In the low-lying Fens, Spalding is a market town among reclaimed marshes.
A lot of this reclaimed farmland is bright with tulips in spring, and like a true polder is divided by drainage ditches and channels.
At the Pinchbeck Engine Museum you can see a mighty beam engine that used to keep this part of the Fens above water, while Willow Tree Fen outside Spalding is a glimpse of what this wet landscape looked like before it was settled.
Right in the town there’s a 15th-century mansion, Ayscoughfee Hall, owned by the council and opened to the public for free.
Spalding has a surplus of small but worthwhile attractions, like Britain’s tallest windmill, an authentic blacksmith’s forge and Medieval churches.
1. Ayscoughfee Hall
Wool was big business in Spalding in Medieval times, as this refined mansion goes to show.
Ayscoughfee Hall was built by wool merchant Richard Aldwyn in the middle of the 15th century, and his son Nicholas would become Lord Mayor of London in 1499. The house was modified in the late 18th century and then again in 1845 when it was given a Tudor Revival style.
Both periods are visible, in the Victorian facade and the Georgian ceiling in the entrance hall, along with lots of Medieval fittings.
The house came through a sympathetic restoration in the 2000s and is free to enter.
The grounds are a joy, with great yew topiaries planted in the 1720s and neat boxwood hedges in the formal gardens.
The Ornamental Lake is a Grade I-listed war memorial designed by Edward Luytens, and you can buy bird-feed from the garden’s cafe to feed the ducks.
2. Pinchbeck Engine Museum
This restored rotative beam engine is a monument from the time when steam power was needed to drain the Fens.
The pumping station a couple of miles north of Spalding in Pinchbeck was constructed in 1833 to drain the surrounding marshland using a 20 horsepower steam engine built by the Butterley Company from Ripley in Derbyshire.
The engine operated for around 180 days a year, shifting around 3,000,000 imperial tons of water at a rate of 7,500 gallons per minute.
An electric station opened in 1952 and this engine lay forgotten until the Pinchbeck Engine Museum was opened in 1979. The engine is in immaculate condition but doesn’t have a boiler so rotates with an electric motor.
The old coal store next door has become a museum all about land drainage, while there’s a completely preserved blacksmith’s workshop in the complex.
3. Chain Bridge Forge
This Victorian blacksmith’s workshop has been turned into a living about Spalding’s local history and traditional trades.
In the 19th century there was an inland port in Spalding, and this forge would have serviced the boats on the River Welland in front.
The building was acquired by the South Holland council in the 1980s and restored with the help of English Heritage.
On Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays you can visit for free to watch the resident blacksmith at work.
If you want to hone your skills with a hearth, hammer and anvil you can sign up for blacksmith sessions lasting from half an hour to a full day.
4. Moulton Windmill
Billed as the tallest tower mill in the country, Moulton Windmill is just under 30 metres to the top of the ogee cap.
It was built in 1822 to grind wheat and other crops, and continued milling until 1995. The sails had to be removed following a gale in 1894 and a steam engine was fitted instead.
During the 2000s Moulton Windmill has gradually been restored and turned into a visitor attraction.
Flour milling began once more in 2007 and the mill’s first sails in almost 130 years were fitted in 2011. Since 2013 the mill has been producing flour by wind power again.
You can visit from Thursday to Sunday for a guided tour of the mill tower, while there’s a shop selling stone-milled flour and rolled oats, as well as a much-loved cafe in the former granary below.
5. St Mary and St Nicolas
Spalding’s Grade I-listed parish church is a stunning Perpendicular Gothic building, started in 1284 and gaining its current form in the 14th and 15th centuries.
The first thing you’ll see is the great west window above the entrance, completed in the 15th century.
In this same phase, the nave was heightened and given clerestory windows, as well as a fine hammerbeam roof that is still intact and was restored by Sir George Gilbert Scott in the 1860s.
Also from the 15th century is an intricate chancel screen.
6. Church of St Laurence, Surfleet
Heading into the village of Surfleet a couple of miles north of Spalding, you’ll notice that the church spire is askew.
The 14th-century tower of the Church of St Laurence has a pronounced two-metre lean.
The church itself is also Grade I listed, and features a beautiful main portal around to the south side, dating from the 1200s, with telltale Early English dogtooth mouldings in the arch.
If you get the chance to go inside, there’s an oak pulpit from the 17th century and an octagonal font from the 15th century with carved quatrefoils.
In the chancel is a full-length effigy for Sir Hugh de Cressy (1313-1347) dressed in chain-mail.
Out in churchyard try to hunt down a gravestone in memory of a murder victim, Samuel Stockton (d. 1768), lured to Lincolnshire from the North West and killed for his money by a local farmer.
7. Baytree Owl and Wildlife Centre
This highly rated birds of prey centre welcomes visitors to view its magnificent birds in spacious aviaries, watch flight demonstrations and take part in bird-handling experiences.
Baytree keeps more than 100 birds from over 40 species, counting tawny owls, barn owls, long-eared owls, Siberian eagle owls, striated caracaras and tawny eagles, to name a small few.
