Peter and Ann Frost follows in the footsteps of the Pilgrim Fathers and hunt for treasure in the Wash and, in a way, they find it.
King John famously signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215, It didn’t quell the uppity barons who pursued the monarch. The besieged King and his entourage fled around the Wash near, what today, we call Boston and, surprised by the incoming tide, he lost his baggage train and his crown jewels in the muddy creeks. They have never been found.
Devastated and defeated the King skulked away to Newark where he died, it is said, after eating a surfeit of Fenland peaches. More than 800 years later venturing out on the mud banks of the Wash can still be treacherous and foolish but still rewarding.
Boston and the surrounding fens are still a place that provides large quantities of Britain’s fresh fruit and vegetables. The medieval peach orchards may have been grubbed up but the rich fenland soils still produce fruit and vegetables in profusion and, most spectacularly, colourful bulbs that paint the fields with rainbow rows of bright hues in spring and early summer.
You can see the huge blunt tower of St Botolph’s Church from miles away, from all over the fens; sailors on the Wash have long used it as a navigation mark and on a clear day you can even see it from the North Norfolk Coast right across the Wash. The Stump, as locals call it, will also steer you into Boston on whichever road you are coming across the fen flatlands.
Boston itself is an ancient port of old maritime buildings and narrow alleyways. Here the river Witham drains the fens into the mighty Wash – still one of England’s least known but most fascinating wildlife wildernesses.
Fishermen still venture out on to the Wash mudflats, rich with a shellfish harvest but today most of the cockles and other delicious delights are landed at other Wash ports like Kings Lynn. Those rich pickings in the mud are what bring half a million wading birds and wildfowl to the Wash and make it such a popular place for bird watchers all year round.
The rich black soils of some parts of the fens and the light but fertile sandy loams in other places make this the vegetable and flower garden of our nation. Today designer salads make almost as colourful rainbow fields as the more traditional daffodils, tulips and other bulbs. Boston market takes some beating for the variety and freshness of its locally grown offerings.
The flatlands of the fens have also been the perfect place to build a windmill and this time we visited two. They may call it Maud Foster’s Mill but Maude died centuries before it was built. It was named after the elegant canalised drain on whose banks the mill was built. The drain was named after the important Maud in medieval times.
Maud’s mill has five sails, most unusual, but just as unusual is the Sibsey Trader mills just five miles north of the town. Sibsey is a six sailed mill.
Both of these gems of industrial archaeology are open to visitors and both still turn to grind local grain into all kinds of flour and other produce. Cooks can buy some to take some away but lazier Don Quixote’s can try a scone, a cake or some delicious bread in either of the mill’s wonderful tearooms.
St Botolph’s Church
Climb the Stump’s 209 steps 272 feet (83 metres) above Boston and you will be rewarded by magical views all across the great flatlands and rivers of the fens or far out over the mud banks and creeks of the mighty Wash. In the church don’t miss the amusing carvings that date from 1390; a schoolboy defends himself with a book from his teacher’s beating, Jesters bite cat’s tails and monks preach to a congregation of geese.
Tel; 01205 354670
The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial
A stumpy granite pillar in the Havenside Country Park downstream of Boston docks marks the place from which the Town’s most well known visitors left. An unluckly thirteen puritans were seized here in 1607 after trying to flee to Holland to evade arrest. Some of them were more successful and after many adventures reached America aboard the Mayflower. Later migrants left the town in 1630 and eventually founded a second Boston in Massachusetts.
The Pilgrim Fathers Memorial, Scotia Creek, Fishtoft
Tel; 01205 356656
The Wash is England’s wildest watery wilderness, and the RSPB have two great reserves on its fringes that make exploring the muddy coast and discovering the amazing wildlife easy. Thousands of waders make the mud banks their homes and rarities such as merlins and goldeneye are often to be seen here. Best of all are the common seals that pup on the mudflats.
