Walking through the streets of Lincoln, is like stepping back in time. Cobbled medieval streets, charming half timbered buildings, the magnificent 12th century Gothic cathedral and the 11th century castle all surrounded by historic city gates. The city is beautiful and is compact enough to explore easily on foot. To add to this there are plenty of unique independent shops, plus quaint tea rooms, coffee shops and restaurants when you need to refuel.
A Brief History
You can see the evidence all around you as you wander round Lincoln of the city’s heritage. Lincoln gets its name from the earliest settlement which was around the Brayford Waterfront area in the Iron Age. The original name given to the city was Lindon which came from the word Lindo meaning, the lake or pool.
The Romans settled in Lincoln in around AD 50, building a fortress where the castle now stands. Lindon then became Lindum Colonia. The city rivalled London in importance at the time. You can still see evidence of the old city walls today. After his successful invasion of England, William the Conqueror ordered the building of a castle on the site of the Roman fortress which was followed by the building of the cathedral. In Medieval times, Lincoln was one of the wealthiest towns in England and was the third largest city.
How long should I stay?
Tight on time? Spend a day exploring. The city is very compact and you will be able to see the key sights in one day.
Plenty of time? A weekend here means that you can take your time exploring and make the most of the many wonderful places to eat and drink.
Oh no, it is raining! Don’t panic. You can stay dry in the cathedral and in the Victorian prison and Magna Carta vault in the castle. There are lots of independent shops up Steep Hill and in the Bailgate area, along with a wealth of coffee shops, tea rooms, pubs and restaurants. You can also visit The Collection, an award winning museum of archaeology and The Usher Gallery which is right next door.
It is very easy to explore Lincoln on foot, even with Steep Hill to navigate! There is a hop on hop off bus if you would prefer.
Where to Stay
There are plenty of places to stay in the cathedral quarter, or if arriving by train it might be more convenient to stay on Brayford Waterfront which saves trundling luggage up Steep Hill! The water front is England’s oldest inland Harbour and there is a range of places to eat, drink and stay nearby.
What to do: Ten things to see in Lincoln
Once you reach the Cathedral Quarter, you can’t miss the beautiful half-timbered, 16th century house which is now the visitor information centre. Pop inside this former Tudor merchant’s house and buy a joint ticket for the Cathedral and the Castle. The great thing about the ticket, is that you don’t have to visit both attractions on the same day. If you are here for a couple of days, you can spread out your visit. Equally useful to know though, is that you can visit the Cathedral twice with your ticket. I had a long visit on one day and then popped in for a shorter whizz round on the second. When visiting the Castle, the grounds themselves are free which means you can go in and have a wander at any time. On a sunny day, it is a lovely spot for a picnic.
1. The Cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral is described as one of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings. It was first built in the 11th century during the reign of William the conqueror. At the time of its consecration, Lincoln Cathedral was the head of the largest diocese in England – extending from the Humber to the Thames. During the 14th century, the central tower was replaced and a wooden spire was added, making Lincoln the tallest building in the world for over 200 years! However in 1548, a raging storm caused the spire to collapse, so this honour was gone.
The cathedral is currently undergoing renovations after receiving money from the Heritage Lottery Fund, so I will have to return at some point in the future to see it without the scaffolding all around. It is a beautiful building which is worth visiting and I would recommend taking a guided tour while you are there. Look out for the stone carving of the Lincoln imp, you may need to ask someone to point him out! Legend has it that he was causing mischief in the cathedral and an angel appeared and asked him to stop. Instead of stopping, he threw rocks at the angel, so he was turned to stone as a punishment.
2. The Castle
I loved the Castle. As I mentioned earlier, you can wander into the grounds for free and find a place to sit on a sunny day. There is also a cafe. However, an entry ticket means that you can also explore the medieval walls, the Magna Carta Exhibition and the Victorian Prison – three great attractions for the price of one! The castle complex also houses Lincoln Crown Court in an impressive looking building (not open to visitors!).
The castle was built on a site occupied since Roman times, by William the Conqueror, after his victory at the Battle of Hastings in 1066. You can have a guided tour of the courtyard, or bailey, of the castle.
3. Medieval Wall Walk
A highlight for me was definitely the wall walk. You can walk the full circumference of the wall around Lincoln Castle, with stunning views of Lincoln as you go around. Either climb a spiral staircase, or get the lift to the top. An audio guide can be collected at the bottom for more information as you go around. As well as the amazing views, you will also see where the public hangings took place at Cobb Hall, the burial ground in Lucy Tower and you can climb even higher to go up the Observatory Tower from which one of the gaol keepers, in the 1800’s, enjoyed gazing at the stars through his telescope.
