Walking: Flat maybe, but boring? Never: Paul Gosling visits Lincolnshire in bloom

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The Independent Culture
A GROUP of 10 of us who last year travelled together to Central America decided to spend a weekend walking in Lincolnshire. We stayed in Thurlby, just south of Bourne, renting a youth hostel - an attractive Victorian house attached to a 15th-century forge.

Fortuitously, our main walk coincided with the first dry day of spring. Grasping the county council's leaflets on local walks, we went north from Thurlby village, following a path that took us away from the main streets, towards the adjoining village of Northorpe.

The footpath out of Northorpe clearly signalled that we should cross a private garden, with neatly manicured lawns and colourful flower beds. The rest of the group hung back on the pavement, while I marched straight in, feigning self- assurance.

I was relieved to see a style at the back of the garden, and the faint markings of a path going across the lawn towards it. The householder was picking daffodils to my left, so I struck up conversation to ensure that I was not trespassing.

The elderly woman was very cheery, giving the rest of the group the confidence to follow me. She explained that when she and her husband had bought neighbouring farmland to expand their garden, they were unaware of an unused ancient right of way which crossed the farm.

It was only recently, now that walking has become a fashionable leisure activity, that the footpath has become waymarked, leading scores of people to trample on their beautifully tended garden.

She explained that there was nothing they could do to fight the hordes, so they just have to accept it with good grace, and enjoy passing the time of day with uninvited guests such as ourselves.

After crossing a ploughed field, our path ran alongside Math Wood, before another took us into it. The wood was enchanting. In parts, the entire floor was carpeted by dainty white wood anemones, broken up by the occasional violet, primrose and celandine. There were large clusters of bluebells, with just a few in flower.

We wandered backwards and forwards astonished by the beauty of the flowers, looking at the footprints of deer, and then sitting on a fallen tree to eat our picnic.

Eventually we left Math Wood, and followed a track - the former rail line - heading towards Bourne. We passed an equestrian centre on our left, before our path ran alongside large spoil-banks from a railway cutting built in 1860. Even the cutting has now returned to nature, the line having closed over 40 years ago.

Our first sight of Bourne was the attractive Red Hall, a recently restored 17th-century mansion, made, of course, out of red brick. At one time it was used as the railway's station house.

The path passed a large pond, overhung by a series of willows, before going under an old mill. The pond was probably artificially created to act as a mill race, and may date from the 12th-century Augustinian priory, in which Robert Manning created the basis of the modern English language.

We stopped for coffees and cakes at the town's tea shop, and then the group split into two - those who wanted to go back directly, and those who wanted to head into Bourne Wood. Unfortunately, Bourne Wood proved a disappointment after the joys of the smaller wood. It is Forestry Commission land, with wide paths, lots of bicycles, people and dogs, and a mixture of conifers and coppiced broad-leaf trees. It was not worth the trek through Bourne's suburbia.

We stayed only a short time, before returning on the main road into Bourne, at least able to admire the large Victorian houses. My four companions went into a pub for afternoon drinks, before they split again, into two groups, for their return.

I continued on my own, determined to enjoy the bright afternoon sunshine. I returned to Thurlby by way of Car Dyke, a narrow waterway described on the map as Roman, but which some historians suggest may have been built later. It links the river Nene at Peterborough with the river Witham near Lincoln, a distance of nearly 60 miles. It probably carried small boats, while also acting as land drainage.

Locals told us that during the Roman period the dyke marked the edge of proper land - beyond it was just marshland, and then sea. The county's archivists disagree, saying that the Fens have been dry land for thousands of years.

Indisputably, the dyke today marks the start of the Fens, some of the most fertile agricultural land in the country. To its west begins the limestone uplands, of entirely different character.

Car Dyke touches the edge of Thurlby village, where St Fermin church is sited. I associate St Fermin with Pamplona, and the running of the bulls, but there are two churches in Britain (the other is in Buckinghamshire) which respect the saint's memory in a more dignified way.

I then crossed the A15, the Roman King Street, and returned to the hostel for a nice cup of tea. Cynics say that Lincolnshire is too flat and boring for good walking, but they are wrong. Walking there can certainly be a delight.

(Photograph omitted)

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