Tennyson Knolls

In Tennyson’s In Memoriam A.H.H. he spends a significant amount of time reminiscing of days spent with his close friend Arthur Hallam at his family home in Somersby. It allows the reader to get a glimpse into life at the rectory, especially at Christmas, but there is one section (XCV) which he describes spent in the garden on a warm summer’s evening. He pictures a scene sat on the lawn with the light gradually fading and bats appearing and flying close by and goes on to describe the fading view beyond the garden to the hills opposite – 

While now we sang old songs that peal’d
From knoll to knoll, where, couch’d at ease,
The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field.

He calls them as knolls which is a good description for he is referring not to the distant ridge tops but a row of small hills directly opposite the rectory that stand in a slightly elevated position overlooking the River Lymn, which he describes in the same passage as “The brook alone far off was heard…”. Far off meaning beyond the garden and down in the valley. Then a little further, after describing the bats in detail, he continues that on the knolls are cattle or as he calls them “kine”.

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The white Tennyson Rectory from a knoll across the river.

The knolls were formed by streams cutting through the sandstone to join the river in the trench like clay valley bottom. This has created an area which is difficult to farm using modern intensive methods because the knolls are dry sandstone and the narrow depressions in between are wet often with a small stream. In Tennyson’s time they would have been permanent pasture grazed by cattle with meadow in the dale bottom and it would have been where a young Alfred first learnt about the many varieties of wildflowers that were abundant then. Even today on www.magic.gov.uk site there are several special habitat sites marked out in this small area. To these can be included a small lake one of several which have been added to the clay valleys of the lower dale in recent decades.

Today modern farming has encroached or “improved” the land where possible but there is still a vestige of permanent pasture and old hedges and copses remaining although recently there has been the planting of timber and biofuel crops on this land now deemed as “good for nothing else”. These clusters of knolls and streams occur in other parts of Lower Lymndale most notably to the south of Ashby and east of Hagworthingham around Cinder Hill.

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Looking northwest from Cinder Hill.

  

The Ashby Knolls remain predominantly as pasture which has been improved but with pockets that remain unspoilt. Melbourne’s Hill is the most prominent knoll and also the most important because it is the nearest example of what the knolls opposite the Tennyson rectory looked like in Alfred’s day and where kine still graze and trees lay their dark arms around the field.  In between Melbourne’s Hill and Millam’s Hill is where several streams converge to form a major tributary of the River Lymn. Each hill is dry and each valley is wet. The longest and most interesting valley contains Cliff Carr a strip of old alder wood nearly a kilometre long. The area just described interestingly coincides fairly closely with a southern extension of the Ashby parish whose boundary extends as far as the A158 coast road.

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The green of Melbourne’s Hill stands out in the middle distance.

 

The Cinder Hill Knolls are also close to this main road but five kilometres further east where it descends to cross the River Lymn. The area of interest also runs down to the river but is set back from the road and is nearly a kilometre long. It  is bisected by a stream flowing down from Hagworthingham to the Lymn and is overlooked by three knolls. The knolls are not conspicuous mainly because where ever possible they have been ploughed but between them there is Cinder Gill. In contrast to the tamed fields this is a hidden habitat of birch, bracken and elder that has been left to grow unchecked. Despite being close to the main road there is no access to it but it would be similar to Winceby Gill found at the top end of Snipe Dales Nature Reserve on the far side of the A158. This is outside the AONB but still part of Hill Wapentake, which extends beyond the main road and includes the hamlets of Winceby, Scafield, Hameringham and Claxby Pluckacre. The delightfully secluded wildlife haven of Snipe Dales is contained within the bounds of the lost parish of Winceby.

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Lymndale looking northwest to Park Hill from near Stockwith Mill.

This lack of access is doubly frustrating because Cinder Hill offers some of the best views of Lymndale encompassing nearly its entire length From Park Hill to Langton Edge. This view is possible because the River Lymn curves around the base of the knolls as it flows through an increasingly wide dale. Reaching the eastern foot of Cinder Hill for 600 metres it continues parallel with the A158 before flowing under it. In this 200 metre wide section is a rare strip of meadow which is a blaze of yellow buttercups in Spring beside a still unspoilt section of river where otters and water voles still reside.

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Cinder Hill & Gill looking east to Langton Edge.

All three clusters of knolls have the potential to encourage or reinstate greater biodiversity if allowed to revert back to unimproved permanent pasture. Also each can be connected to adjacent areas of land that still remain relatively unspoilt or undeveloped. Adjacent to Tennyson’s Knolls just across Snake Lane is Snake Holes Dale and Old Woman’s Holt both of which have similar potential as they have been left largely undisturbed. If New England Ravine is included just to the north this would be an area of unprecedented diversity for the Wolds.

