Six o’clock in the morning on 8th July 2005 – I was sleeping comfortably in a cute cottage in rural Lincolnshire when the phone rang! A friend in Australia was calling to check that we were OK because of the London bombings the day before. What bombings? We had only just arrived and were blissfully unaware of the tragedy, ensconced as we were in the countryside some 150 kilometres north of London. The call highlighted though, the belief most Aussies have that if you are going to the UK you must be in London! Well, where else is there? Most Aussies visiting Britain would see London and venture to well known tourist sites such as Stonehenge, Bath, Oxford or Cambridge.
There is so much to see and do in Britain. Its compact size does not decrease the options but rather increases the accessibility to a plethora of hidden gems just waiting off the beaten tourist track. Experiences which will delight, regardless of whether you are interested in history, landscapes, walking, boating, wildlife or entertainment. If your idea of a holiday is to party all night and sleep half the day, then stay in London. If you’re up for something different, then join my family and me as we explore Britain with a difference.
I must digress though, to share with you the raison d’être for our philosophy towards travel. In 1984, before the era of mass global tourism, my husband and I were on a bus in Greece, travelling to the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion. We struck up a conversation with an English couple, who, upon learning we were Australians, and shortly heading to Turkey, commented that they had encountered a few Aussies and that we were all definitely an intrepid bunch of travellers!
The idea of being “intrepid travellers” appealed and has stuck with us as we have enjoyed many subsequent and different holidays.
Back to rural Lincolnshire: Easton-on-the-Hill to be precise, where we had found a very reasonably priced self-catering cottage for a week. Why were we there, ostensibly in the middle of nowhere? Well, to be frank, Easton-on-the-Hill is nowhere, there is nothing but a pub (of course, this is England!) Nearby though, is Stamford, a lovely little town which is definitely worth a visit. In 2005 my son obtained work in Stamford and we suddenly became familiar with this part of England.
Stamford is a small town and can be explored in a day. Central to Stamford are the 17th–18th century stone buildings, older timber framed buildings and medieval parish churches.
If you wish to go more up-market than our cottage in Easton-on-the-Hill, The George is the hotel in town – no one is sure exactly how old it is, but the history of the Hotel is worth reading. http://www.georgehotelofstamford.com/
For a serene and picturesque lunch, get take-away and wander down to The Meadows and watch the ducks.
Strolling through Stamford on St George’s Day (23 April), we happened upon a display of Morris Dancing. These dancers were were adorned in bright yellow and green streamers and were quite a spectacle and most entertaining. I have since discovered that this is a style of Morris dancing known as Border Morris, traditionally practised in the Welsh border regions such as Hereford and Shropshire. These dancers include black painted faces and clothes decorated with ribbons or strips of coloured paper.
Just out of Stamford is the majestic Burghley House http://www.burghley.co.uk/. It was built between 1555 –1587 by William Cecil, Lord High Treasurer to Queen Elizabeth I, and is the finest example of Elizabethan architecture remaining in England today. It is open for guided tours and is well worth a look.
Burghley House is within walking distance of Stamford. It is not a short walk but it does take a route through the extensive grounds of Burghley House, past a quintessentially English country cricket ground and amongst the deer. You can, of course, drive.
Burghley House also has a fine example of a “ha-ha” (or “haw-haw”). I’m not kidding, this is a real thing, the concept of which has always appealed to my son after he found the word in a book his grandfather owned: The Superior Person’s Little Book of Words. For those “unsuperior people”: a ha-ha is a sunken fence which allows uninterrupted views. Check it out.
Burghley House is also one of several venues for the Battle Proms, a musical extravaganza set up in the grounds of the House. You will see historical re-enactments and hear some magnificent music, whilst enjoying a twilight picnic. When we were there they were commemorating the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo. No political correctness here as the crowd cheered the cavalry demonstrating their skills, including spiking French heads on their lances – not really, they were cabbages, but the sentiment remained! The finale of the evening was a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, complete with fireworks and one hundred real cannon!
If you choose to attend the Battle Proms I recommend learning the words and tune to Jerusalem. I’m sure we were probably the only Aussies in attendance and were astonished and overwhelmed when, en masse, the crowd stood, accompanied by much English flag waving (not the Union Jack), and belted out an obviously familiar piece – Jerusalem. You may know it as a poem by William Blake. You could, of course, not learn the song and watch, dumbstruck, the response of the very English crowd.
Lincoln is an enjoyable and picturesque town – complete with cathedral, so technically that makes it a city – though I don’t know too many cities where you will find loose horses grazing on a village green! Leading up to the cathedral is the aptly named Steep Street. A pedestrian-only street lined with interesting shops and pubs. A leisurely stroll (necessary) will find you at the top without too much difficulty or breathlessness.
Lincoln was a major Roman town. In 1068 William the Conqueror commenced building of both the castle and the cathedral. By the early 13th century it was the third largest city in England and the centre of the wealthy wool industry.
Lincoln Cathedral has significance that can’t be avoided – the Magna Carta.
“Magna Carta is known as the first charter to limit the power of the king and to uphold the rights of the individual.
When King John agreed to the barons’ demands for peace at Runnymede in 1215, copies of the charter were made and sealed. They were distributed to sheriffs, cathedrals, and important religious houses throughout England. Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta is one of only four surviving originals.”
The Magna Carta is currently not on display as it is awaiting a new display in the refurbished Lincoln Castle prison complex in time for its 800th anniversary in 2015.
Lincoln Cathedral also has an Australian connection, with a memorial stained glass window depicting George Bass and Matthew Flinders and the Tom Thumb. Bass and Flinders, and also Sir Joseph Banks, were important Lincolnshire pioneers of Australia.