From London to Lincs (and back again)

I am from the ‘flat as a pancake’ County of Lincolnshire. When I tell people where I’m from, the vast majority of replies consist of “Where’s that?”, “Oh, you’re from Lincoln?” or my personal favourite “Where the sausages are from?”.  I can understand how Lincolnshire is England’s forgotten County. I was born and raised there and know practically nothing about it so I’ve always been very forgiving because I am equally as clueless.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt more and more attached to my roots. Yes, I left Lincolnshire and I cannot see myself returning there, but, it gave me a blooming good start in life. As I’ve grown more sentimental about my home County, a festering sense of guilt at my ignorance, about what Lincolnshire has to offer, has gained a strangle hold grip on my conscience. So, I did something about it. I cycled in Lincolnshire and visited some of the most famous bits.

I got a train to Grantham as I’d decided my first stop should be Belton House which is the National Trust stately home just down the road from Grantham train station.

I had been to Belton House before (as a young ish child) because I loved a series on the BBC called ‘Moondial’ and it was filmed at Belton House. I adored the BBC series of Moondial because my favourite author was Helen Cresswell and the series was based on her book of the same name. My Mum had found out that Helen Cresswell was at Belton House signing books so she took my sister and I as a surprise. I was armed with my weathered copy of Moondial and very ready to have it signed. I still have that book today and it lives alongside my signed copy of ‘The Watchers’ as I was lucky enough to meet Helen Cresswell twice before her death. She was a gem of an author and I sincerely hope her books are not forgotten by future generations.

Anyway, I have deviated. My point was that, my visit to Belton House as a child was utterly overshadowed by the fact that I got to meet Helen Cresswell! I remember nothing of the day other than standing in the queue excited beyond words and then not being able to say a word to Helen herself. I just thrust my copy of Moodial at her and grinned like a fool. I may have gushed as she handed my signed book back to me and then sprinted back over to my Mum for the obligatory ‘I just did something awesome and I’m very happy right now’ hug. Therefore, I should revisit and not only relive memories, but acquire new ones.

I brought my ever faithful Daisy bike with me on the train and then cycled the few miles to Belton House. The staff there were lovely enough to let me leave my soggy panniers and waterproof in the visitor reception so I didn’t have to cart them around all day. Daisy got locked under a tree (new experience for her, the poor urban thing that she is) and I went off to explore the house.

It’s a real shame the weather was so awful because Belton House is set in the most stunning grounds and I would dearly have loved to wander around them for an hour or so. However, the rain made me miserable, soggy and deprived me of anywhere pretty to eat my cheese sandwich picnic. I think you’ll admit that the weather didn’t really impact on how imposing the house is from the exterior.

The terrible weather did put a bit of a downer on my attempts to explore the grounds but luckily, there are still some pretty good views of the gardens from the dry and warm interior of the house. Hoorah! Here’s a snap of (one of many) an amazing garden view.

Belton House seems very lucky to have an army of dedicated and knowledgeable volunteers at its disposal. Every room in the house (which is open to the public) is manned by a volunteer who will happily tell you all kinds of information about the paintings, tapestries, furniture or just generally anything they know something about. My favourite volunteer was the lady manning the front staircase hall. I was gazing at the ceiling and wondering how to get the best photo and she obviously recognised what I was sizing up. Her advice to me was to “Just lay flat down on the floor my love. You’ll get some funny looks but it’ll be the best picture”. It wasn’t the best picture but I certainly enjoyed sprawling out on the marble floor.

I think the best picture of the stairs and hall that I snapped was this one. I took it from the top and really rather like that you see a bit of everything. You see stairs, marble, carpet, chandelier and bannister.

Every room seemed to hold it’s own treasure but my absolute favourite item was actually on loan from the V & A in London. It is a cabinet cladded in Lapis Lazuli. It’s not any normal cabinet though. This cabinet contains no less than 16 hidden drawers and compartments. There was a video in the room showing the head of exhibits removing each drawer. Just when you thought there was nowhere left for a drawer to be removed from, he’d produce 3 of them from the apparently black hole like cabinet. It was just superb!

