It is very tempting to go off and explore classic areas when we want a good walk but like most people we forget how to really appreciate what is on our own doorstep.
It is important that we walk paths in our own patch if we wish to keep them open but this should not be a chore. There are a number of country parks in our area and a lot of other open areas that we can walk through or incorporate into longer walks. They are interesting wildlife havens but often also have fascinating histories.
To encourage members to see some of these areas in a new light and to encourage readers from further afield to visit our area we are publishing this directory.
Don’t forget that numerous walks can be found on the Ramblers National web site
The information contained in these entries has been culled from numerous sources over the years and whilst every attempt has been made to cross reference the material we cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions inadvertently made. The reader is free to use this information as they will in the interest of enjoying these fascinating areas.
Members are invited to send in material to further enhance this record if they know a bit of ‘secret’ history or have another area they would like to flag up.
Please click on the link below to transfer to each place of interest.
ROYALTIGERS AND CENTENARY WOODS, BAGWORTH make up a Woodland Trust managed site consisting of 14 ha of woodland which was planted in 1993/4 through funds raised by the now-disbanded Royal Leicestershire Regiment. An arboretum containing 17 species of trees from countries in which the Regiment served (as the 17th Foot) lies at the bottom of the slope by the hedgerow.
A locally quarried memorial stone bears a regimental plaque. It is flanked by two Mercer's Oaks, brought to the UK from the tree in Princeton (USA) around which the surrounded 17th Foot routed part of Washington's army and bayoneted its commander (Mercer) during the American War of Independence in 1777. This adjoins Centenary Wood also owned by the Trust (27 ha) planted to commemorate the centenary of Bagworth Parish Council in 1994. Native broadleaved trees and shrubs have been planted on former farmland with wide rides and glades to create edge habitats and open spaces. At the northern end of the site, a public footpath takes you the short distance to Bagworth Church, a new church built on the site of the Norman church lost to mining subsidence. The arch from the Norman church has been built into the new church. Both Royal Tigers and Centenary Woods slope steeply uphill and are just across the road from the car park for BAGWORTH HEATH WOODS itself a 75-hectare site on the location of the former Desford Colliery now owned and managed by the County Council. There is a range of walks and fine views to Thornton and Bagworth. The site is linked to Thornton and Bagworth by the circular walk around Leicestershire, the 100-mile Leicestershire Round and Sustrans cycle routes cross the site. This is maturing into a good area, with mixed terrain and vegetation and including lakes and several hills. There are a number of nearby small National Forest Schemes which can be linked in by way of the footpath network. Back To Top
DONISTHORPE WOODLAND PARK is 36-hectare former colliery site in The National Forest where there are 20 hectares of mixed woodland and 3km (1.85 miles) of stone-surfaced paths, which are suitable for all users. There are links to the 6km (3.7 miles) Ashby Wold’s Heritage Trail and Moira Furnace and Plantation, along the towpath of the restored Ashby Canal. The colliery dated back to 1857 and Moira Furnace is a restored blast furnace dating back to Napoleonic times. Nearby are restored old lime kilns. The area has recorded history going back much further. The name Donisthorpe suggests that the settlement be of Scandinavian origin. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the area was occupied much earlier. There is evidence of Neolithic and Roman occupation and it is probable that a Roman road from Leicester to Chester ran through this area. Back To Top
To the north-west with footpaths linking them are the Willesley and Hicks Lodge area and Shellbrook a small stream of that name which runs between Donisthorpe and Oakthorpe to join the River Mease to the south.
WILLESLEY WOODS was a mining site and opencast mining finished in the early 1950s when it was returned to mixed agricultural use. The soil is poor with a predominance of clay and shale above the shallow coal measures; mining spoil has been levelled in some areas giving particularly poor growing conditions and variable growth speeds. The lake was formed by mining subsidence in the early 1980's and partially excavated to form a fishing lake. As an interesting aside the woods are also known as Thortit Woods; the pit heads were so well hidden in the woods that the local volunteer group for these woodlands have taken their name from the local comment (who’d a thought it) and are known as ‘The Friends of Thortit’ Back To Top
There are many wetland areas in the bottoms. There has been some continuity of woodland cover on the Willesley site for at least 200 years and possibly longer but it cannot be classed as ancient woodland and in any event most of the area is made up of new plantings by the Woodlands Trust. Birds, butterflies and moths are taking up home with wild flowers coming into their own. This now very diverse terrain hosts nearly 100 different bird species including the fairly rare reed bunting. Amongst the established trees in the copses black poplars have been found and this is the largest group of these rare trees anywhere in Leicestershire. Common spotted and pyramid orchids now abound and any course planning must give consideration to any sensitive areas if we are not to lose the goodwill of the landowners and other users. The guelder roses and field maples turn these new woodlands into a blaze of colour at times of the year and are well worth a special visit. To the east of the site is Willesley Lake (man-made in the eighteenth century) and parkland, which was formerly part of the Willesley Hall Estate. Although the hall has long since been demolished the parkland at the eastern end of the Woodland Trust site is a remnant of the former estate lands which stretch to the edge of Ashby, in avenues of lime trees. A large part of the old estate is now Willesley Park Golf Course. Willesley Lake itself is of serpentine design and was created to control water levels for power generation for the old hall. The small church was once the family church and the graveyard evidences mediaeval settlement.
This area includes a number of smaller ownerships including the Oakthorpe Picnic Site with 3 hectares and affording some parking. Back To Top
Across the road we have SHELLBROOK and HICKS LODGE both Forestry Commission owned. The footpath links between Willesley and these two are not good Hicks Lodge area with an award-winning visitor centre with plenty of parking has provides parking. The Shellbrook newly-wooded area has been made into a cycling area with graded rides etc and the convoluted tracks make navigation tricky. The Hicks Lodge area is more open with lakes and small streams and some new plantings and adjoins the old Newfield Colliery site with a lake and mature trees and a path through to Moira Furnace.
MOIRA FURNACE adjoins a plantation of about 13 acres and about half is mature woodland with many water features and a maze of small paths, and half again agricultural land crossed by a number of paths. Completing the picture is nearby local authority parkland and the area around the ancient blast furnace dating from Napoleonic times together with adjoining restored lime kilns. It is owned by N W Leicestershire District Council and Donisthorpe Woodland Park owned by the County Council. Nearby is another site known as SARAH'S WOOD, 25 acres of woodland designed for children of all abilities with tarmac footpaths. The site overlooks the Conkers Waterside Centre and is alongside the basin at the end of the restored Ashby Canal. Back To Top
Donisthorpe is recorded in the Doomsday book which describes the land at Donisthorpe as waste, mostly in the ownership of Henry de Ferrers. Along the south of Donisthorpe runs the Walton Way which, when it crosses the Shellbrook is known as the Saltersford - a clear indication that this part of the Walton Way was also used as Salt Way. SALTERFORD VALLEY is a seven hectare site in The National Forest which has open water areas known as 'flashes'. These result from mining subsidence that causes the Saltersford Brook to flood. There are sites planted with new native woodland and open areas managed as grassland, which feature wild flowers. The site has been recently been designated as a Local Nature Reserve
Near to Conkers there is a new area owned by the National Forest Company surrounding HANGING HILL FARM and has been planted up. It is flanked on one side by the mature Feanedock Covert and the other by the maturing Rawden East Country Park and Maybury Woods all of which have public access. There are a number of public footpaths through it and Conkers provides nearby facilities. Back To Top
The GRANGE & BATTRAM WOODS now form a sizeable site which in several ownerships and just outside Ibstock. The earliest plantings were in Battram Woods acquired by the Royal Forestry Society with assistance from the National Forest, North West Leicestershire District Council, Leicestershire County Council and the Rural Development Commission. It covers 48 hectares and was planted out over about 3 years from 1998 and is now maturing nicely. These woods were intended to be a flagship showing how to create and run profitable woodlands for future generations in crowded lowland Britain. The site demonstrates best practice in planning, establishing and running woodland with wildlife conservation, landscaping, access and interpretation as integral components.
Over 80,000 trees were planted in a mixture of broadleaves and conifers, deciduous and evergreen trees, and native and introduced species. Fast growing poplars and cricket bat willows are grown on the wetter areas. There are a number of unusual features including a group of 350 young English oaks and yews which form the Millennium Circle in the centre of the wood. In 2005, the RFS joined forces with The Woodland Trust and the Marie Curie Cancer Fund to plant a new commemorative wood of 600 saplings with 10,000 wild daffodils This variety of plantings and terrain with 20% left as open space, provides attractive glades and paths which together with the existing extensive rides and footpaths provide 4km of pedestrian access routes. Cycle tracks link with other long-distance cycle ways and the National Forest Way goes through the area.
This is only part of the story in that an even larger new development was undertaken next door at Ibstock Grange where are planted a variety of trees both sides of the stream running out of the RFS site. A whole variety of new habitats are evolving, enhancing the biodiversity. The ponds and stream are managed as wetland habitats and the power lines that criss-crossed the skyline, have gone underground for visual and safety reasons. A few poles remain as perches for birds of prey which do assist navigation. In Grange Wood alone, over 109,000 young trees have been planted mostly native hardwoods including Oak, Beach and Ash. Small areas of conifers have been included to shelter the native trees and provide interest and colour in the winter months. Over a mile of new hedgerows and numerous parkland and specimen trees have also been planted and numerous wetland features created.
A number of other National Forest Tender schemes adjoin the two larger developments including Common Hill Wood to the north and Farm Park Wood to the south west, Workman’s Wood between Common Hill and Battram Woods an a further small development known as Sparrow Walk just over Pretoria Road from Common Hill Wood.
