The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Trail

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Trail is a fascinating journey that highlights Lincolnshire’s long and illustrious relationship with the Royal Air Force.

Known as Bomber County during the Second World War, Lincolnshire had more operational airfields than anywhere else in the country. Its largely flat, rural terrain and geographical location in the east of England (and therefore closer to Germany) made it the ideal county for the RAF to concentrate its airfield building programme. In 1939, there were 10 airfields in Lincolnshire, but by 1945 this had grown to 49 and it is estimated that airfields covered 2% of the county. As well as being home to Bomber Command, Lincolnshire also had several fighter airfields, the most important of which were RAF Digby and RAF Kirton in Lindsey.

Today, Lincolnshire is home to The Red Arrows at RAF Scampton; AWACS and Sentinels at RAF Waddington; Typhoons at RAF Conningsby; the RAF officers’ training college at RAF Cranwell; and of course, The Waddington Air Show.

Around Lincoln…

RAF Scampton Heritage Centre – celebrates the history of the RAF Scampton – and what an illustrious history it is! RAF Scampton is home to: the iconic 617 (Dambusters) Squadron, which, led by Squadron Leader Guy Gibson, flew a daring raid from Scampton to bomb the  dams of the German Rhur Valley in 1943; a reformed 617 Squadron which flew Vulcan bombers during the Cold War; and The Red Arrows. If you’re really lucky, you may see The Reds practicing in the skies above Scampton when you visit! Entry to the museum is free, but you MUST pre-book before you visit – RAF Scampton is a working airbase and, for security reasons, you will not be allowed in unless you have pre-booked. For more information, please click here.

Dambusters Inn, Scampton – a cosy pub in Scampton Village, long frequented by personnel from nearby RAF Scampton. With plenty of fascinating RAF memorabilia and bags of charm, the Dambusters Inn serves excellent food and real ale. For more information, please click here.

St John the Baptist Church, Scampton – the graveyard of Scampton Parish Church has a military section for aircrew from RAF Scampton. Unusually, there are also the graves of 8 Luftwaffe crew who died when their aircraft crashed nearby.

RAF Wickenby Memorial Museum – this tiny museum tells the story of RAF Wickenby, from its inception in 1941 to its closure in 1956. During the Second World War, it was home to 12  and 626 Squadrons. Post war it was home to 92 and 93 (Mustang) Squadrons. More poignantly, it remembers the 1,491 aircrew who failed to return to RAF Wickenby and nearby airfields during active service. RAF Wickenby Memorial Museum is located less than 10 miles north of Lincoln, off the A158 Lincoln – Skegness Road. For more information, please click here.

RAF Waddington Heritage Centre – learn about the history of RAF Waddington from its beginnings in 1916, to its current role as the nation’s hub of airborne intellegence systems. Entry to the museum is free, but by appointment only.  As with RAF Scampton, RAF Waddington is an operational airbase and, for security reasons, you will not gain admittance without pre-booking. For more information, please click here.

Waddington Aircraft Viewing Enclosure (WAVE) – RAF Waddington has a viewing enclosure located off the A15 opposite the airbase. You can park in safety as you aircraft spot! For more information, please click here.

Waddington Air Show – is the RAF’s largest air show and features some of the most spectacular flying displays you are ever likely to see! Aircraft from around the world take part in this two day spectacular held annually in July, as do Lincolnshire’s very own Red Arrows and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. For more information and to book tickets, please click here.

If you’re feeling hungry…

The Horse and Jockey, located in Waddington’s High Street, is a typical village pub popular with locals and visitors alike. Serving excellent food and with comfortable accommodation, this pub rates highly with Trip Advisor and is well worth trying out after your trip to nearby RAF Waddington. For more information, please click here.

 

Between Lincoln and Sleaford…

RAF Digby Sector Operations Room – located in a World War 2 bunker, the Sector Ops Room replicates a typical day during the Battle of Britain. With great attention to detail and a fascinating story to tell, it is well worth a visit. Free Admission. Open: Sunday May – October. Guided Tour at 11am. No need to book, just arrive in good time at the Sports Ground Car Park opposite RAF Digby main gate. Location: RAF Digby Sector Operations Room Museum, RAF Digby, Lincoln, LN4 3HL. For more information, please click here.

