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The planning of our tour—Ready for the road—The start—One of
Dick Turpin's haunts—Barnet-A curious inn sign—In the coaching days—Travellers, new and old-A forgotten SpaAn ancient map.
Our tour was planned one chilly winter's evening : just a chance letter originated the idea of exploring a portion of Lincolnshire during the coming summer. Our project in embryo was to drive from London to that more or less untravelled land of fen and wold by the old North Road, and to return to our starting-point by another route, to be decided upon when we had finished our Lincolnshire wanderings. It was in this wise. The day had been wild and blustery, as drear a day indeed as an English December well
could make. A bullying “ Nor’-Easter” had been blowing savagely ever since the morning, by the evening it had increased to a veritable storm, the hail and sleet were hurled against the windows of our room, and the wind, as it came in fierce gusts, shook the casements as though it would blow them in if it could. My wife and self were chatting about former wanderings on wheels, trying fairly successfully to forget all about the inclement weather without, each comfortably ensconced in a real easychair within the ample ingle-nook of that cosy chamber known to the household as “the snuggery” -a happy combination of studio and library, the thick curtains were closely drawn across the mullioned windows to exclude any possible draughts, the great wood fire on the hearth (not one of your black coal fires in an iron grate arrangement) blazed forth right merrily, the oak logs crackled in a companionable way, throwing at the same time a ruddy glow into the room, and the bright flames roared up the wide chimney ever and again with an additional potency in response to extra vehement blasts without.
“What a capital time,” I exclaimed, “to look over some of the sketches we made during our last summer holiday; they will help us to recall the long sunny days, those jolly days we spent in the country, and bring back to mind many a pleasant spot and picturesque old home!” No sooner was the idea expressed than I sought out sundry well-filled sketchbooks from the old oak corner cupboard devoted to our artistic belongings. True magicians were those sketch-books, with a power superior even to that REMINISCENCES
of Prince Houssain's carpet of Arabian Nights renown, for by their aid not only were we quickly transported to the distant shires, but we also turned back the hand of Time to the genial summer days, and, in spirit, were soon far away repeating our past rambles, afoot and awheel, along the brackenclad hillsides, over the smooth-turfed Downs, and across the rugged, boulder - strewn moors, here purple with heather and there aglow with golden gorse; anon we were strolling alongside the grassy banks of a certain quiet gliding river beloved of anglers, and spanned, just at a point where an artist would have placed it, by a hoary bridge built by craftsmen dead and gone to dust long centuries ago. Then, bringing forcibly to mind the old beloved coaching days, came a weather-stained hostelry with its great sign-board still swinging as of yore on the top of a high post, and bearing the representationrude but effective-of a ferocious-looking red lion that one well-remembered summer evening bade us two tired and dust-stained travellers a hearty heraldic welcome. Next we found ourselves wandering down a narrow valley made musical by a little stream tumbling and gambolling over its rocky bed (for the sketches revealed to the mind infinitely more than what the eye merely saw, recalling Nature's sweet melodies, her songs without words, as well as her visible beauties; besides raising within one countless half-forgotten memories)—a stream that turned the great green droning wheel of an ancient water-mill, down to which on either hand gently sloped the wooded hills, and amidst the foliage, half drowned
in greenery, we could discern at irregular intervals the red-tiled rooftrees of lowly cottage homes peeping picturesquely forth. Then we were transported to an old, time-grayed manor house of many gables and great stacks of clustering chimneys, its ivygrown walls and lichen-laden roof being backed by rook - haunted ancestral elms; the ancient home, with its quaint, old-fashioned garden and reed-grown moat encircling it, seemed, when we first came unexpectedly thereon, more like the fond creation of a painter or a poet than a happy reality.
“Don't you remember,” said my wife, as we were looking at this last drawing, "what a delightful day we spent there, and how the owner, when he discovered us sketching, at once made friends with us and showed us all over the dear old place, and how he delighted in the old armour in the hall, and how he told us that his ancestors fought both at Crecy and Agincourt-how nice it must be to have valiant ancestors like that !—and don't you remember that low-ceilinged, oak-panelled bed-chamber with the leaden-lattice window, the haunted room, and how it looked its part; and afterwards how the landlady of the village inn where we baited our horses would have it that the ghost of a former squire who was murdered by some one-or the ghost of somebody who was murdered by that squire, she was not quite sure which-stalks about that very chamber every night. And then there were the curiously-clipped yews on the terrace, and the old carved sun-dial at the end of the long walk, and " But the last sentence was destined never to be
finished, for at that moment a knock came at the door, followed by a servant bringing in a letter all moist and dripping, a trilling incident, that, however, sufficed to transport us back again from our dreamy wanderings amongst sunny summer scenes to that drear December night-our fireside travels came to an abrupt end !
“What a night for any one to be out,” I muttered, as I took the proffered letter, glancing first at the handwriting, which was unfamiliar, then at the postmark, which bore the name of a remote Lincolnshire town, yet we knew no one in that whole wide county. Who could the sender be? we queried. He proved to be an unknown friend, who in a goodnatured mood had written to suggest, in case we should be at a loss for a fresh country to explore during the coming summer, that we should try Lincolnshire; he further went on to remark, lest we should labour under the popular and mistaken impression (which we did) that it was a land more or less given over to “flats, fens and fogs," that he had visitors from London staying with him with their bicycles, who complained loudly of the hills in his neighbourhood; furthermore, “just to whet our appetites," as he put it, there followed a tempting list,“ by way of sample," of some of the good things scenic, antiquarian, and archæological, that awaited us, should we only come. Amongst the number—to enumerate only a few in chance order, and leaving out Lincoln and its cathedral—there were Crowland's ruined abbey, set away in the heart of the Fens; numerous old churches, that by virtue of their