The whole accessible area is now over 600 acres. Back To Top
SENCE VALLEY is a 60 hectare former open-cast coal site, which has been transformed with extensive tree planting and the creation of lakes interlinked with a series of paths. The Park is owned by the County Council but managed by the Forestry Commission. After being planted with over 98,000 trees this site was opened to the public in September 1998 and contains woodland, grassland, a wildflower meadow and lakes linking to the River Sence. Thanks to the varied habitat 150 bird species have been recorded at the park. An artificial Sand Martin nesting wall has also been constructed alongside the Horseshoe Lake. The park lies between Heather and Ravenstone. Ravenstone to the north of the park has seen a number of Roman finds. Suggestions are that a small Roman town (destroyed by open cast mining) was situated nearby beside the Roman road which ran from Leicester to Chester. Ravenstone is mentioned in the Domesday Book and is listed as waste. However, there is reason to believe that there was much human activity before this time. In more recent times (1147) there was a treaty by which the Earl of Leicester agreed to destroy the castle at Ravenstone. Its location is a mystery but it may have been near Snibston. There are surfaced trails providing access for walkers and disabled visitors. There are numerous footpaths from the site linking to other small pockets of public access woodlands including the large QEII Diamond Jubilee Wood being developed by the Woodland Trust. Back To Top
SPRING COTTAGE is an extensive area which straddles the South Derbyshire border with a wide mix of terrain including mature woodland, some as yet immature plantings, water features and considerable land form complexity. Adjoining the area are Tunnel Woods, Swainspark Woods, Gresley Woods and Pick Triangle There are cycle trails linking Conkers to the area with pockets of public access land along the way. Back To Top
THORNTON RESERVOIR lies in a quiet, picturesque valley and was opened to the public by Severn Trent Water in 1997. This was achieved with support from the National Forest Company, Rural Development Council, Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council and European funding. A surfaced track goes all the way around the reservoir and into the woodland on the north shore. It is home to a variety of wildfowl. The new visitor centre resembles an upturned boat to reflect the fishing interest on the site. Paths have been created through the woodlands and leave the site at several points and there are several National Forest funded pockets of woodland nearby. Back To Top
MOUNTSORREL offers some open countryside. There is woodland on what was a hill to the north of Swithland Reservoir but the hill has been progressively quarried away. The collar of surviving woodland (BUDDON WOOD) has permissive paths linking it with Mountsorrel Common and Castle Hill. These two sites are registered common land and now ‘Open Access’ under the CRoW Act, giving a useful linear corridor to walk out of the built up area. Despite clear felling and quarrying activities Buddon Wood remains one of the best birch-oak woodlands in Leicestershire of a type not found elsewhere in the East Midlands. It is on an area of granite overlain by Keuper Marl (Mercian Mudstone), giving a relatively free-draining, acid, siliceous clay soil. The woodland mainly is comprised of silver birch. Various oaks and small-leaved lime are indicating the ancient origins of the wood. Adjacent wet meadows and acidic flushes within the wood provide added diversity. Rare moths, butterflies spiders and other insects abound presumably because of the proximity of Swithland Reservoir. The tall-fen and inundation plant communities of the margins of the reservoir are amongst the best in the County and the reservoir is important as a roosting and feeding area for waterfowl during winter months.
There is evidence of Bronze or Iron Age activity at Buddon. Back To Top
MELTON MOWBRAY COUNTRY PARK is on the edge of a built up area, and comprises 140 acres of parkland and a section of the ‘Jubilee Way’ (a fifteen mile footpath that leads to Belvoir Castle). It contains nature & sculpture trails, a large lake and an abundance of wildlife. Back To Top
BELVOIR CASTLE has been the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland for over one thousand years. The present castle is the fourth to have stood on the site since Norman times. The existing castle was completed in the early 19th century after previous buildings suffered complete or partial destruction during the Wars of the Roses, the Civil War and a major fire in 1816. The grounds include the Rose and Statue Gardens which are elegantly laid out round a central fountain, where a statue collection is set back into a terrace in the hillside. There are superb specimen trees dating back hundreds of years and the area is a delight with a great range of terrain, water features, variety of plantings and very challenging slopes. There are also extensive estate woodlands to the west of the castle running along the top of an escarpment with mature woodlands along the top and down the often very steep slopes. The flatlands below the slope are extensive with a fairly complex path network but the blocks are often severely tangled with bramble and often extremely boggy underfoot.
The overall area takes in several diverse woodlands. It includes Old Park Wood and to the north a mature area known as Church Thorns. To the west of this we have Barkestone Wood, then Plungar Wood and Stathern Wood all lying in the damp bottom lands below the escarpment. On the top of the slopes of Wood Lane we have Terrace Hills and east from here the escarpment itself is quite complex with varied landforms all the way to Tofts Lane. West of this Combs Plantation is part of the estate and the surrounding meadows are managed as a country park under different ownership.
Belvoir, meaning beautiful view in French, dates back to Norman times. The English pronunciation ‘Beaver’ was built up over many centuries probably due to the inability of Anglo-Saxons to master the French tongue. Back To Top
One of the most attractive areas in Leicestershire is known generally as CHARNWOOD LODGE. The area covered by this Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust reserve was originally part of the Charnwood Forest 'wastes' and the now familiar stone walls were erected during the enclosure period, followed by a period of afforestation and drainage. As the Trust’s largest land-based reserve and one of the biggest nature reserves in the Midlands, it is subject to apparently conflicting considerations. It covers 227 ha. and most of the reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was also declared a National Nature Reserve in 2000. It is the Trust’s stated intention to maintain Charnwood Lodge as a quiet, wild place and they aim to keep activity to a minimum both in terms of their own management and interference and organised activities by third parties. It is however now access land and new signs were put to inform people that this reserve is now open to the public through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Quite apart from its potential for walking and the truly great views it enjoys particularly from Bomb Rocks it is also a wildlife haven, hence its sensitivity.
The area includes Timberwood Hill, Gisborne’s Gorse and two areas we have mapped and used previously, Oaks in Charnwood and Warren Hills
In 2006/7 the following species were sighted; Peregrine, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wheatear, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Warbler, Raven, Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll and Common (Mealy) Redpoll not to mention numerous more common species. A White Admiral butterfly was an unusual visitor and the Essex Skipper was also added to the reserve list. In addition a family of 5 Stoats, including 3 young, was seen near the Bomb Rocks. 30 bat boxes have been provided and last spring 6 had bats in them. Five were occupied by a total of over 50 Pipistrelle and one had a Brown Long-eared in it. A further 9 boxes had bat droppings in them. Habitats include planted oaks and other mixed woodland, acid grassland, heath grassland (called moorland by some), with occasional sphagnum dominated wet areas, a small reservoir and a number of small ponds.
Grazing is the most important management tool used to contain coarser grasses and scrub birch which would otherwise eradicate the smaller and more vulnerable species to be found in certain areas. Selected bracken-covered areas are cut by hand or machine and although this policy has to be maintained regularly to show any significant effect, the results are impressive. In much of the woodland the spread of rhododendron is a menace and large areas have been cleared. Colonisation by sycamore is also a problem and several large trees have been removed to prevent the spread of seed: native species will be planted in place of the sycamore. In the longer term it is intended to remove some of the denser conifer stands and replace them with a more varied and interesting tree canopy although the presence of some conifers enhances the woodland habitat, particularly for birds.
Charnwood Lodge is actually the largest area of wild land remaining in Leicestershire. The access land, identified as Open Country by the Countryside Agency, occurs in three separate parcels. There is also a forth parcel not available to walkers.
It includes Warren Hills, The Rough, Timberwood Hill and Gisborne’s Gorse. Among the most striking features of the reserve, prominent 600 million year old Precambrian rock outcrops protrude through the surrounding Keuper Marl (Mercian Mudstones) and other Triassic deposits. The famous 'Bomb' rocks offering commanding views out over Charnwood (porphyroid 'Bombs' buried in the agglomerate rock which attract attention from geologists nationwide) have led to the reserve being declared a National Nature Reserve. The Rough is also part of an SSSI and this large compartment is bisected by a small stream that usually dries up in summer. It is an area of acid grassland with a stream lined with silver birch, and there are good fern populations along the banks, including mountain fern. Marsh violet is locally frequent. Either side of the stream are extensive stands of bracken, while large open areas with abundant purple moor-grass also occur. Heather and bilberry are occasional, with rarer species such as petty whin, creeping willow and western gorse. To the south of the stream silver birch is locally frequent, and there is a wet, flushed area present with many locally rare plants such as lesser skullcap, creeping forget-me-not and bog pimpernel. A shallow, fenced pond is present by one of the metalled roads through the site, and has some bog mosses and blunt-flowered rush around the margins. There is a breeding population of tree pipits present and this is a ground nesting bird that has declined sharply both nationally and locally over recent years. Back To Top
TIMBERWOOD HILL is a prominent landscape feature in Charnwood Forest. At its highest point it is 249m (about 809 feet) above sea level. The Pre-Cambrian rocks give rise to thin, acid soils, with numerous rock outcrops. Boundaries consist of dry stone walls, and a dilapidated wall traverses part of the hill. Bracken forms extensive stands and there are scattered specimens of oak and rowan. Silver birch is more frequent, with numerous saplings on the southern slope, and birch woodland is well developed along the eastern boundary. The slopes of the hill are steep, boggy in places and are littered with boulders and dense stands of bracken. In the remaining open areas a good heath-grassland flora is still to be found. Bilberry is especially abundant on the top of the hill; as is cross-leaved heath in a wet flush to the east, but both occur elsewhere. Sphagnum mosses are frequent in the bog, and other species found on the hill include heather, heath rush, toad rush, wavy hair-grass, western gorse, mat-grass, climbing corydalis, star sedge, wood sage, purple moor-grass and heath bedstraw. Wood-sorrel is to be found in the shade of rocks and walls.
The invertebrate fauna of the hill is important in respect of spiders and beetles. Both groups are thought to be well represented. Butterflies include a good colony of green hairstreaks and other fauna includes a population of breeding tree pipits, a ground-nesting bird that has declined sharply both nationally and locally in recent decades. The meadow pipit is another ground-nesting bird species that breeds here. Badgers use the hill for foraging.
Present management consists of rolling and hand cutting of bracken, scrub removal and summer grazing by cattle.
Timberwood Hill is now open to the public and a permissive path has been created to link it to The Rough, another parcel of the reserve. Back To Top
WARREN HILLS is listed in the Geological Conservation Review as a Caledonian Igneous site. The higher ground along the ridge is of a short, heath-grassland type, with plants such as wavy hair-grass, heath bedstraw, heather and bilberry. Rock outcrops hold numerous lichens and the green hairstreak butterfly occurs in large numbers. To the north of the ridge the ground is lower lying and is dominated by bracken and purple moor-grass, although both bilberry and heather are present, and silver birch saplings are locally frequent. Creeping willow is present and curlews have bred in the past.
The lower Warren Hills are grazed regularly and grazing has recently been re-introduced to the upper Warren Hills. In the west of the compartment, near the road, is an underground reservoir, constructed in the 1970s and parts of the upper Warren Hills have been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (remains of rabbit warrens). A public footpath, with permissive extension, runs along the ridge and is very well used, extensively by dog walkers and over the years we have orienteered in this block. Given that dogs are walked here regularly and are banned from other parts of the reserve there is no link from Warren Hill to the other parts without travelling along the roads. Back To Top
BILLA BARRA is a small area of rock and surrounding meadow showing part of the rim of an ancient volcano which is a regionally important geological site due to its rock outcrops of Markfieldite. It is near to Stanton under Bardon and just off the busy A511 near junction 22 of the M1, with views across to Bardon Hill, the highest point in Leicestershire. This small but remarkable site was bought for The National Forest by Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council in 1996 and is a local nature reserve covering nearly 50 acres and providing a variety of habitats including grassland – ideal for ground nesting birds such as skylarks. There is a specially created wildflower area that was planted creating magical flower-filled meadows on the hillside each summer. Part of the hilltop has been identified as Open Country under the CRoW Act.
