Lincoln looms up out of the flat Fenland landscape with almost shocking abruptness, writes Robin Mead. Hills are rare in this part of Eastern England – so, over the years, man has made the most of the city’s natural defensive position, and it is now crowned with a trio of Gothic towers, a windmill and the chunky outline of a castle.
It is a quintessentially English scene. A little bit of Britain as you have always imagined it; an urban oasis set amid seemingly endless rural surroundings.
Perched at the very top of a city which is naturally divided into two parts – Uphill and Downhill – triple-towered Lincoln Cathedral dates back to the time of William the Conqueror. It is one of the country’s prime examples of the early English Gothic style, and these days is a centre for many musical events and flower festivals.
For a while, when the central tower had a spire, Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world. It lost that distinction, and the spire, in a heavy storm in 1548. But its classic lines mean it is still the pride of Eastern England.
Even bored youngsters might enjoy a tour of Lincoln Cathedral, because they’ll find a sculpted stone figure of the Devil hiding above one of the piers in the Angel Choir. Called the Lincoln Imp, he has been adopted as a sort of symbol of the city.
Running down from the summit of the city is the aptly named Steep Hill, lined with a jumble of historic buildings, eateries, and tiny specialist shops. The bigger stores are down in the lower town, close to the river and railway station, where the streets are wider and flatter. This is worth exploring, because as well as pedestrianized precincts it contains such treasures as the medieval High Bridge across the River Witham.
Back at the top of Steep Hill, don’t miss the castle, which has guided tours of the Magna Carta exhibition (it’s the original, brought here in 1215), and the prison chapel. There is also a chance to walk the walls.