13. Golf Balls and Boot Scrapers
Ludensian: Noun, an inhabitant of the market town of Louth. Taken from the Latin name of the town: Lude, Luda
I mentioned in my post on Bath that I get what I call my "tingly Hobbit feet" when a place lights my heart on fire. And by lights my fire I mean the place truly speaks to your heart and awakens a sense of joy that you just can't explain. This has only happened to me 3 times so far in my life. The first was at Hore Abbey in Cashel, Ireland, the second was in Bath and the third time it was in Louth. We were in Louth for the sheer reason that Daniel knew that I would love it, so I was beyond happy when our detour to the Lincolnshire Wolds paid off.
We parked our car near the the Supermarket right along the River Lud. It was a lovely, clear day and we couldn't have been greeted by a more beautiful view of a little pedestrian bridge over the very unassuming river. I have a lottery dream that involves both Bath and Louth depending on my mood. When I want to live in a city centre Georgian flat that would cost more than I could make in a lifetime within walking distance to Roman Baths, shopping and direct trains to London then I fantasize about Bath, but when I want to live a quaint country existence in a small sized town with rolling hills, walking paths aplenty and more charm that I know what to do with, then Louth takes over my dreams.
Since Daniel knew that Louth would be a place I would fall in love with he had been talking it up for months and we did fantasy house hunting. There was a top floor flat for sale right next to the parish church that I wanted so badly, I was ready to just throw caution to the wind and buy it from thousands of miles away. It's going to sound ridiculous but I actually teared up the day that it sold. I was convinced we were going to buy it somehow, even if we weren't able to move to England- I wanted to turn it into a vacation rental and then retire to it. But alas it was snatched up before I could really wrap my head around making it happen. So with super heavy hearts Daniel and I decided we wanted to see the flat in person, which was just rubbing salt in our wounds. I really did have a visceral reaction when I saw it from the street in person for the first time- so maybe, just maybe it'll go back on the market someday and it will be ours? Somehow we're tied to that flat and to that town... But I digress.
Louth is in Tennyson country. Who's Tennyson you ask? Why, only my very favorite romantic poet. My love of Alfred Lord Tennyson came at the same time as my love for the Pre-Raphaelite painting movement that I discovered in the art section of the Earthling bookstore when I was in High School in the early 90's. Tennyson's poetry is often the inspiration behind JW Waterhouse's paintings. He happens to be my favorite artist so it's fitting that his work introduced me to Tennyson. I've mentioned Tennyson in previous UK travel blog posts, particularly my post on Lincoln. There is a much larger than life statue of Tennyson behind Lincoln Cathedral that is not to be missed if you are a fan and happen to be in Lincoln.
Alfred Lord Tennyson was born in Sombersby, a small village 10 miles south of Louth. His grandfather, Stephen Fytche was vicar of St. James Church in Louth and Alfred attended the King Edward VI Grammar School from 1816-1820 (also notably Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame was also a pupil in the late 16th century). We came upon the school when out for a walk and found it lively with children playing and loitering on a break in the field. The school was established in 1276 with Simon De Luda as it's headmaster, but wasn't officially founded until 1551 when Edward VI, son of Henry VIII and his third wife Jane Seymour gave the school the plot of land and money he had raised. It was a boys school until 1964 when the girls boarding school was merged with it to create one school. Although a free school there's no guarantee a child is going to get in-there's an entrance exam and only the smartest kids are going to be handed a uniform. So, right there in that field was some of England's brightest stars.
One of the first things we did in Louth after looking up longingly at our lost flat was visit the parish church, St. James Church. You can see the church spire from just about everywhere in the market town, it's a wonderful beacon to help a direction challenged visitor like myself navigate the streets and alleyways. St. James Church stood witness to the Lincolnshire Rising when on 1 October 1536 the Rev. Thomas Kendall gave an "emotive sermon" on the eve before King Henry VIII's Commissioners were due to arrive and assess the church's wealth. The townspeople fearing that the church's treasury would be seized demanded the building's keys. The townspeople kept vigil that night and then started the call for rebellion. 50,000 supporters eventually converged on Lincoln in a march that started in Louth. Unfortunately Rev. Thomas Kendall was executed for his involvement in organizing the rebellion.
