Visitors to Southwell are often regaled with tales of yore that celebrate its notable history: a king’s last night of freedom, the jaundiced reflections of a budding poet or hints of a Roman temple.  But for this habitual walker the delights are less obvious, although certainly no less captivating. For Southwell abounds in serendipitous discoveries: little known haunts that stir largely forgotten memories, or views that elicit unexpected reverie. Here are just a few.

Sometimes, crossing the bridge over Westhorpe Dumble, when the morning sun is struggling to penetrate the trees’ dense canopy, the serene majesty of the scene can transport you to the set of A Midsummer Nights Dream, in that hushed expectant moment before the actors enter. Or taking the path through the meadow to the north of Shady Lane leaves you feeling you are lost in deep country, although Burgage Lane lies hidden, only a few yards away. Or walking over fields off Crink Lane, you discover a pond alive with dragonflies.

But Southwell’s civic past is never far from view. Who can fail to be enchanted when first coming across the silk mill at Maythorne, complete with the workers’ lodgings? Or the stately Caudwell’s Mill, beneath which the water’s rush reminds us of the way the Victorians harnessed ‘green’ energy. Sometimes you need to look a little more carefully – to discern the clues to the old brewmaster’s house, or the blacksmith’s forge in the Queen Street opticians. And a little background knowledge can fuel the imagination – of the evocative echoes of the puffing Southwell Paddy engine on its single track journey to Rolleston Junction (along what is now the Southwell Trail) before Dr Beeching did his worst; or of the groans of prisoners on the treadmill, behind the facade of the former gaol on Burgage Green; or even of the sounds of the grim routines of the Workhouse, where old and young, and husbands and wives harshly consigned to their separate quarters, eked out a bleak existence.

The past is, indeed, always close to hand: and the Civic Society’s aim is to ensure that inevitable progress (which undoubtedly benefits us all) does not destroy the memory of the town’s unique history. Just think of a few examples: here George Bernard Shaw visits the old theatre in Queen Street (now given a new lease of life); John Betjeman delights in the town’s congenial character; while here is a white-haired lad (the albino Robert Lowe) attending a local dame school, who later became Gladstone’s brilliant, if highly reactionary, Chancellor of the Exchequer. Few such small places contain so rich a heritage.

But not all that excites is old. The well-designed arboretum next to the river Greet, the recent installation of sturdy kissing gates on footpaths, informative blue plaques on notable buildings (albeit, for some of us, a bit too small to read!), the informative nature ‘lecturns’ dotted across the Brackenhurst Estate – all add to a rambler’s pleasure.

For all its noted grandeur, that brings thousands to view the minster, and many to hear music and poetry from some of the country’s most noted artists, Southwell also wears its mundane history like an old coat – comfortably and unpretentiously. You’ll be hard pressed to discover the meanings of ‘dumble’ or ‘wong’ in a standard dictionary, but here you can walk beside or over them, and saunter at will through the incomparable Potwell Dyke Meadow. This is, indeed, a special place.