Sleaford, it sounds like a sleepy name but it’s not a sleepy town.
I happened upon the lovely market town of Sleaford 19 miles South of Lincoln coming from Norwich. Distances can be very small in Great Britain, and when having to check-out by 10AM and check-in after 2PM, I often find myself needing to delay my arrival by a few hours. I could arrive to my city of destination early and park somewhere to wander about for a while before checking-in, but I always try to find an in-between town to visit enroute. I enjoyed visiting Peterborough enroute from Leicester to Norwich. Coventry between Birmingham and Warwick. Today I had not researched the possibilities but I just got lucky. Nice.
I somehow made my way to the very centre where I found pay and display parking. The first thing I notice wandering around this little town is the endless stream of cars in every direction. Very polite drivers though, they did stop to give way several times when I needed to cross without the aid of a zebra crossing. On this Saturday around noon, there was no break to be had in the streams of traffic.
I seem to be having a day of finesse as I happen into Navigation House, a handsome little structure that is also a visitors centre. It’s not exactly on the beaten path so I am rather surprised by the fortuitousness of my random happing upon it. A very friendly host welcomes me and shares some information about the town.
Navigation House was build in the 1830’s for the navigation offices the River Slea and demonstrates the prosperity it brought to Sleaford as a goods transportation hub since 1794. As you may have supposed, yes, it was named long ago from the fact that at this location there was a ford crossing over the river Slea. Sadly, when the railway came to town in the 1850s the end of this local industry became soon imminent.
“Where can I see the river?” “Oh, just go around that building,” she points, and then shows me on a map how it meanders the town. On viewing, I realise I had already taken photos of the waterway, I had not recognised it as a river.
I grew-up alongside the Kennebecasis River in New Brunswick, Canada. I guess it’s probably about 500 m wide, possibly more. So I didn’t recognise the River Slea as being a river, which is quite narrow in places. Very lovely though. And lots of ducks and such.
Wandering about the town, I happen by a handsome pub and inn that has food advertised outside that sounds appealing. I step in of the street and it is the strangest experience, there are about 20 people standing about the bar and they all look. And stare. The volume of their loud bantering lowers. I feel like an unwanted visitor at a private party, not like a stranger, more like someone loathed. It’s like how Rob Ford, current mayor of Toronto, should feel were he to happen into the home or party of anyone I know, except he has earned our contempt. I stand there for a moment feeling awkward, do I want to stand by this bar and wait to order lunch when it seems like the crowd is waiting for me to leave? Not really, event he bar keep is looking over and does not call a greeting, he just looks. Perhaps it’s the hat, I have not seen anyone in this town wearing a hat. Perhaps I look like Gatsby to them. Whatever the case, I turn on my heals and sadly I have lunch at tried and proven Costa Coffee, where I now write this blog entry. I like Costa, but it carries nothing of local flavour apart from the patrons.
Otherwise, the people in this town seem extra friendly. At the Saturday Market I am warmly greeted by vendors as I pass by, a woman showing three model cars nearby gives a friendly hello. The drivers are certainly nice and I’ve had some friendly banter with other pedestrians. Perhaps it was actually a private party at the pub, but I don’t think so because it would have been easy enough to put-out a sign.
When I told two locals I was really surprised that the traffic here is much worse than in Birmingham (England’s 2nd largest city), they laughed. But I wasn’t kidding. Not at all. I never saw a street in Birmingham that had this steady stream of traffic. Of course there is more traffic in Birmingham, but there is more capacity for the traffic. Sleaford cannot build more roads, but there must be something that could be done to encourage people not to drive through the centre if going from side to side.
Some more random facts about Sleaford:
Long a market town, in it’s early days, markets were often held on Sundays to take full advantage of the crowds of churchgoers.
Sleaford Castle was built in the 12th Century by the Bishop of Lincoln.
The tower of St.Deny’s Church was built around 1180.
I would definitely recommend a visit to the town of Sleaford. Perhaps during the weekdays it could be described as peaceful when traffic is not at it’s peak. It was a nice little surprise finding another lovely English town, a bonus on my drive to Lincoln.