I had a lovely encounter with the woman who worked in the church gift shop. I bought some souvenirs and we got to chatting while I made my purchase. She assumed that I was in the church to view the peregrines that had nested in the church tower. Our exchange went a little something like this:
"So, you've come to see our birds?" She asked her in distinctive Lincolnshire lilt.
Me, having no clue what she was talking about answered, "Yes!"
"Well, then I'll take you round the back to see them." She said as she handed me my little bag of souviniers with the top neatly folded down.
Still having no clue what she was talking about and realizing that Daniel had already exited the church I helplessly followed the woman. She was merrily chatting on and on about how the babies were doing and if I was lucky I could see the babies and the mother. She took me into the cafe area of the church and placed me in front of a little TV monitor. The church has a camera trained on the birds up in the tower so you can observe them. Between the woman from the cafe and the lovely lady from the gift shop I got the whole story of the birds. I heard all about how when the wind picked up the mother bird would squat down on her babies and shield them from the cold. The women had a good natured laugh about that and I'm pretty sure they said something like, "Bless her." The falcons showed up in 2015 and have come back every year to mate and lay their eggs in the nesting tray placed there by the town. These ladies took real pride in these birds and it was a sweet thing to see. I'm pleased to have accidently become a part of this event, since it only happens from April-July and there's no guarantee the birds will return year after year. Also, it was a nice interaction with these ladies that I might not have otherwise had. I did the proper "ooh's and aah's", asked some questions about the birds and took my leave. Daniel was about to send in a search party!
It was now time to check into our hotel and re-park the car. Lucky for us the hotel we were staying at was not only a pub and inn but also used to be the Post Office- which meant that behind the inn is a large yard that was originally there for stabling the mail coach and horses. That space is now a large car park. A little word about the town of Louth- it has quite a few one way streets, which I'm used to but that makes it tricky for tourists. The entrance to the hotel car park is on a one way street. The girl who checked us in was trying to explain to us how to get to it and even she was having a hard time telling us how to find the entrance- so instead she gave us the postcode to punch into the GPS. I have to say that was as helpful as a pile of dirt. We finally found an entrance to the car park but it was blocked off with a locked barrier. As the passenger it was my responsibility to jump out of the car and try to jiggle the thing to the best of my ability, just in case it was a "trick gate". I got yelled at by a local from his car window for my trouble. That wasn't embarrassing, not at all. I jumped back in the car and we had that kind of conversation that married couples have.
Husband- "Did you jiggle it?"
Me- "Yes, I jiggled it and that man yelled at me from his car window that it was locked." Said with exasperated noises and an unpleasant tone for added effect.
Husband- "Well, what do we do now?", said with an equally unpleasant tone.
Me- "Drop me off in front of the the hotel and I'll run in and ask how to get in the lot. You go around the block. Maybe we need to have a guest key that she didn't tell us about?"
Husband- "Well, I'm only going to stop and let you out if there isn't another car behind me."
Me- "Okay, fine." Said with probably more attiutde than necessary and maybe I even crossed my arms over my chest.
We turned the corner and lo and behold there was the correct entrance to the car park! I think we both shouted, "There!" At the same time. And then we pretended like it had been the easiest thing in the world and we hadn't just had a stress induced exchange. Once we knew where the car park entrance was it was easy to get in and out. I have promised myself to memorize the city center of Louth so that next time we go I'll know the streets and know my way around.
We got our luggage and made our way up the many stairs to our tiny room. Our room at King's Head Inn was really basic but it was cozy and the bed was comfortable. The location alone made it one of my favorite places we stayed. It's at the center of the town and walking distance to everything. With car safely parked and bags put away we decided to head out and find the Hubbard's Hills area.
Hubbard's Hills has become the name for a park area in Louth that contains Hubbard's Hill, Fisher's Hill and Hubbard's Valley. When leaving town you pass through the Westgate Fields and find yourself following the River Lud. The River Lud looks very unassuming to the first time visitor, but that glittering watercourse can actually be dangerous in the right circumstances and a nuisance at the very least. The river has been known to flood but most notably it became (deadly and) destructive in 1920 and again in 2007.
On 29 May 1920 a flash flood devastated the city center of Louth. In just 20 minutes 23 people lost their lives when a 15 foot high wall of water crashed through the streets, taking cars and pieces of buildings along with it- trapping people in their submerged homes with some drowning in their own kitchens. The storm that caused the flood lasted 3 hours, with between 4-6 inches falling (depending on the source) and flood waters cutting an almost 5 feet deep gully in solid chalk near Warren Farm. It has been suggested that along with the rapid rainfall saturating the ground that a natural debris dam broke causing the surge in water. 800 were left homeless in the wake of the flood and had to rely on the kindness of their neighbors who came out unscathed.
