Modern Traveller took a day trip to this hillside city of northern delight.
Our calves cry out for a rest as the cobbles under foot offer barely sufficient purchase to complete the climb in one piece.
Younger visitors stride past us as we take a break outside the blue-framed windows of Forty Four, admiring its wondrous wares – and enjoying the respite it offers from the apparently endless ascent.
There is, it seems, a reason they call it Steep Hill. Stretching 420m, from The Strait at the bottom up to Bailgate at the top, this lane lined with shops aplenty is a truly inclined affair.
Thankfully, the parade of age-old architecture more than makes the climb worthwhile: from wooden window boxes overhanging the path to timber-framed buildings straight out of Shakespeare, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was part of a theme park.
Even the bunting, stretched from wall to wall above the stones, lends the passage an air of pomp. Passing bookshops full to the rafters with ancient tomes and gift shops gleaming in the sun, one can’t help but smile, imagining a horse and cart heaving up the hill, passing along this street no wider today than it was back then.
Ducking into any of the pastel-painted boutiques is sure to reward the wandering traveller with some secret or surprise and, for us, it was BookStop Café. Nestled in the cellar beneath Imperial Teas of Lincoln – whose produce one can sample in the café – it would be oh-so-easy to while away the day in here, cosy on a sofa with a book in hand.
For this is the kind of café that encourages relaxation. Choose a book, read it; leave a bookmark and come back in a week; or buy one and exchange it on your return, if you like. According to the owner, it’s not about profit, but pleasure.
Once we’ve had our fill of page-turning, tea and scrumptious cake, it’s onwards, towards the treats atop the hill: Lincoln Cathedral, and its neighbouring Norman castle.
Stepping through Exchequer Gate, beside the Magna Carta pub – so named because of the original 1215 document sealed in Lincoln and possible to visit in the city to this day – the magnificently imposing Cathedral rises up in front of us, its three towers reaching for the clear blue sky.
Before we venture inside, we take a stroll around the picturesque Minster Yard, home to brick-built town houses of true beauty and, among other things, the medieval bishops’ palace, formerly one of the country’s most important buildings, as a seat of great wealth and power.
Wandering through its stone carcass, shorn-off pillars still standing as if in respect for their former glory, one is gifted a striking contrast between the palace and the Cathedral towering behind it, of past, present and future.
Then, it’s into the Cathedral itself. This huge, gothic creation is a wonder to behold, as light cascades through metres-tall windows, the vast ceiling arching above from thick pillars as one wanders from nave to cloister, reflecting in the hushed awe that pervades this powerful space.
Truly, it’s a creation of such majesty that must be seen and, stepping back into the sunlight and looking out across the fields of Lincolnshire, one can understand why Victorian art critic John Ruskin declared it “out and out the most precious piece of architecture in the British Isles.”
From one piece to another, we make the short stroll along Castle Hill to Lincoln Castle. Built on the site of a Roman fortress by William the Conquerer, this hilltop stronghold has at various times played host to kings, prisoners and democratic declarations, making its walls perhaps some of the most important in England.
Visitors can undertake a host of activities at the Castle, from a tour of the Victorian prison on the site to an exploration of the new underground vault that’s home to the Magna Carta itself, as well as wandering the grassy grounds of this now-peaceful place.
For us, it was up onto the walls, around which one can walk the entire circumference. Breathtaking views await, from landscapes stretching far into the distance to nearby buildings seen in a different light, as one ventures up the narrow, winding stairs of The Observatory Tower.
This is truly history made real and, descending the hill back down to the modern town, to look back up to the Castle’s still-sturdy walls is to glimpse directly into the past.
There’s no dearth of historic remnants further down the high street, either. The impressive Guildhall and Stonebow – to this day a meeting place of the City Council of Lincoln – arches over the main shopping street, as if a gateway to some secret citadel, whilst Stokes High Bridge Café, timber-framed and perched upon a 12th-century bridge across the River Witham, seems resolutely stuck in time.
That’s not to say that there’s nothing for visitors more interested in today: Lincoln is home to hundreds of shops – both boutique and chain – stretched along the high street and around the Brayford Marina, whilst the nearby Engine Shed regularly hosts events of all kinds.
There’s plenty to entertain the architecturally inclined, too, with several sculptures lining the waterway that winds through the city – including the asymmetrical, 16-metres tall “Empowerment”, designed by Stephen Broadbent.
Really, though, there’s no escaping the temporal contrasts of this captivating city, a place where ancient architecture and tales from times gone by seem ingrained in the very streets upon which we walk.
Be it the former sidings of St Marks station – now a shopping precinct – or the far older facades that line The Strait, Lincoln is a place in which to search for clues, reminders and remnants of the past that shaped this special city.
WORDS & IMAGES BY CHRIS ROWLANDS
Content correct at time of publication. A changing world is one of the joys of travelling!