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A Tennyson Knoll with Old Woman’s Holt behind.

The inclusion of Cliff Carr Dale and even the small dale leading up to Wetherton Hill Plantation would make the Ashby Knolls another species rich area. Cinder Hill Knolls with their proximity to the main coast road and a mature section of the River Lymn  have amenity potential especially with such expansive views to enjoy. With an unrivalled panorama of the dale this potentially accessible location could be used as an introduction to Tennyson Country and describe how the landscape would have looked in his day. Also there should be an attempt to try and revert the view from the rectory across the dale to Tennyson’s Knolls back to how he would have recognised it as this is one of the few locations that can be confidently identified in one of his major poems.

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Prominent hills or knolls surrounding Somersby.

There is also Hoe Hill, which is more a prominent hill than a knoll overlooking Salmonby. Its geology is slightly different as it is capped with Roach stone, which makes it very distinctive, and has small streams flowing down from Roach Ridge either side of it. Holbeck is to the south, which flows through Holbeck Hall Grounds and lakes partly formed from old quarries, and to the north is Salmonby Beck. This flows off the ridge and through the kilometre long Salmonby Carr and onto Salmonby village where it picks up Hol beck and becomes the River Lymn’s first main tributary.

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Hoe Hill from Roach Ridge.

North and south of Hoe Hill is permanent pasture some semi-improved and there is more along Salmonby Beck as far as the attractive lake on the edge of the village. Just a field away to the south is more semi-improved grassland along Holbeck Dale as far as Salmonby. It is possible to explore Hoe Hill via a permissive path starting from the bridleway just southeast of Fulletby.

None of these four locations described are more than a couple of miles from Tennyson’s boyhood home. The prominent Red Chalk Hills just to the north also fit neatly into this sphere which is bisected by the River Lymn and offered a young Tennyson a wealth of habitats to explore and discover a wide diversity of wildlife, which he was able to use in later years to illustrate his poems. Now this is a landscape still mostly intact but in need of some care and attention to bring it back to the state of natural health that Tennyson was able to enjoy.

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Peasam Hill in Snipe Dales Nature Reserve.

Currently within Hill Wapentake only Snipe Dales Nature Reserve on its southern edge has protection but is outside the AONB. The Lincolnshire Wolds AONB itself offers only minimal protection and this is evident from the amount of building both commercial and residential taking place within its borders but especially around its fringes. Although much of the area is intensively farmed there are certain areas such as the rough grazing on the incised scarp slope between Nettleton and Walesby which has protection from SSSIs ( Site of Special Scientific Interest). The area of Hill Wapentake should also be considered for a higher level of protection due to the diverse nature of the landscape and geology and the twin parishes of Somersby and Bag Enderby should be singled out for their historical significance in having changed little since Tennyson’s boyhood. The River Lymn and some of its tributaries also warrant greater protection by extending the SSSI covering part of the New England Ravine downstream as far as Stockwith Mill and south as far as Littlehays Carr.

To give Lower Lymndale and more particularly the Somersby area some type of conservation status to protect and even enhance this as yet unspoilt area, and even enhance its potential for attracting wildlife, would fit in neatly with a broader initiative covering the whole of East Lindsey. This is a strategic location in that the two National Nature Reserves of Saltfleet-Theddlethorpe and Gibraltar Point are each only 25 kilometres from Somersby. Including a high level of protective status for Lower Lymndale would create a triangle of natural interest in the area and a greater diversity of protected habitats that would encourage a greater number of visitors over a longer period of the year. This can already be seen in North Norfolk where National Nature Reserves and enlightened land management on estates like Holkham have nature lovers coming to the area in large numbers in spring and autumn.

 

In Memoriam A.H.H XCV

By night we linger’d on the lawn,
For underfoot the herb was dry;
And genial warmth; and o’er the sky
The silvery haze of summer drawn;

And calm that let the tapers burn
Unwavering: not a cricket chirr’d:
The brook alone far-off was heard,
And on the board the fluttering urn:

And bats went round in fragrant skies,
And wheel’d or lit the filmy shapes
That haunt the dusk, with ermine capes
And woolly breasts and beaded eyes;

While now we sang old songs that peal’d
From knoll to knoll, where, couch’d at ease,
The white kine glimmer’d, and the trees
Laid their dark arms about the field.

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