Louth was visited by flood again in 2007. Heavy rainfall at the end of June 2007 caused the River Lud to burst its banks. Fortunately the residents had warning of this flood unlike in 1920. 60 houses were able to be evacuated and there was no loss of life but plenty of property damage. All I could find of great note was one story of a nine year old boy being pulled to safety by members of the public when he got swept away with the deluge.
After another flash flood in 2014 work began on a flood relief scheme involving 2 flood storage reservoirs designed to store 85 Olympic swimming pools, so hopefully that ends Louth's chapter on devastating floods and the poor little town can no longer look at heavy rainfall in fear.
I didn't actually know all of the details of this as we walked along the river's banks. I knew Louth was prone to flooding but that was the extent of my knowledge. We carried on walking and came upon one of the fascinating features you see in Hubbard's Hills, the Pahud Memorial Fountain. The memorial was placed by the town at the behest of Swiss native Auguste Alphonse Pahud in memory of his beloved wife Annie Grant Pahud. Auguste came to Louth to teach in 1875, fell in love with Annie and married her in 1887. She died suddenly at the age of 57 in 1899 while the couple were in London. Auguste's grief became overwhelming, he became a recluse and eventually he committed suicide 3 years later at the age of 55. Hubbard's Hills was purchased using money given to trustees by Auguste in his will and was gifted to the town in 1907.
I'd love to say that we knew where we were going but we didn't. Even with the directions that I saved to my phone we ended up taking a wrong turn. We were meant to go on a 6 mile looped Lincolnshire Wolds walk that began at Hubbard's Hills but somehow ended up on a completely different route once we reached the South Entrance of the park. We took a left when we should have taken a right but it was a happy accident. In our error we found ourselves on the Louth Golf Club course. Let's talk about how fun it is to dodge golf balls from invisible sources. Okay I exaggerate- it was only one golf ball sailing through the air, but still- nothing will get you hopping quite like a small missile. We also had to dodge abandoned balls in the grass like land mines- trust me, you don't want to step on one especially when you are already hobbling on a broken toe. Oh yes, the broken toe was still with us my friends. That lovely bruised and swollen digit was still there to remind me of what a klutz I can be.
I was eager to get off of the course and back to a path when we heard voices through the bushes. Turns out we were walking parallel to the real path the whole time! It was just on the other side of the hedges. We found a break in the foliage and emerged onto the paved path. Those poor people already on the path- it must have been rather startling to suddenly see two people come stumbling out of bushes with illicit golf balls in our pockets. This path took us around the golf course, past lovely cottages and modern houses and back into town. Once again the steeple of St James Church was there to guide us back to our hotel without a map.
While we were walking back to our hotel I spied unusual half domed recesses in some of the buildings by the doorways. They were a feature in quite a few of the old buildings in the city centre so I knew they had to be there for a reason. I gathered by the age and state of some of them that whatever they were there for it didn't have a modern purpose.
We got back to our room and I got to researching. Turns out those recessed ironwork semi-circles with bars across the middle are boot scrapers. Known as decrottoir in French, the boot scraper was popularized in the 18th and 19th century when strolling for pleasure became an activity of the middle and upper classes. Footpaths became a thing around this time and with the popularity of a stroll came the need to rid your shoes of the mud and muck of the streets before entering your home. I have never noticed these before on our travels and I find it fascinating that there are so many in Louth. I love finding remnants of an bygone era. A time when transportation had four legs and left unpleasant piles behind it and a time without sidewalks that kept a walker out of the roadway and all it's hazards.
After a little rest we made a quick trip to the coast for dinner and an ice cream. A lovely ending to an even lovelier day.
But, our time in Louth wasn't up quite yet, we had a morning to look forward to and the races! To be continued...
**I don't usually add sources to my posts because I tend to gather the information in a very general way and a lot of Wikipedia but for this particular post I feel that I must cite sources for the Louth flood of 1920.
Source 1. The Louth storm and flood after 80 years. An article written by Colin Clark and Ana Lisa Vetere Arellano
Source 2. Discovering Louth. A book by Geoff Mullett