SITE UNSEEN : Lincoln: the castle and cathedral

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Most people dream of a desirable residence, somewhere free from burglaries, car theft and neighbours eager to play Take That records at ear-numbing levels.

Sadly, few of us can afford to live in the cathedral close at Salisbury. Failing that, the next best option is somewhere that enjoys the desirable fate of being much praised in guide books but is rarely troubled by visitors.

Lincoln fits this bill. Almost impossible to get to by train - Jules Verne thought about it, but decided to write Around the World in Eighty Days instead - Lincoln is on the coach route to nowhere.

Everyone claims to have been to Lincoln, because pictures of the place appear in all guidebooks. But if you ask most people whether they can say, hand on heart, that they have looked across at the twin west and central towers of the cathedral and marvelled at man's stab at perfectibility, there is usually an embarrassing silence.

To have seen it courtesy of the illustrations in the guidebook All You Need to Know about British Cathedrals is simply not good enough. In the 20th century we know all too well the horrors that human beings can inflict on other human beings. Lincoln cathedral is a sublime reminder that we can sometimes rise to unimaginable heights.

The best external view of the cathedral is from Lincoln castle, which stands directly opposite. The castle itself is charming, full of tidy lawns, well-behaved visitors, frolicking families and the remnants of an Eleanor Cross. Happy, clean, virtuous.

And yet horror lurks within this picture-postcard setting. Inside the ivy-clad Shire Hall, judges often handed out the final punishment: death by hanging. The condemned were taken to Cobb Hall on the north side, where the iron fixings of the gallows can still be seen firmly attached to the walls.

The corpses were then buried in the Lucy Tower on the other side of the castle, which to me is one of the saddest places in Britain - the kind sought out by PD James, Ruth Rendell and Colin Dexter. The rows of graves are an eternal reminder of the consquences of "crime and punishment".

Small consolation, I know, but I for one would be happy if my final view of this earth was of Lincoln cathedral.

Lincoln Castle is open to the public daily from April to October; between November and March, from Monday to Saturday.