The Snake Trail.
Of the remaining possibilities for walking in Tennyson’s footsteps I have picked out a route called the Snake Trail, which is a short walk and the Geology trail which gives a more comprehensive view of the area. Snake trail is called this because the dry warm sandy soils around Somersby would have been attractive to snakes and this is illustrated on the OS map with references to the reptile either side of the village. A kilometre to the southwest is Snake Holes Plantation and a similar distance to the northeast is Snake Holt and fortunately they are linked via the twin villages by rights of way.
Before beginning the walks I think it is interesting to point out before starting the overall lie of the land, which makes them quite different from most other walks in the Wolds. In contrast with the rest of Lincolnshire, which is renowned for its farming efficiency based on large fields and straight lines, this is not so easy in Lower Lymndale and especially around Somersby. A quick glance at a map reveals that around the village there is hardly a straight line to be seen. Only a few tracks leading from Wardenhill Farm stand out as straight while the more ancient roads out of the village all follow curving or even bending lines. Like Snake Lane this is determined by the geology as too is the winding nature of the River Lymn as it passes through the New England Ravine. Unusually for escarpment geography the Red Chalk Hills also bend one way then another like a giant serpent laid out over the landscape overlooking the twin villages. With Warden Hill as the head, Cloven Hill as the arched back and Red Hill as the tapering tail making the serpentine theme recur throughout the landscape.
It is best to start in Bag Enderby where there is car parking by the church. This medieval monument is usually open and is worth a visit as it has some interesting features. From here take a narrow lane west to the old thatched Ivy House Farm. From here turn left to follow a track as it descends to the quiet secluded Paradise Holt (Home to a biblical serpent possibly?). Here there is a low wooden bridge across the River Lymn but the path crosses by a footbridge hidden among trees just a little downstream.
A field edge path then leads on up hill through a wood to Stainsby. After passing between farm buildings turn right. This tarmac lane heads directly towards Snake Holes Plantation, which is hidden just behind twin roadside cottages. Turn right again to follow Snake Lane with views north to Warden Hill. After a short straight the lane winds downhill through woods. Old Woman’s Holt is on your left hiding several big old willows in varying stages of collapse. A little further cross a small brick bridge and follow the road uphill to a T junction. Here turn right and descend to a second similar bridge.
The road is treelined all the way into Somersby with a rich mix of species especially close to the beck. The lane into Somersby cuts through the sandstone passed a couple of cottages before reaching the old rectory, where the Tennyson’s lived, half hidden by thick yew hedging. Continue passed the little church where you will find ample Tennyson information. Although only small it stands well above the road and looks down on the castellated brick eighteenth century Somersby Grange opposite.
Immediately after the church turn left and follow the lane for two hundred metres to where a good surfaced bridleway veers off to the right to climb up towards Wardenhill Farm. As you ascend views of the lower dale right across to Greetham open up behind you so make sure to turn round regularly to take note. Beyond the farm is a clear view of Warden Hill’s wood and scrub top but the lane then soon turns right to eventually make its way around Fox Covert filling a dip in the land.
Once round the covert it is straight on until meeting another bridleway. Here turn right and go downhill passing beside Snake Holt. This long wood is made up of a mix of trees with large oaks hidden in it unlike the other blocks of single specie timber that surround it. The tall standard oaks and the old coppiced under storey carpeted with bluebells singles it out as being an ancient wood, here when Tennyson was a boy unlike the surrounding woods. This is classic pheasant country so if you have a dog keep it on a lead or you will lose it. The track takes you down into a secluded dale overlooked by the conifer capped Cloven Hill. It is a pleasant quiet spot well away from any roads or buildings. At a second Fox Covert it eventually meets a broad often muddy track. At this meeting of ways turn right to follow the broad track that takes you back to Bag Enderby after about a mile.
The Geology Trail
The Snake Trail is about eight kilometres but to increase this length to just over ten kilometres there is the option of the Geology Trail. This is also a more strenuous trail with 200 metres of climbing. It starts in Upper Lymndale by Harden’s Gap Farm and straight away there is a steep climb of forty metres up the north side of Warden Hill. The reward for this is the view back over the flat bottomed Upper Lymndale and across to the long chalk scarp two kilometres away. This long ridge climbs steadily from Dog Hill west to culminate at Tetford Hill (142 metres asl) in the distance. The expanse of level ground nearly a hundred metres below this big dome of a hill is a mix of glacial drift laid down just 20,000 years ago. Harden’s Gap Farm is on sand and gravel but the central part of the dale is silt and clay. It was once moor and fen but now it is covered with drainage dykes and open fields.
