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December 2018: A West Country Christmas – Dorset in December

Thomas Hardy’s celebration of Christmas in Dorset in his early novel Under the Greenwood Tree is perhaps second only to A Christmas Carol (a version ...More
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Tennyson's Lincolnshire Wolds, Lincolnshire

Tennyson 's rather formal style of poetry may be rather alien to modern tastes, but he is still particularly remembered for The Lady of Shalott, and for The Charge of the Light Brigade, and unconsciously recalled on our tongues for some of his memorable phrases such as Theirs not to reason why, Nature red in tooth and claw, and Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all and so on.
Though in later years he lived in London , Sussex and the Isle of Wight , Tennyson's youth was spent in the Lincolnshire Wolds , the rolling hills and carved valleys that are in stark contrast with the flat fens in the same county.
Alfred Tennyson was born in 1809 in the rectory in Somersby, a few miles north east of Horncastle . His birthplace still exists, but is now a private house, The Old Rectory, so cannot be visited. The village of Somersby is a pretty one, however, as is the Tudor church of St Margaret where the poet's father preached interminable and complex sermons. Dr Tennyson was also in charge of the older church in nearby, and splendidly named, Bag Enderby. That church is another St Margaret's, said to date from 1407.
In Somersby there is the stream that inspired The Brook, one of Tennyson's most lyrical pieces, though there are other claimants elsewhere in the area, a fact that underlines the natural beauty here.
The Wolds is a very rural spot, with little in the way of major population centres. Louth is called the capital of the Wolds, but though it is an archetypal and very lovely market town it takes some imagination to think of it as a capital. Tennyson attended the grammar school here from 1816 to 1820, a fact celebrated by the establishment, although it may not be all that proud of the bullying and beatings the child suffered until he was removed to be schooled at home. Another Tennyson link with Louth is that his first publisher, Jackson's, was in the town, and their shop on the market place can still be seen there to this day.
A further attraction worth visiting for its Tennyson connection, but also as a nice spot to spend some time away from it all, is Stockwith Mill, which inspired The Miller's Daughter (The sleepy pool above the dam...). The mill is situated in Hagworthingham, which sounds as if it should have been made up, as do many of the quirky place names around it.
By way of a change why not venture to the coast here, the blowy and wild North Sea coast that Tennyson loved, spending his boyhood holidays in cottages at Mablethorpe and Skegness , though how a family of such size with its 11 surviving children fitted in a cottage is hard to see. To get into the poet's mind a little, walk as he did between Skegness and Gibraltar Point to the south. The point is a good place for birding too.
Even if you have no great affection for Tennyson the Wolds provides a splendid landscape to escape noise and bustle in more urban existences. Designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty since the 1970s there is much wildlife to enjoy, the Meadow Pippit and Kestrel among many species of birds for example, and lots of tiny hamlets and villages to please the eye too. But if racier pleasures are needed the area can supply these too, if your visit is timed to coincide with a meeting at Market Rasen .

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