It has public access and can be linked to Altar Stones and Cliffe Hill Quarry by the footpath network. In the other direction there are a number of new tender schemes including The Partings. Back To Top
There are extensive woodlands and open areas in the ULVERSCROFT VALLEY area much around the John’s Lee Woods scout camp. Bailey-Sim Woods and Tangle Trees Wood were created in 1996 on what was farmland and several paths link the area to other woodlands. More recently planting has been done at Sandhills with public access from the A50 at Markfield via the Leicestershire Round. Back To Top
Within MARKFIELD there is the small but interesting Altar Stones and nearby Wildlife Trust hillside. These are on the route of the old A50, now a dead end up to the M1. Previously owned by Leicestershire County Council and managed by the Country Parks Service, Altar Stones was gifted to the County Council in 1949 and is noted for its rocky outcrops which date from the pre-Cambrian period and are designated as a Regionally Important Geological Site. It was part of the rim of an ancient volcano. A neighbouring piece designated as Open Land under the CRoW Act is Blacksmith’s Field with public access which is managed by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust who have now taken over the management of Altar Stones itself. Another neighbouring piece called Raunscliffe is also open to the public under the CRoW Act as registered Common Land and is owned by the Parish Council. The areas support heather and gorse. Numerous paths wander among the stones, passing two small ponds and giving good views over Charnwood Forest to the north. The area was once the site of a post mill and you can see the remains of the miller's store. The path network does link it to Cliffe Hill Quarry via a cattle bridge over the M1.
Markfield Quarry itself was active in 1830 and large scale extraction began in 1852. By 1863, Ellis and Everard who operated it employed 90 men. Quarrying ended about the turn of the century. The rock is Markfieldite. The quarry is on top of a hill - and is in two tiers. The lower tier (pit) is filled with water to a depth of at least 5m.
Cliffe Hill Quarry is the largest quarrying operation in our region and has its own rail link. Whilst there have been quarrying operations since the 19th Century at Old Cliffe Hill Quarry, it was in the late 1980's that the construction and commencement of operations at New Cliffe Hill Quarry began. The quarry currently produces 4.5 million tonnes of Markfieldite granite aggregate per year. Cliffe Hill has won awards for its attention to its environment and has done considerable landscaping round the old quarry. There are walks around and through the area with limited tree cover and there are a number of new National Forest planting sites nearby.
Markfield is now largely a commuter village sitting within both the National Forest and Charnwood Forest. The settlement however dates back to at least the time of the Norman Conquest and is mentioned in the Domesday Book under the name Merchenefeld. A variant of this is still used as the name for the village primary school, Mercenfeld. There is a rocky hilltop on the edge of the village with a water-filled quarry owned by Hinckley & Bosworth Council who have fenced it off as a nature reserve. The slopes do offer some open country and good views and routes to link the village centre to Altar Stones and the wider area including a footbridge over the M1 to Cliffe Hill Quarry and a tunnel under the A50 to the Ulverscroft Valley. Back To Top
SHEET HEDGES WOOD is a 26 ha woodland on the outskirts of Groby managed by Leicestershire County Council. It was opened to the public in 1998 with National Forest grant aid together with funding from the County Council and Forestry Authority. Most of this woodland block has been harvested with new broadleaf planting replacing the conifers that once stood there. The eastern part of the woodland is a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is one of the best examples of ash and alder woods in Leicestershire.
The footpath network does link it with Groby Pool and Lawn Wood opening up opportunities Groby Pool itself is a fascinating birdlife haven often described as the largest sheet of natural water in Leicestershire. However there is a good case to be made that it is actually the remains of an old slate quarry flooded as far back as possibly the 13th century. Back To Top
There are extensive woodlands between RATBY AND GROBY which are in numerous ownerships but mostly the Woodland Trust, with recent extensions carried out with financial assistance from the National Forest. The Woodland Trust owns Martinshaw (103 ha) and Peartree Woods nearby (19 ha) and parts of Burroughs Woods (37 ha). They also have two smaller areas joined to the rest by the footpath network, namely Polebrook & Crow Woods. Also included in the area are Grey Lodge Wood (10 ha), Wirlybones Wood (about 9 ha), the Coppice (7 ha) and Hollow Oak Woods (12 ha) under separate ownerships but all funded in part by the National Forest.
Wirlybones Wood was established by along the line of a brook. It has newly planted woodland and rough grassland, bordered by mature hedges. The Coppice is adjacent to Forest Hill Golf Club near Botcheston. Nature conservation is a very strong focus for the site. However, it has also been designed to yield coppice products for craft use. The planting is a mixture of broadleaf species such as oak, lime, ash, wild cherry, whitebeam and silver birch. Hazel accounts for about 20% of the total planting. The coppiced branches, which will be cut in future years, will be used for furniture making, fencing and charcoal burning. Large areas of rough grassland have been left as hunting territory for barn owls and owl nesting boxes have been erected around the site to encourage this declining species. Marshland and a pond provide habitats for invertebrates and wetland species. Not surprisingly Hollow Oak wood takes its name from the old oak tree in the centre of the site. The heartwood has decayed to leave a hollow centre. It is thought that the pollarding of this tree, like those at Bradgate Park, was carried out when Lady Jane Grey was beheaded. The existing woodland within this site, Change Spinney, had been unmanaged for many years but thinning of the trees has now been carried out to allow more light and to benefit the existing bluebell population and encourage redstarts into the wood. Bat boxes have been installed and some standing dead trees left for woodpeckers and insects. The downside is that the ponds and stream running through the lower area are now hard to access due to brambles. The line of a mediaeval park pale can be seen. This was an ancient boundary marked by a ridge, on top of which a fence was built.
Burroughs Wood on two sides of Burroughs Road is an area of new plantings next to an existing area of woodland and it includes grassy paths and open areas. An area of the site next to the adjacent woodland has been left to allow natural regeneration to take place. This will help to extend the area of ancient woodland and its associated flora. The track down the edge of the wood sits atop the remains of a mediaeval deer park bank and ditch. The old farmhouse (Old Hayes) dates back to 1733 but a house has existed on the site since 1280. The next door Peartree Wood links Ratby Burroughs to Martinshaw Wood, creating one of the largest continuous tracts of woodland in The National Forest area. The planting design reflects both of these other woods with conifers in the northern section blending into those at Martinshaw Wood in order to allow the movement of wildlife dependent on pine, particularly moths.
Grey Lodge Wood is immediately adjacent to Martinshaw Wood and Peartree Wood. Together they form a continuous belt of woodland next to the M1 motorway. Planting comprises 80% broadleaves and 20% conifers and reflects the other woodlands in the area.
Covering a good part of an original ancient woodland site, Martinshaw Wood itself is rich in ecological and archaeological interest. The site, which was bought by the Woodland Trust in 1985, is cut in two by the M1 motorway giving us a pinch point at present. The proposal for the widening of the M1 should be within the existing footprint and not impact on these woodlands, indeed there is a strong probability that a new land bridge will be created for wildlife and pedestrians. 36 different tree species can be found in the wood, which was extensively replanted with commercial conifer species in the 1950's. A progressive felling of the conifers to favour oak, beech, birch and other broadleaves will restore some of the wood's origin as a deer park. Flooded quarry pits are home to a variety of wildlife such as newts, frogs and toads and wide range of birdlife frequents to the woodland. The whole area is of about 190 Hectares criss-crossed with walking opportunities linked to the wider footpath network. Back To Top
CASTLE HILL is small Country Park is on the borders of Leicester City and the County and adjoins Anstey. Established in the early 1980’s the park comprises some 250 acres of grassland, plantation and broad leaved woodland. The A46, Leicester Western By-Pass cuts the park into two linear sections but the ability to cross at both ends and in the middle lends it to figure of eight routes. The south east section borders Beaumont Leys and is made up of relatively high land with good views out over Bradgate Park and the Charnwood Hills. The north and west section, bordering Anstey, are comprised of mainly flat meadow land associated with the Rothley Brook and periodic flooding. Aside from this pleasant brook, with its established abundance of birdlife, and the newer planting in copses, the park also has bluebell woods, located off the Astill Lodge Road and some fine ash, oak and willow trees associated with the old hedgerows and streamside.
The park is also home to two Scheduled Monuments. Castle Hill Earthworks located off the Astill Lodge back road, are an earthen rectangular banked enclosure and fish pond dating to the medieval period. The site is associated with the Knights Hospitallier and seems to have functioned as a monastic grange or sheep farm. King William's Bridge, historically known as the ‘Dambridge’, crosses over the Rothley Brook. This is a medieval stone packhorse bridge, which was widened in 1696 for King William iii’s visit to nearby Bradgate House. As its name suggests, there was once a sheep wash associated with the bridge. Other interesting heritage features include ancient hedgerows, some complete with wood banks and deep ditches. These are a physical reminder of the area’s past as a royal hunting ground and deer park. In the vicinity of the Castle Hill Earthworks there are also industrial remains from the Victorian Beaumont Leys Sewage and irrigation scheme. In its time, this was the biggest scheme of its type in the country. Ancient tracks pass through the park and despite the proximity to areas of some deprivation this is a corridor of genuine attractiveness. Major landscaping is slowly being carried out and ponds and wet woodland areas are being created. Back To Top
EVINGTON ARBORETUM - The entrance to this area used to lead into the encampment of the 504th Parachute Regiment of the US 52nd Airborne Division which was later converted into a POW camp. The Arboretum was established by Leicester City Council in 1970 saving the area from possible development and securing its future as a public open space. Between 1970 and 1973 hundreds of trees were planted, many donated by organisations and members of the public. The trees weren’t just stuck in the ground willy-nilly. They were planted in family groups. For example, in the south west corner, near the Evington Brook, you will find poplars and willows. In all 500 species of trees are to be found. Consideration was given to preserving certain views across the site, such as the north towards St Denys’ Church, and west towards the university.
The former meadow below St Denys’ Church is now a designated area for memorial tree planting. These trees are chosen for their ornamental value and suitability to the site and are planted by the City Council.
The Arboretum is a haven for birdlife. Kingfishers and the odd heron can occasionally be seen along Evington brook. Blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, coal tits, green woodpeckers, blackbirds, owls, robins, wrens and thrushes are often to be seen together with many other species.