When at the top of the climb there is a wood to the left but to the right the land rises steadily to the top of Warden Hill. This narrow ridge is red chalk as are the tops of Warden, Cloven and Red Hills but most of the high ground to the south is roach stone including Anderson Hill. Although to the north Upper Lymndale can be viewed in its entirety the view south to the lower dale has to be discovered as it is deeper and more wooded. The path down into it though is nearly as steep and quickly takes you back down to the height you started at by Harden’s Gap Farm. Halfway down the hill you connect up with the latter stages of the Snake Trail. This takes you passed Snake Holt, through a secluded dale overlooked by the red chalk ridge of Cloven Hill capped with conifers, to meet up with the wide track at Fox Covert. Here turn right and follow this bridleway to Bag Enderby. Somewhat muddy at first as it passes through wooded country it eventually becomes drier as it passes through more open country and onto the sandstone plateau where the village stands.
After passing the church with its tall local greenstone tower and projecting gargoyles turn right to pass by Ivy House Farm. Here the track gradually descends down to the river. At 35 metres asl this is ten metres lower than the upper dale, just three kilometres north, and the river has cut through the sandstone and into the softer clay beneath. This is Kimmeridge Clay from the Jurassic Period and fifty million years older than the Cretaceous chalk on top of Tetford Hill. While in the lower dale there are no recent drift deposits from the last ice age like in the upper dale as the effects of the ice here were purely erosive. (See Upper Lymndale Blog for diagrams.)
Cross the River Lymn by the hidden footbridge and follow the footpath up to Stainsby. On reaching the hamlet, which is little more than a large farm, we are back on sandstone. This is an outlying dome of Spilsby sandstone that overlooks the point where the dale finally widens allowing broad views down it to Sausthorpe whose steeple is a major landmark. Its prominence emphasised by the church standing on a twenty metres high sandstone ledge overlooking the river. Straight across the dale looking back towards Bag Enderby and beyond the view stretches to the wooded profile of Brinkhill Rigg. This is a long narrow outlier of chalk, which extends west from the Ulceby Chalk Island separated from the main escarpment by Calceby Beck.
Pass between the farm buildings then turn right onto tarmac, which will take you to Snake Lane. Instead of making a direct line to Somersby across the valley the lane determines to remain on the sandstone as long as possible by looping north before descending steeply down to the Lymn’s first main tributary. The road however first runs beside the little Snake Holes Beck, which meets Snake Lane after having meandered through Old Woman’s Holt.
After crossing the bridge the lane rises steadily to a T junction. Here there is a choice of directions. Turn right to cross a second bridge over the River Lymn to take you into Somersby, which is the route of the Snake Trail, but as this is the Geology Trail the alternative is to turn left to continue to climb back up onto the sandstone as confirmed by the small roadside quarry. Overgrown in Summer in Winter and Spring the weathered buttresses of sandstone are revealed to show carved words or initials and holes made by masonry bees covering the rocks. A little further along the lane and the main reason for taking this detour is the tree filled New England Ravine.
Where the road takes a sharp left turn right to go off road to stand by the big old beech tree. From here there is a grand view of the ravine spread out below, which is colourful most times of the year but especially so in Spring and Autumn. This is midway along the ravine and also where it bends. It stretches away to the north towards Tetford in one direction and southeast towards Somersby in the other. Dry sandstone sides and a wet clay valley bottom allows for a diversity of flora, which is unrivalled in the Wolds.
After this highlight retrace your steps to re-join the route of the Snake Trail through Somersby with its little weathered green sand church perched on a sandstone mound overlooking the road. Immediately after it turn north and at the edge of the village take the broad track on your right. This climbs back on to the roach stone high ground on which Wardenhill Farm stands. Passing Fox Covert the bridleway dips briefly onto wetter mudstone allowing a stream to emerge from its far side. Beyond the covert continue straight until reaching the bridleway you began your walk on. Return up the steep slope on to the Red Chalk Ridge. While making the long descent back down to Harden’s Gap there is a final opportunity to fully appreciate the contrast in the two dales of the River Lymn. Having passed through the varied landscape of the lower dale dotted with small woods, little villages and hidden streams the wide flat upper dale and the exposed bold chalk ridge stand in marked contrast.