The Stephen Langton Trail is a newly devised walking route celebrating 800 years since the sealing of the Magna Carta. The 16.5 mile trail takes walkers from Langton-by-Wragby into Lincoln itself. I’ll let you read about the history over on the Visit Lincoln page dedicated to it, this post is all about the walking.
Langton-by-Wragby a beautiful little Lincolnshire village to one side of the A158 with its church and moated manor house and farmland. The walk begins at St Giles Church, where I was dropped off for my solo trek back into the city. I was taken with the beauty of the tiny little village, and hung around to take a few snaps before heading along the farm track out of the village in the general direction of Lincoln.
Within the first two miles I’d already been on country lane, farm track, woodland path, across meadow and through a field of horses. It was sometimes hard to believe that I was only a handful of miles away from big villages and large towns; I walked the whole of the first section without seeing another soul, and at times could see no red brick buildings at all – just the odd barn or rickety old shed, and often not even that. If it wasn’t for the sound of vehicles humming along the main Lincoln to Skegness road it would have been completely peaceful. Just me, my map, and my own thoughts for company.
From Langton and all those different trail types, the route just about touches the bottom of Wragby before heading back south towards Little Langley. At this point you walk along a country road, quite a busy one – there’s a nice big grassy verge on one side to keep you out of the way of oncoming traffic. Remember, the Highway Code tells us to walk on the right, facing oncoming traffic. From there it’s back across farmland and meadow and to Thistle Storr Wood, which is a stunning remnant of the Lincolnshire Limewoods that feels quite thick when you’re in the middle of it despite not being more than a few metres wide. There has been some planting going on here, which is good to see, in a few years this area of woodland will be more than a coppice in the middle of fields which will be great for the wildlife that must make their home here.
Walking through the little hamlet of Apley, an absolutely gorgeous settlement with its mortuary chapel-turned church (and nice bench for a sandwich stop) was a definite break from the woodland and farmland I’d been used to until now. People were out pruning their flower beds and washing their cars, and didn’t bat an eyelid at this walker stomping her way along the road. After a bit more country lane, lovely and quiet this time, the trail picks up the Viking Way, and heads towards more of the Lincolnshire Limewoods.
Hardy Gang Wood forms part of the Bardney Limewoods National Nature Reserve, as do a lot of the woodland areas around this area. As a Site of Special Scientific Interest the woodland is well protected by law – apparently woodland areas such as this would have been here thousands of years ago, and managed as coppice at least since the 11th Century; Stephen Langton would have known these woods and maybe even walked through them.
As I rambled along I knew this was unmistakably Lincolnshire. The fields were colourful with bright yellow Rapeseed, gardens were covered in well-kept daffodils, and the woodland had a blanket of lush green fern with tufts of bluebell. The air was full of pollen and the smells of farming (mostly good!), and the skies speckled with varied bird species making their different noises to accompany my footsteps. The forever changing landscape that is Lincolnshire always offers the walker something nice to look at and the perfect subject for many landscape pictures with our world-famous big skies. Who needs mountains?! While on the subject of big skies, I was treated to my own personal fly past from the BBMF Lancaster Bomber as I neared Barlings Abbey, low and loud, an awesome sight and sound that will never fail to make me stop and look up.
The remains of Barlings Abbey was the home to Premonstratensian monks back in 1154, and so would have been there at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta. I’m told it would have been 300 feet in length and 180 feet high, which when you consider there is only 30-or-so feet of it remaining means it was once a rather impressive sight. Despite there only being a very small part of the ancient building still standing, what is there is striking, and there is lots of detail that has stood the test of time. I didn’t even know this was here until I saw it on the route; it’s always good to discover something new and be introduced to a bit more of Lincolnshire’s history.
