Friday 6 August 2010

Marching south down Ermine Street

It's not exactly clear whether the drovers went through the middle of Lincoln, or skirted around the west and south of the city, as I did, from my farm B&B at South Hykeham, over the River Witham to Harmston. M&M and I laughed at the steep hill we'd been warned off and wondered how Ordnance Survey could justify putting an arrow on the map when it was hardly even a slope in comparison to what we've come up (and down) further north.

South-east of Lincoln, RAF Waddington has been built right over the top of Ermine Street, presumably in the days when national security was considered more important than preserving our heritage. Perhaps it still is. Anyway, we were glad that the horrendous roar of a plane taking off lagged so far behind the plane itself that it was miles away by the time we heard the noise it made, allowing the ponies no excuse for a tantrum.

I hadn't held much hope for the rest of Ermine Street, in a racist way assuming that Lincolnshire was flat and consequently boring, so it was a very pleasant surprise to find that Ermine Street has just as much character and appeal as The Ridgeway in Wiltshire, the oldest road in Britain, which Chris and I rode along a few years ago to celebrate our 40th birthdays. In parts Ermine Street is tarmac road, but there are long sretches where it is a grassy track, and all the way between Waddington and Ancaster it has wide grass verges either side which tell of its past history as a drove road, long after the Romans marched along this route on their way to York. In fact it dates back long before the Romans to prehistoric times, when it was known as High Dyke. I defy anyone who walks along Ermine Street not to sense something of the history of this route, and not to think of the thousands of people, and cattle, who have walked this way before.

As if that wasn't enough in itself, my enjoyment of Ermine Street was even greater thanks to a man who I am pretty sure came out to move me on, thinking I was one of the many travellers who have caused him bother over the years, but realising I was a different kind of traveller, insisted on bringing me a pot of tea and a Highland stoneware mug, and then kneeling down in the grass alongside me telling me how he'd bought the mug during his time as a Wallace Arnold coach driver. When I'm back home again racing around to keep pace with life, I shall treasure the chats I have had with complete strangers over a cup of tea sipped sitting on the grass in different parts of Britain. I think the drovers were more fond of a pint or wee dram, but there's nothing like a cuppa after a long walk.

From Ancaster,south of the cattle carried on south direct to Smithfield, but the majority turned east, as I did, skirting south of Sleaford, towards the traditional fattening grounds on the Lincolnshire and Norfolk fens.


  1. Vyv
    Having returned from holiday it has been lovely to catch up on your journey. Your narrative speaks volumes - you sound so relaxed and happy. I will treasure the memories of our day together, in glorious sunshine over some of the most beautiful Scottish countryside. Give the 'big, black lumps' a big hug and kiss from us all! Much love, Cass x

  2. Oh, and hilarious, I was speaking to one of my customers who said he had seen you on television. His words, "Cass, I just couldn't believe how posh she was." He was truly thrilled by the madness of us all with "those damned horses"!!!