Since the Iron Age, a settlement has existed on the banks of the River Witham, developing into Lindum Colonia in Roman times before becoming the city of Lincoln as it is today. Unofficially split into the ‘Uphill’ and ‘Downhill’ areas, the two are most directly connected by the well named Steep Hill, a famous landmark of the city. Having arrived in Lincoln onboard LNER’s ‘Lincoln Experience Train’ (read about that here), I had the best part of the day to explore the city before heading home.
Having unfortunately missed out on breakfast onboard the train, my first stop was GRAND Coffee House which is situated directly opposite the station, in the corner of Lincoln’s Transport Interchange (otherwise known as a bus station). Opting for a sausage, bacon and egg cob and a mocha, I enjoyed watching the world go by for 20-minutes before seeing the open-top bus drive past and realising I’d mis-read the timetable.
With just under an hour to kill before the next bus came to take me on a tour of the Cathedral City (and to take me up the aforementioned hill), I decided to start following a trail that had only come into being that day, the Lincoln Imp Trail. Similar to the Cambridge Cows and Derby Rams (read about the latter here), the Lincoln Imp Trail consists of 31 large and numerous small Imp sculptures dotted around the city, with one even having made its way out to Skegness!
Whilst the vast majority of the Lincoln Imps are located north of the railway station, in the centre of the city, there are a handful located further south, around the former Lincoln St. Marks station, the University of Lincoln campus and the southern edge of Brayford Pool. Wandering around this quieter part of Lincoln, I enjoyed a peaceful walk along Brayford pool before heading back towards the station ready to catch the open Bus Tour.
Operated by the city’s Business Improvement Group (BIG), the tour runs hourly from 1030 until 1530 during the summer, officially starting outside the cathedral. However, as with most bus tours, hopping on and off is allowed and you can join at any stop. Having decided to avoid the hike up Steep Hill, I joined the tour opposite the station and listened to the last 10 or so minutes before we arrived at the cathedral. Deciding to stay onboard and do the full tour, we headed north around the city centre, past the Newport Arch on Ermine Street and round to the back of the castle, close to the old gallows.
Lincoln Castle was constructed in the late 11th century, shortly after the Norman conquest of England as a way of William the Conqueror cementing his power across the Kingdom. It is one of only two in the country, along with Lewes in East Sussex, that had two mottes and unlike some castles, actually saw conflict during the two battles of Lincoln in 1141 and 1217. The castle is now home to Lincoln Crown Court and an exhibition which includes the Victorian prison and one of the original copies of the Magna Carta.
After starting at the cathedral and passing the castle in the north of the city, the bus continued around the city, although bypassed the advertised Tank Monument due to extremely bad traffic around the city and the attempt to keep the bus to its hourly schedule. I did enjoy the tour and as it is narrated by a guide, rather than an automated system, each tour is slightly different, and the guide was able to provide us with bonus information whilst we were stuck in traffic. At just £12 for an adult ticket for the day, I’d certainly recommend doing the bus tour, especially if you jump on at the station and use it to avoid Steep Hill as well.
After completing the full bus circuit, I jumped off at the Cathedral and spent a short time wandering around the area inside the castle walls that is free to enter and explore. Heading down Steep Hill, I took in most of the city centre Imps before grabbing an amazingly delicious, extremely unhealthy, doughnut at Doughnotts which is located on Cornhill just to the south of the River Witham. Having taken my fill of Lincoln and finding my legs were beginning to oppose walking around the city, I decided to head to the station and tick off a couple of Lincolnshire’s smaller stations, Saxilby and Gainsborough Lea Road.
Catching a Northern service up to Gainsborough, I planned to get either an East Midlands Railway or Northern service back, the latter of which would have given me about 15 minutes before my train home. Unfortunately, due to ongoing crew shortages (Yay, Covid!), both of these services were cancelled, but a well decision to bail and an excellent timed bus from outside the station actually got me back to Lincoln earlier than the later service.
Lincoln is a city that you could genuinely spend days exploring. We’ve previously visited the paid part of the castle and briefly headed inside the cathedral and so I opted not to spend the money on those during this trip but to do both justice you’d need to spend at least half a day on each. Exploring the city and getting a free tour of the Guildhall are also definitely worth doing and I’d recommend just getting lost and seeing what you find!