9: Normanby Top, Lincolnshire

View near Normanby
The gently rolling Lincolnshire Wolds, pictured near Normanby.

Date: 11th March 2020.

Weather conditions: In the morning, sunny, bright and almost idyllic for the time of year, if breezy on the top. It clouded over from 11am, but still, no complaints about the weather today.

County Top bagged: Normanby Top, a.k.a. Wolds Top, at grid reference TF121966 and 168m/551 ft above sea level. This is the highest point in the historic county of Lincolnshire and, as its alternative name attests, is the summit of the Lincolnshire Wolds. It remains the top of modern Lincolnshire too, although this county has shed its north and north-eastern sections since 1974 and these now have their own separate Tops. (I have subsequently bagged one of these: Saxby Wold.)

Rankings by altitude:

Lincolnshire summit
The OS trig point on the summit of Lincolnshire.

It is the lowest-altitude one I have bagged so far. The ten historic Tops that are lower are all south of here, demonstrating that the divide between ‘lowland’ and ‘highland’ Britain (known as the Tees-Exe line) does not split the country into north and south, but more north-west and south-east. Normanby Top and its environs are south-east of this line, and definitely lowland Britain, smooth, arable and not very high above sea level. Lincolnshire is about as far north as this aspect of the country will be seen.

[ << Hertfordshire/Buckinghamshire — Pavis Wood/Haddington Hill (7/8) | (10) Cheshire/Kirklees — Black Hill >> ]

Start and end points of walk: Started at Market Rasen railway station. This can be reached in 15 minutes from Lincoln Central on services to Grimsby, but the trains only run every two hours or so in each direction.

Lincolnshire farmland
Lincolnshire farmland. There is a lot of this kind of thing today.

Finished at the Salutation Inn in Nettleton, at around TA110002. There is a bus stop nearby where #53 buses can be caught back to Market Rasen and onward to Lincoln. I left Market Rasen station at about 8.30am and was at the Salutation Inn at noon. The buses from Nettleton, aping the trains, run only every two hours, so I had to wait until 13.22 for one, but this got me back to Lincoln in time to catch a train at 14.30.

Because of the mud that affects the later stages of the walk, however, I recommend considering a different end point. See the route notes below.

Pub at end: The Salutation Inn opened at noon today but that doesn’t mean it does so every day, so check ahead. Also it did not do lunch today, which is a shame as the beer and general ambience were otherwise favourable. A more reliable place to get lunch (but not alcohol) would be the ‘Dunn Deal’ tea room, passed on the way into Nettleton village. But this is not as convenient for the bus stops as the Salutation.

Distance walked: 9.25 miles (14.9km) approximately.

Feet of ascent: 500 feet (145m) approx.

The day's one hill
The most taxing hill faced today, just outside Walesby.

Difficulty: ★. This is a longish but mostly flat and exceptionally easy walk — the only uphill gradient worth speaking of lasts about 10 minutes (see the picture). Much of it is done on tarmac or smooth grassy paths and training shoes are fully appropriate wear.

However, I give the award of one star only with the proviso that after attaining the summit, you end the walk a different way than I did, either by returning to Market Rasen or by heading for the Hope Tavern to the west (see notes below). On my route to Nettleton, towards the end there is a passage of revolting mud: but you don’t just need hiking boots to negotiate this successfully. Wellington boots, possibly full-on angling waders, are in fact needed.

View towards Caiston
The view north from the summit trig, towards Caiston.

Ease of access: ★★★. It would probably get four stars if the needed trains and buses ran more frequently than every two hours, but these intervals make advance planning necessary. I could have done this on a day trip from home in West Yorkshire but it would have been a complex journey with several changes of train service. As it was, I stayed over in Lincoln the night before.

Scenic qualities: ★★★. Unlike other recent lowland walks, like Blackdown and the two last time, this one lacks tree cover, meaning the views are extensive. You do feel like you are on the highest land for some distance around. Lincolnshire’s hardly the most dramatic of counties but it’s all attractive enough, although on my route the quality deteriorates after leaving the summit.

Viking Way sign
Viking Way sign (the yellow dot). Follow them…

The area: Lincolnshire occupies a large slab of eastern England, between the broad estuaries of the Humber and the Wash, and it’s a low-altitude slab: this is the second-largest of all the historic counties of England, but doesn’t get higher than today’s 551 feet, which really isn’t very high. The bus I caught today went through a village apparently named Welton Hill and I looked around and went, like, where? All around are flat expanses of arable land.

Much of this walk follows a path known as the “Viking Way”, and etymologists will easily spot that this area was once part of the Danelaw, invaded and settled from Scandinavia a millennium ago. On the walk, or within a mile of it, are villages named Walesby, Otby, Normanby, Tealby, Risby and Claxby — by still being the word in Norwegian for a settlement, town or city. You see, we are all Europeans.

Map of walk 9

Map: Not having arranged this walk until the day before, I had to pick up a map in Lincoln, and sought OS Explorer number 282, Lincolnshire Wolds North, which covers the area. However, the shop I tried was sold out of this one so I ended up buying the Landranger (1:50,000) number 113, Grimsby, Louth and Market Rasen, into which the walk fits neatly, in one corner.

Landrangers are not designed for walkers in quite the same way as the 1:25,000 Explorer maps, though. For most of the way round today this didn’t matter but it might have been helpful to have the larger scale map when I was trying to locate the actual summit.

The way I’m doing these summary maps at the moment works least well with walks on a north-south axis, like this one: but it just about fits on at this scale even if Market Rasen station doesn’t quite make it.

In the woods
In the woods of Willingham Forest, towards the start of the walk.

