227. South Lincolnshire summer: Little Bytham and the Mallard

“The past is another country” — The Go Between, LP Hartley (1953)

august evening harvest fields bassingthorpe lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAugust days are with us now, the ripe Lincolnshire corn shimmering tall and golden in late summer afternoons.

The stuffy, restrictive heat and bustle of London feels a world away from here.

grimsthorpe castle lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneThe landscape has changed little across the years — parched harvest fields and desiccated stately lawns still wait ready for a boy or girl delivering some fateful message to Julie Christie in The Go Between or Keira Knightley in Atonement.

Only the slow progress of the monster machines that gather in the harvest serve to tell the tale of a landscape now worked with many fewer people.

summer at the black horse inn grimsthorpe lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAcross long, easy days we cycle over gentle Jurassic hills. Three miles to reach another village, four villages to find a pub. It’s a pleasant way to slow down and find the summer.

The pace of life seems slow, and it’s hard to equate this landscape with a world speed record set three quarters of a century ago and still standing firm today.

castle inn castle bytham lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAt Castle Bytham we sink an ale beside the Norman motte and bailey. In nearby Little Bytham, Mrs Bee’s shop offers wonders of a completely different kind.

A traditional village store and sweet shop would be the best description, but that fails to do fair justice.

Entering from Little Bytham’s main (and almost only) street brings a friendly smile from Mrs Bee and a sight to warm the heart of any child, however grown-up they may now be. A memory-evoking selection of magical sweets awaits in tall glass jars atop high shelves.

inside the village shop little bytham lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneThe slow increments of progress pass unnoticed when you watch them, and then suddenly it’s clear how much the world has changed.

Mrs Bee has lived here for over 80 years, perhaps, or maybe even 90. She knows South Lincolnshire well.

easton walled garden lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneWe talk about our ride from Bassingthorpe, and our visit to the Walled Gardens at Easton. ‘It was a lovely house,’ she says, ‘Until the Canadian soldiers came and wrecked it.’

She remembers finely dressed folk turning up in carriages for parties before the house was commandeered for military use in the Second World War, some 70 years ago.

little bytham viaduct lincolnshire world steam landspeed record mallard 1938 by roadsofstoneLittle Bytham’s High Street is dominated today, just as it was then, by the massive railway viaduct.

The London to Edinburgh expresses roar past above our heads every few minutes, on one of the most historic lengths of railway track in all the world.

mallard on the road ducks roadsign little bytham lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneBeside the viaduct, a village house built in cream Jurassic stone carries the name of Mallard House. In many another English hamlet that might recall the duckpond, but not here.

A plate beside the door depicts the sleek blue locomotive which set the world steam landspeed record here when Mrs Bee was young.

mallard house little bytham lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneThe stretch of line from Stoke Summit to the south of Grantham was perfect for the attempt — a long straight with a uniform gentle gradient.

Here on 30th November, 1934, the famous LNER steam engine, Flying Scotsman, became the first steam engine to be offically recorded above 100 mph.

Four years later, and with a brave engine driver, Joseph Duddington, at the ready, another LNER engine, Mallard reached a speed of 125 mph between Little Bytham and Essendine on 3rd July, 1938.

mallard lner steam locomotive 4468 national railway museum york england wikimedia commonsA second attempt scheduled for September 1939 was cancelled following the outbreak of war.

And remarkably enough, the Mallard’s mark has never been beaten since.

Today, the locomotive takes pride of place in the British Transport Museum just an hour up the East Coast line in York, alongside the Flying Scotsman.

summer flower border easton walled garden lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneAs we leave the shop to find our bikes for a pedal slowly home, Mrs Bee smiles and says goodbye, until next year.

Time moves slowly here.

I’m sure that Mrs Bee will be here to greet us, and Little Bytham and its world landspeed record will stand unchanged by then.

harvest summer august fields near swayfield lincolnshire england by roadsofstoneRelated articles:
41. A Lincolnshire legend – Sir Isaac Newton
65. In the footsteps of Brunel: Bristol Half Marathon
80. Paul Simon – lines from an English railway platform
37. Lord Beeching and me – the Worth Way
39. Woking – from Necropolis to Technology Junction
wheatsheaf stonework near easton walled garden lincolnshire england by roadsofstone207. Running back on track — the train on Stratford’s Greenway

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2 responses to “227. South Lincolnshire summer: Little Bytham and the Mallard

  1. Beautiful interweaving of Jurassic hills and old shops (and ale!). And it reminds me of my own Mrs. Bee, a schoolteacher and scout leader of long ago.

    Off topic somewhat, the first quote about the past being another country reminds me of a book: Another Country: Navigating the Terrain of our Elders, Mary Pipher, which I thought incorporated that quote somehow, but I can’t find it.

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