Back in October 2018 we were lucky enough to attend an ‘All the Stations’ event at Southwark cathedral where Geoff and Vicki signed our copy of the book and Geoff wrote “Go on an adventure! (By train) (Go to Heckington!)”. So, finally, in the middle of July 2020, we did.
Initially planned as a quick visit to see the manually operated level crossing, we drove to the nearby town of Sleaford, intending to get a train to Heckington, return on the train 15 minutes later and then explore some of Sleaford’s historic buildings. What actually happened was we spent a fascinating four hours in the Lincolnshire village and headed home exhausted but amazed at how great our day out had been.
The first thing you see after alighting from the train is the eight-sail windmill towering over the nearby buildings. Heckington Windmill is the only eight-sailed tower windmill still standing in the UK with it’s sails intact and is a Grade I listed building. After observing the crossing being opened for road traffic, we headed for the windmill to find we were slightly too early, with it and the associated tea rooms and shop opening at 11am.
As we had left the Skegness-bound platform at the station, we’d noticed on the wall there was a sign displaying the Heckington Heritage trail and so decided to head back and see how long it would take for us to follow the trail. The first stop on the trail, after the windmill and station, is the Pearoom that sit across the station yard from the station itself. This was built in 1890 and used for over 70 years as, as the name suggests, a pea sorting complex. During it’s heyday it was crucial to the economy of the time, employing many of the village’s women to sort the peas prior to them being shipped off around the country.
A few stops later, and on the corner of the High Street and Station Road, is the village’s, still very much active, blacksmith. The blacksmiths is an icon within the village, with the crossroads being known as Cook’s corner, due to the fact the Cook family ran the business for so long. The next stop of the trail is on the opposite side of Cook’s corner and is the Royal Oak pub, a former coaching in on the historic Newark to Norwich route.
At the most northly tip of the trail is the junction of Eastgate and Cowgate, now home to some inconspicuous bungalows but until 1964 home to the village’s gas works. This is something that baffled me as I had never really thought about how gas would be provided for lighting, heating and cooking until the introduction of North Sea gas in the 70s.
St. Andrew’s parish church, also known as The Cathedral of the Fens, is a grade I listed building that was constructed in the early 1300s, largely paid for by the then rector, Richard de Potesgrave. De Potesgrave was a wealthy member of the royal household due to his role as the chaplain of Kings Edward I, II and III. As well as being grade I listed itself, the church is unusual in that it has two grade II listed gravestones within the graveyard.
Continuing down Church Street, we once again reached the village’s High Street, with the village green forming one corner of the junction. Along with the green itself, there are three points on the heritage trail here, including the villages grade II listed red telephone box. Victorian Almshouses line the side of the green perpendicular to the High Street and at the far end of the green from Church Street is the Nag’s Head pub, reportedly a haunt of the infamous Dick Turpin.
A few of the points on the trail are down Banks Lane, but after these the trail continues along the High Street to the final point, the Village Hall. Built by the village surgeon using land from his own garden, it was constructed as a temperance hall so that meetings could be held without alcohol as, up until its construction, most meetings were held at the Railway Arms near the station.
After completing the Heritage Trail (it took us about an hour to complete) we headed back across the railway line to the windmill and brewery. Due to Covid restrictions the windmill was only allowing one family group to look around at a time and so we booked into the 2pm slot and headed for some lunch at the tea rooms. Opting for a cream tea, I was delighted to discover that all of the cakes and scones are made with flour milled by the windmill, giving them food miles of about 10m (yes I just went from Imperial to Metric, what are you going to do!?)
Soon it was time to head round to the windmill’s shop and visitor’s centre for our tour where we met our excellent guide who gave us an excellent overview of the windmill’s history and the stories of it’s owners from the death of its original owner to the infighting in the family of the second and the final owner who had purchased a new top for a windmill before he owned one. Our guide was an excellent storyteller, so I don’t want to ruin the experience by telling you it all here but they really mad the mill’s history come to life, before leaving us to explore the exhibition and mill tower at our own pace.
The windmill is still active and produces products used by both the adjacent tea rooms and brewery, however it was not a milling day on our visit and so we were able to explore all the floors of the mill tower. Accessible access is provided to the exhibition and ground floor of the mill tower, however access to the upper floors is only via narrow ladders and so you need to be able to climb to visit them. If you do visit, and are able to do so, make sure to head right to the top as the views over the fens from here are amazing. Top to bottom is also the route the grain takes as it is milled into flour and so its good to follow this path as you learn about the milling process.
After spending most of our allotted hour exploring the windmill, we headed back out of the Granary exhibition and into the shop, making sure to purchase some of the mill’s own flour to use in baking. Cookies taste so much better when you know when the flour comes straight from the mill rather than the supermarket! Heading out of the mill, our final stop before the train back was the brewery shop which sells a wide range of beers and ciders made with products from the windmill.
With a short walk back to the station, we actually had to cross the railway twice to get to the Sleaford bound platform, once at the manual crossing and then back again via the barrow crossing within the station. Our short trip to Heckington to see the manual crossing had turned out to be an excellent history filled day and we heading back to Sleaford extremely happy with how things had turned out. If you’re in southern Lincolnshire and have a half a day to spare, make sure you visit the wonderful village of Heckington and explore all it has to offer.