One of my favourite walks is just on my doorstep – how wonderful is that!
Charnwood Forest lies to the north-west of Leicester on an upland tract created by some of the oldest volcanic activity in the world. It is an area full of character and places of interest, some of which are quite hidden. The best known areas of the forest are Bradgate Park with its gnarly trees, elegant deer and rocky outcrops, and Beacon Hill that has views extending for miles and attractive woodland. But there are many lesser known areas which have the same characteristic countryside as these parks they are not so crowded with visitors and have just as interesting and picturesque walks.
Starting at Swithland Wood
Swithland wood has many varieties of mature established trees and is an ideal place for bird spotting, it is especially beautiful in the spring when there is no lack of bluebells carpeting the ground.
My walk started at the main car park of the woods where there is a small donation box for parking. The route followed the outskirts of the wood along a wide path down to the stream. It was very tempting to veer of and explore the many inviting paths that I saw, but hanging on I maintained my course knowing that I would pass through the middle of the wood on the return journey.
On the day of my walk the trees were still changing into their autumn colours and the mixture of greens,browns and yellows made an attractive start to the day. Passing by the small stream I crossed over a field to arrive at Bradgate Park.
Bradgate is a small part of ancient English countryside in the midst of our urbanised country. It is no wonder that this timeless park is so popular and on a sunny day you will struggle to find a spot to park your car despite the three large car parks. Thankfully this time of year and on a week day it is a lot quieter.
The park is the Tudor home lands of the Grey family, and is believed to be the birth place of Lady Jane Grey the nine-day queen. In the midst of the park are the ruins of Bradgate House where she lived. These ruins are quite extensive and evocative of the sad tale of Lady Jane.
Around the park there are many stunted old mature oak trees. I have always been told that they are stunted because when Lady Jane was beheaded they chopped down many of them, and that they have grown back as they are today. If this is true it only adds to the tragic romance of her story and the power of history on the landscape.
The trees blend in perfectly with the undulating ground covered in well grazed grass and bracken. The volcanic rocks protrude through the ground in various places reminding all around of the parks historic Precambrian past. The rocks are especially pronounced on Old John a folly on top of a hill which has its own intriguing story. Upon this wild-looking landscape fallow and roe deer wonder, stately antlered stags the current lords of the estate.
In autumn Bradgate Park is at its finest, the barking of stags can be heard echoing over the reds and browns of the bracken and falling leaves are rushed away on the waters of the River Lin that flows through the middle of the park.
I always love waking through Bradgate, there are many paths to choose from. On this day I wandered across the grassland from the Swithland car park to the main car park at Newtown Linford.
It is almost impossible to not linger in Bradgate but my walk moves on through Newtown Linford. A pleasant little village despite the continuous traffic which is characterised by the local stone buildings.
Walking north across fields and through woods brings me to the remains of a small water-mill. These ruins are quietly hidden away in the woods with signs to keep out – which I always ignore. I have often explored this building and would love to know its history but it has remained a mystery to me.
Continuing through the woods brings me to a short stretch of road and onto a private driveway that leads to Ulverscroft Priory. The Priory was founded in the twelfth Century originally as a hermitage, it soon became a priory and remained so until 1539.
The priory ruins are on private land and are not open to the public, so all I can do – or indeed anybody, is stare at them across a stone wall. This makes the ruins even more intriguing to me, I simply want to fully explore them I find them fascinating. What also draws me to this stone edifice is the fact that it has not been kept in a good state of repair which adds to its romantic appearance.
It was a short walk from Ulverscroft Priory to Beacon Hill which is probably Leicestershires second best known landmark. This rocky hill stands out defiantly from the surrounding country side. Formed of Igneous rock from an extinct volcano at Whitwick, there is nowhere else in this region where the fine grained rocks are more prominent. A bronze age hill fort once stood on top of this hill, it is easy to understand why. There are massive views in all directions, on clear days the hills of the Peaks can be seen and the tower of Lincoln Cathedral.
After climbing the hill to look at the distant views (something I have done many times in all weathers) I followed the main path down the hill towards the south car park. This spacious pathway winds its way through mainly woodland of various trees, these to were showing off their autumnal colours tempting me to take many photos in a vain attempt to capture their glory.
Scattered around the park are wood carvings that have been done with a chain saw. When I reached the lower part of the park I passed the wooden shed where the craftsman performs his art. Some days you can stand and watch him at work creating all sorts of figures from huge chunks of wood.
Crossing the road that leads into Woodhouse Eaves I entered into Broombriggs farm. The fields of this farm preserve the landscape of a typical Charnwood Forest farm and are open to the public to walk around and enjoy. On the edge of this farmland upon a smaller hill than Beacon Hill hidden amongst a small wood is the remains of a post mill.
This post mill was originally built in 1863 and remained in good condition as a famous local land mark until 1945 when a brush fire took hold of the mill and destroyed it. Today only the stone base remains which now has a viewing platform on top of it and is open to the public at certain times of the year.
Dropping down from the hill into Woodhouse Eaves there were two more sites I wanted to visit before re-entering Swithland Woods. The first is a mystical cave that lies beneath the village church, it has a magical appearance despite the fact that it is right in the centre of the village and I can imagine in older days it was a place of significance for the locals.
The other was a strange little folly which also sits in private ground but is easily view-able from the road. The turret looking structure sits on the edge of a small water filled quarry, I would love to know what the inspiration was for building it.
Both the cave and the folly were directly on my route, no detours were required and both added to the interest of the walk as it was drawing to a close.
Back to Swithland Woods
And so my journey ended with the luxury of walking through Swithland’s leafy woods. It is a pleasing end especially in the latter part of the day when the woodland is beginning to hide its secrets in darkness. I have a feeling of fullness as I draw near to the car park where my car is, there has been so much to see both natural and man made and I feel in both cases I have touched history and the essence of this part of the county.
I really recommend it as a days walk there are pubs and cafes on the route, take plenty of time to gaze and explore.
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