I genuinely enjoyed every room in Belton House but the library was maybe the most imposing. There’s just something about book lined walls which makes a room feel decadent. Well organised book walls are an under used interior design feature in my opinion.

The other room with real awe factor was the dining room. Its A) massive and B) two if the walls are entirely covered by 2 gigantic paintings. So enormous actually that the room was redesigned in order to fit them both in. That is true dedication to a piece of art you want to display isn’t it?

And so endeth my tip to Belton House. It was absolutely gorgeous in the house and I am inredibly pleased to have re-visited as an adult to fully appreciate all the history and tradition which accompanied the stately home and the families who lived there. As my visit was complete, I got back onto Daisy and cycled the 45 miles back to my Mother’s house. A day well spent!

The other Historic place I visited was Lincoln Cathedral. I cycled there along the Sustrans National Cycle Route 1 and what a glorious ride it was. I covered the 35 miles in just under 2hrs 20 minutes and can honestly say I enjoyed every single second and would highly reccommend route 1 as a well maintained and friendly ride. But, let’s get back to the main event.

I have never really spent much time in Lincoln as my life never called for me to visit much so I really didn’t know what I was in for. Luckily, my sister, nephew and friend caught the train up and met me in Lincoln. They knew where they were going so I followed their lead through the city centre and towards what they described as ‘an hoofing great hill’. About half way up said hill, I got my first proper glimpse of the Cathedral.

It really is a staggering building. The idea that it was built before lorries, diggers, cranes and all the other modern day magic we have to help construction along today, is simply mind boggling. It honestly puzzles me how such a building was erected on the top of a large hill but there are  many such places in the world, this is just the most recent one to make me scratch my head.

Once inside the Cathedral, I managed to get one of the last places on the roof tour which was due to leave in 5 minutes. The timing could not have been more perfect. There were two guides and both were enthusiastic and knowledgeable. The Cathedral has a pretty interesting history. For a start, during the original construction, most of the cathedral was knocked down by an earthquake. When they rebuilt, someone’s ruler wasn’t quite straight because they managed to misalign the new build with the section which remained standing after the earthquake. You can see this both from the inside and form the roof. From the roof, you can see a slight bend in the line of that section of roof. From the inside, the top of the archway looks off centre. See if you can spot what I mean the the photo below:

Still a fairly good bodge job, right?

There are some beautiful pieces of glass in the Cathedral but perhaps my favourite is the circular window (below) because it is just stunning. I was able to get so close because we were along a walkway leading to the tower stairs which gave me an eye level aspect on the window. Just beautiful.

On the ascent up the tower, the guides told us gleefully of the spire which used to sit atop the Cathedral and made it (at one point) the tallest structure in the world. Unfortunately, high winds blew the spire down and took out one side of the Cathedral with it hundreds of years ago. When they rebuilt the Cathedral section, they decided not to bother with the spire again.

We also saw and heard the bell, known as Great Tom. If you turned Great Tom Upside down, he would, apparently, hold 1000 pints of beer (I think that’s what the guide said) so he is a big old bell. The original ringing mechanism was to have the bell swing around 360 degrees in a frame but, because of Great Tom’s size, this made the tower shake, so they instead fixed the bell and had it strike with a hammer instead. Much better idea.

After the bell chamber, it is straight on up to the roof. I literally mean the roof. I was stood on the actual roof of the Cathedral. It was a surreal but amazing experience. The day was clear and I could see for miles. 35 miles actually. I was able to spot the church located in my home town (where I had cycled form that morning) on the horizon. You can see for yourself just how good the view was.

The rest of the day in Lincoln was spent shopping and eating cream tea. A rather good combination for anyone, basically. When it came to returning on the train, we got a little shock. There were a lot of people waiting for the train so when it rolled in as a single carriage already packed to the rafters, it was not a happy sight. Plenty of people got off the train and, once some shifting around of luggage had been done, Daisy and I were safely on. There were no seats and lots of people standing but it wasn’t too crowded in the end. I had a little chuckle at people complaining that it was too crowded on the train as, in London, the train isn’t full until the doors can’t close and you have been reduced to precisely zero millimetres of personal space. Anyway, all was well in the end and everyone arrived safely back at home after what was, truly, a fabulous day.

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