Tuesday, 3 January 2012


A sublimely happy, prosperous, productive, creative and exhilarating New Year to you!
May your boiled potatoes never degenerate to a mush; may your roses remain black-spot-free and let's  hope your carrots will run straight and true next summer.

Now then.  I'm afraid I have to deliver a raspberry to certain folk, out there, who have been extremely rude about Lincolnshire, the county in which I'm proud and delighted to live.

Land near Thurlby, Lincolsnhire - An example of atrocious fenland landscape which offends so many sensitive eyes.  Note the rotting cabbages, abandoned car wrecks and chemical-mad farming practices.

It began with a Twitterstorm of rudenesses including such comments as 'Does the whole of Lincolnshire smell of rotting cabbage?'   There were unkind references to people getting depressed, as soon as they saw the landscape and even unkind comparisons made with Holland which, one twitterbug asserted, induced similar feelings of misery.

I've no intention of being rude about Holland – a country which I love to visit, whose horticulture is second to none and whose history is long and distinguished.  But I would like to correct those who, out of ignorance and a rather limited experience, are unkind about my particular corner of England.

May I begin with a little list?

Isaac Newton (maths)
Joseph Banks (botany)
Matthew Flinders (Australia)
Alfred Lord Tennyson (pomes)
John Harrison (chronometers)
John and Charles Wesley (Methodism/Hymns)
Henry the Fourth (King of England who nobbled Richard the Second)
Jennifer Saunders
Jim Broadbent
Dame Joan Plowright
Margaret Thatcher (politician)
Neville Marriner (conductor)
Malcolm Sargent aka 'Flash Harry' (conductor)
Nicholas Parsons (ancient broadcaster)
William Cecil - Lord Burghley (counsellor to Elizabeth 1)

These are just a few notable people who originated from Lincolnshire.  For a county with a reputation, according to some, for inbreeding, Lincolnshire seems to have produced a lively quiverful of notables.

And now, I'd like to smash two seriously wrong, but widely held beliefs:

The first is that Lincolnshire is flat.  This is nonsense.   A sizeable proportion – the southern third – of this huge county is undoubtedly flat.  But much of the remainder is gently rolling, with a high proportion of woodland, pasture and some fine rivers.  And if you travel northwards, into the Lincolnshire Wolds, the landscape becomes distinctly hilly.

The second fallacy is that flat landscapes are ugly, depressing, featureless, boring and undesirable.  This is a pernicious misconception and can lead to disastrous planning decisions.  Flat, fen landscapes can be more beautiful than the Alps, more pastoral than the Sussex Downs and are far more bio-diverse than, say, the Yorkshire Dales or the Lake District.

Fen landscapes are dynamic, with wonderfully dramatic skies, multiple reflections from lying water, subtly changing colours and intriguing lines.  The blend of manmade patterns - networks of dykes, patchworks of partly worked land, differing crops - makes a moving harmony with with the natural elements of sky, water and light.

The Dutch Landscape paintings of artists like Ruisdael, Avercamp and Cuyp capture these dynamics perfectly.

There's no question that a puckered or folded topography has its own, widely recognised beauty.  But rudeness about flatness comes from prejudice, rather than careful observation.

I think part of this prejudice stems from the dismal state of the land which borders some of Lincolnshire's main trunk roads.  The drive from Spalding to Kings Lynn, for example, can induce a suicidal impulse - especially on a drizzly day.

Ugly pack houses, light industry, filling stations and hideous ribbon development disfigure the area in all directions.  Yet even round there, within a short ride of such curiously named but unpretty places as Saracen's Head, Tongue End, Pode Hole, Whaplode and Cowbit, there are examples of bird-rich wetland, fascinating washes and, in the older communities, interesting architecture.

Stamford, at Lincolnshire's south western end, is one of Britain's finest limestone towns with much of its architecture still unspoilt.  Lincoln itself has a 12th century cathedral which compares favourably with York and is imposingly set, atop the steep hill round which the city is built.

