Solivitur ambulando – It is solved by walking

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
July 2017

Walk 4 – Friday 19th May: Distant rain. I’m planning a project and looking at the maps.
The British Pilgrimage Trust and I are going to walk the Lincolnshire Rising of 1536 at some point in the next few months. The history of it is very murky business. The closure of the abbeys and priories, disaffected priests stirring up mobs, lynchings, drunkenness, dodgy economics and an even dodgier gentry. Add Henry VIII to that list and one has a recipe for trouble. It’s fascinating stuff that takes place across a great swathe of the county – over the Wolds to the Witham and Lincoln – some bits I don’t know so well and haven’t been to since my youth. I look to the maps. Barlings Abbey, Stainfield, Apley, Great West Wood, Hardy Gang Wood, Goltho. The church at Goltho I remember as being one of Lincolnshire’s most special places and seems like a good point to scout out from.

I spent a lot of my youth visiting churches with my parents. Sunday afternoon drives to tiny chapels, battered copy of the Shell Guide and a flask of coffee, signing visitor books with assumed names – Terry Waite, 17th September 1988, Very Peaceful.

It’s not thundery but it feels like it might – warm, wet air – close. I didn’t know it had happened until I reached the church. The gorgeous Tudor interior of St George’s of Goltho was gutted by fire, a lightning strike back in October 2013. There’s a word for that from Hookland, a church burned by lightning is said to be ‘witch-struck’. There’s a sort of shed built onto the church to protect the remains – corrugated iron and scaffold. It’s rusting quite nicely and the nettles are taking it over. I point myself south west and head over the fields.

There’s bit of folklore around these parts about a wild man who lived in the limewoods round about, so I head in the direction of Hardy Gang Wood, named after the gang who caught up and killed the wild man. These are quiet lanes and good for walking on – though, as ever, take care and be sensible. After about ten minutes I’ve reach Cocklode Wood, which looks like a great spot to explore. There are a handful of large limewoods here, owned and run by the Forestry Commission. They are all open access land, so you can wander as you wish. Perfect for dogs. I make a mental note to bring mine here later. Deep in Cocklode are the earthwork remains of a satellite priory of Barlings Abbey but time is tight and I’ll be passing this way again in the footsteps of the rising soon enough.

Back on the road to Hardy Gang Wood I drift through Apley. It’s a very quiet hamlet with a curious church I half remember. In the churchyard, I find three headstones I made in a previous career. I can’t quite place the village in my memory but I remember the headstones. Across from these and much older is another headstone worth looking for – weathered marble with a stuffing blue mosaic inlayed and a gold crucifix – it’s almost Byzantine, certainly under the influence of the early, post Roman church. Out of place somehow. Thinking about it, so is the surrounding countryside – this area between Wragby and the Witham doesn’t have the glacial valleys of the Wolds or the sublime flatness of fenland. The land around here looks more like the plains of northern France or Belgium perhaps. I can’t quite put my finger on it.

Pheasants and crows scatter from the Great West Wood and a Chinook appears, all rotor blades and weight. I’ve seen them regularly for the past few weeks, heading out to the range at Donna Nook.

Up the road a little and off across the fields towards Hardy Gang Wood. The path is a battle. Oilseed to my left and waist deep Queen Anne’s Lace to the right. Wet too. Within a few strides I’m soaked to the knees. It’s easy to scoff at waterproof trousers but perhaps I should make an investment for future walks. No matter now though. I’m wet and a peal of thunder rolls over Lincoln. A fine mizzle washes the fields in front of me and I can hear the hum and crackle of the power lines.

The path disappears in the plough soil. I fish my binoculars out to scan the way ahead. Nothing. Right – follow the telegraph poles. The soil is fine stuff – flinty too. Normally I’d spend a bit of time looking for flakes and worked pieces, there’s bound to be some here but the weather is getting up. I turn my collar and head hedge wards until I find the way. A handsome tunnel of willow leads out again into open fields.

To my right I see a house. Nineteenth-century, three or four bedrooms, derelict. Looks like it’s been this way for some time. I wonder what happened. That was someone’s home once.

A short walk along the lane leads me to Hardy Gang Wood itself. A wet place, the water table must be quite high here. The path becomes swampish. The path becomes river. My boots fill. At the end of the wood is a bridge that links to the Viking Way and will lead you to the ruin of Barlings Abbey. The last Abbot of Barlings was involved in the Rising. He was made an example of. More of that another time.

Thunder peals to the west and fat drops plummet through the lime leaves. A glimpse of myself in a puddle – a hairy fellow in dark green surrounded by trees. For today at least, it appears that I am the wild man. Good.

Back along the lanes towards Goltho – a handsome tabby with a young rabbit in his mouth crossing the road ahead – the rumble of an unseen engine – the sky quickens with a single fork of lightning – the crows over St George’s scatter.

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