This generally open area includes Evington Park and the areas between them including Piggy's Hollow, a complex overgrown area with a number of paths. EVINGTON PARK itself is only two miles from Leicester City Centre and backs onto the General Hospital, and has the tranquil atmosphere of the country estate it once was. The 44 acres of parkland include attractive floral displays and a wide variety of trees some scattered singly and some in copses. There are gardens, ponds and play and picnic areas. The park has fine examples of English oak and chestnut, rare Gingko trees and mature beech trees. In the spring, the rhododendron and azalea beds surrounded by fragrant shrubs are a delight. The black mulberry at Evington Park was planted in 1836, the year the house was built. Back To Top
BURROUGH HILL to the south of the county is one of the highest points in Leicestershire, reaching 210m (690 feet). A toposcope at the site indicates landmarks that can be seen from the summit. The 35-hectare overall site is owned by the Ernest Cook Trust and leased to Leicestershire County Council. Burrough Hill lies on the western edge of the uplands in the east of Leicestershire and the land falls away by almost 350 feet to the south-west and commands a wide view of the Wreake valley. The mixed vegetation including mature woodlands, some newer plantations, pastureland with copses of gorse and open rough grassland combined with the inevitable amount of climb can make this a challenging area but it does provide a number of walking opportunities.
Burrough Hill is one of the most imposing prehistoric monuments in our region and the best surviving example of a large hill fort where few exist at all. It sits on a natural flat-topped ironstone promontory about and is defined by an almost continuous rampart of stone and earth almost 10 feet high. This manmade ‘building’ must have been very effective when you bear in mind the steep slopes on three sides. It was an impressive defensive feature.
It seems it had been reinforced and updated a number of times during its active life. There seems to have originally been a massive gate at the entrance but this area was reinforced by ironstone mounds faced with dry-stone walling in the period 370-220BC but later work created a chamber or guardhouse on one side. This substantial chamber was itself the source of many interesting finds. There appears to have been multiple floor levels some covered with crude paving.
The entrance from the car park direction is the one definitely original break in the rampart, giving access to the enclosed area of around 12 acres. We have long known that it had been inhabited since Neolithic times but recent excavations are turning up many addition interesting facts. It seems that in the Iron Age the fort was surrounded by farms and settlements and was indeed the centre of a thriving community rather than an island in an otherwise sparsely inhabited and culturally insignificant land. The entrance passageway was over 100 feet long and had a cobbled roadway.
A recent dig has already found distinct boundaries within the enclosed area, numerous pits and a series of round houses around the perimeter. They have also discovered evidence of a sizeable settlement on the flat approach to the entrance.
From their contents the pits disclose regular us right up to the fourth century AD with many remains of Roman and earlier origin. The Iron Age finds suggest a far more sophisticated people than sometimes they are given credit for being. They have found a number of loom weights, a flute made from polished bone, dice and other gaming pieces, hooks, tools, knives and a spearhead all in remarkable condition. Burial chambers have also been found below what was the surface of the roadway. Back To Top
MARKET BOSWORTH is a market town with a very long history and is well worth a walk round. In 1048 when Edward the Confessor had been on the throne for only six years, the lord of the manor at Market Bosworth was a knight called Fernot. With the coming of the Normans, most of the land in the manor of Market Bosworth was held by the Count of Meulan. Later the manor belonged to the Earls of Leicester from whom, by marriage, it passed to the Harcourt family, a powerful family of Norman origin. By 1200, Sir Richard de Harcourt held the manor of Market Bosworth through his wife Orabella.
It was to Sir William Harcourt that King Edward 1 gave a royal charter allowing a market to be held every Wednesday and a three day fair at the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. In 1554 it was forfeited and returned to the Crown and then given by King Philip and Queen Mary to Sir Edward Hastings of Loughborough who left it to his nephew Henry, Lord Hastings. In 1567, Henry, now Earl of Huntingdon, sold the manor of Market Bosworth to Sir Wolstan Dixie, Lord Mayor of London and Bosworth Hall became the seat of the Dixie family.
At the beginning of the nineteenth century there were two turnpike roads which crossed in the centre of Bosworth. By 1846 there were carriers leaving Bosworth almost every day to Leicester, Hinckley Ashby de la Zouch and Nuneaton. It was possible to travel by canal all the way to London. By the end of the century, the railway had arrived in Bosworth and there were carriers to Bedworth and Atherstone as well all though no longer to Ashby. A lot of the history of this town is still displayed in its many fine properties. There is a sizeable local landscaped 35-hectare park which was formerly part of Bosworth Hall deer parkland. There are fine, mature trees, a lake, and a planted arboretum with exotic species, a wildflower meadow and a community woodland.
Nearby and linked by footpaths you will find the Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre and Country Park which is not actually sited where the main part of the famous battle took place. The story of the death of a King and the birth of the all powerful Tudor dynasty is told at the exhibition centre and there is a replica of a typical village of the time and named as Ambion Parva. There are also refreshment facilities in a reclaimed medieval barn.
In the 1400s the Houses of York and Lancaster fought for the throne of England. Each believed they had the better claim to the throne and on 22 August 1485, two armies faced each other in this decisive battle leading to the birth of a dynasty that would last for 122 years and being the last time that an English King was killed in battle.
King Richard III had ruled the land for only two years and Henry, Earl of Richmond ended the day being crowned nearby, as Henry VII. Richard had marched out from Leicester with around 12,000 men with the intention of cutting Henry off from his march towards London but ended up being killed. Richard’s bones were excavated from the site of Grey Friar’s monastery in Leicester and given a proper resting place in Leicester Cathedral. Battles were not tidy affairs and skirmishing probably took place all over the area but Ambion Hill and Ambion Wood probably still have secrets to unfold.
The Country Park was developed in the early 1970’s to provide an environment to interpret the famous battle. Four miles of field and woodland paths link the Battlefield Heritage Centre to Cheney Wharf on the Ashby Canal and Shenton Station on the Shackerstone Railway and further paths lead north into Bosworth Country Park.
Ambion Wood itself is privately owned but paths traverse it and the old railway cutting by Shenton Station is a nature trail with quite complex landforms and mature woods. Back To Top
BURBAGE COMMON AND BURBAGE WOODS are near Hinckley and form the Burbage Country Park. The woodlands are probably remaining remnants of the Hinckley Forest dating back to medieval times. It is in all about 250 acres of semi-natural ancient woodland and unspoilt grassland with several miles of public footpaths available. The common is registered common land and designated under the CRoW Act as full public Access. Parts of the nearby Aston Firs are now fenced off but there is a footpath through it. Back To Top
LAUNDE WOODS & PARK are between Launde and Loddington, in east Leicestershire. This area is actually in three blocks; two of woodland and the other the parkland in between. Launde Big Wood covers 40.4 ha whilst Launde Park Wood extends to over 54.4 ha. Both are ancient woodlands, include two SSSIs and were leased by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust in 1997 from the Leicester Diocesan Board of Finance for a period of 350 years. It is 450 acres in size overall. Rich in history and wildlife, Launde contains an old priory set in parkland, a possible Norman motte and bailey castle site, medieval fish ponds (now re-flooded) and the earthworks of a medieval deer park.
The priory of Launde was founded some time before 1125, and lay within the royal forest of Leighfield. In 1248, shortly after the forest was reduced in size, the prior was granted licence to ‘impark’. Launde Park Wood now stands on part of the site formerly occupied by the deer park and there are some very impressive earthworks to be found in and around the wood. Both the Park Wood and the Big Wood are very old, with massive boundary earthworks, huge coppice stools clearly centuries old, and many plants known to be confined, or nearly so, to ancient woodlands sites.
The Big Wood is situated on a hill top, with superb views of the surrounding countryside. Its soils are mainly heavy and calcareous, being derived from various clays, but there are also better drained areas resulting from deposits of glacial sand and gravel. While a fine high-forest structure is developing in this wood, the fauna and flora of more open woodland has suffered since coppicing ceased to be practiced, and the rides have become narrow and more heavily shaded.
Park Wood is now larger than the Big Wood, the latter having been reduced in size in the last 150 years or so. The woods stand on similar geological formations, and this is reflected in their flora and vegetation. Park Wood contains the same range of plants as the Big Wood, and is the best wood in Leicestershire not protected by SSSI status.
About two-thirds of the Park Wood has been clear-felled and planted with a mixture of trees, especially conifers, but much of the original vegetation still remains. The wood is a very large one in a Leicestershire context, but its nature conservation interest has suffered greatly in the last 50 years. Many of the rides have become narrow and overgrown, and the coppice has been neglected. There is a real challenge here to restore it as an ancient woodland, and to use it to encourage other woodland owners to do the same.
The Trust has started to reintroduce traditional management to these woods, to benefit wildlife. Ride, glade and coppicing work will create valuable habitats for many birds, plants and insects, and the setting will provide and ideal opportunity to demonstrate to people how landscape history has influenced wildlife. Visitors are able to participate in practical work, guided walks and educational visits, learning about the history and wildlife of Launde.
The Big Wood is dominated by stands of oak, ash, hazel and field maple. Many other trees are present, including elm and aspen. The ground flora is very rich, providing magnificent displays in the spring. Wood anemone, bluebell, wood-forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, early-purple orchid and primrose are just a few of the more attractive species, while rarer ones include bird’s-nest and greater butterfly-orchids, nettle-leaved bellflower, herb paris and toothwart.
Mammals include fox, badgers, rabbits, stoat and weasel, whilst nightingale and nuthatch have been noted amongst the birds. Purple and white-letter hairstreaks are amongst the butterflies present.
Despite much of the Park Wood having been planted with conifers, it still retains many of the same features of interest as the Big Wood. These are best seen in the northern third of the wood, which escaped planting. However, where conifers have been removed the ground flora is now recovering with the spread of species such as ramsons, sweet woodruff and primrose. Towards the end of the summer the rare fragrant agrimony can be found growing beside the main ride.
The area surrounds Launde Abbey which is the Leicester Diocese Retreat & Conference Centre. In addition to the parkland and woods it has extensive cultivated gardens and the 12th Century Chapel. The Chapel is all that remains of the Augustinian Priory that was founded here in 1119 AD.
There are numerous walking opportunities round Rutland Water but if you want to get away from the crowds and get some long views there is a series of small Woodland Trust sites clustered across the hill tops on the outskirts of OAKHAM and near to Brawnston in Rutland. There is a mixture of meadows with gorse thickets, mature copses and some new plantings. Gorse Field Wood is about 20 acres, Harris Grove and Balls Meadow add another 14 and The Seek is 27 giving 61 acres in all, with paths through pastureland linking them. The acquisition of a nearby field in 2008 added a further 30 or so acres now planted with copses. Oakham itself is of course also an interesting place to go for a walk.
