Days and knights in Lincoln

The Battle of Lincoln in 1217 has been described as the most important conflict on English soil after 1066’s Battle of Hastings.

Invading French forces were repelled and the boy king Henry III held on to his throne.

To mark the 800th anniversary last weekend, the city hosted battle re-enactments on the site of the fighting, around Lincoln Castle and Lincoln Cathedral.

And a trail of 36 knight sculptures was unveiled across the city, to celebrate the victory of the royal forces over the rebels and French.

The drama will be re-enacted again over the May bank holiday weekend – which also sees the arrival of the Domesday Book, which will be displayed alongside Magna Carta in the castle as part of the city’s Battles and Dynasties exhibition (May 27-September 3).

Lincoln offers more than 2,000 years of fascinating heritage, with Roman remains, Norman architecture and quaint cobbled streets proving a draw for history buffs.

But it is a city that is looking to the future too, investing millions in its visitor attractions and transport network.

Its castle has undergone a £22 million transformation and the cathedral has just begun a £16 million restoration project.

The New Theatre Royal is under new management, with a revitalised line-up of acts, and the historic Lawn complex in the city is being turned into a £2 million head office, cafe and roastery for local coffee brand Stokes.

The developments mean that Visit Lincoln has plenty to tempt visitors, and it is working with local hoteliers and attractions to tell the city’s stories to the trade and consumers.

Theatre shows

I had just 48 hours to make the most of Lincoln’s 2,000 years of history – but fortunately for sightseers, key heritage and cultural sites are clustered around the castle and cathedral at the top of the appropriately named Steep Hill.

First stop was the New Theatre Royal, which hosts a wide range of plays, tribute acts, comedy shows and an annual pantomime.

Emma Olivier-Townrow, business development manager, says the city hosts varied festivals and events – ranging from the world’s largest steampunk festival to elite cycle races – so the theatre tries to cater for many different tastes.

To attract more group visitors, it hopes to offer packages incorporating a show, dinner and hotel accommodation, and further ahead, there are plans to celebrate the theatre’s 125th anniversary next year.

On the weekend I visited, there was a buzz about the newly unveiled statues of knights, as well as hordes of medieval re-enactors, parading from the cathedral to the castle to commemorate the events of 1217.

In between the Norman castle and gothic cathedral was a fine food market, with stalls offering local produce as well as more exotic fare such as ostrich meat.

The medieval square is also the scenic backdrop for the popular Christmas market (December 7-11) and the Visitor Information Centre, housed in a half-timbered building dating back to the 16th century.

Joint tickets are available for the castle and cathedral, saving 20% on admission prices.

I began at the cathedral, where a guided tour is part of the admission, but you can pay extra for trips up to the tower and roof.

Among the magnificent columns, arches and stained glass windows, there is also a small sculpture of an infamous imp (the nickname for the local football team is the Imps) and outside is a statue of the poet Tennyson.

The afternoon was spent watching the Middle Ages come to life in the castle grounds – including the feisty Nicola de la Haye who led the defence of the besieged castle, and was described as the woman who saved England.

In between the re-enactments, there was a chance to walk around the ramparts with views over Lincolnshire, and to uncover the history of the Victorian jail.

Magna Carta

Housed in a new vault at the castle is the cathedral’s 1215 Magna Carta and 1217 Charter of the Forest.

They will be joined by the Domesday Book, which making a rare appearance outside London.

A sightseeing bus tour on day two was a chance to delve further into Lincoln’s past, including Roman ruins, and the redeveloped area around Brayford Pool, with its restaurants, hotels and boat trips.

Our guide also pointed out the 30-metre tall memorial spire at International Bomber Command Centre, which will be part of a visitor centre opening later this year.

Also new this year is the inaugural Scampton Air Show (September 9-10), one of several aviation events and attractions in Lincolnshire, known as Bomber County.

Back in the city centre, there were more opportunities to browse the vintage shops and quirky cafes along Steep Hill – which won the title of Britain’s Best Street in 2012.

I discovered more about Lincoln’s prehistoric past at The Collection, which houses an archaeology gallery, as well as art at the Usher Gallery.

The Collection is home to one of the city’s two Stokes cafes – the other can be found at the Tudor High Bridge Cafe, which is the only medieval bridge in England with houses still upon it.

Lincolnites are rightly proud of their heritage, and the city’s tourism trade and attractions are working together on developments to make sure many more visitors hear its stories in the future.

A weekend doesn’t seem long enough to discover everything so I shall have to return to find out more.

Where to stay: The Lincoln Hotel
You could not ask for a better location or more impressive views of the cathedral.

The restored 1960s building makes the most of its Sixties heritage with the interior decor and quirky touches such as bowler hat lamp shades.

The Green Room restaurant offers a menu with local produce, while the wooden-beamed cellar bar, Bar ‘67, continues the Sixties theme.

It has a baron sculpture in reception – a legacy of the Barons’ Trail in 2015 – and, of course, he’s decked out in Sixties style.