Jan 272024

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Greatford Hall Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Greatford Greatford Church and West Glen River Floods on East Glen River 1 Floods on East Glen River 2 Floods on East Glen River 3 Floods on East Glen River 4 Floods on East Glen River, looking to Wilsthorpe St Faith's Church, Wilsthorpe Worried crusader knight, St Faith's Church, Wilsthorpe Braceborough 1 Braceborough 2 Braceborough 3 Braceborough 4 landscape between Braceborough and Shillingthorpe Park 1 landscape between Braceborough and Shillingthorpe Park 2 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 1 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 2 Road between Shillingthorpe Park and Greatford 3

Greatford Hall lies beyond its boundary wall, a handsome rebuild in pale Lincolnshire limestone of the old country house where during the 18th century Dr Francis Willis practised pioneering forms of psychiatric treatment. His patients were misfortunate gentlemen of quality, the most illustrious of whom was the occasionally demented King George III.

In the village church alongside we found a bust of Dr Willis, bald and benign. The memorial eulogised the good doctor, ‘happily the chief agent in removing the malady which affected the present majesty in the year 1789’. The physician’s kindliness and benevolence were attested ‘by the tears and lamentations which followed him to the grave.’

With this touching image in mind we left Greatford and struck out north across the flat South Lincolnshire landscape, following the twisty Macmillan Way under a sky of grey and pink clouds. A proper midwinter afternoon, with floods gleaming in the fields beside the East Glen River and bushy-headed willows leaning over their reflections in the streaky water.

This is a countryside where church steeples have only the skeletal pylons as rivals for skyline prominence. The slender tower and spire of St Faith’s at Wilsthorpe beckoned us from afar. Inside, a dusty stone knight, perhaps a Mortimer, lay recumbent in a corner of the sanctuary, legs crossed at the knee to commemorate his two crusades, a purse and sword at his elaborate belt. The sculptor had furrowed the warrior’s brow with deeply incised lines, giving him a curiously worried expression.

Down the lane in Braceborough, little fierce stone lions guarded the label stops of the church windows. A mistle thrush was stabbing slots in a pile of apples that had fallen across the fence into the graveyard.

The homeward path led south over big fields of winter wheat, the slithery mud pocked with deer slots. In Shillingthorpe Park lumps and bumps in the wide grassland showed where immaculate parkland had superseded a medieval settlement. Trees had swallowed what little remains of Shillingthorpe Hall, a fine mansion which once housed a group of Dr Willis’s psychiatric patients.

Beyond the woods the West Glen River ran swift and swollen, stained bright yellow with floody mud. Towards nightfall we followed a quiet country road back into Greatford as a band of rooks flew chuckling and chattering overhead towards some distant roost.

How hard is it? 5½ miles, easy; field paths and country roads. NB can be wet around West and East Glen Rivers – take wellingtons in case!

Start: Church of St Thomas of Canterbury, Greatford, near Stamford PE9 4PX (OS ref TF 086119). Park near Hare & Hounds PH.

Getting there: Bus 45 from Stamford (Call Connect, 0345-263-8253))
Road – Greatford is signed off A6121 (Stamford-Bourne) at Carlby, between Essendine and Toft.

Walk (OS Explorer 234): From NE corner of churchyard, path to road. Left; in 150m pass Ash Lodge on right; on next left bend, fork right on Macmillan Way/MW (086122, fingerpost). Follow MW through fields (fingerposts, yellow arrows) for 1¼ miles, crossing East Glen River (089131), to road opposite St Faith’s Church, Wilsthorpe (092136). Left; in 150m, left (091138, ‘Braceborough’). Follow road for 1 mile to Braceborough. Left at Village Hall (081131) to visit St Margaret’s Church and return to Village Hall; right for 600m to cross Greatford road (079126). Follow path through fields for nearly 1 mile to join MW in Shillingthorpe Park. Left (072116, fingerpost) on MW to road (075111); left for 1 mile to Greatford.

Lunch: Hare & Hounds, Greatford PE9 4QA (01778-560332) – open Mon-Fri, 2-9; Sat, Sun, 12-10.

Accommodation: Crown Hotel, Stamford PE9 2AG (01780-763136, kneadpubs.co.uk)

Info: Stamford TIC (01780-755611); visitlincolnshire.com

 Posted by at 03:57

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