By Rebecca Miles – 25th August 2021
You know you’re on to a good thing when a walk advertised as a mile long takes your family over two hours, and not because you got lost or spent your whole time picnicking but because there are so many distractions to keep all ages entertained on the way round. And that’s exactly what we found on a circular walk in Willingham Woods in the Lincolnshire Wolds.
It’s fair to say Lincolnshire isn’t the most obvious holiday destination in the UK, but with many holiday hotspots overbooked, overcrowded or over expensive, it pays to look elsewhere. Which is how we – my husband, five-year-old daughter and my parents joining us for some of it – ended up playing in a wood in the Lincolnshire Wolds, enjoying great accommodation for under £100 a night and eating delicious local food.
As one of England’s 34 Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, the Lincolnshire Wolds is a quieter, better value and just as pretty holiday alternative to the Cotswolds. Wolds appear more often than you may realise, and are the epitome of the English countryside. Think rolling hills dotted with quaint villages, rich farmland and a patchwork of hedge-lined fields, and can be found in a swathe across Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Rutland, Leicestershire, Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
We appreciate the beauty of this classic countryside on a morning’s walk to one of the highest points in Lincolnshire, Nettleton Top. From our Snugzz Pod accommodation in Nettleton (more on which later), it’s a short drive to a free ramblers car park half way up the hill and the start of the walk. The country lane continues up to the crest, and we walk along the ridge, the valleys unfolding on either side (on a clear day keep an eye out for views of Lincoln cathedral to one side and the Humber bridge on the other, far in the distance).
After reaching the heady heights of 162m, we turn off the quiet lane and join the Viking Way, which follows a chalk stream back through the valley of Nettleton Beck. The Viking Way is a 147-mile long-distance walk from the banks of the Humber south to Oakham in Rutland, running through an area occupied by Norse invaders in the ninth century, and this stretch passes through the former ironstone mining quarries. Worked in up to the 1960s and now reclaimed by nature, it’s hard to imagine the machinery and mounds of spoil and concrete that would have surrounded us then.
At five miles long, the Wolds Walk in Ore of Our Past is an ideal circular route for our three generations, and sets us up nicely for lunch at the Blacksmith’s Arms in Rothwell.
The Lincolnshire Wolds, like the Cotswolds, is rich in country pubs, and the Blacksmith’s Arms is one of its best. Set in the tiny village of Rothwell, two miles east of the Viking Way, it’s a popular spot with a huge beer garden. We eat a tasty meal, between us ordering Hunters chicken, mushroom ravioli and ploughman’s, and try not to feel overwhelmed by the size of the portions.
We need another walk after lunch to work up an appetite for dinner, which is where Willingham Woods come in. On the outskirts of Market Rasen, the woods are a feast of little streams, bridges made of tree trunks, fallen logs, dens and perfect tree-climbing trees. We literally hop, skip and jump our way through the forest on a clearly marked one-mile loop.
The Lincolnshire Wolds cover just 560km2 – a mere dot in comparison to the size of the Cotswolds – and run roughly parallel to the North Sea coast. But while they may be small they’re perfectly formed, with more than enough to do on a family holiday, and only half an hour or so from the classic seaside resorts of Skegness (affectionally known as Skeg-vegas) and Cleethorpes.
It’s prime walking country, and paths that you can expect to have to yourself crisscross the countryside. The Viking Way is the flagship route, but there are many others, and with its gentle terrain and low-lying altitude it’s a great place to introduce little legs to longer walks.
With the flat Fens to the south of the Wolds, and the quiet country lanes running throughout it, it’s also a great place for cycling, which is what we do the following day.
We hire bikes from Woodhall Spa Bike Hire, a new company set up by Jon Campbell and his wife, after Jon was furloughed from his sales job during Covid. An enterprising pair, they have excellent Trek bikes (plus tagalongs) to rent from their mobile van, based in the grounds of the grand but friendly Petwood Hotel, in Woodhall Spa.
On the western edge of the Wolds, Woodhall Spa was a fashionable resort in Victorian and Edwardian times. Nowadays, that faded grandeur gives it a New England feel, and its high street is packed with smart independent shops, cafes and galleries. It’s well worth spending a few hours wandering around – peaceful pinewoods are scattered through the village and are home to the Kinema in the Woods, a historic two-screen cinema in an old sports pavilion, the Tea House in the Woods, an Edwardian pavilion serving afternoon teas, and Jubilee Park, with its large lido and playground.