Other Lincs places dear to my heart include the Grimsthorpe estate (Vanbrugh; Lancelot Brown) where Duke of Burgundy butterflies breed; the limestone region north of Stamford, where pyramidal orchids, rock roses and other jazzy wildflowers make the road verges brighter than gardens; the desolate salt marshes which border the Wash, east of Boston - the original Boston, that is, not the repro one in Massachusetts; and Grantham, where Richard the Third once slept, and which really does have a police-friendly road called Letsby Avenue.

 Two shots of Crocus imperati which flowered in our garden in late December 2011.

I'm listening to rain and wind lashing my window.

I have been watching the latest BBC adaptation of  Great Expectations.  Being a Dickens lover, I had looked forward to it with eager anticipation.  What a disappointment!  What had been a rattling good yarn, full of wry humour and warm relationships – as well as cruelty, betrayal and revenge – was transformed into a dreary, humourless drama.  Gillian Anderson was a good Miss Havisham, and I didn't have a problem with her being so young.  But the other characters were rinsed out and spun dried until they became little more than wallpaper.  And what on earth was the idea in making Pip look like a some sort of a gay pin-up?  As for Messrs Wemmick and Drummle – don't get me started!

Happy Epiphany!


  1. I'm amazed - Lincolnshire has bred even more famous people than Belgium! Also when you say it is not flat.. if you have been bought up in Wales (which has proper scenery) then even the 'hilly' bits will appear flat. However you have convinced me that the county needs a visit from the Socks. Shall we pop in for tea?

  2. Nigel, you are a legend for defending our beautiful, lightly populated county. Our garden features steep terraces and architecture to make glos. folk jealous all in beautiful limestone. Grimsthorpe is also a remarkable hidden nationally important site as you say. Hope we are honoured with a Sock visit this year

  3. As one who lives in a ruckled up landscape it is annoying to have to go a further 1000 feet up if I want to see the real sunrise or sunset!!
    On the other hand when I head for the flatter bits one does feel a vague sense of unease that the backdrop is missing!

    Nastily windy and extremely wet here

  4. Give me flat over ruckled up any - well - most days. As one who has lived in Denmark most her life and now in Switzerland for the last 15, I dearly miss the wide open spaces, the huge sky, that one can actually look further than a couple of miles without having some hill or mountain in the way.

  5. I find flat difficult. We were to have spent a night in Lincolnshire during our summer holiday but, in the event, were so overwhelmed by rain we gave it a miss - which means I cannot comment. But I did spend a week in Huntingdonshire once - in a very flat landscape where I felt exposed and observed even though the population is that of semi-desert. I prefer dipped lanes between high hedges - the only flat I really feel comfortable with is the sea. It's good that as long as we can choose where we live (which is not always) this country offers a nice range of landscapes from which we can take our pick.

  6. As the daughter of a native yellow belly I find Lincolnshire to be the exception to my prejudices concerning East Anglia - partly because of my nan's Lincolnshire accent which I loved as a child.

    However, comparisons with Holland are inevitable when the area around Spalding contains Holland in its nickname and is also rather famous for bulbs ;)

    And you forgot to mention Boston's Stump!

  7. When my brother left Lincolnshire and travelled on a train through undulating landscape for the first time he got very travel sick, and suffered a strange panic that he was "going to be eaten by a hill". Neither of us realised that hilly landscape moves and changes as you travel through it! Treacherous stuff. Give me the Fens any day.

  8. I lived in the Wolds for a few years, and the many vehicles trapped on the hill that passed our lane testified to the steepness of some of the roads - school runs meant flatlands in one direction and mountaineering in the other. There are also lots of little hidden thatched villages that no-one ever gets to see - Bolingbroke castle, near Mavis Enderby (delightful names in Lincs!) and Winceby (famous battle), Harrington Hall where Tennyson wrote 'Come into the Garden, Maud' for a daughter of the house - it's very beautiful. However, like many counties, you need to get off the beaten track and the A15, A17 and the A16 deserve to be beaten. They are dreadful.

    Have you been to Gunby Hall? It had a beautiful garden when I last visited, some 8 years ago.

  9. I have been to Spalding.

    'Nuff said.