A town suspended in time, Louth is in East Lincolnshire on the cusp of the flowing landscapes of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
Still a fixture of Louth’s town centre are local family-run amenities that are now rare other parts of the country.
Louth has bakers, butchers and poultry shops, handed down through families since the Victorian times or before.
The streetscape is all flat-fronted Georgian houses, and the thriving market sets out its stalls three days of the week.
Commanding this scene is the Medieval church of St James, topped with the tallest spire of an parish church in the country.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Louth:
1. Tour of the Town Centre
Louth is a town that has to be visited on foot, most of all on Saturdays when the market is in swing and the streets are full of life.
There are cultured Georgian terraces and old cottages, while the long, narrow alleys at New Street and Rosemary Lane are picture perfect and are flanked by pie shops, tearooms and pubs . Louth bucks the trend for English towns as almost three quarters of the businesses in the town centre are privately owned.
Some go back generations, like the department store Eve & Ranshaw on Market Place, founded in 1781. On Eastgate the butchers, Lakings of Louth is from the start of the 20th century, while the poulters Dales & Sons has been in business since 1896.
2. St James’ Church
Louth’s spectacular parish church was rebuilt in the early 15th century and has only made a few adjustments since then.
One was the 87-metre spire, the tallest of any parish church in England.
This was raised in the middle of the 15th century while the two main porches were restored in the 1860s.
St James’ Church was the gathering point for the Lincolnshire Rising in 1536, organised by Catholics to protest the Dissolution of the Monasteries.
It didn’t last long, and the vicar involved was hanged, drawn and quartered in London less than six months later.
Look for the original Medieval stalls in the choir, while the chapel on the north side of the chancel has two caved angels, which are the only survivors from the earlier church.
There’s also a cafe and souvenir shop, and you can scale the 198 steps to the top of the tower to contemplate Louth from above.
3. Louth Museum
Purpose-built by the Louth Naturalists’, Antiquarian and Literary Society, Louth Museum opened with just a single gallery in 1910. In the early 2000s the museum was upgraded thanks to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, adding two extra galleries, as well as a gift shop and classroom.
Louth Museum is wonderfully curated: In the Town Gallery is the country’s largest collection for the Victorian woodcarver Thomas Wallis, as well as artefacts from a historic carpet factory, malting, printing shop and local stores.
On the macabre side there’s an authentic gibbet that once held the body of a local murderer.
The Town Gallery Mezzanine recalls the story of the Louth Flash Flood of 1920, while you’ll find out about a local ghost story, as well as the geology and archaeology of the Lincolnshire Wolds and Lud Valley in the Ludalinks Gallery.
Finally, the Panorama Gallery displays a highly detailed panorama of Louth painted in 1840 by self-taught artist William Brown.
4. Lincolnshire Wolds
Louth is at the eastern foot of a chalk, limestone and sandstone hill range formed during the Cretaceous period.
The countryside in the Lincolnshire Wolds is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and its gentle hills and deep valleys contrast with the coastal landscapes of reclaimed marsh and dunes east of Louth.
One steep valley lies just outside the town at Hubbard’s Hills, which we’ll talk about in more detail next.
The Wolds are very sparsely populated, with little more than tiny hamlets for miles, so light pollution is at a minimum and the night skies are sparkling.
The easiest way to experience the landscapes is by car across countryside with hedgerows, streams, lush pasture and rambling cornfields.
But in the final two weeks of May the Lincolnshire Wolds Walking Festival organises more than 100 group walks over these hills and vales.
5. Hubbard’s Hills
This park on Louth’s west side is an endearing pocket of the Lincolnshire Wolds, on a steep leafy valley created 40,000 years ago at the end of the Last Ice Age.
Hubbard’s Hills was landscaped in the early 1900s, and was bequeathed to the town by a Swiss national named Auguste Pahud, who married a local farmer’s daughter, Annie Grant.
Auguste died in 1902 and in his will he ordered the land to be bought and a memorial set up for Annie who had died some time before.
That memorial, a Neoclassical temple, sits on the bank of the River Lud, which you can cross via a set of stepping stones.
The park is a delight in the summer, when children paddle in the river and you’ll see families catching crawfish with nets.
6. Rushmoor Country Farm Park
In six acres of Lincolnshire countryside on the edge of town is an attraction that gives kids and grown-ups a taste of rural life in the county.
For children the joy of Rushmoor Country Farm Park will be meeting the goats, horses, sheep, pigs and a talkative donkey.
You’ll be able to interact with these animals, and a keeper will be close by to answer questions.
To really learn about Rushmoor’s daily ins-and-outs you can become a farmer for the day, mucking out the horses, feeding the pigs and picking up tips about animal husbandry first hand.
The farm is also a falconry centre, for half-day and hour-long handling and training experiences.
7. Westgate Fields
Visiting Hubbard’s Hills you can continue your walk into this adjacent park beside the River Lud.
