Date: 25th November 2022 (with Clare).
Weather conditions: Extremely good for the time of year. Sunny and blue skies. The occasional chill gust of wind was easily ignored.
County Top bagged: The Ashes, which is the summit of one of the three ‘parts’ into which the historic county of Lincolnshire was divided, namely the Parts of Kesteven. Up until 1974 Lincolnshire, like Yorkshire, was sub-divided into these separate councils. When I first conceived of this blog I listed only one historic top for Lincolnshire — Normanby Top — but I have since decided to include the place’s historic divisions. (Not to mention its additional modern Tops, including Saxby Wold of North Lincolnshire.)
The summit is at 495 feet/151m above sea level, at grid reference SK890237. It sits right on the county border with Leicestershire, and is marked by a tall water tower that, on the 1:25,000 OS map, is labelled “The Ashes”, although the Wikipedia list of historic English CTs gives the spot the less specific name of “Viking Way”.
By altitude this ranks 83rd of the historic Tops, and 152nd of the full list.
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Start and end point of walk: There are plenty of other places in the vicinity that one could use as a base (i.e. they have pubs), but we started and finished at the village of Skillington, which lies about a mile and a half west of the A1, and about 5 miles south of Grantham.
The walk took us only about 1¾ hours, if that.
Pub at end: Due to how the timing worked out, today it was ‘Pub at start’, but the walk could also easily be ended at the Cross Swords Inn in Skillington, though at the moment it opens only on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. A friendly and helpful landlady served us good beer and sandwiches. Grizzled locals talked about motorcycling away days that they had known and loved.
Distance walked: 4 miles/6.4km approximately.
Total ascent: 310 feet/95m approx.
Difficulty: ★★. Most of the way round this is a very easy walk, but there are some foul outbreaks of mud and dampness around the halfway point that — judging by our conversations with the locals — are more-or-less permanent. Don’t don your best footwear.
Ease of access: ★★★. I think this one can be done by public transport, though we didn’t try it; but there are at least some buses to Skillington from Grantham, and that town has a railway station on the East Coast main line. For car drivers, come off the A1 somewhere not far to the south of Grantham and the summit won’t be far away (and can be driven to, although of course peak-baggers would never stoop so low).
Scenic qualities: ★★. On a nice sunny day this was pleasant, but utterly unexciting countryside. It can get two stars for vast outcrops of blackberries, and for the red kite (see below).
The area: This is England at its most deeply rural. It’s not at all remote, but there is a sense of timelessness to it, a fossilised lack of change that some will adore and others run from as if it were a T. Rex. It says a lot that the most famous recent child of the area is Margaret Thatcher, born in Grantham, who took the title Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven when she received her inevitable peerage. But one can also give the county (or Part of a county) credit for Sir Isaac Newton, born at Woolsthorpe Manor, not far from Skillington, in 1643.
Map: OS Explorer 247: Grantham covers the walk but will be unnecessary on the day.
On this map, the Top lies at the southernmost point of the route, and we went round the circuit (or triangle) in a clockwise direction.
Route: This is a highly straightforward walk and it would take an absolute genius to get lost on it, even for a moment. I did consider trying to reach it on a day trip by public transport, but in the end I am glad I didn’t, because that would have been a long journey for not very much. But it worked very well as a way of breaking a drive down the A1. The central section is definitely wet, though: be warned.
From the pub in Skillington, head through the green, and out of the village past the Methodist chapel, keeping this on your left. This road is signposted Buckminster Lane, and while it soon becomes impractical for cars, it’s a good route for walkers.
The water tower that stands on the summit is visible at several points, and unmistakeable. So at least this is one of those walks where it’s always very clear where you are going. Buckminster Lane rises and falls a bit, crosses an old railway line according to the map (though I noticed no sign of this on the ground), and then reaches the tower after no more than about 45 minutes’ walking from Skillington. Actually, at this point the county boundary runs right down the centre of the track, so the tower itself is in Leicestershire. But it certainly does a job as a distinctive summit marker.
If you’re in your best footwear, turn around and return to Skillington from here, or pull out the map and improvise a return route along tarmac. Ignorant of the swamps ahead, we retraced our steps a way and then bore left, along the track marked on the map as “The Drift”. This was, by far, the least appealing of the route’s three legs. At several points the track is completely flooded (see the picture above, and here), and to get past the water required us to negotiate a precarious course along muddy verges that might have collapsed and ditched us into slime at any moment. Nor is there much to see on this stretch either. But at least you won’t get lost.
Eventually The Drift debouches back onto tarmac at about SK882258. If you really want to, carry on along it a bit further, as far as the airfield (which supplied a number of light aircraft that buzzed us most of the way round), and perform a longer loop back round to Skillington, but, tired of mud, we just turned right and walked along the road back to the village. This was not a busy road: a total of four vehicles (and one cyclist) passed us in the 25 minutes it took us to get back to the starting point, and all could be heard coming in plenty of time.
The best thing about this section, and about the walk as a whole, was seeing a red kite soaring on the thermals above the road. Not long ago, these birds of prey were nearly extinct in the UK, but have made an impressive recovery: this was the second walk this year where I’ve had a definite sighting, after the ones above Bald Hill in July.
Commentary: We have had this weekend marked out for months for a trip to London, and until a short time ago assumed it would be done on the train, as ours usually are. But the latest round of industrial action by the rail unions put paid to that. Let me say that I do not fault them for their desire to take a stand. The present government would like to close every ticket office, take away guards, and generally remove all semblances of a human face from the rail network. If they gave a shit they would acknowledge the contribution that these ‘keyworkers’ made to keep the country at least nominally moving in the months of the lockdown that they imposed from 2020-21. But that was obviously hypocritical even at the time, as has since been proven.
So I do support the strikes while having to acknowledge that on occasion — and they’re becoming more frequent — they are a pain in the arse. As it was this weekend, when the trains on Saturday, 26th November, were mostly wiped out, and so it was either, pay exorbitant prices for an extra night’s stay at a London hotel (even Travelodges were charging £200/night) — or drive down. We took the latter option. It just about worked, though don’t remind me about my first (and, hopefully, only) experience of the North Circular Road at 5:30pm on a Friday evening.
What this choice did additionally bring was the chance to pick up a CT on the way. Anything within striking distance of either the M1 or the A1 would have done nicely. The original plan was to get one in on the Sunday, before coming home, and I’d scoped out a walk to Boring Field, top of Huntingdonshire, selling it to Clare on the amusement factor of the name (it clearly has been called that because it is a boring field — but this is a story to be developed when it is eventually attained).
However, the forecast for Sunday ended up showery, whereas today, Friday 25th November, saw excellent weather, the sun shining out of a clear blue sky all day, and from Yorkshire all the way down to London. A quick revision of the plans was called for.
And this walk turned out to be an agreeable way of breaking the journey, while expending almost no effort — it was a way of walking off lunch and its accompanying pint of beer. Potentially meaningless, except for bagging the Top but also (which is the wider reason for doing this project) introducing me to a part of the country I had never explored before. That’s what gives these excursions value. Bloody hell, though, The Drift is muddy: foully, inescapably muddy. Considering this is the Viking Way, which also enfolded me in filth when I bagged Normanby Top, can we call this Britain’s Muddiest Long Distance Footpath? It surely has to be a candidate.
I hope there’ll be one more CT yet in 2022, which will be acquired when we have to drive up to Scotland just before Xmas to pick up Joe (train strikes….) and return him to the home country for Yuletide. As ever at this time of year, it depends on the weather, but fingers crossed. As there are currently 203 Tops in total on my list, I make it that today sees me reach the 30% mark, near enough.
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