Reaching high into the sky from the top of a steep hill, the triple towers of LINCOLN’s mighty cathedral are visible for miles across the surrounding flatlands. The cathedral, along with the castle, are the city’s main tourist draws – although Lindum Colonia was an important Roman city, few fragments of this era survive.
For visitors, almost everything of interest is confined to the Uphill part of town, within easy walking distance of both castle and cathedral. In addition to the major sights, this part of town also features a number of historic remains, notably several chunks of Roman wall, the most prominent of which is the second-century Newport Arch straddling Bailgate and once the main north gate into the city. There are also several well-preserved medieval stone houses, notably on and around the aptly named Steep Hill as it cuts down from the cathedral to the city centre.
The key sights can be seen in about half a day, though Lincoln does make for a pleasant overnight stop, particularly in December during its lively open-air Christmas market.
High ground is in short supply in Lincolnshire, so it’s no surprise that the steep hill that is today surmounted by Lincoln Cathedral was fortified early, firstly by the Celts, who called their settlement Lindon, “hillfort by the lake”, a reference to the pools formed by the River Witham in the marshy ground below. In 47 AD the Romans occupied Lindon and built a fortified town, which subsequently became Lindum Colonia, one of the four regional capitals of Roman Britain. During the reign of William the Conqueror the construction of the castle and cathedral initiated Lincoln’s medieval heyday – the town boomed, first as a Norman power base and then as a centre of the wool trade with Flanders, until 1369 when the wool market was transferred to neighbouring Boston. It was almost five hundred years before Lincoln could revive, its recovery based upon the manufacture of agricultural machinery and drainage equipment for the neighbouring fenlands. As the nineteenth-century town spread south down the hill and out along the old Roman road – the Fosse Way – so Lincoln became a place of precise class distinctions: the Uphill area, spreading north from the cathedral, became synonymous with middle-class respectability, Downhill with the proletariat.