Route: From Market Rasen station, come down the approach road, go under the railway line and then turn left onto the B1203. Follow this as it heads out of town, then turn left onto Walesby Road and stay with it all the way to the eponymous village. There’s a pavement as far as the (rather desperate-looking) caravan park in the woods of Willingham Forest, but not beyond, so keep your eyes and ears open. It didn’t seem to be a very busy road, even at 9am on a weekday.

In Walesby, past the church, turn left and left again, before finally leaving the tarmac behind by turning right, just past the large house at the end of the village. Here you will see your first Viking Way sign, and you can pretty much rely on these to get you all the way to Nettleton (though not to the summit itself).

God's Golf Ball
God’s Golf Ball. Or, the radar station near the summit.

The track leads through fields and then up the one real ascent of the day. The radar station on the top comes into view, looking exactly like a monumental golf ball sat on a tee and waiting for God’s 3-wood to descend and smash it in the direction of Lincoln cathedral (visible on the horizon to the south — see the picture further down the page). The path along the top to Normanby is magnificent, on grass so comfy one could do this passage in bare feet.

After Normanby, one needs to find the trig point that marks the summit. I did not have the Explorer map which (unlike the Landranger) marks field boundaries, and the broad plateau on which the summit stands lacks footpaths and rights-of-way. I therefore relied here on instinct, the GPS on my phone (that is, Google Maps) and the fact that absolutely no one was around to see what was I was doing to work out a route of my own. This involved going over the gate that stands near to the lane to Normanby Lodge (TF120956), and then round the edges of the first field and through the hedges at its far corner, whereupon the column was found. This is not, and was never going to be, a very prominent summit, but it’s in the open and manifestly up in the air, so satisfies in its way.

Normanby church
What is presumably the highest church in Lincolnshire, at Normanby.

If you follow my route on to Nettleton, the extensive views are lost, and there is mud, much mud, coming up to foul your progress. Returning the way you came, and finishing back in Market Rasen, is worth considering. Or, west on the A46 where it crosses the railway line there is a pub, the Hope Tavern, which is on the same bus route back to Lincoln and would be a worthwhile terminus — I guess you can get to this by the farm lane dropping down from Nettleton Top (see the map).

Either way, you need to get back to the Viking Way by heading down, more or less due north, beside the hedgerow that points at the summit column (and in the direction of the view pictured further up the page). This led me to the path that extends east from Acre House, and with hindsight, might have made for an easier approach to the summit. No matter. Once at the lane, I turned left, then took my decision to head for Nettleton by heading right, dropping into the valley and following it down.

View near Nettleton
View on the descent to Nettleton.

The mud kicks in here, with the ground being torn up, by tractors or possibly motorbikes. Through the patch of woodland, with its remains of unidentifiable industrial activity, it gets even worse, culminating in the most awful swamp: this is only a few yards wide but it seems impossible to get around it, so you are condemned to wade through sludge and curse my name for ever suggesting you might do this walk in trainers. Personally, I think this kind of thing is a disgrace, particularly as this is a designated long-distance route: the landowners should be held to account and obliged to effect repairs. Of course, it won’t happen.

Anyway, with your newly bespattered footwear and trousers, continue until the path reaches a lane and the buildings at the southern end of Nettleton. Entering the village, you will pass the tea rooms, which are worth considering if you need lunch, as the pub may not be serving. Go past the church and the Salutation Inn is just there at the junction with the main A46: the bus stop to Lincoln is to the left, on the same side, or cross (carefully) over the road for services to Grimsby.

Lincoln cathedral
Lincoln Cathedral, from afar.

COVID-19 commentary: Like most of the rest of the planet I am awaiting my two weeks of quarantine, at the point where I or someone I know gets the superbug. But until that happens I see no reason to stop walking — indeed, as the point of this pastime (at least for me) is largely to get away from other people, it seems an eminently sensible anti-infection tactic. The train from Lincoln to Market Rasen was virtually deserted and the only person I spent any time near to today (until getting on the Lincoln-Leeds train home, anyway) was the barmaid at the pub.

I have been off work this week anyway (for non-viral reasons) and did not want to spend all this time at home without getting out somewhere. But the weather in the west of the country — meaning, home and the Lake District — was forecast to be poor again, while the east was looking much better. Hence, the crafting of this expedition to the county top of Lincolnshire. Which I did mostly enjoy, thanks to the good weather and the general ease of walking. But then came the two bugbears: barriers to access and ill-maintained paths.

The quagmire
Quagmire and electric fence. And this isn’t even the worst bit.

I do feel (and, let’s face it, am) mildly guilty regarding how I had to reach the summit, but why should access be so tricky to a point that at least some people might want to reach now and again? I am not the first person to have set out on a project like this, and why object to anyone simply wanting to reach a particularly significant point of land if they can do so without causing damage to walls, fences, gates, crops etc. It’s when barriers are placed in the way (e.g unopenable gates) that such damage happens.

And to counter this argument, the maintenance of what are, by law, rights of way needs to be enforced on landowners. The state of the Viking Way, as it runs alongside Nettleton Beck, is truly dreadful, and the barbed wire fence beside it, preventing escape from the slime and peppered with ‘Danger of Death!’ signs, just adds insult (what’s beyond, a prison camp? Toxic waste dumps? No, just a field). My honest advice is not to bother, and end the walk at the Hope Tavern on the A46 instead: but I shouldn’t need to say these things.

First sight of hills
The first sight of hills today, from the Walesby road.

Nevertheless it was good to get out in the fresh (and virus-free) air, as it always is. It’s time to get some higher altitude and harder-to-reach County Tops done, though. Quarantine allowing, I and the family are going to southern Scotland just before Easter, and Culter Fell, CT of Lanarkshire, has been nominated as the target for number 10. That will take me into double figures, but this is still near the start, and there remains a very long way to go.


9 thoughts on “9: Normanby Top, Lincolnshire

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