The Explorer’s Road – Grantham

Apples, bees and gingerbread

Grantham - by David Johnson /CC BY-SA via Wikimedia CommonsIn 1985 Talking Heads were on the ‘Road to Nowhere’. Today we knew exactly where we were going. Continuing along The Explorer’s Road to Grantham – the largest town in South Lincolnshire and famous for its gingerbread.

But first a couple of diversions.

Bab’s nan Sadie was kind, compassionate, hard-working (a true grafter) and funny too. Thankfully all of these traits have been passed on, through the gene pool, to the wonderful girl sat next to me. We are on Pickworth Plain looking for Nan’s birthplace. As the name suggests the land is as flat as a pancake. Alas no joy, only a few bricks – remnants of a life well-lived. The fields are level and green and punctuated with fields of corn and newly ploughed rich brown fertile soil.

Further on, just off the A1 is Woolsthorpe Manor. A small 17th century manor house once the birthplace of Isaac Newton – he became a Sir a little later- and now under the guardianship of The National Trust. He was born on Christmas Day 1642 the son of a wealthy farmer. Not for him though a life in farming. Isaac was a thinker and this great mind inevitably went on to study at Cambridge. A brilliant mathematician. A superb scientist.

Woolsthorpe Manor by Defacto / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia CommonsThe apple tree under which he sat daydreaming is no more – it fell down in 1820 proving his thoughts on gravity were spot on! Apparently, the tree standing here today is grafted from the original fruit tree.

During the time of the plague Cambridge University temporarily closed down and Isaac returned to his home to study. He, like my lovely dad, couldn’t sit still – apart from when the apple fell and inspired his theory of gravity. He mucked about a lot – Isaac not my dad- and experimented a lot. Using a glass prism he once split light into the colour spectrum. The Science Discovery centre is excellent. A place to get hands-on and try out some of his experiments – Isaac’s, not Dad’s.

With the removal of roundabouts on the A1 the good transport links from North to South and vice versa have just got easier and much quicker too.

If you are into retail therapy then you are in for a treat. Three miles outside Grantham, again within spitting distance of the A1, lies Downtown. No not the Abbey. That’s Downton. No Mr Carson here. Downtown is a massive superstore containing all things retail. For green fingered garden lovers head for the very good garden centre across the car park.

Grantham Guildhall and th estatue of Sir Isaac Newton by Thorvaldsson / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia CommonsFor clothing at discount prices head for the famous Boundary Mill situated at the back of the store on ground level. Fancy a pair of Pierre Cardin socks? or a Pringle jumper? I defy any golfer over the age of 50 to say no. Shoes for a tenner too. Handbag heaven, pristine Radford purses, and feminine shoes in all fashion shapes and sizes- they even cater for ladies’ size 9 – for the bigfoot in the family.  Downtown is a great place to spend a few hours and a few pounds too especially if it is raining.

Three things I know about Grantham. It has a football team, Grantham Town FC known as The Gingerbreads. It is a stopping point on the East Coast Mainline train route, 105 miles from London. And lastly, and probably everyone knows this, it is the birthplace of our first female Prime Minister. Easily the best of our two feminine leaders. No comparison with the second female PM who has recently departed to carry on running naked through cornfields (oh sorry that was Lady Chatterley’s Lover) and taking off to Europe for long walks. Some may say the longer the better – only an observation not a comment! I spotted her in Parliament recently so unfortunately she is back.

Its proximity to the Great North Road and excellent rail links has helped Grantham blossom and prosper. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Over the years much of its character has disappeared through uncaring idiotic council demolition. But there are still some fine buildings. Look out for 13th Century St Wulfram’s Church on Church Street (where else?). It has a fine 282-foot spire, one of the tallest in England. The priest’s room houses a chained library – open April to September. Founded in 1598 this is the oldest public library in the country and was started by a local clergyman who wanted to make easy access of knowledge for the general public. The books were all originally chained to protect from theft. Today over 80 volumes are still tied up which probably says a lot about today’s world.

The living pub sign of The Beehive by Richard Croft / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia CommonsFollow in the footsteps of Kings John, Charles I and Richard III and have a drink and rest in The Angel and Royal. It was originally a hostel for the Knights Templar. Another pub – The Beehive – on Castlegate is apparently the only UK pub to have a ‘living sign’. Since the mid 1800s there has been a beehive in a tree to the side of the doorway. Securely fastened I hope – we didn’t want to test Newton’s theory of gravity as we passed under it.

Towns never want to miss out on milking their cash cows and Grantham is no different. And why not? The biennial Gravity Fields Festival is a well-respected and popular event and yes it celebrates Sir Isaac, a pupil of the town’s King School before he trotted off to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1661. His statue stands proud on the town green just in front of the Guildhall Hall built in the Victorian era.

Grantham museum celebrates both Maggie and Isaac and is well worth a visit.

The corner shop where Margaret Thatcher was born, Grantham by Thorvaldsson / CC BY-SA via Wikimedia CommonsMrs T’s birthplace was 2-6 North Parade, NG31 8AN, now a busy corner on the edge of the town. It is marked by a plaque. Born 13 Oct 1925. Died 8 Apr 2013 at The Ritz Hotel, London. The ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Hilda Thatcher was Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990. Her dad was a shopkeeper and mayor of Grantham. Surprisingly there is no statue of her here but there is soon to be one. It was passed by the council in February of this year. It is set to stand on St Peter’s Hill close to Sir Isaac – despite vandalism fears. A marmite figure just the mention of her name causes division and derision in families. As we walked around the time, I wondered how different the UK would be today if she hadn’t left Grantham and entered national politics? Discuss!

On our way out of town I stopped to ask a heavily pock-faced youth some directions. “Is there a B&Q in Grantham?” A simple question or so I thought. He looked puzzled and began scratching his pus-filled cheeks and touching his baseball hat. Eyes bulging in confusion. “Ugh I don’t think so, don’t know really. I’m not that good at spelling (with one l, I assume). There is a g and r, I think, oh and an a and t but I don’t think q or b!!!!!”

The English education system is such a triumph though, it did give us the best laugh of the trip so far. Life is often wasted on the living!

We were overjoyed to find the DIY store on the Grantham Retail Park.

Read the introduction to this journey on The Explorer’s Road.

The Explorer's Road

The Explorer’s Road Map courtesy of VisitBritain.com

See also

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Dave Harcombe

Travelling pharmacist

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