I have resolved to try and visit at least some of the UK before leaving it (for the second time). When a promotional e-mail on train ticket sales landed on my inbox I could therefore only assume it was fate, guiding me to the cheapest available destination .
I picked Lincoln without giving it much thought, as it has both a cathedral and a castle (what more do you need?) and it is less than two hours away from London. I was also travelling first class on the way back, so I was looking forward to pretending I actually have money.
It turns out that one of my colleagues used to be a tutor in Lincoln university and he reminded me that another colleague actually lived in Lincoln so I arranged to meet her.
The day before I passed by King’s Cross and asked to reserve a place for my bike. Then I realised the bike tickets would only get me so far and I spent the night stressing out trying to decide if I was taking my bike or not. I still don’t really understand what the deal with the bike tickets was, the final station on my ticket was Lincoln but the final station on the bike reservation ticket was a place an hour away.
By the morning I had decided to just a rent a bike there if possible- two days were not enough to cater for transportation mishaps. As soon as I got out of the house I realised the weather was not going to do me any favours. As soon as the train started moving the first snowflakes started to fall.
By the time I was in Lincoln it was snowing heavily, to the point where it was getting hard to see ahead -not because the visibility was reduced but because the snow was getting into my eyes. It is pretty easy to find your way to the historical center from the train station, provided you can actually see. There are street signs (recently raised, I was told) pointing to any places of cultural interest.
My plan was to visit as much as I could on the first day so on the second one I could mostly just relax before the journey home. I headed up to the cathedral from the main commercial street which is called High Street. High Street leads up to the aptly called Steep Hill, a picturesque cobbled road lined with tea rooms and sweet shops. The path leads to a square where a small market of local products stood on the day despite the snow fall.
I headed to the cathedral first, which is undoubtedly the most imposing building around, towering above the entire city. It was visible as I was walking up the hill but I didn’t fully grasp the scale of it until I was standing right before it. When it was built it was in fact the tallest building in the world. As I walked under it, looking up to the rows of sculpted heads by the front door I had the feeling I was entering some Egyptian tomb, rather than an English cathedral.
To visit the cathedral you need to buy a ticket, which is valid for 6 months. There is a joint ticket on offer which grants access to the cathedral and the castle. It’s around 17 quid and can be used twice within a certain time period. The interior of the cathedral is equally impressive: the ceiling is supported by imposing pillars some of which are darker in colour. Decorating the outer walls are enormous stained-glass windows, filtering the daylight from outside; Their vibrant colours are in stark contrast to the rest of the cathedral, which is built primarily out of limestone.
St.Hugh’s choir is a separate area located after the nave towards the back of the cathedral. From the stalls to the organ fittings, it is carved in its entirety out of dark wood. Before entering the corridors leading to the choir one has the chance to admire the intricately decorated choir screen, an impressive work of medieval masonry.
Unfortunately the library was closed when I visited but I had a quick look at the cloisters and almost missed the Chapter house until I heard music coming from behind a heavy wooden door. The Chapter house is a circular building with one big pillar in the middle, that looks as if it spouted from the ground and then grew to reach the vaulted ceiling. There was a piano behind the pillar and a few seats facing the piano. A man was playing a soft melody on the piano but he had no audience save for a couple of tourists that were having a look around the building.
On the walls around me I noticed paintings were mounted and as I inspected them I found out it was an exhibition by Stephen G. Bird; Each painting was a visual narration of Biblical stories in a modern setting. I found the concept and the style of the paintings very engaging and spent quite some time walking around the Chapter house admiring them and reading about the stories that inspired them.
While I was walking around the cathedral my colleague texted me to keep an eye out for the Lincoln imp, a sculpted figure on one of the columns where the Angel Choir is. Being not-so-eagle-eyed, I had to enquire at the information office and the lady there pointed me to the exact location. The imp is the symbol of the city of Lincoln; According to a local legend it was a mischievous demon who was turned into stone by an angel after wreaking havoc around the Cathedral.
