On 5 September, Lincolnshire Ramblers celebrate the fortieth anniversary of the Viking Way. This 147-mile route runs from the Humber through Lincolnshire to Oakham in Rutland. It was opened at Tealby on 5 September 1976 by John Hedley-Lewis, the Deputy Chairman of Lincolnshire County Council.
Brett Collier, long-standing path campaigner in Lincolnshire and president of the Ramblers’ Area, wrote of the beginnings of the Viking Way in the Area’s spring 2004 newsletter.
Hedley-Lewis was the first chairman of the new Lincolnshire County Council when Lindsey, Kesteven and Holland were combined. He was also our Ramblers Lincolnshire Area President.
The Viking Way Route would not come into being in 1976 without his active support. Tom Dagwell, Nev Cole and I were in on the initial recces on Saturdays since we were all employed during the week. It was Chris Hall who came up with the suggested route title of the Viking Way. He later became National President of the RA. [In fact, Chris thought that the Viking Way should run from the Scottish border down the Viking coast to London. Lincolnshire County Council was keen for it to become an official long-distance path (now known as national trail), linking with the Wolds Way and Norfolk Coast Path which later became long-distance paths. Unfortunately this never happened.]
Hedley- Lewis was dying of cancer and we were under some pressure to get the Viking Way into being while he was still alive and later we could sort out any problem parts of the route. It took another 20 years to unscramble some sections! Hedley-Lewis was still alive when the route was opened but too ill to attend the ceremony.
As part of the opening day ceremony I led a walk from Belchford to Fulletby to near West Ashby where we were met by ‘the chain gang’ (half a dozen local mayors). Mr Ward from Fulletby Top drove alongside us cursing and telling us in a loud voice that there was a perfectly good road to walk down to West Ashby! I did not know at the time but the route of the current Viking Way from Fulletby top to West Ashby is a 60-foot-wide inclosure award. No wonder he was worried.
I walked a short stretch of the Viking Way in August 1985. This was part of the Ramblers’ 50th-anniversary Jubilee Walk around Britain. Ramblers’ Areas each organised the walk in their territory, and a baton was passed. The idea was to highlight blackspots on the way, with speeches and press releases.
As a member of the executive committee, I was invited to make a speech at the start of the stretch from Tealby south to Donington-on-Bain. I spoke on the bridge over the river, before we headed off to Ludford. I criticised the state of paths in Lincolnshire and reported a recent decision by the Ramblers’ National Council (AGM) to remove the requirement from our constitution that members must sign an undertaking to observe the Country Code. (We replaced it with a requirement ‘to respect the countryside, especially its beauty and wildlife, and to promote access to it on foot’.)
This was because it was impossible to ‘keep to public paths across farmland’ when the paths were obliterated by crops, to ‘use gates and stiles’ when they were obstructed with barbed wire or not there, and to ‘leave crops alone’ when the crop was planted across the path. Lincolnshire was a prime illustration of these problems for its paths then were in an appalling state: it was the right place to release this news.
The story was in the Daily Telegraph the next day.
Brett Collier had explained to me that too much of the Viking Way zigzagged around field edges where public paths had been diverted, away from the direct, cross-field routes. The map of the section we walked, between Tealby and Ludford, demonstrates this clearly: the Way looks like a staircase on the map.
A gem of this walk is the Ramblers’ church at Walesby, high on the Wolds (don’t let anyone tell you Lincolnshire is flat), with its Ramblers’ window donated by local ramblers and cyclists in 1951. It depicts Christ in the cornfields with the text: And it came to pass that he went through the cornfields on the Sabbath Day. In Lincolnshire he would surely have found his path blocked.
The paths are better now, and the route has been improved, with less of it along roads. The Viking Way is a great tribute to the hard work by the Ramblers with the support of the county council.
I shall be back there for the Walkers Are Welcome annual get-together, based on the three Walkers Are Welcome towns of Caistor, Horncastle and Market Rasen. The event is preceded with a walk on the Viking Way and I shall raise a glass to those pioneering Ramblers who invented it.