighbouring county of Leicestershire. However, if you do visit Stilton, pop into the Bell Inn for a great pub lunch. It was in this historic coaching inn that the ‘Unhappy Countess’ stopped on her famous flight through Lincolnshire to get away from her evil husband. Mary Eleanor Bowes became the wealthiest heiress in Britain in the late 18th century. She was notorious for her licentious lifestyle, but as a poet and passionate naturalist, she corresponded with the great plant collectors of the day. She was once described as ‘the most intelligent female botanist of the age’. In 1767, she married her first husband, John Lyon, ninth Earl of Strathmore. He died at sea nine years later. She was then tricked into marrying a man called Andrew Stoney, who pretended he had been seriously injured fighting a duel in defence of her honour. He turned out to be a real nasty piece of work. Violently attacking anyone below him in social rank, including his own chaplain, raping the servant girls, and physically and mentally abusing his new wife. If you think media trolling is a modern phenomenon, think again. Mary’s lifestyle was regularly anonymously attacked in the pages of the Morning Post between 1776-77, more than likely by Stoney himself. She managed to escape Stoney’s plot to abduct and imprison her by taking off to the North, stopping off at the Bell Inn on her flight. She subsequently became the first British woman to successfully sue for divorce and keep her property. Mary died in 1800 at the age of fifty-one. She was buried in her bridal dress at Westminster Abbey. She is a direct ancestor of Queen Elizabeth II.
The city of Lincoln, including its castle and cathedral, will be covered separately.
Lincolnshire – away from it all – and loving it!
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.
For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com
*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:
- Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
- Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
- Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
- Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
- South coast (Hants/Dorset)
- Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
- South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
- Wales (north & south)
- Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
- Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
- Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
- Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
- East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
- Yorks (all ridings)
- North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
- North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
- Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
- Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
- Ireland (Northern/Southern)