The flooded valley which is now Rutland Water has the character of a basin, with the flat expanse of water surrounded by generally low, gently sloping hills to the skylines. For the most part, Rutland Water is unobtrusive from many of the surrounding roads as a result of the undulating topography and high level of tree cover around its shores. However, from certain vantage points extensive views across the water to the surrounding slopes are gained. The openness of this huge mass of water is significantly softened by the presence of the Hambleton peninsular. Varying water levels produce a changing shoreline landscape. Established, pre-reservoir trees and woodland and subsequent planted planting and landscaping, combine to provide a detailed mosaic of pasture and woodland on the shores. Back To Top
Rocks laid down during the Precambrian Period are the oldest found within the Charnwood area, and date from around 560-600 million years ago. At this time what is now England lay within the southern hemisphere along a subduction zone, where the pressures from plate movement caused magma to rise to the surface and form a chain of active volcanoes known as an island arc. The material erupting from these volcanoes accumulated on the sea floor surrounding the volcanoes, forming the rocks of the ‘Charnian Supergroup’, which is at least 3.5km thick. Primitive life began to evolve at this time, the fossils of which can be found throughout Charnwood Forest. Igneous rocks, for example the diorites that intruded the Charnian Supergroup, are worked in quarries throughout Charnwood Forest.
During the Cambrian Period when subduction finally ceased, the volcanoes were worn down by erosion allowing the sea to advance over the land. The Swithland Slates represent the muddy material laid down on the sea floor at this time, probably about 530 million years ago. Fossilised animal burrows can be found within these rocks and examples are particularly notable on slate gravestones, as in Ratby churchyard. Swithland Slate has been quarried since Roman time and continues to a small extent, to be worked today. This was followed by the Ordovician Period and about 450 million years ago, igneous rock, created through the solidification of molten magma was forced to the surface by subduction, forming the Mountsorrel Complex. These igneous rocks are known as granodiorites and are made up of large crystals due to a slow cooling process. It is believed that Ordovician granodiorite has been worked around Mountsorrel since Roman times but there is also evidence of Late Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, Early Iron Age and Norman activity. The Buddon Wood (Mountsorrel) Quarry currently exploits a particularly large mass of Ordovician granodiorite. Budden Wood was of course an event area before they started this modern extraction.
The collision of two continental plates occurred towards the end of the Silurian Period, approximately 420 million years ago. This caused the formation of mountains, the remnants of which today form the Charnwood hills. Structures produced by this movement include folds and cleavage, the latter formed when the crystallisation of new minerals cause rocks to break along parallel surfaces. This occurs in all Charnian rock but is particularly prominent in Swithland Slate.
At the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, 355 million years ago, England and Scotland lay close to the equator and formed part of a continental landmass that was partially covered with a warm sea. Sediments from this period were rich in calcareous fossils and formed as Carboniferous Limestone, which can be found in the northern parts of Charnwood Forest, such as found at Grace Dieu. This rock does not extend throughout the whole area, however, since much of Charnwood was still a mountain range at this time. In the latter part of the Carboniferous Period the sea over sections of Charnwood was replaced by a large delta, containing humid swamps and rainforests, in which the Coal Measures accumulated. Coal seams, ironstone and fireclay deposits resulted from these environments, and can be found to the west of Charnwood Forest where they form part of the Leicestershire coalfield.
The Permian Period was one of constant erosion, lasting about 40 million years. This erosion stripped away most of the Carboniferous rock. During the Triassic Period the Charnwood area became covered in sediments. The rugged nature of the landscape produced a highly irregular erosional unconformity, seen in many Charnwood quarries, with drainage courses such as wadis commonly developing. Initially, sand and gravel was transported by large rivers flowing north and north eastwards across England, an example of which is the Shepshed Sandstone. In the latter part of the Triassic period England moved further away from the equator and a vast desert of Aeolian dust formed the red muds and silts of the Mercia Mudstone Group. During this period, flash floods caused water to cover large areas which deposited thin beds of siltstone and sandstone. A high, saline water table caused the precipitation of gypsum. The continual accumulation of sediment coupled with subsidence eventually caused the Mercia Mudstone to completely bury the Charnwood mountain range. Amongst features that have been uncovered are ‘tors’ of granodiorite formed by wind erosion during the Triassic Period, seen in Buddon Wood Quarry.
Once the Charnwood Hills had been buried, a tropical sea advanced across the area, depositing Jurassic and Cretaceous mudstone and limestone. This sea was destroyed by tectonic movement accompanying the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. By the beginning of the Quanternary Period around 2 million years ago, much of the strata formed during the Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous Periods had been eroded from the Charnwood Forest area. The onset of the Anglian Ice advance, approximately 440,000 years ago, saw the advance of glaciers across much of England. From tills deposited in Charnwood, two ice-sheets covered the area: a sheet from the north-west carrying Triassic and Carboniferous rock; and a sheet from the north-east carrying fragments of flint and chalk. As the glaciers retreated ‘superficial deposits’ accumulated consisting of sand and gravel and till. In more recent time the development of rivers has formed floodplains floored by clay and silt (alluvium).
The topography of Charnwood Forest is distinct and varied. The central Charnwood Forest area is high, and rocky. It forms an upland island, isolated within the Midland plain, which is generally low and flat. The highest point, Bardon Hill, is 278m high. The hill has two very distinct faces: one preserved as an SSSI, the other removed by Bardon Hill Quarry. Beacon Hill is the second highest point in Charnwood Forest, rising to a height of 245m. It has long views over Charnwood Forest and the Soar Valley and beyond. Other high points and viewpoints include Old John Tower in Bradgate Country Park, Billa Barra Hill near Stanton under Bardon and Hill Hole Quarry at Markfield. Bardon is covered by a long term planning application for a massive extension of the quarry and as part of the process many were pressing for the summit and surrounds to be designated as a country park in due course.
The ground rises to form a characteristic spine down the centre of Charnwood Forest. Land in the rest of the area is gently rolling or undulating and small streams and brooks transect the area creating localised changes in topography. The River Soar, Rothley Brook and Grand Union Canal corridor form a low lying floodplain landscape in the east. The landscape to the north, beyond Loughborough and Shepshed, is the typical low and flat land of the Midland plain. The hydrology and drainage of Charnwood Forest and the surrounding area are defined by Charnwood’s high relief and the fast flowing streams that drain from Charnwood to the north and east into the River Soar and to the south and east into the River Sence, which lies beyond the Charnwood Forest landscape character area. The Grand Union Canal runs parallel and at points crosses the River Soar emphasising the flat floodplain landscape to the east of the Charnwood Forest itself. Rothley Brook flows into the River Soar and also forms a flat floodplain that separates the south-eastern extent of the Charnwood Forest area from the urban extent of Leicester City. A number of smaller brooks and streams carve through their way through fields and woodland from the higher land of Charnwood Forest into the several reservoirs or towards the River Sence, the River Soar or Rothley Brook. The streams tend to be small but provide ecological interest and influence the character of the landscape surrounding them. These are largely unpolluted, fast flowing and well oxygenated. Species include brown trout, minnow, crayfish and much invertebrate life. There are a number of large water bodies within Charnwood Forest. Swithland, Cropston and Thornton reservoirs are all man-made and constructed in the late 19th century while Blackbrook Reservoir was first constructed in the late 18th century but replaced with a gravity dam in 1906. Groby Pool is an SSSI, as are Swithland and Cropston Reservoirs; all of which are important nature reserves for wetland birds
Charnwood Forest contains a wealth of ecological habitats and species which, because of the upland topography, wetter and cooler climate and poorer soils, are rare in other parts of Leicestershire. These include heath and acid grasslands and heathers. Cross-leaved heath and bilberry are prevalent and a wide variety of associated vertebrate and invertebrate species are common. These habitats are at risk however from natural woodland regeneration. Meadows are to be found with fragrant orchid, meadow buttercup, meadow saxifrage and many other associated species. The area has many valuable woodlands. There are areas of semi-natural ancient woodland, as well as some woodlands which are known to have been present since the Doomsday Book of 1086. This is because they sit on the pre-Cambrian spine which has made the site unsuitable for agriculture. Examples include Buddon Wood and Swithland Wood. Groby Pool has a rich population of aquatic flora and fauna, and Blackbrook, Cropston and Swithland Reservoirs make a major contribution to the wildlife and birdlife.
There are at least 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest; both ecological and geological, covering what equates to almost 12% of the ‘Forest’ area (according to English Nature’s Charnwood Forest Natural Area Profile. There are also locally designated wildlife sites including three Local Nature Reserves, Woodland Trust sites, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust sites and the Country Parks. Charnwood Lodge is designated as a National Nature Reserve due to the pre-Cambrian rocks which are visible as jagged peaks protruding through the overlying Mercian Mudstones.
There is a rich tapestry of archaeology and cultural heritage in the Charnwood Forest landscape. This has led to the designation of numerous Scheduled Monuments, a wide variety of listed buildings and a Conservation Area in the historic core of almost every settlement in and around Charnwood Forest. The earliest archaeological record is found at a site in Bradgate Park which provides clear evidence of man’s presence in the area in Palaeolithic times. This is an important site as archaeological remains of the period are rare. Mesolithic activity is evident at Grace Dieu and in the vicinity of the present Mount St Bernard’s Abbey. Buddon Hill and Beacon Hill are sites of Bronze Age and/or Iron Age settlements. Beacon Hill is a nationally important site and is a Scheduled Monument. It is the site of a Bronze Age hill fort, evident today in a series of earthworks. Spearheads, the mould of an axe and bronze bracelets have been found in the area. Beacon Hill is now owned by Leicestershire County Council and is a publicly accessible open space.
Charnwood Forest has several castle sites, such as the site of the motte and bailey Castle at Mountsorrel, Whitwick castle site, the remains of a castle at Groby and a hill fort site at Woodhouse, all of which are scheduled monuments. There are also moated sites such as a prehistoric site at Bardon, a moated lodge at Newton Linford and a moated lodge at Quorn. Other Scheduled Monuments in the Forest include the Packhorse Bridge at Anstey, the Market Cross at Mountsorrel, Bradgate House at Newton Linford and Rothley Cross at Rothley. There are a number of large country houses within the area including Quorn Hall, built during the reign of Charles II, Beaumanor Hall, a stately home in Woodhouse which was built in the nineteenth century, and Swithland Hall, ancestral home of the Earls of Lanesborough.
