I returned to Lincolnshire in 1974 having spent most of that year living and working in the Alps where I did a lot of walking. On my return I bought a booklet called Rambling in Lincolnshire, based on the old one inch OS sheet 105, which I still have. Unlike the well marked and trodden paths of the Alps the twelve walks through the gentle Lincolnshire landscape proved to be much more demanding than I had imagined. At that time there were few signposts, most of the routes were untrodden and where they crossed streams or ditches there were often no bridges. Sometimes frustrated with the inaccessibility of the Wolds I would head off to the Peak District where there were many more opportunities to roam. In time I soon began to notice a difference depending on where I walked in Lincolnshire. In the north of the county, which had recently become part of Humberside, the routes were much easier to follow because the paths had been given signs and bridges. It took many years for the rest of Lincolnshire to catch up. This you will find will become a common theme.
During and also after the Second World War farmers were encouraged to grow as much food to feed the nation as possible and this continued even after Britain joined the Common Market in 1973. Especially on the chalk Wolds hedges were ripped out to create prairie like landscapes with as much land put under the plough as possible even if it meant destroying prehistoric monuments that had been there for thousands of years. Land was also still being reclaimed from the sea around the Lincolnshire coast and chemical sprays were used without mercy to wildlife. Such was the brave new post war landscape.
During the war the War Office had sweeping powers to requisition land to build aerodromes and coastal defences and build or occupy buildings wherever needed to billet troops including many large country houses. Fortunately, despite Lincolnshire being a prime location for intensive agriculture and aerodromes, with a more considerate approach to the countryside time has healed much of damage that was done or so I thought until doing research on Tennyson Country.
The twin parishes of Somersby and Bag Enderby where Alfred’s father, the Reverend George Clayton Tennyson, was rector during the poet’s childhood appeared to have managed to survive recent history’s more dark and insensitive periods virtually unscathed. The villages remain charming, the lanes leafy and the streams still run clear. There are paths and tracks down to the river and up onto the Wolds and little seems to have changed since Tennyson walked them.
This is what I thought until I started to look at old Victorian maps of the area which showed many more paths that are now lost. Even the beautifully detailed pre war Ordnance Survey maps clearly marked these rights of way but by the time post war maps were published they had gone. The twin parishes are still blessed with quiet lanes and paths to stroll along but they do not offer the network of walks that were available for a hundred years to students of Britain’s longest serving poet laureate visiting to understand where he drew inspiration from the countryside around his Somersby home.
Of the footpaths that have been lost it is the one along the River Lymn, which was the likely inspiration for his poem “The Brook”. If it were possible to re-instate it this would link other paths to make circular walks possible. Also it is down in the quiet seclusion of this unspoilt valley, where bird song, of which Tennyson was so fond, is still the dominant sound harmonising with the running of water and the rustling leaves. Here it is possible to be transported back to the bard’s time without the harsh interruption of modern noises. Sadly such places are becoming increasingly rare in lowland Britain.
A few kilometres further north on the chalk Wolds is the valley of the Ketsby Beck, which is one of the most beautiful in the Lincolnshire Wolds AONB. Before the war, however, it was even more beautiful with large areas of wooded parkland along it length. The Walmsgate Estate remains relatively unchanged but just across the beck on the Ketsby Estate during the mid twentieth century there was a systematic removal of hedges, trees and footpaths to create a more efficiently farmed estate. Yet the neighbouring South Ormsby estate managed to escape the excesses of the twentieth century and remains fundamentally unchanged from its eighteenth century hey day. So while in the Peak District there had been progress in allowing greater access to the countryside after the mass trespasses of the 1930s in post war Lincolnshire’s long established rights of access were being lost.
Fortunately the Lincolnshire countryside is now a much more inviting than it was back in the 1970s when visitors just saw it as somewhere to pass through on the way to the coast. The unspoilt little towns and even many landowners do their best to encourage people to linger and enjoy the county’s rural charms. Ironically because of its initial reluctance to open up to visitors it does not suffer overcrowding like more recognised destinations. Beauty spots in places like the Peak District are now often overrun at weekends and in the Alps tourism has become a major industry with all the infrastructure that goes with it. Even when I worked there as a young man I saw how a funicular railway severed the forest habit between the resort in the valley and the hotel where I worked perched on a mountainside above the tree line. It was all too clear that it was almost impossible for mammals like deer to cross the barrier of tracks and cables. Nearly fifty years on the number of similar modes of transport taking people high up to the best skiing areas has hugely increased.
It is fortunate however that an increasing number of people no longer see the whole hectic package holiday experience as pleasurable and seek to escape to more peaceful if less spectacular places. Some such places though unremarkable at first glance sometimes have many points of minor interest that make up a greater whole that can tell an interesting story. These places are often hidden in one way or another and can only be discovered by taking time to examine the landscape in detail. In the case of the area around the Tennyson Valley this can be surprising as they include features a kin to those found in the Alps as both places were altered fundamentally during the height of the last ice age. Since then history has had a relatively light touch on the land but this has allowed clues to the distant past to remain to be discovered lying just beneath the surface.