It’s amazing to walk in the footsteps of the famous highwayman, Dick Turpin; Roman legions; fearsome Vikings; and Crusaders in flowing robes.
But, that’s exactly what happens when you journey down the ancient Great North Road, the legendary route that once connected northern and southern England.
Through the centuries, this famous highway – linking London and Edinburgh, Scotland – has been used by daring highwaymen, armies of many colours; mail coaches; and everyday travellers simply going about their business.
Each of these has left its marks, woven into the complex tapestry of English history, folklore and legend.
For example, there’s the well known story of Ben Turpin’s dash from London to York – a distance of 200 miles – in less than 15 hours on his faithful mares Black Bess
Various inns that still stand along the original route claim that Turpin ate his lunch there that night, or stopped off to briefly rest his horse.
One particular part of that ancient road – as it passes through the East Midlands – especially grabbed our attention.
In Lincolnshire, about 14 miles from the cathedral city of Peterborough, the Great North Road crosses the River Welland.
The site is marked by the delightful centre of Stamford, which claims the title of ‘England’s finest Stone Town’.
And Stamford boasts The George, one of England’s great historic coaching inns, well known for a much-photographed gallows erected across the road outside – partially to warn off highwaymen.
A rest house has stood on the site of The George for about 1,000 years. We were told that the actual age of the building is unclear, but it could have been built about 947AD.
At one stage, the site housed a hospital, where pilgrims and Knights were entertained on their way to Jerusalum.
Today, The George has a garden and a plaque where young Crusaders once mingled.
The George has also seen its share of royalty, hosting visits by Charles II in 1641 and William III in 1696.
In 1597, The George was rebuilt by Elizabethan statesman, William Cecil, the first Lord Burghley. This descendants, the Marquis of Exeter still live in stately Burghley House, near Stamford.
Of course, with such an old building, there are also many colourful stories surrounding The George of Stamford.
During our visit, we were told about a man called Milton who once rode from London Piccadilly to The George – a distance of more than 90 miles – within five hours using a team of 13 horses.
In the grand entrance hall of The George of Stamford there is a portrait of local, Daniel Lambert, undoubtedly the inn’s biggest customer.
Lambert was apparently a strong man in his youth, but by the time of his death, he weighed 52 stone 11 pounds.
Today, The George has both hotel and restaurant facilities and entering the splendid building is like taking a step back in history – fittingly along one of the world’s great ancient highways, unfortunately now largely bypassed by a motorway.