The Great Central Railway passes through Charnwood Forest, with stations at Quorn and Rothley. It was opened in 1899, and closed due to a decline in use in 1966. It was then re-opened as a tourist facility in 1969 and is the UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway. Between 1791 and 1794 the Charnwood Forest Canal was built to take coal from mines to in the north northwest of the county to Loughborough. Problems with the engineering meant the canal was never used to its full potential and when the feeder canal from Blackbrook Reservoir was destroyed as the reservoir dam burst in 1799 the canal became unused. Remains of the canal can still be seen in places, particularly south of Osgathorpe, but there is generally little evidence of the canal to be seen in the landscape.
The natural resources of the Charnwood Forest landscape have been exploited since Neolithic times, when Charnwood stone and wood from the forests were used to make hand-axes. It is believed prehistoric activity was generally localised. Roman activity in the area tended to remain within the Soar valley but Swithland Slate is known to have been quarried for use in Roman Leicester. Exploitation of the landscape continued around the edges of Charnwood Forest throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and there is evidence of Scandinavian influences around Charnwood, evident in place names such as Groby. Within the Domesday Book Charnwood was identified as a wooded tract called Hereswode. By this time most of the settlements in Leicestershire existed in some form however colonisation of the Charnwood area predominantly occurred some 200 years later in the 12th and 13th centuries. The only Domesday settlement recorded was Charley, with settlements such as Woodhouse Eaves and Newton Linford first recorded in the late 13th century. Many of these new settlements were linked to those around the edge of Charnwood, for example Newton Linford was a daughter settlement of Groby.
During the medieval period monastic orders settled in and around Charnwood: Ulverscroft Priory was founded between 1134 and 1150; Charley Hall Augustine Priory in 1190; and Grace Dieu in 1230. The medieval period also introduced hunting parks to the Charnwood area including Groby, Bradgate, Quorndon, Beaumanor and Bardon. The end of the medieval period saw the development of a number of larger ‘country houses’ set in formal park landscapes, such as the 15th century Bradgate House, remains of which still stand within Bradgate Country Park.
Unlike much of Leicestershire, colonisation within the Charnwood area slowed beyond the Middle-Ages. As a result the landscape remained largely unaffected by enclosures until the 19th century. By this time many of the hunting parks and much of the woodland had gone. Change started to occur within Charnwood Forest with the expansion of quarrying and the introduction of canals. Systematic quarrying of the granite began in the late 18th century, at sites such as Mountsorrel and Shepshed. The Soar and Wreake Navigations and the now defunct Charnwood Forest Canal enabled aggregates to be transported countrywide. Extensive quarrying continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, in particular for roadstone. The slate industry also expanded rapidly but by the 1840s went into rapid decline as a result of competition from Welsh and Cumbrian slate.
Other major 19th century landscape changes included the construction of Swithland and Cropston Reservoirs and the introduction of railways with branch lines to serve the quarries. In the 20th century the principal changes included the steady expansion of the settlements at the edges of Charnwood Forest into farmland and undeveloped land; the reduction in grazing of the surviving heathland areas; a change from pasture to arable farming stimulated by agricultural subsidies; a reduction in hedgerows and hedgerow trees due to intensified farming practices and Dutch Elm Disease; the construction of the M1, roads and other communications infrastructure that sever fields.
As previously mentioned there is evidence of mans activities going back to Mesolithic times. The actual school is in Grace Dieu Manor and is set in 120 acres of beautiful rolling countryside and adjoins the woodlands. On 25 July 1833, Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle married Laura Mary Clifford and received a settlement of £1200 per annum and the Manor of Grace Dieu made to him by his father Charles March Phillipps of Garendon Park. Grace Dieu received its name from the Priory founded by Roesia de Verdun, c. 1240, and dedicated to Our Lady, ‘de Gratia Dei’, or in the Norman French of the period, Grace Dieu, and it is still so called to the present day. The Priory was dissolved in 1538 by Henry VIII, and the picturesque remains are greatly admired.
Grace Dieu Priory was an Augustinian nunnery founded around 1240. In 1377 there were 16 nuns and a hospital for poor people, yet during the Dissolution it was converted into a Tudor mansion. For the last few years, the land has been owned and managed by the Grace Dieu Priory Trust, which was set up to save the ruins. English Heritage has been working closely with the Priory Trust since the work began in 2003, to give archaeological, architectural and general technical advice, along with funding towards the project to ensure that the site is preserved for future generations to enjoy.
During the years 1833 to 1834 Ambrose de Lisle built a splendid manor house at Grace Dieu; it was designed by William Railton in the Tudor-Gothic style. A small chapel was attached. But in 1837 Augustus Welby Pugin visited Grace Dieu; he was very impressed by what he saw, and greatly enlarged the house and chapel. Later, Sir Banister Fletcher, whose grand stair-case still stands, also enlarged the house. Grace Dieu Manor faces south and east. The windows are Perpendicular style, mullioned and transomed with arched lights. Acres of lawns, gardens, trees - the cedars of Lebanon were famous - surrounded the manor house which had a fine view of the rocks and wooded slopes of Charnwood Forest.
The school opened on 1933 when the Rosminian Fathers opened Grace Dieu as a Preparatory School for Ratcliffe College. During the war years the school grew in numbers: Grace Dieu was a safe and desirable place for parents to send their boys in those grim years. Since then Grace Dieu has gone from strength to strength.
The deLisle family still own much of the Gracedieu Estate and the de Lisle Arms was a popular inn on the edge of the Whitwick but, perhaps a sign of the times, it is now an equally popular restaurant, ‘Out of India’.
The overall area is perhaps one of the best we have locally in that it covers a large block of land, has many different types of vegetation, and has considerable relief, water features and many dramatic rock formations not least of which is the nearby High Sharpley. Adjacent to Cademan Woods, this is a politically sensitive area with serious ‘history’. It is a towering sharp ridge of miniature pinnacles surrounded by a field of boulders with the jagged summit commanding superb views. The location can realistically claim to be unique in the area and indeed pretty well anywhere. The area is of small crags on and around a rocky ridge which runs from High Sharpley to Gun Hill where there is an old ruin. The rock is very coarse granite (Precambrian porphyroid) and the outcrops lie on the extension of the ridge through Cademan Wood just across the road and are thought to be part of the rim of an ancient volcano.
There is claimed to have been an access route through the site in the past and The Ramblers' Association has sought to reopen it for many years and it has been the scene of mass protests and ‘questions in the house’. More recently the RA and LCC sought to have it included in the ‘right to roam’ under the CRoW Act. There is evidence to demonstrate that tree cover is self regenerating shrub, only there because it has not been managed. The decision of the appeal however sided against open access to the ridge area but agreed that much of the rest qualified. However it was decided that this element had insufficient size to warrant inclusion as access land. The Planning Inspector accepted that historically the public used this land for open recreation until the 1970’s but that was outside the scope of the appeal which was to decide land type definition and identifiable boundaries. As things stand at present the public are not welcome at this location. The area is owned by the DeLisle, Gracedieu Estate but despite this history they are supportive of any responsible body, if they make proper arrangements. There is a shooting syndicate in the area and any arrangement can only use it at agreed times of the year and access to the Gun Hill area where breeding is done is usually not allowed.
In the area between Gracedieu and High Sharpley we have Broad Hill, Temple Hill, Cademan Woods and High Cademan. In the midst of these is an open area of rough acid grassland, and south of Broad Hill is a granite quarry known as Grimley's Rock.
This fine wooded uphill area to the north of the village of Whitwick contains a number of natural granite tors and bosses, some of which peep above the trees and give good views.
The whole Charnwood Forest area is promoting Regional Park status and is now part of the larger new National Forest in the making which is linking Charnwood to the Needwood Forest in Staffordshire to create a 200 sq. mile forest in the heart of England.
There are many well known open areas but also some much less known all linked by a network of footpaths. Rough Hill is a 28ha National Forest Tender Scheme just north west of Bradgate Park comprising of a good mixture of habitats. An existing spinney has been thinned to favour the broadleaved trees. Bracken has been removed and heather seeding used to establish heath grassland and heathland typical of this area. The rocky outcrops provide habitats for lichens and basking areas for invertebrates and reptiles. The pond is being managed for waterfowl and a floating island provides nesting and roosting areas. The lower areas running down towards a golf course can get very boggy but that itself enhances the bio-diversity. This area together with Bradgate, Swithland Wood and Beacon Hill offer many route choices for extended circulars. Back To Top
At 245m (802 feet), BEACON HILL is the second highest point in Leicestershire and the site of an ‘Ancient Monument’; a Bronze Age hill fort. A toposcope at the summit indicates landmarks that can be seen in every direction. There are more than 100 hectares of heath and woodland, including an arboretum with a collection of trees native to Britain. A newly-planted area in West Beacon includes a woodland trail featuring woodland crafts, a viewing platform and a shelter built of straw. This new area incorporates an old hedge line, existing field ponds and an open area being managed to support different types of grassland (acid grassland, hay meadow and heathland). An old stone wall provides cover for various reptiles including adders. The park is also home to the unusual sight of Manx Loughton sheep and perhaps more surprisingly, alpacas. The latter are similar to llamas and coexist happily with the sheep and afford them some protection from any dogs that get through the unfortunate amount of fencing now in the park. Another ‘hazard’ for those enjoying the park is the droppings from the long horned cattle that wander much of the area.
The adjoining Martin’s & Felicity’s Woods are owned by the Woodland Trust and Broombriggs Farm and Windmill Hill are owned by the County Council as is Beacon Hill itself. Martins Wood was acquired with help from the Friends of Charnwood and named to remember their President, Sir Andrew Martin a former Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire who lived at the Brand as his family still do. The Brand is private but organised access is usually permitted. Similarly there are woodlands and wetland areas beside the Brand in the ownership of Roecliffe Manor, again private but adding to the bio-diversity of the area.
The National Forest Way long distance trail starts at Beacon Hill. Back To Top
FELICITY'S WOOD is a small area includes open ground and glades and slopes steeply down to Wood Brook where a permissive footpath links the area to the Outwoods. The open aspects afford tremendous views over the northern parts of Charnwood Forest and into the valley of the River Soar. It is owned by the Woodland Trust and was designed and planted with help from the National Forest Company. Also known as Beacon Cottage, it is of about 9 Hectares and is only separated from Beacon Hill by Martin’s Wood and Deans Lane and for access and wildlife considerations forms one large block. MARTINS WOOD by Beacon Hill was acquired with help from the Friends of Charnwood and named to remember their President, Sir Andrew Martin who lived at the Brand, a former Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire. Back To Top
The other side of Beacon Hill we have BROOMBRIGGS FARM & WINDMILL HILL - The farm was presented to Leicestershire County Council in 1970 and is a 55-hectare mixed arable and stock farm. It has a 2.4km (1.5 mile) farm trail and information boards explaining the working of the farm. The trail is interlinked with a network of waymarked footpaths and horse tracks between Beacon Hill and the adjoining Windmill Hill, which got its name from being the site of a 19th-century windmill. Back To Top
Just to the south of Beacon Hill, we have BRADGATE COUNTRY PARK, Leicestershire’s most popular country park with approaching a million visitors each year. Bradgate Park with the nearby Swithland Wood also managed by the Trust responsible for Bradgate itself, are contiguous with the Brand. There is actually evidence of man’s activities in the area from as far back as Palaeolithic times and it is steeped in history. The National Forest way goes through both Swithland and Bradgate.