4. The Magna Carta Vault
One of only four original copies of the Magna Carta, dating back to 1215, reside at Lincoln Castle in a state of the art vault. I enjoyed learning more about the Magna Carta in the underground cinema alongside the vault which told the story of King John, the barons and the birth of the Great Charter as well as explaining the significance of how this document shaped society as we know it today.
5. The Georgian and Victorian Prison
The prison was fascinating to visit. The red-brick Georgian gaol was built in 1788 to hold both felons and debtors. In 1848, a new Victorian prison wing was constructed as a ‘holding’ centre for short term prisoners awaiting trial at the courthouse. Men, women and children as young as eight were held here from 1848 to 1878 for crimes ranging from stealing a waistcoat and Bible, to highway robbery and murder.
There are two wings (male and female) and three floors of cells to explore. The female wing houses an archaeology exhibition. The cells contain many interactive and hands-on activities, so that you can experience life as a prisoner and learn about individual prisoner’s stories as well as learn more about the roles and responsibilities of those who worked there.
Don’t miss the prison chapel which is a ‘separate system’ chapel and the only original one left in the world. Each prisoner had their own separate stall in a regime that believed prisoners should be kept apart from the corrupting influence of their fellow inmates. The Victorians believed that this would encourage them to reflect and repent, and more importantly to reform. I walked in from the back and made my way up to the pulpit where the chaplain would have stood and had the fright of my life! There were figures standing in the stalls. They turned out to be just models of prisoners, but were really realistic at first glance!
6. Steep Hill
So – you have had your fill of the Cathedral Quarter, but have you climbed Steep Hill yet? Ok, so the clue is definitely in the title – it is steep. In fact it is England’s fourth steepest street. It was originally built by the Romans and at that time was lined with steps. It connects the historic cathedral quarter to the modern city centre.
I watched many people struggle up that hill. Not a good one for prams or mobility scooters. The first time I climbed it, I stopped so many times to take photos, that I didn’t notice quite how steep it was. The subsequent times though… each climb seemed a bit harder! All that said though, you cannot visit Lincoln and not go there. It is a very pretty street with plenty of independent shops and cafes to stop in if you need a break!
Half way up Steep Hill, you will find the marvellous Bunty’s Tea Room, a family run vintage tea room with the friendliest staff and the most delicious scones and cakes!
7. The Crooked House
There are lots of lovely historic buildings as you walk up Steep Hill. Look out for the half timbered Harlequin which was originally a public house and has also been used as a bookshop, Norman House which is now home to a specialist tea shop and Jew’s House which is now a restaurant. My favourite I think, is the Crooked House on Michaelgate (a road which is just as steep as Steep Hill!). It was due for demolition in 1935, but was saved when the Lincoln Corporation bought and renovated it. Since then it has become a National Trust holiday home.
If you walk down to the bottom of Michaelgate, you will come across the magnificent Cheese Society which is a family run cheese shop and cheese cafe (what’s not to like!) the cafe is small and friendly, only seating 12 people. I enjoyed a very tasty raclette there: new potatoes coated in melted raclette cheese and served with serrano ham and pickled red onion.
Once you have had your fill of history, it might be time for a spot of shopping. Just round the corner from the Visitor’s Centre, is Bailgate which is a lovely shopping area lined with independent traders. The cobbled streets are home to boutiques, craft shops, tea rooms and restaurants and are the perfect place to find traditional Lincolnshire produce such as plum cake, cheese or sausages.
9. Ellis’ Mill
When I walked around the medieval castle walls, I spotted a windmill in the distance. I was intrigued and did some research to see if I could visit as I do love a windmill! The windmill itself is closed to the public currently, but there was nothing to stop me having a look, so Google map in hand, off I went. It was hard to imagine how I was going to find a windmill among the residential streets I was walking through. But there, down the aptly titled Mill Road, I could see that there was a gap between the houses. Anticipation built… and there it was, the beautiful windmill!
Apparently, there were once nine windmills here of which Ellis’ Mill is the sole survivor, dating from 1798. It was renovated in the 1980’s and was once more grinding flour but the website now simply says it is, ‘closed for the foreseeable future.’ I still thought it was worth the ten minute walk to go and see.
10. Museum of Lincolnshire Life
The windmill is very close to the Museum of Lincolnshire life and this was well worth a visit. The museum reflects and celebrates the culture of Lincolnshire and its people from 1750 to the present day with exhibits that cover aspects of commercial, domestic, agricultural, industrial and community life. I loved wandering through the recreated shop and house interiors which give a fascinating glimpse into life in the past. There is also a replica Victorian school room where some children were happily role playing school life. The little boy playing the part of the strict school master was enjoying himself a little too much!
Lincoln was the birthplace of the tank which was first designed and made here. Only a handful of tanks survived the Great War, one of them being a tank named ‘Daphne’ which is on display here at the museum.