We pedal off towards the River Witham and join the Water Rail Way route that runs alongside it, built on the former Lincoln to Boston railway track. It’s a traffic-free path through glorious open countryside, regularly passing the former stations along the line. We overtake laidback canal boats and spot animal sculptures and artworks as we cycle (created by local artists, and inspired by both agriculture and the local poet Tennyson).
After cycling about 10 miles, we return to the large gardens of the Petwood for a drink on its sunny terrace. Worth exploring, the hotel was home to 617 Squadron during World War II, and the hotels’ Squadron Bar is as it would have been when RAF aircrew were regulars in the 1940s.
Next on my must-visit list in the Wolds is the Georgian market town of Louth, on the eastern edge of the area. I love nothing more than pottering around local food and independent shops and rummaging through a market, so drag the family there for a day. It turns out to have something to please everyone – a well-stocked cheese shop, a beautiful haberdasher, a sweet shop lined with jars from floor to ceiling, one of the country’s oldest independent department stores Eve & Renshaw, an independent brewer and even an old-school record shop.
The church is famed for having the tallest medieval parish spire in England, and the lanes around it make a good maze for a game of spies (anything to keep the little one entertained!). Wander further and on the outskirts of the town you’ll come to Hubbard’s Hills, a chalk valley carved out by the River Lud and gifted to Louth by a Victorian benefactor in memory of his wife. It’s a great spot for a picnic, and we stock up on supplies in town before heading there.
Our mini break in the Lincolnshire Wolds comes to an end all too soon and we’ve walked, cycled and driven through countryside that gives the Cotswolds a run for its money.
But what about the accommodation? We stayed in two places at either end of the Wolds. First are the Snugzz Pods at the Salutation Inn in Nettleton. Run by the friendliest landlady we’ve come across in a long while, Jo runs the Sali, as it’s affectionately known, as a proper village pub first and foremost. We have a hearty meal of Lincolnshire sausages and mash, lasagne, and home-made burger, before heading into the garden and one of the two Snugzz Pods. More than a glamping pod, these cabins are proper wood-clad and fully insulated year-round structures. Ours has a double bed and a bunk bed plus an ensuite while the other one has just a double bed. Both have private terraces overlooking a field and the village church.
Breakfast in the morning is a highlight – Jo opens up the Snack Shack, from where she serves good coffee and even better bacon butties, using local bacon of course. Later in the day ice creams are served – a choice of 20 flavours from local dairy Blytons, and there’s a selection of home-made cakes and brownies. We stock up on plenty to keep us going while we walk.
From Nettleton there are lots of walks through the Wolds, and it’s just a mile to neighbouring Caistor, slightly bigger and pretty to wander around. From here we also visit Hall Farm Park, a working farm with plenty of animals to feed plus a crazy golf course and a large soft play barn.
In Louth, we stay at the Mason’s Arms, the town’s smartest hotel. Right on the market square, it has 10 bedrooms and a greenery-filled bar and restaurant. Our bedroom is a decent size for the three of us, and is decorated with lots of warm velvets, bold monochrome in the bathrooms and splashes of copper. The bed is ridiculously comfortable!
Unfortunately the hotel stops serving food at 5pm (this may change in the future), but makes up for it at breakfast. My daughter has pancakes with chocolate spread and bananas, my husband has the full English (which showcases Lincolnshire’s local produce to a tee), and I have the brunch of dreams – literally, that’s what it’s called on the menu. It’s english muffins, garlic mushrooms, spinach, streaky bacon, hash browns, poached eggs and spicy hollandaise. It’s fair to say it sets us up for the day.
And how does Lincolnshire compare as a holiday alternative to the Cotswolds on price? Incredibly well. A night in a Snugzz Pod starts from £65 for one person, going up to £90 a night if four of you stay in the family Pod.
Rooms at the Masons Arms start from £83 a night, bed and breakfast. Both these are fantastic value.
Also worth a mention in the Turkish restaurant in Louth, Istanbul.
For more information on holidays in the Lincolnshire Wolds, visit Love Lincolnshire Wolds
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