The park was privately owned until 1928, when it was bought from the Grey family and donated in Trust by Mr Charles Bennion to be preserved in perpetuity in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire and visitors to the County. In 1931 Swithland Wood was gifted by the Leicester Rotary Club. Over the years, various other areas of conservation and amenity woodland and agricultural land on the edge of the Country Park have been donated or purchased and the estate now extends to approaching 1300 acres of which 984 is an SSSI.
Bradgate itself covers 340 hectares and is known to have belonged to the de Ferrers family of Groby in the thirteenth century and later by the Greys, most notable of who was Lady Jane Grey, who was uncrowned Queen for nine days following the death of Edward VI. She was ultimately imprisoned in the Tower of London charged with treason and beheaded in 1554. Lady Jane (1537-1554), elder daughter of Henry Grey (later Duke of Suffolk) and his wife Lady Frances Brandon, was born and spent her early childhood at Bradgate House. There are a range of other important historical connections including the Grey family, influential nobles in mediaeval and Tudor England who married into the Royal family.
The folly at the top of the hill in Bradgate is called Old John and was built in 1786 by an old horse race course and stables. This building is believed to have been erected by the fifth Earl of Stamford, in memory of John, a retainer killed accidentally there. It resembles a large beer mug apparently something old John was used to handling. Nearby can also be found, the Prince Albert's Own Leicestershire Yeomanry Regiment Memorial.
The park is between Cropston and Newtown Linford, a village grandly named "New town by the ford over the River Lin". It may well have been ‘new’ in the thirteenth century. Bradgate is part of the ancient Charnwood Forest and is now on the eastern edge of the new National Forest. The Country Park is made up of Bradgate Park itself, is a mediaeval deer park of relatively unspoilt countryside with grassy covered slopes running off one of the highest hills in Leicestershire, with walled copses, areas of bracken and rocky outcrops, and the pretty valley of the River Lin running into Cropston Reservoir. Apart from the creation of the reservoir it is probably little changed and largely unimproved over the centuries, with parts looking much as it would have done in the Middle Ages. It was created as a hunting park from the Charnwood Forest well over 750 years ago. No record exists of when it was enclosed, but it was certainly before 1240.
The River Lyn deserves a mention itself. A normally modest steam it does have a large catchment area and can come down in considerable spate. It is always fairly fast flowing and largely unpolluted and well oxygenated and supports a remarkable aquatic and bird ecology. It flows between alders over a rocky bed with occasional deep pools and is home to brown trout, bullhead, minnows, brook lamprey and crayfish. Throughout history it has served man well. It has supplied the necessary water to a monastery and Bradgate House, has filled numerous fishponds, flooded water meadows, powered three mills, been dammed to create a lake and used to fill a moated site lost now under the waters of Swithland Reservoir.
The park is famous for its herd of fallow and red deer but is also the home of many other species, having been largely undisturbed for centuries until the numbers of visitors in recent years has started to have an impact. It hosts numerous ancient trees including many oaks providing ideal habitats for insects etc. and indeed they have over 500 species of beetle. The deer (about 400 at the last count) wander at will within the park, and is one of the finest herds of parkland deer in the country. Deer have been kept in this fine example of ancient parkland, since the 13th century and to protect them from stress they have areas of the park reserved to them where they can escape from human presence when the park gets to busy.
Bradgate Park contains nationally important geological exposures (some are over 700 million years old and rank as some of the oldest in England). It also contains some of the last important fragments of wet and grass heathland in Leicestershire, wonderful veteran trees and other special habitats, with a diverse range of flora and fauna including rare plant species and is also a valued site for a wide range of birds, vertebrates and invertebrates. In addition it is home to moles, common shrews, pigmy shrews, bats, voles, mice, rabbits, foxes, adders, stoats, weasels and badgers. Throughout the estate there are 350 veteran trees - some over 500 years old and growing at the time of Lady Jane Grey and many others over 300 years old. Throughout the seasons, it is possible to find up to 106 species of bird, 20 species of mammal, 4 species of amphibians, 8 species of fish, a host of plant species, trees and shrubs as well as lichens, fungi and a host of invertebrate species with many of the flora and fauna regarded as locally rare.
Within the estate there are about 40 miles of paths, tracks and roads etc, 40 miles of ditches, streams and river, 9 lakes or ponds of one sort or another, 6 miles of hedges, 17 miles of stone walls and seven miles of other fencing. Bracken does provide extensive cover in late summer but efforts are continually made to try to reduce the amount of bracken in the park. Swithland Woods nearby however, is heavily wooded and provides cover for some species which feed in the habitat edges
The park includes the ruins of Bradgate House, one of the first unfortified brick built country houses in England, begun in about 1499 and completed over a considerable span of years. The mansion house continued to be occupied until the death of the Second Earl of Stamford in 1719. Back To Top
Swithland Woods lies just east of Bradgate Park and between the villages of Woodhouse Eaves and Swithland. 137 acres of woodland were bought by the Rotary Club of Leicester in 1931 and donated to the people of the county and it is now managed by the Bradgate Park Trust. Further purchases have since been made. The woods contain two flooded disused quarries (with an inscription on the side recording the Rotary Club's donation) and Swithland slate is a traditional local roofing material. One is now used occasionally for scuba diving and is some 58 metres (190 feet) deep.
Swithland Woods consist in total of about 170 acres of ancient woodland, being a remnant of the original Charnwood Forest Oak Wood. Swithland Wood is one of the few woodland areas in Leicestershire of national nature importance (being on acid loamy soils) and a significantly important area of ancient woodland in the East Midlands. It contains some of the best remaining examples of oak, small leaved lime and alder woodland in the county and as such is an ecologically rich habitat. It also includes holly trees, some conifers, wildflower meadows, woodland glades, marshes and rock outcrops making it one of our more diverse landscapes. The area is poorly drained giving numerous damp parts but despite this there are really no streams in the wood. Several ditch systems run into larger ditches with some appearance of natural watercourses but these often dry up.
It has a very important, rich and varied range of flora and fauna including a diverse butterfly, moth and bird population. The area is popular in spring for its wood anemones, bluebells and other spring flowering bulbs which cover large areas of the woodland floor. Whilst not obvious it also sits on the remains of ridge and furrow, the ploughed land of our medieval ancestors.
The very name of Swithland is an historic anomaly. The medieval village of Swithland was named after the area of cleared land around it and its name means ‘land cleared by burning’. A wood therefore cannot by definition be called Swithland as it is yet to be cleared. Back To Top
The Brand is an unbelievable place. Home to the Martin family who allow occasional organised access, it is like something out of Tolkien. Apparently an example of Victorian gardening gone mad it includes massive cliff faces and lakes all man made with streams diverted through rock faces. Add to this that most of it has been left to nature’s devices for many years; it is a real challenge to navigation and an easy place to get lost. The area also includes some woodland and wet meadows west of the Brand itself which link the area to Swithland Woods. Back To Top
BARDON HILL is the highest ‘B’ in Leicestershire. Standing above the lowland areas are four prominent hills, Bardon (the highest point in Leicestershire at just over 900 feet), Breedon on the Derbyshire border, Beacon to the east, and Burrough in the west. There are numerous other hills beginning with the letter B for no apparent reason.(Bardon, Billa Barra, Beacon, Bradgate, Burrough, Breedon, Budden, Billesdon Coplow, Blakeshay, Benscliffe, Burley on the Hill, Bomb Rocks, Broombriggs Hill and the hill on which Belvoir Castle stands.)
It was thought that there was an iron age hill fort at the summit of Bardon Hill but nothing of it remains indeed not much of the hill itself remains. In medieval times to ensure a plentiful supply of game for hunting purposes, the monarch and nobles established reserves called parks. These were areas of countryside that were considered to be on agriculturally inferior soil, often attached to a manor and which often contained woodland. Parks varied immensely in size, from a few acres to the size of the giant park of Whitwick Manor, which covered Bardon Hill and which extended over the surrounding area to over 1260 acres. However, by about 1427 it had been reduced to a smaller area around the summit of Bardon Hill but a small collar of woods on the southern flank is all that survives today.
Bardon has strong historical involvement in the life of the county up to fairly recent times. The 19th century development of the Leicestershire quarries of Bardon Hill owes much to the initiative and resourcefulness of the affluent local yeomanry of the higher class, as represented by the Ellis, Everard and Pochin families; nonconformist in their religious sympathies and liberal in their politics.
The earliest known printed reference to quarrying at Bardon Hill dates back to 1622. The commercial development of Bardon Hill stone, however, was made possible by the opening in 1833 of the Leicester and Swannington Railway, the first steam-worked public railway conveying both passengers and freight in the Midlands. The success of the line was largely due to the initiative and enterprise of the Ellis family of Beaumont Leys, who were active Quakers. George and Robert Stephenson were consultants in building the railway and at its opening the first train carried banners promising cheap coal and granite, warm hearths and good roads. The granite for the good roads was to come from Bardon and other local quarries. Ellis Park in Glenfield commemorates the Ellis family, Everards are still brewing and Pochin are well known in construction.
The Leicester and Swannington Railway prospered and in 1845 it was purchased by the Midland Railway and the Ellis influence expanded correspondingly. John Ellis became MP for Leicester, Mayor of the borough, and Chairman of the Board of the Midland Railway. Glenfield featured in the early development of the railway with the tunnel, opened in 1832, the then longest in the world.
The Everards made their home at Bardon Hill House. The affairs of the Bardon estate at this time were in some disarray, and in 1864 it passed into the hands of William Perry Herrick of Beaumanor who renegotiated the lease of Bardon quarry to Ellis and Everard. The quarry was now developed and mechanised and workmen’s cottages were built and a school provided, both at the joint expense of Ellis and Everard and the Perry Herrick’s. Eventually they added a parish church and John Breedon Everard, the architect of the school, houses and church became a partner in the firm of Ellis and Everard and was responsible for the design of the then magnificent Bardon Mill House.
Much of the money underpinning these families came from the quarrying which continues to this day and whilst the summit of Bardon Hill is protected not much remains of the north side of the hill. The summit area has been landscaped together with areas to the NE and a collar of mature woodlands gives the area some potential for smaller events.