Next up was Lincoln castle, which I expected to be the usual sturdy but plain medieval castle commonly found in the UK. I had no idea it had been used as a prison during the Victorian era or that it housed a copy of the Magna Carta.
As I got my ticket I was informed a tour was starting shortly and I decided to join. I didn’t realise the entirety of tour was taking place outside ( in the blizzard) even though the tour guide actually warned us. We walked around the bailey and the tour guide talked about the history of the fortifications, the castle’s particular architectural elements and the Victorian prison system. We took cover whenever we could and even slipped inside one of the offices and stayed there for a few minutes to warm up.
I wish I remembered our guide’s name because he is an actual hero, soldiering on despite the awful weather and maintaining his energy and good humour all the way through. When we started the tour we were about 15 people but by the end of it we had lost more than half.
Here are some interesting facts (that I can still remember) about Lincoln Castle:
The Separate system
The newer part of the prison was designed according to the separate system, which is something straight out of Gothic Victorian tales-except real. The separate system was a concept of prison discipline that emerged on the 18th century as a byproduct of an effort to reform the prison system. The main idea behind it was that interaction between inmates encouraged bad behaviour and was counter-productive to their reformation. Instead prisoners were encouraged to focus their efforts on spiritual development through prayer and penance.
The prisoners were kept in solitary confinement for months. They were fitted with leather masks whenever they were taken out of their cells and even worse padded shoes so that their footsteps wouldn’t be heard. The prison Chapel in Lincoln is a very clear expression of this concept: the stalls are fitted with separations which ensure the absence of communication between inmates during worship.
Of course, as our tour guide pointed out, the separate system was promptly abandoned simply because people inevitably went bonkers after a while. The guards weren’t too fond of it either.
The Long drop
This one is for all the execution enthusiasts out there (go see a therapist). Back in the day when murder was a valid punishment, the whole execution thing was a very messy business apparently. Hanging caused death by strangulation and it would take more than a few minutes before the victim was finally dead. It caused a painful death and made for a distressing display to the crowds. William Marwood, a man from Lincoln was the first person to introduce the Long Drop. Even though he was not in the murdering-people business he developed and demonstrated a more humane way of conducting executions; the Long Drop method suggested that the height of the drop was tailored to the height and weight of each prisoner. The extended fall would result in the fracture of the spinal column at the neck, killing the victim in seconds (and even decapitating them in some cases).
The Mottes and Bailey
The Motte and Bailey castle is a widely adopted design in the UK, first introduced by the Normans. The motte is a natural or artificial mound, and the bailey is an enclosed courtyard. On top of the motte a wooden or stone structure is built, the keep. Lincoln castle is unusual in that it has two mottes instead of one. That’s right, I can now tell my future children that I have visited a two-motte castle.
The Magna Carta
The Magna Carta, ‘the Great Charter’ needs no introduction. It is one of the most famous documents in the world; signed during a period of political turmoil, it was essentially a peace treaty between the king and the barons who had rebelled against him. The document ensures that the king is subject to the law along with all his subjects and secures the right to a fair trial for the people. It is a highly influential document and three of the clauses in the Magna Carta are still part of the English law.
The Forest Charter was a supplementary document to the Magna Carta which dealt with the regulation of penalties imposed by the king on offences within the territories that were considered part of the Royal Forest. If any of this sounds familiar it’s probably because king John, who signed the Magna Carta, is the baddie from Robin Hood. Lincoln Castle is the only place where you can see an original Magna Carta alongside a version of the Forest Charter. The documents are kept in the vault where a film relating the history of the documents is projected. The film wasn’t available while I was there. You can also see a chain mail shirt down in the vault, but I honestly can’t remember its relevance.
There is one thing I didn’t visit in Lincoln Castle: the fortifications. It just didn’t seem appealing to climb somewhere up high and walk around in that weather. Instead I headed off to the square and bought some fudge from the first shop I found- which I highly recommend. I met my colleague for coffee and cake in a vegan tea room which is quite high up on steep hill. It was very cosy inside and they had different varieties of coffee in the menu, which made me very happy. After the coffee I headed off to find my accommodation for the night, which I really need to describe in detail on another post.