First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Folkingham lies squarely across the A15 road from Lincoln towards London. In the great days of coaching it was a major stopover. But the coaching trade dwindled and the railways never arrived. Nowadays, this little Lincolnshire village has the air of a pleasant backwater, its mellow old houses of brick and stone marshalled round a very wide and gently sloping market place, with the tower of St Andrew’s Church peeping between their shoulders.
We found a path that left the square and passed beside the green earthworks where Folkingham Castle once stood. Now the castle mound is occupied by a lofty stone gateway, its pediment inscribed ‘House of Correction, AD 1825’.
The great gateway was designed to look massive and heavy, a forbidding portal to overawe the local drunks, thieves and homeless wretches incarcerated here. The regime of oakum picking, stone breaking and the treadmill, the diet of gruel and the separation of wives from husbands and parents from children was reckoned just the thing to teach wrongdoers a thundering good lesson.
Good clear paths led us through the enormous cornfields. The very slightly rolling landscape looked at first to be an unbroken, intensive blanket of wheat, but we found the ditches and surviving hedges brimming with wild flowers – white froths of cow parsley, buttercups, great willowherb and pink bramble blooms, bristly teasel heads and fruity-scented pineapple mayweed.
Beside the path feathery wild grasses made a silky border to draw the fingers through, one of those perennial sensual pleasures of summer walking. A cuckoo called from the sunlit trees of Little Gorse; a yellowhammer chittered in the hedges. A tractor tyre seat at the crest of Beacon Hill offered a perching place and an admonition in stick-on letters: ‘Rest awhile, look around, be thankful.’
The buildings of Sempringham Priory, founded in 1131, lay under mounds of grass, but the old restored church stood high and lonely beyond, its pinnacled tower beckoning across an immense cornfield. The south doorway was spectacularly decorated with strapwork and dogtooth carving.
In a far corner of the churchyard a circular wooden cover lay in a sunken dell. I lifted it off, to find the Holy Well of St Gilbert, founder of the priory, bubbling quietly beneath, brimful and as clear as glass.
How hard is it? 6½ miles; easy; clear field paths
Start: Folkingham market place, near Sleaford NG34 0TG (OS ref TF 072337)
Getting there: Folkingham is on A15 (Sleaford-Bourne)
Walk (OS Explorer 248): Down hill; in 150m left on fenced path between Orchard Cottage and Bradley House. Cross path (stile); ahead to stile onto Billingborough Rd (075334). Left; in 50m, right (fingerpost/FP); left on field edge path (occasional yellow arrows) for ¾ mile to path junction (082331, 3-finger post). Left (‘Restricted Byway’); in 150m right (3-finger post). In 400m, left by reservoir (085326) along Beacon Lane. In ½ mile cross road (093329); on across big fields; in trees at far side, right (103326). In 100m left (FP); in 200m fork left on fenced path to church (107329). NB – Holy Well in SE corner of churchyard. From NE corner, north along field edge path (3-finger post) to cross road (103337). Down right side of field; in 100m, left on path (unsigned) west across fields. In ⅔ mile cross road (094336); on (FP) to rejoin outward route.
Lunch: Folkingham Shop café, open 9-2 weekdays; New Inn, West St, Folkingham NG34 0SW (01529-497211) – open daily, ring for meal times.
Accommodation: Whichcote Arms, Osbournby, NG34 0DG (01529-455295, whichcotearms.co.uk) – welcoming, dog-friendly village pub.
Folkingham House of Correction: landmarktrust.org.uk