Unlike Kesteven Lindsey has few Roman roads. The most well known is the Ermine Street and runs in a straight line almost due north from Lincoln to the River Humber, which for a generation was the northern limit of the empire. Just north of Lincoln, by the Lincolnshire Showground, another road branches northwest to the Trent near Marton. To the east of Lincoln however there is only one clearly defined road. This heads from the city to the coast near modern Skegness but it is by far the most interesting because of its unlikely route. It leaves Lincoln as the A 158 but after skirting around the northern limit of the Fens instead of heading south to Horncastle and following the more suitable route of the modern A158 it cuts straight across one of the hilliest parts of the Wolds.
Much of the Roman road has now been abandoned and the possible reasons for this can be found on an earlier post (See The Bluestone Heath Ridgeway- A Ceremonial Landscape Post.). Apart from when leaving Lincoln and a section of the ancient Bluestone Heath Ridgeway between Ulceby and Skendleby the only other tarmaced section is the three kilometres passing by the northern edge of Sotby Wood going from nowhere to nowhere. To the east of this however after a break of about a mile it re-emerges as a bridleway which crosses Caistor High Street and the River Bain before climbing high into the Wolds and ending abruptly when meeting the A153 Louth Road near the top of Flint Hill (140m. asl.)
The main reason today for following this almost forgotten route is as a connection between two of Lincolnshire’s most interesting natural areas. From the northern spur of Flint Hill there is a wide view of the one of the most dramatic sections of the Wolds chalk escarpment stretching from Red Hill in the north to Park Hill to the south. Along the top of the ridge runs the Bluestone Heath Road both pre and post dating the long defunct Roman road. Yet at the other end of this still accessible section of Roman road ten kilometres away is Sotby Wood in a quite different secluded landscape of woods and thick hedges. Although not strictly belonging to the unique Bardney Limewoods National Nature Reserve it acts as a prelude to it.
The national nature reserve begins just across the A158 at Hatton Wood and stretches south and west all the way to the River Witham. In contrast to the open vistas enjoyed from the top of the Wolds this is a hidden landscape of narrow hedged lanes and horizons dominated by blocks of woods. Although these woods cover only about a quarter of the landscape in a mostly flat two dimensional landscape these often long three dimensional features dominate. Yet it is only hidden within these broad blocks of woodland that you can find the relic stands of small leaved limes. Often old coppices these trees are rare and belong to the small list of native British climax woodland species. They are important from a biodiversity stand point as they create a light woodland but are also historically important because the tree once had many uses hence their survival as coppice.
The only break in the Roman road route from Flint Hill on the Wolds to just beyond Sotby Wood as briefly mentioned above is a break for about a mile just west of Caistor High Street. Instead of a problem this turns out to be an opportunity to explore a number of green lanes which converge at this point that together help connect the two sections of Roman road. Also in the centre of this network of forgotten byways is Sotby Meadows nature reserve. This and the adjacent green lane are both Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) managed by the LIncolnshire Wildlife Trust who are keen to preserve the old growth hedgerows found in this area. As a result the lanes that you have to follow between the two sections of Roman road are pleasingly sheltered and overhung by tall trees and sometimes narrowed by thick shrubs. Following these twisting green lanes through dappled light is a welcome break from the Roman road which cuts a straight line across the landscape.
The day I chose to explore this area was in late September with the hedgerows heavy with hips, haws and sloes. I started from Beacon Hill a mile north of the Roman road where it crosses the Caistor High street and sped west on my bike enjoying the advantage of a steady descent off the Wolds and views stretching north to the Belmont TV transmitter and vaguely in distance the familiar profile of Lincoln cathedral standing out on the western horizon.
The lane descended gradually but unevenly along a narrow ridge through Sotby with a farm, thatched cottage, a tiny church and little else and on to Panton. This hamlet has plenty of signs to it but with no nucleus there is little to pinpoint its actual location. At the staggered crossroads I turned left (south) towards Sotby Wood where at the T junction I turned left again to pass along the wood’s northern edge. Where the road bends to the left beyond the wood it is clear that the straight line of the Roman road has been abandoned but a little further along the road there is a sign for the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust’s reserve of Sotby Meadows.
This leafy green lane runs alongside the reserve dipping into a small valley and rising up again to an intersection of green lanes. Turning left I followed another grassy lane for a kilometre crossing a tarmaced lane halfway. Eventually the green lane forks with the narrower lane, which is the Roman road, veering off to the right. I followed the wider lane that carried straight on to Ranby. This is another dispersed hamlet and lies on the far side of Caistor High Street on the southern flank of Beacon Hill. I next passed a large well tended garden rising up to a fine country house. This is Ranby Hall and hidden among trees on top of the hill behind it is the parish church. Following the road round and heading north toward Market Stainton there is a glimpse of the church to the left but there is a much finer view to be had to right over the Bain Valley to the steep wooded slope of the chalk escarpment. Passing through Stainton I returned to my starting point by crossing back over the High Street.
The land beyond Caistor High Street lies outside of the Wolds AONB and although less dramatic has its own charms with its gently undulating narrow lanes hemmed in between thick hedges connecting barely discernible villages of scattered clusters of cottages and farms and may be a tiny church. The area also includes the wooded estates of Hainton, Panton and Stourton. With its position on the western flanks of the Wolds this appealing landscape stretches north to Hainton where the Wolds western edge starts to become more rugged and south to the A158 Lincoln – Horncastle road where the land is more open with less features until it descends gently down to the southern limit of the Bardney Limewoods National Nature Reserve.