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To Lincoln

So, I should start out by confessing… I have no idea where Lincoln is.  My knowledge of the UK beyond the M25 is very much defined by mainline railway stations.  I can just about muddle by in cities like Edinburgh, Glasgow, Bristol and Cardiff, have a vague understanding of where Exeter, Norwich, Dover, Manchester, Birmingham and Leeds are, and can sorta wave you towards the Lake District if I really have to, give or take a few hundred miles.  Then there are cities like Durham, York, Reading and Coventry, all which exist in my mind as train announcements indicating a place that I am passing through on the way to somewhere else.

Lincoln is none of these.  For a start, imagine my shock to get my ticket and discover that I actually had to change trains at no less unlikely a place than a town called Newark North Gate in the middle of ??? in the vicinity of ???.  Changing mainline trains – already this had me a little unnerved.  And it’s no ordinary train you catch at Newark North Gate – oh no… it’s a one-carriage train, a sorta go-kart for Network Rail, a thing with probably the same standing capacity as your average double decker bus that clatters through a flat landscape of fields, level crossings and occasional industrial sprawl.

My trip to Lincoln was justified by going to the Lincoln Book Festival – where, I gotta admit, I had a very lovely time and ate more chocolate mini bites than the mind can comfortably conceive.  It was also my first trip as Kate Griffin, which led to a certain amount of confusion at the hotel as I tried to work out and explain exactly who I was and why my signature seemed to bear no resemblance whatsoever to the name on my check-in card.  (If anyone has any legal views on the thorny question of whether it is against the law to sign a hotel check-in card with a perfectly fine and honest signature, one that just happens not to be the same on your passport, then please let me know.)

I’d been advised to take a taxi from the station to the hotel, but looking at google maps I had one of those rash moments of confidence that goes ‘I know what to do!  Find the cathedral and walk towards it and everything will be fine!’  And let me add, navigationally speaking, everything was perfectly fine… found the cathedral, found the hotel no problem… but I was a little let down by my history degree.  I should perhaps have looked a little closer at the map and thought ‘hum… a medieval city… a cathedral… a castle… now what do I know about the building habits of medieval lords…?’  Alas, this reasoning failed me, and it was only as I slogged up the aptly named ‘Steep Hill’ that the recollection of just how much those pesky medieval architects liked being uphill of their enemies struck me.  My survival of the Steep Hill experience owes more than a little to the magic of ventolin inhalers.

Lincoln (she says from her sagely 24 hour experience of the place) seems essentially to be divided in two.  At the bottom of the hill is a fairly average reasonably-sized town, complete with shopping centre, clothes shops, more charity shops than the eye can perceive (and as a fan of charity shops, this pleased me) chippies and one-way traffic systems designed to send any driver into apoplexy.  Arriving on a Friday evening at around 6 p.m. the lower part of the town was oddly silent – shut doors and closed shutters, empty pedestrianized curling streets inhabited only on the odd corner by the traditional feral youth that is quaintly more observable in someone else’s town than your own.  Leaving the same way on Saturday afternoon it was all elbows go to push through crowds of shoppers, that seemed to have poured out of every crack in every brick to fill their bags with goodies.

As you head uphill a change begins to take over the streets, subtle at first and then growing more and more noticeable.  Shopping chains give way to art galleries selling bowls of semi-precious stone and pictures of flowers caught in heavy cold winds.  Second hand bookshops start peeking out with large sections on local folklore and history.  There’s the obligatory not-quite-magic-shop selling brightly coloured dreamcatchers, incense and smelly candles; little shops built in straight on steep cobbled roads offering cream teas and home-made pots of chilli; shops offering home-made stationary and antique shops selling five different kinds of three hundred year old grandfather clock.  Suddenly you look around at the top of the worst part of the incline and over your shoulder you’ve got a view above the buildings towards green countryside and there are cobbles beneath your feet and suddenly everything is a little bit Yea Olde and Traditionale Crafte, albeit for the most part with the sensible good taste not to proclaim itself that way.  And of course, there’s a cathedral.  What I think Eddie Izzard would probably describe as a huge sod-off cathedral.  It’s a sneaky thing – from the station you could half believe that you weren’t going to bust an artery getting there, and from the rectangle where on Saturday there is a farmers market you might almost think that it’s actually quite a modest cathedral, and once you’re inside and looking down the length of it you realise that actually, this is a TARDIS in cathedral form and if you did pay your £5 entry fee there’d probably only be a 1/20 chance of you coming out alive.  It’s a proper gothic monster, all vaulted roof and leering, tongue-waggling stone faces carved above every arch.  Some cunning wag stuck an organ bang smack in the middle of it so as you stand at the entry point, you can’t actually see the back wall, even if there is one.  And if you’re still feeling unconvinced as to Lincoln’s historical credibility, then there’s a castle not two hundred yards away, just to make the point, albeit with a lawn for playing croquet and having tea has grown.  Around these two monuments is a street sprung up heavily with restaurants of every cuisine… although sad to say as I wandered towards the theatre where the Book Festival was happening, all I could really think of was fish and chips.

Anyhow, all things considered… an awesome 24hrs somewhere between ??? and ??? in the city of Lincoln!