Frieston Shore Nature Reserve, Frampton Road, Boston, PE20 1AY
Tel; 01205 724678
Maud Foster’s Mill
Maud’s mill still grinds flour on many days. Energetic visitors can climb the seven floors to see the ancient and massive machinery. Huge wooden gearwheels tame the wind and transfer the green energy to the groaning millstones that still produce the fine flour that is on sale at the mill and used in the delicious scones they serve here.
Maud Foster Windmill,
Willoughby Road, Boston PE21 9EG
Tel; 01205 352188
The Colourful bulb-fields
In spring and early summer, if you drive through the fens between Boston and Sleaford or Spalding you’ll find yourself in a kaleidoscope landscape of daffodils, tulips and more exotic blooms. These plants are grown mainly for the bulb trade so the colourful spectacle can be long lasting.
Turn off the A16 or A17 onto smaller lanes to find the bulb-fields.
Dating back to 1390 the town’s Guildhall still holds the cells where the original Pilgrim Fathers were imprisoned on their first abortive attempt to reach the new world. The Guildhall is now an award winning museum and a repository of so much of Boston’s colourful history.
St. Mary’s Guildhall, South Street, Boston, PE21 6HT
Tel; 01205 365954
Where to Shop
On Wednesday and Saturday the Market Square fills with colourful stalls selling all kinds of local produce. The fruit and vegetables have to be seen to be believed and it doesn’t stop there. This is Lincolnshire’s biggest street market and people flock from all over the fens to find real bargains.
The Market Square is in the centre of town in the shadow of the Stump.
Tel; 01205 314200
Maude Foster’s Mill
Stone-ground flour makes great bread and the mill has all kind of flour, porridge and other milled produce for the home baker.
Maud Foster Windmill, Willoughby Road, Boston PE21 9EG
Tel; 01205 352188
All your old favourites from gob-stoppers to mint humbugs. Plus souvenirs and local artist’s pictures – a real treasure-house of a shop.
Edwards Emporium, 38a Dolphin Lane, Boston, PE21 6EV
Tel; 0800 6345494
Where to eat
Roast Lincolnshire beef, Yorkshire pudding and no less than seven vegetables none of which had seen inside a freezer. All that and change from a fiver. What more could you want?
Churches Restaurant, 14 Church Street, Boston, PE21 6NQ.
Tel; 01205 361875
A nice waterside pub on the banks of the South Forty Foot Navigation just four miles west of the Town centre. Good lunches and evening meals with local Bateman’s beer.
Wheatsheaf Inn, Station Road, Hubbert’s Bridge, Boston, PE20 3QR.
Tel; 01205 290347
Maud Foster’s Teashop
Stone ground flour from the mill is baked into wonderful bread, scones and cakes. This is the place for light lunches or afternoon cream teas.
Maud Foster Windmill, Willoughby Road, Boston PE21 9EG
Tel; 01205 352188
Sibsey Trader Windmill Tearooms
Stone ground flour from the mill is baked into wonderful bread, scones and cakes. This is the place for light lunches or afternoon cream teas after a five mile bike ride from Boston..
Sibsey Trader Windmill, Frithville Road,Sibsey, Lincolnshire, PE22 0SY.
Tel; 01205 750036
Boston from the Water
Catch the Boston Belle from the quay at the centre of town for a pleasant river trip or a longer cruise out to see the seals and other wildlife on the mud banks of the Wash.
Tel; 01205 460595
By bike; Lincolnshire is pleasantly flat county so there is plenty of easy cycling in the countryside around Boston. Sustran’s Route 1 is close to the town and a alternative part of the route hugs the coast.
The narrow alleyways of the old port make a great town walk with many historic buildings along the way. For a complete change take the footpath along the muddy creeks of the Wash from the car-park at Frieston Shore.
Did you know?
Disgraced Tory novelist, Lord Archer (pictures below) served much of his sentence in North Sea Camp, an open prison farm near Boston.
The common seal is not as common as the much more numerous grey seal on the Wash.
Immigrant agricultural workers bring their own voice to the town. Over 50 languages are spoken in Boston.
Although they left Boston for America the Pilgrim Father’s journey took them to Holland, to prison and to the South Coast of England on the way.
This article was syndicated by various Times Warner Magazines in 2012