Known to the Romans as Lindum Colonia, Lincoln stood at the junction of two major Imperial thoroughfares, Fosse Way and Ermine Street. By the time of the Domesday Book, it had grown into a settlement of around 1,000 households. William the Conqueror won few friends here by peremptorily ordering 166 of these houses to be destroyed to make way for an imposing castle. Around the same time, he authorised the building of a cathedral and made Lincoln the ecclesiastical centre of a vast bishopric that extended from the Humber to the Thames.
The city reached its peak of prosperity during the Middle Ages, but when Henry VIII visited in 1541 the town fathers were reduced to begging relief from taxation or “they would be compelled in short time to forsake the city, to its utter desolation”. Henry rejected their plea. When Daniel Defoe passed through Lincoln in the 1770s he found “an ancient, ragged, decayed and still decaying city”. Half a century later, another traveller dismissed the historic city as “an overgrown village”.
Happily, improvements in roads and canals, and the arrival of the railway in the 1840s, returned the city to prosperity and Lincoln became a major centre for heavy engineering - steam engines, agricultural machinery, excavators, motor cars and other heavy duty items. But you only have to climb the hill to the old town to enter the serenity of the cathedral close, a tranquil enclave lying in the shadow of the noblest and most majestic of all English cathedrals.
The south bank of the River Humber is indeed Lincolnshire’s most industrial area but that is only part of the story. Rural north Lincolnshire is as peaceful and unspoilt as anywhere in the county, with scenery that ranges from the northern tip of the Wolds in the east, to the level plains of the Isle of Axholme in the west. The area also includes the largest town in the county, Grimsby (population 92,000), once one of the busiest fishing ports in the world and now an important centre of the food processing industry. A few miles up-river, and even more imposing, is the colossal Humber Bridge, the largest single span suspension bridge in Europe.
The Lincolnshire Wolds, a sweeping chalk downland stretching up the middle of the county, includes some of the most beautiful and largely undiscovered countryside in England. This is great walking and cycling country, but there are a few hills, too – Nab Hill and Tetford Hill both rise to over 400 feet. Picturesque villages and small towns such as Aby, Bag Enderby, Normanby-on-the-Wold, Somersby, Spilsby and Walesby are well worth exploring, as are the larger towns – Market Rasen on the western edge, Horncastle in the south and Louth in the east.
Stretching from Wainfleet and Skegness in the south, to Cleethorpes and the mouth of the Humber to the north, the Lindsey Coastal Plain runs for about 40 miles, north to south, and extends between five and 10 miles wide, east to west. The Plain offers a good range of animal sanctuaries and nature reserves. The area’s other main attraction, the splendid sandy beaches running virtually the whole length of the coast, didn’t come into their own until the railways arrived in the mid 1800s. The coastal villages of Skegness, Mablethorpe and Cleethorpes have grown steadily to become popular resorts for East Midlanders, each one offering a wide range of family entertainment.
The Elizabethan writer Michael Drayton must have deterred many of his contemporaries from visiting southeast Lincolnshire by his vivid word picture of the “foggy fens”. It was, he wrote, “a land of foul, woosy marsh…with a vast queachy soil and hosts of wallowing waves”. It can’t have been quite that bad - the Romans farmed extensively here, for example. Since Drayton’s day, various drainage schemes, from the 16th century onwards, have reclaimed many thousands of waterlogged acres. Spalding is known around the world for its annual Tulip and Spring Flower Festival when a procession of floats, adorned with millions of tulip heads, progresses through the town.
The Great North Road, now the A1, brought Grantham and Stamford a constant stream of travellers and trade, a traffic whose legacy includes some fine old coaching inns. One visitor during the early 1800s regarded this as “the only gentrified region” of Lincolnshire. Belton House, Belvoir Castle, Grimsthorpe Castle and the breathtaking Elizabethan splendour of Burghley House are four of the grandest stately homes in England.