This part of Leicestershire is probably best known for Belvoir Castle the stately seat of the 11th Duke of Rutland.
An unfamiliar part of Leicestershire for me
I am familiar with the Charnwood Forest area of Leicestershire with its old woods, outcrops of volcanic rock and high points with massive views. I have also explored some of the fields on the southern side of the county that unconsciously merge into Northamptonshire. Until fairly recently the north-eastern corner that borders on to Lincolnshire has not really appealed to me as somewhere to go for a walk..
Last year I helped prepare for a fireworks competition in the grounds of Belvoir Castle. Trying to find my way into the grounds was not as easy as I would have hoped. While driving around the lanes surrounding the castle I was impressed with the landscape and thought that this might be worth a walk.
Exploring the north-east of the county
My walk started at Waltham in the Wolds, it has a small high street that still contain some sandstone cottages giving a fitting appearance, but I discovered when I returned at the end of the day that these cottages hid a pretty uninspired housing estate behind them which kind of ruined the illusion of the quiet country idyllic.
The landscape around this part of the county is fairly level, there are no high peaks with extravagant views. There were places where I could see far into the distance, but this I think had more to do with the lack of landscape features that would in other places inhibit seeing far. Being on the borders of Lincolnshire I guessed that kind of flatness was to be expected.
It was a lazy Autumn morning when I set out, the sun was shining with just the occasional cloud temporarily blocking it out. It was warm in the sun but there was a cold wind which threatened to bring a change in the weather.
My first landmark was Saltby Airfield. At first it looked pretty uninspiring the land was cultivated and there were massive straw stacks built on what looked like old aircraft parking bays. There was a notice telling me to beware the airfield was in constant use, looking at the state of the runway I found this hard to believe.
The footpath took me around the outskirts of the old airfield to a wood where much to my surprise there was a glider club. Rows of gliders were parked up in front of a busy building – so the airfield was in use. Later on I found the other end of the runway which was in a much better state of repair, and obviously – was the used end.
The most interesting part of the airfield was just around the corner from the gliders. This was a memorial to the airfield which was very busy during world war 2. The C47 Dakotas were based here that flew out paratroopers both on D-day, and for Operation Market Garden at Arnhem. These were two major events in the battle for Europe which helped bring the war to an end. I stayed some time here reading the board about the airfield during the war, there was a lot of information on it and I found it very absorbing and interesting.
As I read the board I found it quite moving connecting with a part of history that I had read so much about. Thinking about all the guys that left from here to go into battle, but who never came back it was quite moving as pictures from the TV program Band of Brothers came to my mind.
On many war memorials the words “Lest we forget” are inscribed, these words were written after the horrors of the first world war. Thinking about this airfield and all that happened here and what is happening in the world today I fear we all too easily forget.
Nearby there was an air raid shelter that had been kept in good state of repair. Usually these things are smelly wet ruins this one was almost as good as new.
The Viking Way and the Drift
The Viking Way is a 147m long distance path that stretches from Oakham to Barton-upon-Humber. I walked along the Viking Way from Saltby Airfield to Woolsthorpe By Belvoir. Much of this stretch of the trail is a part of The Drift a Site of Special Scientific interest. To be honest I did not find it especially interesting, it was a muddy track with high hedges on either side denying any views and creating almost a tunnel effect – slightly claustrophobic. I thought this could be a nightmare in the winter – mud up to your ears.
In the spring time it is probably quite beautiful and colourful with many wild flowers, but not this time of the year. Thankfully the northern half of the trail was more inspiring. Here the path was an avenue of sweet chestnut trees that were gently changing colour, their leaves and fruit provided a crunchy golden brown carpet to walk upon. The sun shining through the leaves added a dynamic dimension to the colours captured in the trees that I walked through. This section of the path was much more enjoyable and uplifting and it was probably one of my highlights on the walk. .
After a brief lunch break at Woolsthorpe By Belvoir I headed for Belvoir Castle. I was really looking forward to seeing this nineteenth century castle, I knew I would not be able to actually visit it but I was hoping to get a good look. As I walked across the fields in front of me Belvoir Castle stood proudly above the trees that surrounded it surveying the landscape for miles.
I had high hopes of seeing the castle from the other side, but as I followed the road that took me around the grounds of the estate, any hopes I had were dashed by the curtain of trees that surrounded the great monument keeping it secret to all but the paying visitors. The closest I got to the castle was the visitors centre – which was shut.
Slightly disappointed I pressed on down the road starting my walk back towards Waltham on the Wolds. The walk along the road turned out to b quite enjoyable, again it was the trees that did it. The mixture of autumn colours and the sunlight that was even lower in the sky by now made it delightful.
Part of the road looked down into the grounds of the estate showing its large woodland and landscaped pathways. It is a massive estate, one that I think would be well worth exploring another time.
Walking back to Waltham.
The route I choose back to the village went past Knipton Reservoir, again it was a spot I was hoping to get a glimpse of and again I was foiled by the trees surrounding it all I got was literally – a glimpse!
Despite this I did enjoy the walk back to Waltham, by the time I was back at the village it was almost dark and walking in the setting sun was a very satisfying experience. I do like walking when the day is drawing to a close, I do not really know why perhaps it appeals to the melancholic in me?
It is a time when the day is bedding down, whatever has been done that day is done, all things must wait until the morning for fresh opportunities. The rhythm of life is much more profound in the country, there is no artificial light or entertainment trying to defy the night. Nature excepts nights closing curtain and knows that it is time to settle down and wait.
There is nothing spectacular about the countryside in this part of Leicestershire, and Belvoir Castle hiding behind its trees is the only structure of note. It is though in my opinion good walking country.
It feels very middle England and rural, farmed land with hedgerows and woods, small villages and country pubs. It has the settled feel of the quiet rhythm of life that has essentially not changed for years. Gently it breathes that unchanging rhythm into you, bringing quietness into your being and restoration into your busy mind.
I recommend it to you, perhaps not such a long a walk as mine. It is easy to find shorter ones because there are is no shortage of footpaths across this part of Leicestershire.
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