From there it’s more trails across farmland and through woodland towards Fiskerton. As you arrive on the outskirts of the village at the old airfield there is a strange but rather lovely juxtaposition of old and new as the nodding donkeys drilling for oil are surrounded by a new solar power farm. The hum of traffic I’d had in the background for the majority of the walk were accompanied by the sound of industry; but thankfully still not enough to overpower the tweets of the birds and rustling of the leaves. It was along this stretch of footpath that I met some other people walking – it seems a popular route for dog walkers and I don’t blame them one bit, it was lovely.
In Fiskerton the trail takes you down to Five Miles Bridge and onto the river bank, following another section of the Viking Way. Terrain wise, this section of the route is possibly the hardest. The path on this side of the River Witham is uneven and well modified by various digging animals. Nothing that ankles inside walking boots can’t cope with, but it might easily get muddy on a less beautiful day and become hard going. I had to give at least two nesting swans and a family of geese a wide birth (thankfully they didn’t seem bothered by my presence, but you never know!). It’s such a nice area, though, with views of the Cathedral in the distance, and a lot of wildlife going about its daily business at home, there is plenty to keep the eyes busy as you walk what is essentially a straight line towards the city of Lincoln. I could see lots of people enjoying the Water Railway path on the other side of the river on foot and on bikes, I admit I smiled to myself wondering how many were planning to go the whole way to Boston. For the most part you have water on both sides, and with the bank being a little higher than the flat surroundings it got a bit windy along that two mile stretch; I felt myself leaning into the wind and holding onto my hat most of the time.
I don’t know how you feel about cows, but I can tell you that a field housing 50 or so adult cows with their calves is not somewhere you want to be for long. As I headed up the track from the River Witham towards Greetwell Hall, possibly one of the finest countryside views of the day, I walked through a gate with a “cattle with calves, be careful” sign on it. No problem; all hikers see these a lot at this time of year, and I’d seen a fair few already along the route so far. As I skirted around the top of Greetwell Church there they all were, stood together, facing me as if they had anticipated my arrival. Looking at my route they were exactly where I needed to walk (naturally), but of course it would have been a bit silly to part them like the Red Sea, so I continued along on the track and headed around the very edge of the meadow giving them as wide a berth as I could. As I got to the fence and started to walk along it, heading towards the next field, I was all too aware that I was being watched. The cows and their babies had all turned around to face me and had in fact started to move forward. They followed me, en mass, as I headed (rather speedily I have to say) to the next field. A bit of a surreal moment; I’m not sure if they were just interested in my bright red fleece top (I’m sure red rag to a bull was busted by Mythbusters) or were escorting me from their patch. Either way, I decided not to stop under the most beautiful oak tree for a rest, not a chance!
The last bit of countryside walking on the trail takes you alongside the railway line, before crossing it (careful!) and skirting around one last field before entering Lincoln itself through the back end of a large industrial estate. Definitely none of the beautiful isolated countryside I’d grown accustomed to for the last couple of miles; wandering through the industrial estate, residential streets, behind the hospital, and through the Arboretum in hiking boots and carrying my day sack did make me stick out somewhat. You arrive at the Cathedral from Pottergate, with the trail officially ending in Castle Square; where you can choose to go and see the Magna Carta for real inside the new vault in Lincoln Castle (fee applies), or do what I did and enjoy the cobbled streets and stonework of the uphill area of the city with some iced tea and a bag of crisps before running down Steep Hill to catch the bus home.
The Stephen Langton Trail makes for a perfect day hike here in the county of Lincolnshire. The rural setting will have you see views you won’t get anywhere else, and is a nice varied low level trail that will keep you entertained. While it’s not way-marked as the Stephen Langton Trail (yet), the footpaths are all well-trodden and marked with familiar signage, and it is easy to follow with the route guide in combination with OS Explorer Maps 273 and 272. The 16.5 miles took me just shy of six hours, and as it was primarily through rural countryside with no shops en route, I carried everything I needed for the day in my pack.
To download the handy route guide head over to the Visit Lincoln page on the walk.