88 historic churches to welcome visitors at West Lindsey Churches Festival

Lovers of heritage and history can enjoy two weekends of experiences completely free of charge, as 88 historic churches and chapels invite them to pay a visit this May.

The West Lindsey Churches Festival (now in its 27th year) offers visitors buildings located across the stunning landscape of West Lindsey, just north of Lincoln and encompassing Gainsborough, Caistor and Market Rasen.

The first weekend (11th-12th May) will see 41 churches take part in the east of the district, with 47 churches opening for the second weekend (18th-19th May) to the west.

Each church offers a unique experience, that could include stunning architecture, stained glass, fascinating wood carvings, historic monuments, graveyards full of stories and traditional church organs (some of which the public are welcome to play). Many buildings are also located in the Lincolnshire Wolds National Landscape, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

And alongside all that heritage and landscape is the welcome church volunteers bring to the event, including their knowledge of local history, delicious homemade cakes and lunches, plant and book sales, flower displays, exhibitions and bell ringing.

Anyone interested in a spot of “church crawling” this May (the name given to the hobby of visiting churches!) should visit the website www.churchesfestival.info. There they will find a page for each church taking part (easily reached via the A-Z listing page) and a Google pin map to plan a tour. People can also browse a 44-page event brochure via the website, or order a hard copy.

In their own words: regular visitors explain the attraction of the event
Beth Sliwinski from Sheffield explains why she travels to the event from Yorkshire: “If ever a reason is needed to visit beautiful Lincolnshire, this is it. Every church provides its own treats – interesting architecture, friendly volunteers, delicious refreshments, picturesque churchyards – even the drives from one church to the next are a pleasure.”

Long-time visitor Lexie Brookes-Ashmore, from Caistor, says she enjoys the graveyards as well as the churches: “I have been visiting the churches festival since 2012, so this will be my 12th year! My best friend and I cancel all other plans for the festival (plus the September one) and always end the day with a picnic. We love the architecture and history as well as the many interesting graves.”

Gillian Poucher (Wolds based author and URC minister) wrote: “The May Churches Festival celebrates the rich variety of churches across our district, from ancient to modern, peaceful to vibrant, in hamlets, villages and market towns. The Festival offers something for everyone: opportunities for reflection in the quiet churches, enjoyment of organ and other music, fascinating heritage displays, and of course many cups of tea and mouthwatering cakes!”

Visitor Patrick Flynn explained how the opportunity to play many of the church organs was a highlight for him and his friend: “We travel from Hull and visit on one of the days each weekend. My friend is a professional organist and usually plays all the available instruments and we plan our route beforehand. We enjoy the festival very much indeed.”

Sheffield visitor Cath Mirfin offered her recommendation to people considering taking part this year: “Whether you love visiting a new church, finding out about the building’s history or just admiring the architecture, this is the festival for you. Everyone we met [was] very friendly and full of interesting info.

And some churches have fabulous cakes! We put it in our diary every year and make it a long weekend at the east coast.”

Visitor Angela Mayne from Middle Rasen explains her reasons for taking part: “I love taking pictures in churches, so during the festival it makes my job a lot more interesting. People looking round the displays in the churches makes for good photography.”

Chris Gale, also from Sheffield, combines visiting her brother Andy (who lives in Lincolnshire) with church visits. “We always take time to visit the church festivals, last year we took the family’s Sealyham terrier Arthur who really enjoyed it, especially the ham sandwiches at Stainfield. This is an unusual Queen Anne-style church next to the Manor House in a tiny village that you would never know was there! The festival helps you discover some hidden gems in Lincolnshire.”

Lincoln based Tracey Kidner explains how much the event means to her: “Always a highlight of my year: such a delight to explore our beautiful county and discover our shared history and heritage. Plus amazing cakes!”

Highlights from the 88 churches taking part this year
Step back in time to the year 875, when Bishop Aelfnoth built his church at Stow, to serve, it seems, as Mother Church for his Lincolnshire Diocese. St Mary’s, Stow is a treasure trove of beautiful artefacts and architecture. Other fine churches with Saxon origins can be found at Greetwell and Knaith.

Go forward to the Norman period and be spoilt for choice with the plethora of fine Norman churches across the area. Along the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds can be found the ironstone churches of Caistor, Nettleton, Market Rasen, as well as Middle Rasen with its fine Norman Archway.

Two of the festival’s medieval ‘little gems’ not to be missed are St Oswald’s at Rand, situated on a deserted medieval settlement, and St Edith’s at Coates by Stow with its 11th-century rood loft and screen.

The festival also offers a fine Queen Anne church at Stainfield, and some wonderful Victorian treasures – including the gothic St Michael & All Angels at Hackthorn.

There is also a lovely collection of Methodist chapels including those at Wragby and Laughton, which are well worth a visit.

For Georgian splendour look no further than the majestic All Saints at Gainsborough with its magnificent interior, including a copy of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper behind the altar.

And for visitors who simply want to take some time out of a busy lifestyle and relax in a quiet oasis of calm, the festival’s ‘quiet’ churches are recommended, in particular St Vincent at Burton and the simple Quaker Meeting House tucked away in Market Street, Gainsborough.

The festival is active on Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) and asks visitors to share their images using the hashtag #LoveLincsChurches throughout the two weekends.



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