The centre is conservation-oriented, taking part in global breeding programmes and has a fully trained demonstration team.
Demonstrations last up to 40 minutes and are included in the entry price, taking place in an 80-seater arena.
Hands-on flying encounters have to be booked in advance, like the Birds of Prey Experience, in which you can handle five different species in a 90-minute session.
8. Gordon Boswell Romany Museum
At Clay Lake to the south of Spalding is a private museum founded by one Gordon Boswell and dedicated to the UK’s Romanichal Travellers.
Gordon was Romany, and came from a family that have helped to paint a picture of Romany life for the wider public.
His father wrote a popular autobiography published by Penguin titled, “The Book of Boswell”, while Gordon spent the last decades of his life piecing together a collection of decorative Romany wagons (vardos), carts, painted furniture, photos and other pieces shining a light Romany culture.
Gordon’s widow Margaret Boswell curates the collection and is a mine of information about these artefacts and Romany traditions.
9. South Holland Centre
On Market Place and the west bank of the River Welland, the South Holland Centre is Spalding’s main performing arts venue.
Come for touring musicians, plays, stand-up comedians, musicals and dance, as well as performances by local bands and theatre groups.
The Spalding Folk Club is a local institution, booking a well-known guest performer each month.
The South Holland Centre is also a cinema, screening critically acclaimed and family-friendly Hollywood films, as well as live recordings from the likes of the National Theatre and Royal Opera House.
10. Willow Tree Fen
Between Spalding and Baston, a once drained arable farm is being returned to a natural fen landscape.
Willow Tree Fen has pastures that flood seasonally, as well as large, shallow meres and reed beds.
Water collects in natural dips in the field, and even though Willow Tree Fen has only been a reserve for ten years, the fen has already started attracting waders like redshanks and lapwings, and waterfowl like mallards, teals and wigeons.
There are three walking trails around the reserve, between 1.6 and 2.6 miles in length, on hard-surface farm track or mown grass.
11. Springfields Factory Outlet
Slightly removed from Spalding town centre is an open-air outlet mall with many UK and international brands.
Marks & Spencer, Next, Clarks, Sports Direct, GAP, Skechers and Fatface are all here, accompanied by a garden centre and places to eat and drink like Starbucks, Subway and Frankie & Benny’s.
Springfields has a children’s park, which we’ll cover next, as well as the Festival Gardens.
This mosaic of ornamental gardens is open all year and is free to visit.
Some well-known gardeners from TV like Charlie Dimmock and Chris Beardshaw have contributed designs, while there’s a collection of stainless steel creations by the sculptor Stephen Newby.
12. Springfields Adventure Land
The outlet’s children’s zone is more like a small amusement park for kids up to 12 years.
Springy’s Beach is a sandy play area with a stream, all covered by a canopy for all weather play.
There’s a miniature railway, dinosaur themed crazy golf and a “Tree Top Village” where seven towers are linked with walkways, and an 120 square metre suspended net to play on.
Best of all is the JCB Young Drivers Zone, which is sponsored by the construction machinery brand, and allowing children to drive their own mini diggers, or clamber over the scaffolding-style climbing equipment.
13. Exotic Pet Refuge
A little further out, this real animal sanctuary is ten miles south of Spalding, near the village of Northborough.
The Exotic Refuge is a charity giving a permanent home to more than 250 animals that have been taken in from homes and zoos around the country.
These include parrots and parakeets, ring-tailed lemurs, spider monkeys, Capuchin monkeys, geckos, snakes, axolotls, birds of prey, a lynx and an Asian leopard cat.
Being a sanctuary, the standards of care are very high, but the one drawback is that you can only visit on open days.
They happen once a month from April to October, and are worth noting in the diary.
Outside of these open days, the refuge does offer “Keeper Experience ” and “Animal Experience” packages, and welcomes pre-booked children’s parties that involve a tour of the sanctuary and an animal handling session.
14. Spalding Water Taxi
On the water from Easter to the end of October, the Spalding Water Taxi is a novel way to get around, navigating the River Welland and the Coronation Channel.
The channel was built in 1953 to divert water through the countryside to the east to prevent flooding in the town and is flanked by grassy dikes.
You can catch the taxi just off the High Street by the South Holland Centre and take a quiet 30-minute cruise up to the Springfields Factory Outlet.
In 2019 a return cost to £7.50, with departures from 10:00 to 17:00 Monday to Saturday and 11:00 to 17:00 on Sunday and Bank Holidays.
15. Spalding Pumpkin Festival
On a Friday in mid-October the Spalding Pumpkin Festival is a celebration of the annual harvest and agriculture in South Holland.
There’s a surprising amount happening throughout the day in the centre of town, especially for kids.
This might be balloon modelling, scarecrow stilt-walking, a fancy dress competition, stage performances, face painting and pumpkin carving.
A pumpkin parade departs from the Sheep Market at 18:30 (led by the winner of the fancy dress competition) and a firework display brings the curtain down at 19:30.