Following in the footsteps of the Romans - Monthly Walk with Hugh Marrows

The Roman fertility goddesses
The Roman fertility goddesses

With spring well and truly here we take a stroll round the historic village of Ancaster and include visits to its two nature reserves.

Ancaster sits astride the Roman Ermine Street, their major road linking London with York(via Lincoln and a Humber crossing).

The Roman coffins

The Roman coffins

Another Roman road, King Street from Bourne, also meets Ermine Street just south of the village. Ancaster was therefore quite an important place and a small township developed there that was situated in the meadows across the road from the church. There was also a soldier’s encampment to the north of the present village near the railway. Ancaster grew to such an extent that – as Arthur Mee relates in his book on Lincolnshire – hoards of Roman coins found locally were so plenteous that they were used as currency. Other Roman links are with the church which stands on a former temple site and is dedicated to a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity. It has three small statues of Roman fertility goddesses set into the churchyard wall whilst in the cemetery behind the church are two Roman stone coffins.

Both the nature reserves visited on this walk belong to the Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust (LWT) and there should be plenty of wild flowers to see at this time of year.

The first reserve is called “The Valley”. The LWT obtained this site in 1982. It is thought to have been formed by glacial run-off, hence the steep sides, and now with scrub cleared away it is one of Lincolnshire’s best limestone grassland habitats and home to many limestone loving flowers including the rare pasque flower. An information board at the entrance tells more.

There is an information board at the other reserve, Moor Closes, too and it also has a map of a short, recommended visitor route you can follow which is marked out with arrowed direction posts. This, along with the cemetery, is the only known habitat of a plant called Tall Thrift (Armeria Maritima). This was once widespread in the east midlands but has almost (but not quite!) vanished. It flowers from June to

St Martin's at Ancaster

St Martin's at Ancaster

October. From 1937 to 1952 the thrift appeared on the old threepenny piece coin. (There’s more on the reserve notice board.) By mid-May there should be plenty of flowers out; particularly watch out for marsh orchids.

The reserve has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest since 1985.

(Note that Moor Closes is a wet meadow reserve and may be squelchy underfoot in places after rain!)

NOTES. Parking is available along the wide main street near the church. Woodland Waters is off route by about a quarter of a mile along the A153 road from Ancaster traffic lights towards Grantham. (SATNAV postcode NG32 3RT) Their restaurant welcomes non-residents.

The May Walk

The May Walk

ABOUT THE WALK.

START. Outside Ancaster church.

MAPS. OS Landranger 130 (Grantham) : Explorer 247.

DISTANCE. 3 miles ; 5 kilometres.

REFRESHMENTS. Woodland Waters Holiday Park. (See notes.)

THE WALK.

With your back to the church carefully cross the road and turn right. At the traffic lights go left to a pedestrian crossing, cross the road and turn left using the pavement to reach the entrance to The Valley nature reserve. This is a public footpath. Just before the reserve entrance gate keep to the path branching left. This climbs gradually above the valley and is soon enclosed by trees. After about half a mile, at a 3- way footpath sign, bear right and descend steps to reach a handgate at the valley floor. Turn right and walk back down the valley itself to return to the entrance passed earlier. Now return to the church.

Continue the walk by going through the churchyard and turning right along the lane behind it. You will soon pass the cemetery on your left and may wish to go in to see the two Roman stone coffins.

Continue then along the lane past a 4-way footpath fingerpost with a Moor Closes sign on a nearby gate.

Don’t enter here but keep forward to next gate on left; inside this is an information board with map of the visitor’s route round the reserve.

Keep ahead alongside a wire fence for 250 yards to reach first guide post and go left for a few yards; then keep right of a small clump of trees and walk down meadow to a footbridge with a second one nearby.

From that walk forward (on a faint path) to the next arrowed marker post and bear left to a third post near a stream. Turn right and at a final marker post go left over another footbridge and walk across to the info board by the entrance.

Bear left to reach track junction and then go right. At the next junction bear right again, join a public road and at Ancaster’s main street (Ermine Street) bear right back through village to church.