I've lived in many different places, but I was born in Lincolnshire, raised in Lincolnshire and for the past ten years have lived in Lincolnshire (or, to be exact, on the border between Lincolnshire and Nottinghamshire). This county (one of England's largest, one of its flattest and one of its most depopulated) doesn't exactly draw me — well, not in the same way as Dante to Beatrice, or Tristan to Isolde, or Abélard to Héloïse. More like a tube of iron filings is attracted to a magnetic field, maybe — prosaically, unromantically, habitually. Today I marched another short stretch of Lincolnshire's most well-known trail, the Viking Way, and revisited once more the barren fenlands and ploughed-earth flatlands of my youth.
In Woodhall Spa I dawdled in tea rooms and bakeries, waiting for the torrential downpour to end. The uniform sky stretched monochrome-grey from horizon to horizon. I put on my Goretex gear and set off reluctantly down the path. Immediately I knew yet again why I loved walking, even in the rain. All my niggling little cares and worries had slipped away and my head felt light. I was really enjoying the simple, autumn-tinged walkway out of Woodhall Spa — across the golf course, through the woods and past this magnificent oak tree...
|The path led through woodland and over a golf course...|
|... to this gate with its reassuringly familiar Viking helmet marker.|
|I gained the old trackbed of the Horncastle and Kirkstead Railway at Sandy Lane. This disused railway line is now a cycleway, bridleway and walkers' route, known as the Spa Trail. The fallen leaves were pleasing to walk on...|
|Here's a signboard highlighting the sculptures to be found along the way...|
|I passed this striking artwork made of galvanised steel. It had now stopped raining and for the rest of the afternoon the sun came out in fits and starts.|
|Looking down at my feet (how often we miss what's happening down there!) I was struck by this random pattern of colourful leaves...|
|The tree-lined pathway continued its delightful progress...|
|... unveiling wooden sculptures of fractal forms...|
I eventually came to the small market town of Horncastle. A place, I admit, I would not like to frequent often. You know those films where a stranger enters a pub in the back of beyond and the locals suddenly go all quiet and sinister? Well, I had a pretty similar experience entering Horncastle's Market Square dressed in a bright blue Berghaus rainshell and waterproof trousers, with a rucksack on my back and a camera round my neck. I mean, those incredulous faces didn't just latch onto mine and stay latched — their jaws dropped too, and they remained dropped...
|St Mary's Church, Horncastle.|
Far away I'd seen a hint, a suggestion, a faint whisper of hills beyond Horncastle as I'd approached the town. Low — yes. Treeless — certainly. An illusion — probably. Yet my heart and soul yearned for some higher distance and airier spaces. 'Touch wood' I'd reach them soon. I seemed to remember that John Hillaby in his book Journey through Britain had described this part of the country as 'plogsland' — a word that had always conjured up for me a picture of plodding and slogging and bogginess. Undeterred, however, I plogged on...
|Shop in Horncastle.|