Former Lincolnshire Life editor Jez Ashberry was born in Boston and now runs a PR agency in Lincoln. To mark the 50th anniversary of the county’s favourite magazine he’s come up with 50 favourite places to go and things to do in Lincolnshire…
MY TEN FAVOURITE PLACES
Bingo! Let’s have pie! It’s a long story but that’s what members of my family shout whenever we’re driving to Boston and the unmistakeable outline of Boston Stump looms into view across the fens. The tower of St Botolph’s Church will always be iconic for me, a Bostonian born and bred. My abiding memory is of climbing the tower and imagining the fate of the Grey Lady who supposedly jumped to her death in Victorian times. You can still hear her ghostly cries and see the cracked flagstone below where she fell.
Visitors to Boston never miss the Stump but they do sometimes miss Fydell House, billed as ‘the grandest house in town’. Built in the 1700s, it belonged to three-time Mayor of Boston Joseph Fydell and was recently used by the University of Nottingham as an adult education centre. My wife and I like to think we started a trend as we were married in the walled garden in 2005 and Fydell House is now a licensed wedding venue.
I make no apology for the fact that four of my favourite Lincolnshire places are in Boston, the town where I grew up. One is Blackfriars Theatre and Arts Centre, an amazing mediaeval friary which was turned into a theatre and arts centre in the 1960s. I first trod the boards there as a schoolboy and the place gave me an enduring love of performing which I still haven’t managed to shake off.
My other favourite place in Boston is windswept Tattershall Road, home of Boston Town Football Club where I spent my formative years watching little league football with a hardy sprinkling of fellow supporters. I have fond memories of sitting at the Dog End (so called because they used to race greyhounds on the scrubby bit of land behind the stand) and watching as the all-conquering team of 1981 romped to the Midland Counties League championship.
Those were simpler times and as a child we would take our trunks to the priceless Woodhall Spa lido or our wellies to Six Marshes on the Lincolnshire coast; holidays in France or Spain were out of our price bracket in those days. I’m not a fan of the gaudy resorts but there’s no denying that Lincolnshire has some superb unspoilt beaches which were the staples of many summer days out with my brothers.
Of course Lincolnshire isn’t all ice creams and donkey rides, as a trip to Stamford will demonstrate. I can’t pick a particular part of Stamford that I love; just immerse yourself in this beautifully preserved Georgian stone town.
It’s only just in Lincolnshire, but I love the Humber Bridge – not just for its beauty and for its daring engineering but also because it marks the end of my childhood and the beginning of my adult life as a student at Hull University. While north of the Humber I developed a fondness for Hull City and still cross the bridge from time to time to watch the Tigers in action.
These days I live in the west end of Lincoln, easy walking distance from my last two favourite places. On my doorstep is the West Common, a haven for wildlife and, more importantly, a great place to walk your dog. In the summertime my daughter more or less lives on the common with her friends, which is why she and I were delighted when plans to develop a racecourse on this precious green space were shelved in the face of loud and indignant protests last year.
No list of Lincolnshire favourites would be complete without Lincoln Cathedral, of course. I rarely have cause to go inside but the sight of it lit up at night lifts my spirits and reminds me how glad I am to live in this wonderful city.
TEN GREAT PLACES TO EAT
I apologise in advance if I omit any hidden gems from this very personal list of places to eat in Lincolnshire.
I begin at Winteringham Fields near Scunthorpe, a restaurant which hit the heights under the guidance of chef patron Germain Schwab, the only county chef to earn two Michelin stars. I have eaten some amazing food at Winteringham Fields but what always impressed me more was the down to earth and friendly approach that puts everyone at ease. Colin McGurran took over Winteringham Fields in 2005 and last year Gordon Ramsay named it the UK’s best French restaurant.
You wouldn’t have thought of Scunthorpe as a great place for restaurants but San Pietro on the High Street regularly wins awards for its upmarket French cuisine with an Italian accent.
For a similar dining experience in rather different surroundings I love the Jews House in Lincoln. Just visiting this building is an experience in itself: it’s thought to be the oldest domestic house in Europe. The restaurant was closed for most of last year after a fire but owner Gavin Aitkenhead – a former head chef at Winteringham Fields – is getting the place back on its feet.
The only other Lincolnshire restaurant to have been garlanded with a Michelin star is the unique Harry’s Place in Great Gonerby near Grantham. It’s not just the smallest restaurant in Britain with a Michelin star, it must be the smallest restaurant, full stop. The dining room of this terraced Georgian house seats ten people so the atmosphere is always intimate.
Similarly cosy is The Cheese Society in Lincoln, an upmarket café which has grown out of a speciality cheese retail business run by Kate O’Meara in what used to be her father’s fish and chip shop. The emphasis is on the cheese, naturally, but the quirky menu includes plenty of other options. And when you’ve had lunch you can pop to the cheese counter and buy some to take home with you.
There are so many other great places to eat in Lincolnshire, so I’m sure I’m just scratching the surface. The Inn on the Green in Ingham deservedly won Lincolnshire Life’s own dining pub award last year for combining great locally sourced food with a warm ambience without driving away those who just like to go to their local for a pint. This year’s winner was the Carpenters Arms in Fiskerton where I tasted probably the best chips I have ever eaten. There’s a fantastic choice of fresh fish on the menu which is something that’s going out of fashion in some parts.
