A train ride to Sleaford - Eastern England - CycleBlaze

May 21, 2018

A train ride to Sleaford

heading back to Washingborough via Digby

The fluorescent pink hair of the waitress makes a cheerful sight when I walk into the hotel's airy dining room. She takes my order of poached eggs on toast and coffee seems very perky for this time of day. I reckon she's from east Europe.

My bags get left behind the receptionist's counter while I go explore the Stump, which is open and when I pop inside it's sad to find its tall tower is only accessible after 10:00, so climbing its 365 steps isn’t going to happen so I make my way back to the White Hart, get my stuff and clip my panniers on the bike and head off too see what the town has to offer.

Inside Boston Stump
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Boston had the largest percentage of Brexit voters maybe because the surrounding flat farmland is a magnet for workers from eastern Europe and I overhear many - practically all - foreign accents as I walk my bike through the small centre of town. The local electorate obviously felt threatened by such an influx.

White Hart with Boston Stump on the right
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There are a few charity shops along the main street and they all get perused, with me buying a new-looking XL black Botranger cycling shirt for just £2.50 before heading to the train station and catching the 10:50 departure to Sleaford. My one-way fare is £6.60 - maybe US$10.

Surprisingly the train is jam packed and there’s hardly room to squeeze my bike inside the door what with all the suitcases stacked together. The guard appears and tells me it’s because Monday is chucking out day at the Butlin’s holiday camp nearby Skegness and people are heading home after their week or so break.

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It's nice to get off at Sleaford and see a young woman buying a burger from a mobile kiosk outside the train station with blue and indigo hair. These vivid dyes seem to be the thing here.

Before flying to the UK I spent a few months researching local points of interest - mainly obscure places that tourists overlook - and Sleaford has a couple. In fact Sleaford is basically overlooked and is not on anyone's radar. Anyway, one spot is a large industrial site, now abandoned.

The Bass Maltings are a series of huge brick warehouses just south of the train station that were built in the early 1900s. They were commissioned by the Bass brewery and are the UK's largest example, but they've been empty for decades.

I'd wondered how easy it would be to get a snap and ride around a couple of new streets but the view is blocked and there's a huge metal gate that's locked, so I balance the camera on top of it and do my best to get the angle right and press the shutter release. 

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If these old industrial brick buildings were in any sizable place they'd have been snapped up and developed into trendy dwellings long ago, but Sleaford just doesn't have the jobs to attract home buyers so who knows what will happen to them.

There are half a dozen charity shops dotted along the main thoroughfare and I make my way to each of them before sitting outside Costa with a big cappuccino. It's going to be another scorcher of a day.

The old Manor House is a bit further up the street going north and I take a snap of it but completely forget to visit the big arts and crafts center and simply keep riding towards Lincoln, riding on a cycle path that spans the main road on a purpose-made bridge, then ride into and out of Leasingham without much fuss.

The Manor House on North Gate, Sleaford, dates back to the 16th century
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The village of Digby is my first real target. There's an RAF camp nearby. Flat Lincolnshire has a lot of them.

I've read about an old lock-up on and sure enough I soon find it - it's just across the street from the church. These (usually) circular little things were built a couple of hundred years ago, before there were rural police stations and drunks or people up to no good would be locked up in them overnight before being taken somewhere else. The structures are tiny spaces, certainly not built for comfort. This one looks to be a metre in diameter and with no window.

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My tripod is just a little Gorillapod, so it's a bit hard to take decent photos of myself and instead I simply place the bike in shot and snap one off and then play around with the camera near the village's ancient buttercross, placing the tripod on a wall, and snap a self-timed shot of myself riding by the Red Lion, just across the road. With it being Monday, I knew it'd be closed, so didn't bank on dining there. besides, I reckon a pint would totally zonk me out now as it's so hot.

The country road is quiet, like I'd hoped and guessed with most traffic sticking to the main roads. It's a surprise to reach a ford so this must be the first time I've cycled along this lane, just south of Kirkby, but instead of risking falling off on the slippery algae-covered concrete, I use the adjacent wooden walkway. Twenty years ago I would have splashed through the few inches of clear water.

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At Kirky Green, I basically ride straight across a junction and then look out for a left turn to take me west, then further north, but somehow I miss it. It's down to a problem with the map details - the tablet screen is are hard to see in bright sunshine. 

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I get lost and end up on a farm track with no idea of my location. There are no signs or even houses to get my bearings, so it's just a case of going with my instincts and occasionally checking my compass. After a while I get back on tarmac and ride into a village where two nurses are chatting beside their vehicles and I ask them the name of the place and get told its Metheringham. This is not where I planned to be and they look at me as though I'm a bit wacky, but I need a cold drink and they tell me there's a shop just around the corner.

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The shop is open and school children are getting treats on their way home and not to be left out I have some chocolate bars myself and ask the shopkeeper about the route to see the old tower  - Dunston Pillar - and he directs me through the village, up to the fen road.

before heading off I spot a war memorial in a small garden but the cast iron gate is locked, so I climb over the spiked metal fence and take a snap of the uniformed figure on top of the column, then start riding through the rest of Metheringham. It's small.

After crossing a junction and onto the surrounding heath, the road undulates in long sections and it's surprisingly busy, so after about 10 minutes I make a right and go along a small lane and then take a left so that I'm going east again. It's not before I hit the crazy A road where the old tower is.

Traffic is fast and there a lot of it - cars and trucks - and there's no shoulder. Thankfully it's less than a kilometre to where I get off it and the tower I want to see is about half way there. I bomb along, my front wheel tracing the few inches of white line, hoping my bright orange cycling top is easily seen my the motorists and truckers on the way home from work or whatever. The A15 makes for crap and dangerous cycling.

Sir Francis Dashwood was responsible for forming the infamous Hellfire Club, which focused on unfettered debauchery, but he had his soft side. In the middle 1700s, his partner Sarah would have to travel home to the nearby village of Dunston - sometimes at night - and the vast heath could be a spooky old place, with mist hovering over it, obscuring visibility. It was a hotbed of highway robbery, so to help make it safer, Francis had a light house built - Dunston Pillar - with the very top having a fire lit to show the way.

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Built of stone, it originally stood 28m tall, but with so many RAF airfields in Lincolnshire, the top section got lopped off in 1940 as it posed a danger to the military craft. It's shorter, but still quite easy to spot and after managing to cross the A15, I take a few snaps and then have to wait a few minutes for a break in the fast traffic so that I can recross and ride a bit further to reach a quiet farm track that veers east.

It's a huge relief to escape the manic road and the track leads me to a farm house where I check my screen shots and feel confused. A woman gets out of a car to go into the house and I ask about the tracks that branch left and right and she doesn't know about the left one, so I continue along the other and eventually reach a small tarmac lane. It would be good to have a paper map.

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It's scorching now and my mistake is not seeing that this farm track veers away to the east and I'm on a different one, which fools me good and proper. The upshot is I keep riding straight along the lane, when I should have taken a right branch, so I end up in Bracebridge Heath, a suburb just on the southern edge of Lincoln. At least I now know my location and where need to go.

Basically I turn around, albeit on a different road, so that I can eventually get to the one heading to Dave's house. I end up in a village called Branston, too far south and my detour adds 10km to my ride and I'm knackered and frustrated when I get to Washingborough.

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Today's ride: 48 km (30 miles)
Total: 115 km (71 miles)

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