​Churches and chapels open for heritage festival

Stainfield St Andrew Image: Ashley TaylorStainfield St Andrew Image: Ashley Taylor
Stainfield St Andrew Image: Ashley Taylor
​Lovers of heritage and history can enjoy two weekends of experiences, completely free of charge, as 88 historic churches and chapels invite them to pay a visit this month.

​Now in its 27th year, the West Lindsey Churches Festival attracts thousands of visitors from across Lincolnshire and beyond, all taking up the chance to visit buildings located across the stunning landscape just north of Lincoln and encompassing Gainsborough, Caistor and Market Rasen.

The first weekend (May 11 and 12) will see 41 churches take part in the east of the district, with 47 churches opening for the second weekend (18 and 19) to the west.

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Each church offers a unique experience, that could include stunning architecture, stained glass, fascinating wood carvings, historic monuments, graveyards full of stories and traditional church organs, some of which the public are welcome to play.

The stunning interior of Market Rasen Methodist Church. Image: Ashley TaylorThe stunning interior of Market Rasen Methodist Church. Image: Ashley Taylor
The stunning interior of Market Rasen Methodist Church. Image: Ashley Taylor

Visitor Patrick Flynn explained how the opportunity to play many of the church organs was a highlight for him and his friend: "We travel from Hull and visit on one of the days each weekend.

"My friend is a professional organist and usually plays all the available instruments and we plan our route beforehand. We enjoy the festival very much indeed."

Many buildings are also located in the Lincolnshire Wolds National Landscape.

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Alongside all the heritage and landscape is the welcome church volunteers bring to the event, including their knowledge of local history, delicious homemade cakes and lunches, plant and book sales, flower displays, exhibitions and bell ringing.

Commonwealth graves at Scampton St John the BaptistCommonwealth graves at Scampton St John the Baptist
Commonwealth graves at Scampton St John the Baptist

Anyone interested in a spot of ‘church crawling’ – the name given to the hobby of visiting churches – should visit the website www.churchesfestival.info where there is a page for each church taking part, easily reached via the A-Z listing page. There is also a Google pin map to plan a tour. People can also browse a 44-page event brochure via the website, or order a hard copy.

Beth Sliwinski from Sheffield explains why she travels to the event from Yorkshire: "If ever a reason is needed to visit beautiful Lincolnshire, this is it. Every church provides its own treats - interesting architecture, friendly volunteers, delicious refreshments, picturesque churchyards - even the drives from one church to the next are a pleasure."

Long-time visitor Lexie Brookes-Ashmore, from Caistor, says she enjoys the graveyards as well as the churches: “I have been visiting the churches festival since 2012, so this will be my 12th year! My best friend and I cancel all other plans for the festival (plus the September one) and always end the day with a picnic. We love the architecture and history as well as the many interesting graves.”

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Gillian Poucher (Wolds-based author and URC minister) wrote: "May Churches Festival celebrates the rich variety of churches across our district, from ancient to modern, peaceful to vibrant, in hamlets, villages and market towns. The Festival offers something for everyone: opportunities for reflection in the Quiet Churches, enjoyment of organ and other music, fascinating heritage displays, and of course many cups of tea and mouth watering cakes!"

The festival allows visitors to walk through time.

Step back to the year 875, when Bishop Aelfnoth built his church at Stow, to serve, it seems, as Mother Church for his Lincolnshire Diocese. St Mary’s, Stow is a treasure trove of beautiful artefacts and architecture. Other fine churches with Saxon origins can be found at Greetwell and Knaith.

Go forward to the Norman period and be spoilt for choice with the plethora of fine Norman churches across the area. Along the edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds can be found the ironstone churches of Caistor, Nettleton and Market Rasen, as well as Middle Rasen with its fine Norman Archway.

Two of the festival’s medieval ‘little gems’ not to be missed are St Oswald’s at Rand, situated on a deserted medieval village, and St Edith’s at Coates by Stow, with its 11th century rood loft and screen.

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The festival also offers a fine Queen Anne church at Stainfield, and some wonderful Victorian treasures – including the gothic St Michael & All Angels at Hackthorn. There is also a lovely collection of Methodist chapels, including those at Wragby and Laughton, which are well worth a visit.

For Georgian splendour, look no further than the majestic All Saints at Gainsborough, with its magnificent interior, including a copy of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper behind the altar. And for visitors who simply want to take some time out of a busy lifestyle and relax in a quiet oasis of calm then the festival’s ‘quiet’ churches are recommended, in particular St Vincent at Burton and the simple Quaker Meeting House tucked away in Market Street, Gainsborough.

The festival is active on Facebook and Twitter (X), and asks visitors to share their images using the hashtag #LoveLincsChurches throughout the two weekends.