Westgate Fields has open lawns fringed by oaks, lime trees and ashes, and with a photogenic view of St James’s Church peeking over the treeline.
Louth Golf Club is close by, taking advantage of the hilly terrain and blessed with views as far as the Humber Estuary 15 miles to the north.
Green Fees start from just £18 on weekdays.
Back in Westgate Fields there’s a set of four large leaf sculptures to ponder; these are carved from oak and belong to the wider Louth art Trail.
8. Louth Riverhead Theatre
Owned by the community and run by a small army of enthusiastic volunteers, the Louth Riverhead Theatre is a performing arts venue with a modern home near the start of the Louth Navigation.
The theatre stages plays by the Louth Playgoers, but also receives touring productions as well music artists, tribute brands, musicals, poetry recitals, evenings with television personalities and comedians.
The Riverhead Gallery is open Monday to Saturday during box office hours, hosting exhibitions by accomplished artists from the region.
9. Lincolnshire Wolds Railway
The Great Northern Railway (1848) once wended its way through the East Lincolnshire countryside, linking Louth and Grimsby with London.
This line was abandoned in the mid-1960s but has been revived bit by bit over the last 40 years.
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway runs for 1.5 miles between two stations, at Ludborough and North Thoresby, and in the future is expected to continue all the way down to Louth.
Two steam locomotives, from 1928 and 1929 serve the railway, departing hourly from Ludborough Station from 10:45 to 15:45. Also at Ludborough is a museum displaying relics from the GNR, like advertising posters, station signs, tickets, railway lamps and photographs.
10. Meridian Line
Being on the Prime Meridian at 0° longitude, Louth is at the point where the Eastern and Western Hemispheres meet.
This position is marked with a few installations along the line.
On Eastgate there’s a modest plaque unveiled in 1948 between two shopfronts.
Elsewhere the sculptor Lawrence Edwards and book illustrator Les Bicknell collaborated on a series of four engraved steel lines embedded in the ground.
There are also three sculpted figures shown holding and studying their own strips of engraved steel, symbolising the Meridian line.
11. Louth Navigation Walk
In the 1760s the River Lud was turned into a canal at Louth, and this navigation ran for 11 miles north to Tetney Haven in the Humber Estuary.
The canal allowed Louth to ship goods like grain and wool more efficiently than ever, and prospered up to 1924. There are plans to renovate the abandoned canal and make it navigable once more, but as of 2018 these are still in the pipeline.
For now you can walk the towpath all the way up to Tetney Marshes, starting at the basin on Riverhead Road in Louth.
At the old wharf are two Grade II-listed warehouses, the Navigation Warehouse to the west and the Jackson Warehouse to the east, while the Woolpack Inn on the corner also dates from the time of the canal.
12. Playhouse Cinema
The only movie theatre for 15 miles, Louth’s Playhouse Cinema is a super local amenity with three screens.
The setting is a Victorian former chapel, and the building was given its sleek Art Deco facade in the 1930s, ten years after the cinema moved in.
You can watch the latest Hollywood releases, as well as classics, independent movies and live recordings from the Royal Ballet, Glyndebourne and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
The Playhouse Cinema observes a few traditions that have died out elsewhere, like a mid-film intermission when a member of staff will come into the auditorium to sell ice creams.
13. RAF Stenigot
Out in the Lincolnshire Wolds about 10 minutes by road from Louth is the bizarre sight of four hulking tropospheric scatter dishes rusting in a field.
This used to RAF Stenigot, a radar station established in the Second World War to warn of Luftwaffe raids on the Central Midlands and the cities of Leeds and Nottingham.
In 1959 it was incorporated into NATO’s ACE High radio communication system, which is when those four titanic dishes were erected.
The site was decommissioned in the 1980s, leaving the dishes abandoned to anyone in need of a dramatic photograph.
The radar tower is also still standing, and listed as a Grade II structure.
14. Louth Market
In a town as traditional as Louth, you have to time your trip to catch the market, trading Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
There are about 60 stalls, with Louth’s Georgian architecture and old Victorian market hall setting the scene.
This is the busiest market in the district, selling fruit and vegetables, arts and crafts, Lincolnshire sausages, cheese, flowers, herbs, pies and freshly baked bread and pastries.
A farmers’ market for seasonal produce from Lincolnshire trades on the 4th Wednesday of the month, and you can treat your taste buds at “Food Friday” on the second Friday.
15. Old Maltings Antiques Centre
At 38 Aswell Street an antiques emporium has set up shop in a fine old malthouse.
The Old Maltings Antiques Centre has more than 30 dealers filling every corner of the building, each specialising in something different.
Go in to browse all kinds of collectibles, antique furniture, lighting, ceramics, silverware, militaria, jewellery and vintage bits and pieces like old tin signs, typewriters, umbrellas, toys, metal bathtubs and farmyard tools.
The centre is open Monday to Saturday, and, unusually for an enterprise like this, accepts cards.