Speaking of fish, you may have never visited Suttons Fish and Chips in Wainfleet, famous for its coal-fired fryers. It’s a traditional chippie where you can sit down and have your fish and chips brought to your table with a mug of tea and a slice of bread and butter.
Also out of the way is Magpies restaurant in Horncastle, where modern European cooking takes place in a recently refurbished 200-year-old building.
My final choice is a bit of a cheat as the Boathouse in Farndon is just outside the county near Newark, but I’ll include it here as it deserves your custom: a stylish, contemporary bistro with a chic, relaxed atmosphere and some superior food at reasonable prices.
TEN THINGS TO DO IN LINCOLNSHIRE BEFORE YOU DIE
• See a film at the Kinema in the Woods – once a cricket pavilion, now the UK’s only cinema with back projection
• Have a taxy in a Lancaster bomber courtesy of Fred and Harold Panton who run the East Kirkby Aviation Heritage Centre
• Climb halfway up Boston Stump (that’s as far as you can go)
• Visit Batemans Brewery by catching the Music Train to and from Sleaford
• Experience the Haxey Hood – an ancient village sport which takes place on 6th January in the Isle of Axholme
• See the seal pups being born at Donna Nook – but try not to disturb them
• Hunt for the Lincoln Imp high in the Angel Choir at Lincoln Cathedral
• Hear ghostly tales (some of them true) on the Lincoln Ghost Walk
• Hunt for a bargain at Horncastle’s antiques shops
• Dust off your Barbour at the annual Burghley Horse Trials
TEN GREAT PLACES TO DRINK
I like proper beer so my list of places to drink leans heavily towards traditional pubs where they know how to keep and serve the stuff. I was a bit concerned when the Victoria in uphill Lincoln was sold by pub company Tynemill in 2007. I needn’t have worried though as George Bateman & Son bought my favourite boozer, and while there’s more of a Batemans flavour to the beer range these days this is still a great local: good beer, good food and an excellent beer garden in the shadow of Lincoln Castle.
We can’t leave uphill Lincoln without visiting the Strugglers Inn just round the corner, a cosy local with a loyal following, a charismatic landlady and a clutch of recent awards. Originally called the Struggler Beer Shop, it’s said to take its name from victims struggling while being taken from the courtroom in the castle for execution at the gallows just down the road.
One of my favourite summer pastimes is to cycle with my family along the Fossdyke towpath to the Pyewipe Inn just outside Lincoln, which despite a chequered recent history is still a lovely place to enjoy a drink sitting on the canal bank and watching the pleasure boats go by.
I love drinking beer in the sunshine but sometimes in the winter months a snug backstreet boozer with a roaring fire and a well stocked jukebox is what’s required. My wife and I went to the Carpenter’s Arms in Boston for our first date sixteen years ago; we drank Batemans Salem Porter and she lost an earring.
If country walks are more your thing you could do worse than end a ramble at the Royal Oak in Aubourn, a sixteenth century inn where they serve an excellent lunch and a choice of five real ales, or the George and Dragon in Hagworthingham, a perfect spot to rest your weary feet after a stroll in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
To find my other favourite pubs you may need a map, or these days a good satnav. The Blue Bell at Tattershall Thorpe dates back to 1257 and has been an inn since the sixteenth century but it’s best known these days for its connection with 617 Squadron ‘The Dambusters’. The famous squadron was based at nearby Woodhall Spa for part of the war and the airmen signed their names on the ceiling of the old bar.
The Brownlow Arms in Hough-on-the-Hill near Grantham is as well known for its excellent food and accommodation as it is as a pleasant place to enjoy a drink. For an unusual establishment you can’t beat Village Limits in Woodhall Spa – a family-run B&B with a small pub and restaurant attached.
TEN PLACES OFF THE BEATEN TRACK
• Get some fresh air at Snipe Dales Country Park, a tranquil nature reserve in the heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds
• Relive (my) childhood at Hubbards Hills near Louth, a steep-sided glacial valley perfect for picnics and Sunday afternoon walks
• Don your wellies for a bracing walk to Freiston Shore near Boston, where sea bathing and horse racing have now given way to an RSPB nature reserve
• Walk or cycle along the Fosse Dyke towpath near Lincoln; stop at the Pyewipe Inn for a beer or press on to Daisy Maid at Skellingthorpe for an ice cream
• Delve into Lincolnshire’s past with a visit to the atmospheric remains of Crowland Abbey, partly destroyed during the English Civil War
• Brush up on even more history by visiting the remains of Bolingbroke Castle, birthplace of Henry IV
• Pay a visit to Blankney – a perfectly preserved Lincolnshire estate village
• Go back in time and enjoy the beautifully preserved spring meadows at Easton Walled Gardens near Grantham
• Go twitching at the internationally important Gibraltar Point National Nature Reserve near Skegness
• Guess the age of Julian’s Bower, a turf maze at Alkborough near the river Humber, which may date back to the Roman occupation