English Heritage and the National Trust in Lincolnshire

The traditional county of Lincolnshire is the second largest in size after Yorkshire, but has only eight English Heritage and six National Trust properties – far, far fewer than in Yorkshire or the third largest county, Devon.

Lincolnshire: Gainsborough Old Hall
Gainsborough Old Hall

However some of these properties are among England’s finest examples of their architectural styles, for example, Gainsborough Old Hall and Belton House. Plus there are distinctive gardens to discover and intriguing historical ruins to explore.

During my summer holiday tour of Lincolnshire heritage properties, I was accompanied by a couple of my grandchildren. They seemed to very much enjoy this change of scene from the usual holiday fare of theme parks and fun factories.

English Heritage

• Gainsborough Old Hall takes pride of place among English Heritage properties in Lincolnshire. It is a very well preserved medieval manor house, partly brick and timber-framed, with an elaborate timber roof and a tower, supposedly haunted, giving views over the town.

If you have grandchildren in tow, then this is a great place to visit with realistic displays of medieval foods and dressing up opportunities – plus the haunting stories always seem to fascinate the little ones. This English Heritage property is open throughout the year, unlike many of their properties which close between autumn and spring.

• Thornton Abbey was one of Britain’s richest Augustinian monasteries, but now all that remains is the massive fortified Gatehouse, plus a large area of ruins with little structure left.

This is another fun place for grandchildren. The gatehouse has narrow stairways and eerie passages leading into lofty chambers with hands-on activities, including matching monastic clothes to wooden figures. Behind the gatehouse, there is a large grassed area where the little ones can run around, and maybe carefully clamber over some of the lower ruins of the monastery.

Hands-on activity at Thornton Abbey
Hands-on activity at Thornton Abbey

• Lincoln Medieval Bishops’ Palace, which dates back to 1163, is just a stone’s throw away from Lincoln Cathedral, yet many visitors to the cathedral pass by without noticing the palace. As well an interesting exhibition, their are great views over the city as you wander through the unusual gardens and a small vineyard. My grandchildren enjoyed trying on the medieval-style dressing-up clothes.

• St Peter’s Church in Barton-upon-Humber has an Anglo-Saxon tower and baptistry and is home to over 2800 burials dating from the 9th Century until Victorian times. An interactive exhibition, entitled Buried Lives, gives a fascinating insight into medieval lifestyles. For refreshment whilst in Barton, I headed down to the Waters’ Edge Visitor Centre and took in great views of the Humber Bridge, whilst my grandchildren fed the wide range of ducks and other bird-life around the Centre.

Lincoln Medieval Bishops’ Palace
Medieval Bishops’ Palace in front of Lincoln Cathedral

• Sibsey Trader Windmill dates back to 1877 and is, or rather was until January 2018, one of the most impressive working windmills in the country. Unfortunately, gales force winds led to the sails being removed for repair. However the six storey structure is still interesting to explore and the tearoom still offers stone-ground flour products.

The other three English Heritage sites, in Lincolnshire are really only for heritage enthusiasts in that they are very basic ruins. All three sites have free entry at any reasonable time during daylight hours.

Tattershall College – the stark ruins of a 15th Century grammar school for church choristers. Bolingbroke Castle – the ruined walls outlining a 13th Century hexagonal castle, reputedly the birthplace of the future King Henry IV.  Gainsthorpe Medieval Village – a collection of grassy ridges and hollows in a field – fun for the grandchildren to run around, but otherwise not that exciting.

Belton House - Fine Carolean architecture
Belton House – Fine Carolean architecture

National Trust

• Belton House is the real McCoy in stately homes, with an impressive Carolean house to tour that gives a fascinating contrast between the upstairs and downstairs areas. As well as attractive formal gardens and an orangery, there are walks through landscaped grounds and around a couple of lakes.

I’m always pleasantly surprised, that even when the car park is overflowing, the longer walks are very peaceful with few people venturing far from the house.

And the grandchildren are not neglected – far from it. There is both a very large outdoor playground plus an indoor play area that is perfect for  a rainy day visit. This National Trust property is open throughout the year, unlike many of their properties which close between autumn and spring.

Old Boathouse on a walk at Belton House
Old Boathouse along a walk at Belton House

• Gunby Hall is more of a homely country house than a stately home, but there is still much of interest to see inside what was the family dwelling of the Massingberd family for over 250 years from 1700. However, for me, the gardens are the major draw to Gunby, particularly the formal walled area containing a vast array of flowers, fruit and vegetables. This contrasts beautifully with the wildflower meadows.

A three and half mile walk (or five minute car journey) from Gunby Hall gives access to the separate National Trust site known as Gunby Hall Estate: Monksthorpe Chapel. To see inside this secluded 17th Century Baptist chapel, you need to collect a key from Gunby Hall.

Gunby Hall
Gunby Hall

• Woolsthorpe Manor is the perfect place to visit if you have budding scientists among your grandchildren. This 17th Century farmhouse is of interest in itself, but its connection with  Isaac Newton is what brings it alive. He was born here and worked within its walls and garden for many years. See the famous apple tree from which the falling apple is supposed to have suggested to Newton the idea of gravity.

• Tattershall Castle is a six storey red brick tower dating back to the 15th Century. There is not much to see inside, but my grandchildren enjoyed scurrying up the stairs to the battlements on the top with great panoramic views. Lincoln Cathedral, nearly 20 miles away, can be seen on a clear day.

Gunby Gardens
Gunby Hall Gardens

• Grantham House is a townhouse dating back to 1380, but constantly remodelled over the following 400 years. It has an attractive riverside walled garden.

So both English Heritage and the National Trust have some first-rate properties in Lincolnshire, although visiting all of them could prove very expensive, with entrance fees at anything up to £18 per person. The answer is to consider annual membership which is offered by both English Heritage and the National Trust.

For a guide as to which to join as a senior traveller, see: English Heritage versus National Trust – Which to join?

See also the following Historic Houses properties in Lincolnshire: Doddington Hall and Gardens and Elsham Hall Gardens.