The Viking Way, Lincolnshire to Oakham will be 40 years old this coming September. It was officially opened in September 1976. This long distance route of 147 miles which runs from the Humber through Lincolnshire to Oakham was officially opened on Sunday 5 September 1976 at Tealby, by the Deputy Chairman of Lincolnshire County Council, John Hedley-Lewis. However, he was very ill, and died the following December. Hedley-Lewis was President of the Lincolnshire Ramblers' Association and a memorial stile was made for him on the route at Stenwith, a half-mile north of the Rutland Arms in Woolsthorpe-by-Belvoir.
How did the route come to be called the Viking Way?
The map(above) is reproduced from the Lincolnshire County Council handbook for the new route, revised and lengthened from 130 to 147 miles in 1997.
The route passes sites of early settlements. There is evidence that the Vikings exercised influence over the county (Danelaw) in the 9th century: e.g. the place names ending in by, Scandinavian names recorded in documents and also names marked on coins.
Much of the Viking Way is classified as a Byway Open to All Traffic (BOAT) and is thus, in parts, a vehicular right of way.
For a number of years the County Council lobbied to have the route designated as National trail since it linked Wolds Way in the north and Norfolk Coast path in the south - both National Trails. This would have given them government financial support. However it was not to be since the money ran out! Instead it became a 'regional Route'
Passage along the route is usually easy and trouble free but there have been problems at some sections in the past. One such, Sewstern Lane, may be the oldest, probably pre-Roman, route between the Stamford and Newark regions. It lies west of the A1, by-passing Grantham by about five miles.
The section of Sewstern Lane known as the Drift has some very rare wildflower habitats and is an SSSI. Until recent years when concrete barriers were erected, unlawful and irresponsible use by some quad bike, 4X4 and trail riders caused severe damage to the surface.
In the Spring 2004 edition of The Lincolnshire Rambler the late Brett Collier reminisced about those early days of the Viking way:-
“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. I remember one winter’s day exploring the route Burgh on Bain to Biscathorpe- not the present route of the Viking Way. It was Chris Hall, at that time editor of the Countryman Magazine who came up with the suggested route title of the Viking Way. He later became National President of the RA.
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”.
Leaflets and guide books In the early days leaflets (5p each) were produced by Lincs County Council and one leaflet by Humberside County Council. The first fully comprehensive guidebook, written by John Stead was published as a Cicerone Guide in 1990, price £5.95. In those days the route was 130 miles long.
However, by then route revisions were long overdue. In 1996/7 the route was modified to improve the signage, eliminate some long road walking sections and clarify the legal status of some route sections. The main sections that were altered were at Donington on Bain, Horncastle and between Bardney and Lincoln, including within Lincoln City. Also there were changes to the Foston to Allington section and between Exton and Rutland Water.
Jo Ronald, Viking Way Project officer in the late 1990s did lots of research and surveying required for the new improvements which extended the route to 147 miles. All of this led to a new guidebook in 1997 published by Lincs County Council, based on the old leaflets but much improved. The main text was written by Hugh Marrows, a local author from the south of the county. The relaunch with new guidebook was at Wellingore Village Hall in March 1997 together with a walk on the Way. A plaque was also unveiled by the Countryside Commission. Regrettably, the guidebook is now out of print but extracts can be downloaded from the County Council website www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/countryside.
Lincolnshire County Council and the Wolds Walking Festival are putting on 30 walks around or along the Viking Way. The Festival launches at Donington-on-Bain which is on the Way, on 21st May 2016. The LCC has also been responsible in the past for producing the Viking Way guidebook which is now sadly out of print .
More information from www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/countryside.