Scopwick Cemetary – RAF Digby’s war dead are buried in the nearby village of Scopwick, including Pilot Officer John Gillespie Magee Jr, an American who had joined the Royal Canadian Air Force. Pilot Officer Magee wrote the world famous poem ‘High Flight’ which has since become the unofficial poem of aviators. The words of ‘High Flight’ appear on the headstones of many  aviators and astronauts buried at Arlington National Cemetary in the USA. Pilot Officer Magee was killed 3 months after he wrote the poem, at the age of 19. For more information, please click here.

Cranwell Aviation Heritage Centre – located near the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. This small aviation centre tells the story of RAF Cranwell, from its early days as a Royal Navy air service base to the present day. There are some great interactive exhibits including a flight simulator, navigation, aircraft recogniton, supply drop, and propeller development. Free admission. For more information, please click here.

If you’re feeling hungry…

The Bustard Inn and Restaurant – located near to the Cranwell Aviation Heritage Centre.  This lovely Grade II listed inn has a reputation for serving superb food and a wide variety of real ales. For more information, please click here.

 

Around Woodhall Spa…

Woodhall Spa has long links with the RAF and several excellent aviation museums and memorials are to be found nearby.

Two spectacular memorials located in Woodhall Spa’s Royal Square on Station Road are well worth visiting. The Dambuster’s Memorial, is dedicated to the brave airmen of 617 Squadron who lost their lives on the famous Dambusters Raid in 1943, and depicts the breaching of those dams in the German Rhur Valley. The 617 Squadron Memorial, is dedicated to the air and ground crew of 617 Squadron who have given their lives for their country since 1945. The memorial is a black granite sculpture that reflects the shape of both the Vulcan and Tornado bombers flown by the squadron.

Thorpe Camp Visitor Centre was formerly the Officers’ and Sergeants’ Mess at RAF Woodhall Spa. It is now a museum depicting the history of RAF Woodhall Spa and the squadrons based there during WW2. Look out for the  superb re-enactment weekends it occasionally holds. Located at Tattershall Thorpe, en route to  RAF Conningsby. For more information, please click here.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight at RAF Conningsby is not to be missed. Take a fascinating guided tour of the hangar and get up close to the iconic Spitfire, Lancaster, Hurricane, Chipmunk and Dakota aeroplanes. If you’re really lucky, you may well get to see a Typhoon or two take off and land at RAF Conningsby, next door. Ear-shatteringly impressive! Please note: do check that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight is not taking part in an airshow/display elsewhere in the country when you plan to visit. For more information, please click here.

The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre at East Kirkby, is the largest WW2 Bomber Command airfield in the UK. Here you can experience the atmosphere of a Second World War airfield (including the sights, sounds and smells!). You can even taxi down the runway in a Lancaster Bomber – but you do need to pre-book to do this. With award-winning displays, friendly & knowledgeable staff, and lots of great events happening throughout the year, The Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre is another gem that is not to be missed. For more information, please click here.

Hotels/Pubs with aviation links in and around Woodhall Spa:

The Petwood is a delightful Edwardian country house hotel that exudes luxury and charm – and is the perfect base for your Aviation Trail Break. It has long links with the RAF – after The Dambusters Raid, the hotel was requisitioned by the Ministry of War for use as an Officer’s Mess for 617 (Dambusters) Squadron. The Squadron Bar is dedicated to the memory of those in the Dambusters Squadron and has a lot of fascinating photographs and memorabilia. For more information, please click here.

The Blue Bell Inn at Tattershall Thorpe (between Woodhall Spa and Conningsby) is a quaint pub dating back to the 13th Century. The Blue Bell Inn has long been a popular watering hole for air and ground crew from nearby RAF bases. Check out the Heroes Bar, where RAF personnel – including Prince William – have added their signatures to the ceiling! The pub also has a lot of fascinating RAF memorabilia – and  it serves delicious food and has featured in the Good Beer guide for the past 8 years! For more information, please click here.