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.
From Roman times right up until the 18th century, Lincoln was one of the most important cities in England. Centre of the lucrative wool trade, it held an important strategic military position and a fair amount of influence over the church in England. However, since the Industrial Revolution, its power has somewhat waned. And as the main northern England trade routes transport you to Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, and Sheffield, Lincoln has seemingly been bypassed. But in a way, the situation has allowed the city to survive unmolested by the worst excesses of modern industrial life. Today, Lincoln is the pearl of the east. The main ‘event’ is at the centre of town which sits on top of a hill. The city streets meet to form a square which has Lincoln Castle on the west side and Lincoln Cathedral on the east. It’s just perfect for visitors.
Lincoln Castle’s history is epic. During the Civil War known as the Anarchy (1135-53), The Empress Matilda, grandchild of William the Conqueror, took control of Lincoln Castle. Her father, Henry I, wanted the barons to recognise his daughter as the rightful ruler of England. Her cousin Stephen disputed her claim and had grabbed the English throne. In 1141, Stephen marched on Matilda’s stronghold, but was captured in the battle of Lincoln. This ensured the Civil War became a long-drawn-out struggle for supremacy
A few decades later, Lincoln was once again the epicentre of the game of thrones. In 1216-17, William Marshal was appointed regent of England while Henry III was still too young to rule after the death of his father King John. Although in his 70s, Marshal marched a force to Lincoln to relieve the siege of the castle there by French forces. The battle was known as the Fair of Lincoln. The defeat of the French army at Lincoln Castle forced the Dauphin’s eventual withdrawal. Peace was restored, and Marshal was able to put into operation his plan to have the Magna Carta (which King John had refused to ratify) distributed across the land.
Of the 40-odd copies of the Magna Carta, just four survive. Two are kept at the British Library. One is in Salisbury Cathedral and the other in Lincoln Castle. In 1939, the original Lincoln copy was exhibited at the New York World’s Fair. 15 million people saw it. After the outbreak of World War II, the Lincoln Magna Carta stayed in the USA for the duration of the war under security at Fort Knox. A pub in Lincoln between the castle and the cathedral is named after the document.
But the real hero, or heroine, of Lincoln Castle’s history is surely Nicola de la Haie (1150- 1230). She was a Lincolnshire landowner who inherited land in England and Normandy. A formidable character, she held the post of sheriff of Lincolnshire and constable of Lincoln Castle. On her own, she twice defended the castle against prolonged sieges. After the death of her second husband in 1214, she continued to hold the castle, ensuring William Marshal’s victory. She retired on grounds of old age in 1226.
The Bishop of Lincoln was traditionally a powerful figure in the medieval English church. When Henry II had his favourite mistress ‘Fair Rosamund’ buried in great style in Godstow Abbey near Oxford, it was the Bishop of Lincoln who ordered her tomb be banished to the churchyard. King John sometimes delayed appointing new bishops as he was entitled to their revenues during vacancies. It was estimated the Lincoln bishop vacancy earned John the equivalent of about £1.5 million a year. The position was eventually filled by Hugh of Wells, who was considered important enough to be present at sealing of the Magna Carta, which is why Lincoln has a copy. In 1509, the renowned Brasenose College in Oxford was founded by Bishop of Lincoln William Smyth.
Although recent excavations have revealed Saxon and Roman remains, Remigius, the first Bishop of Lincoln, built the earliest cathedral on the present site, finishing it in 1092. It is one of the few English cathedrals built from the rock it is standing on. It was mostly destroyed by an earthquake in 1185 and rebuilt in the Early Gothic style between 1192 and 1210. When the central spire was completed in 1311, some claimed it to be the tallest building in the world. If it was, this record was only held until 1548, when the spire collapsed.
In 1290, Edward I’s wife Eleanor of Castile died while on a journey to Lincoln. Edward honoured his queen with a funeral procession from Lincoln to Westminster where her main tomb was built. But she also had a duplicate tomb built in Lincoln cathedral which contained her inner organs after her body had been embalmed.
The two large stained glass rose windows were added in between 1230-1330, with one representing the dark of the north (the Devil), and the other, the light of the south (the Holy Spirit). The library houses a rare collection of religious works, including the manuscripts of the Venerable Bede. The cathedral doubled as Westminster Abbey for the movies The Da Vinci Code (2006), Young Victoria (2007), and The King (2018).
Augustus Pugin (1812-52) was known as God’s Own Architect. He designed many buildings, including the House of Parliament, in a style called Gothic revival. He was the son of French architect Auguste Charles Pugin and Catherine Welby of Denton, Lincolnshire. Even as a boy Pugin was designing churches, inspired in particular by Lincoln Cathedral.
Finally, look out for the stone carvings of the imp within the cathedral. According to legend, the Devil sent two imps to do his evil work for him in England. As they travelled across the country, they left chaos in their wake. At Lincoln Cathedral, they smashed furniture and tripped up the Bishop! The infamous Red Imps became symbolic of the town as a whole and it is the nickname of the local football team Lincoln City.
Lincoln: You’ll leave with an impish grin.
Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. More recommendations will appear next week.
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)