There are plans afoot for a massive extension towards the east and as part of the pre planning consultation many were pressing for the area to be opened up for more access and for long term plans to create a Country Park. The quarry company do go to great lengths to mitigate the impact of their works and little of them can be seen from the road despite it being one of Europe’s biggest quarries. Their work on protecting the environment has earned them the Wildlife Trust Biodiversity Benchmark Award.
Despite the bustle of this massive complex extracting millions of tonnes each year there are peregrine falcons nesting on the ‘cliff’ faces and sand martins burrowing into the mountains of granite dust. The hole is bounded by are acid grassland with numerous unusual plant species and provides a habitat for small mammals feeding the resident buzzards and kestrels. Less than 1% of Leicestershire is made up of ancient woodlands and many of that is in badly managed small pockets so the wildlife relying on such habitat is struggling. Bardon’s mature oaks are a valuable oasis for birds of many species, butterflies and moths, bats and invertebrates. Heathland is being restored in the estate in part by a small herd of Hebridean sheep. Heather is recovering and bees and dragonflies abound. Bardon is also one of very few locations where the Charnwood Spider survives. Back To Top
Jubilee is about 20 hectares much of which is open to the public notwithstanding that it is an SSSI, but part was left supposedly undisturbed. There is interesting pastureland to its north which contains many land forms. Normally seen in conjunction with the adjoining Outwoods, both are blessed with a good wildlife population and amongst plants perhaps most striking the carpets of bluebells. Despite its protected status Jubilee has been largely felled as part of a ‘restoration’ project and is largely inaccessible at present.
The Outwoods itself is a popular beauty spot, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The topography means many of the paths include steep sections and uneven surfaces and can provide a physical challenge. The Outwoods were gifted to the people of Loughborough in 1946 by two local benefactors, Allan Moss and George Harry Bowler. The Outwoods is 40 hectare ancient woodland overlooking Loughborough and the Soar Valley and is important for its rare rock outcrops, its woodland plants and its wildlife and is also an SSSI. It stands on some of the oldest exposed rocks in Britain, being formed in the pre-Cambrian era and there has been continual woodland cover back to the days of the Domesday Book. Back To Top
WHITWICK is a sprawling former mining village with a surprising number of pockets of wild areas. ‘The Friends of Holly Hayes Wood’, a Community Group were formed to maintain and improve Holly Hayes Wood, Coalville Meadows and Forest Rock Wood and now own at least parts of this area. Amongst their aims is to provide a long term solution to the ownership of all of the woodland much of which is pretty vague.
Whitwick known as Witewic in the Doomsday Book was partially owned Hugh de Grandmesnil whose name crops up in many local areas. To ensure a plentiful supply of game for hunting purposes, the monarch and their nobles established reserves in areas of countryside that were considered to be on agriculturally inferior soil and often attached to a manor (in this case Whitwick Manor) and which often contained woodland. This was in fact a giant park, which covered Bardon Hill and which extended over the surrounding area to over 1260 acres. By the 1400s however it had been reduced to a small area around the summit of Bardon Hill and a few outlying pockets. The first direct reference to Holly Hayes Wood (or Hawley Hayes) can be found on a list of the medieval woods of Charnwood Forest. The earliest recorded record for the wood is believed to be 1240AD.
Holly Hayes is an ancient enclosed area of the Old Charnwood Forest, enclosed before the Enclosure Act of Whitwick 1805 when the wood is already mapped as an Ancient Enclosure and was attached to the award for enclosing Commons and Open Fields in Whitwick, Thringstone and Pegg's Green. It also suggests that the area now known as Forest Rock Wood (sometimes Spring Hill Woods) was previously called Houghton Hill.
Ownership can be traced forward but gets more confusing when quarrying commenced in 1893. It would appear that the first quarry was dug at the site of Forest Rock Wood, reference to this name can be found during 1923, where the quarry was previously called Forest Rock Quarry. Some time later, circa 1929, a second quarry appears to have been commenced in Peldar Tor, which is the site of the existing quarry and is officially referred to as Springhill Quarry, Peldar Tor, Whitwick.
In 1911, the Coalville Times informs us that game birds had been stolen from Holly Hayes Wood, which then belonged to the Whitwick Granite Company. A William Berrington still lived there at this time and was still living here up to 1928. Various residents followed but actual ownership is less clear and still is today.
Also in Whitwick there is the HERMITAGE CENTRE & PARK, a recreation ground and parkland with a lake, surrounding a leisure centre with facilities. On the borders of Whitwick and Thringstone we have
THRINGSTONE and CADEMAN WOODS Back To Top
Thringstone Wood itself lies north of Warren Lane/Gracedieu Road and adjoining Gracedieu Woods. South of the lane are Broad Hill, Temple Hill, Cademan Woods and High Cademan. In the midst of these is an open area of rough acid grassland, and south of Broad Hill is a granite quarry known as Grimley's Rock. For ecological purposes Thringstone, Cademan, Gracedieu and High Sharpley are all taken together but High Sharpley can only be accessed with permission.
This fine wooded uphill area to the north of the village of Whitwick contains a number of natural granite tors and bosses, some of which peep above the trees and give good views.
Most of the land around Cademan Wood and Broad Hill is owned by DeLisle but Cademan Wood is treated by the local people as land over which they are free to roam, and ownership of this bit is unclear. Parts of Broad Hill are an extension of the parkland across the road in Gracedieu Wood. GRACEDIEU WOODS itself has a multitude of owners not always too clear as to who actually owns what. One pocket known as Gracedieu Wood is owned by N W Leicestershire DC. It is one side of Gracedieu Ancient Woodland and was created with help of from the National Forest on what had been an arable field just outside Thringstone. This block is about 10 acres in size and has some rock features. Another block is Spring Barrow Lodge, much the same size and off Turolough Road again planted with financial assistance from the National Forest but in whose name is not clear. Some of the nearby existing woodlands and meadows are owned by Gracedieu School and more by the Gracedieu Estate.
The school in Grace Dieu Manor is set in 120 acres of beautiful rolling countryside and adjoins the woodlands. There is evidence of mans activities going back to Mesolithic times. On 25 July 1833, Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle married Laura Mary Clifford and received a settlement of £1200 per annum and the Manor of Grace Dieu made to him by his father Charles March Phillipps of Garendon Park. Grace Dieu received its name from the Priory founded by Roesia de Verdun, c. 1240, and dedicated to Our Lady, ‘de Gratia Dei’, or in the Norman French of the period, Grace Dieu, and it is still so called to the present day. The Priory was dissolved in 1538 by Henry VIII, and the picturesque remains are greatly admired.
Grace Dieu Priory was an Augustinian nunnery founded around 1240. In 1377 there were 16 nuns and a hospital for poor people, yet during the Dissolution it was converted into a Tudor mansion. For the last few years, the land has been owned and managed by the Grace Dieu Priory Trust, which was set up to save the ruins. English Heritage has been working closely with the Priory Trust since the work began in 2003, to give archaeological, architectural and general technical advice, along with funding towards the project to ensure that the site is preserved for future generations to enjoy.
During the years 1833 to 1834 Ambrose deLisle built a splendid manor house at Grace Dieu; it was designed by William Railton in the Tudor-Gothic style. A small chapel was attached. But in 1837 Augustus Welby Pugin visited Grace Dieu; he was very impressed by what he saw, and greatly enlarged the house and chapel. Later, Sir Banister Fletcher, whose grand stair-case still stands, also enlarged the house. Grace Dieu Manor faces south and east. The windows are Perpendicular style, mullioned and transomed with arched lights. Acres of lawns, gardens, trees - the cedars of Lebanon were famous - surrounded the manor house which had a fine view of the rocks and wooded slopes of Charnwood Forest.
The school opened on 1933 when the Rosminian Fathers opened Grace Dieu as a Preparatory School for Ratcliffe College. During the war years the school grew in numbers: Grace Dieu was a safe and desirable place for parents to send their boys in those grim years. Since then Grace Dieu has gone from strength to strength.
The deLisle Arms was a popular inn on the edge of the Whitwick but perhaps a sign of the times; it is now an equally popular restaurant; Out of India.
The overall area is perhaps one of the best locally in that it covers a large block of land, has many different types of vegetation, and has considerable relief, water features and many dramatic rock formations. Back To Top
HIGH SHARPLEY adjacent to Cademan Woods this is a politically sensitive area with ‘history’ and of little use to us fro walking. It is a towering sharp ridge of miniature pinnacles surrounded by a field of boulders with the jagged summit commanding superb views. The location can realistically claim to be unique in the area and indeed pretty well anywhere. Despite being small it can be quite wild, especially when the undergrowth is over head high. The area is of small crags on and around a rocky ridge which runs from High Sharpley to Gun Hill where there is an old ruin. The rock is very coarse granite (Precambrian porphyroid) and the outcrops lie on the extension of the ridge through Cademan Wood just across the road and are thought to be part of the rim of an ancient volcano.
There is claimed to have been an access route through the site in the past and The Ramblers' Association has sought to reopen it for many years and it has been the scene of mass protests. More recently the RA and LCC sought to have it included in the ‘right to roam’ under the CRoW Act. Early maps over the years support the fact that this is ‘Mountain, Moor or Heath’ as the maps demonstrate tree cover is self regenerating shrub only there because it has not been managed. The decision of the appeal however sided against open access to the ridge area but agreed that much of the rest qualified, but decided that this element had insufficient size to warrant inclusion. The Planning Inspector accepted that historically the public used this land for open recreation until the 1970’s but that was outside the scope of the appeal which was to decide land type definition and identifiable boundaries. As things stand at present the barbed wire, notices, and keepers make this a most unwelcoming location. The area is owned by the DeLisle, Gracedieu Estate but despite the ‘history’ occasional organised access by a reputable organisation is sometimes permitted. There is a shooting syndicate in the High Sharpley part even then visitors only use the area at agreed times of the year and in modest numbers and not into the Gun Hill part where breeding is organised. Back To Top
QE2 DIAMOND JUBILEE WOODS is a newly created diverse and sweeping landscape covering 186 hectares (460 acres) of mixed fields, arable grassland and species-rich hedgerows. A beautiful lake is located in the east of the site and seven hectares of ancient woodland remain in the north with 300,000 new trees being added. For facilities it can be serviced from a nearby farm shop and café which has lots of parking capacity.
The area has a system of enclosures and drovers ways dating back to the Late Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman times. A Roman road once made its way across the site. It lies between Normanton le Heath, Ravenstone and Heather and is a stones throw from Sense Valley. Just north of it are further National Forest Schemes around the Altons situated on either side of busy roads and adjacent to existing woodland. These two blocks of mixed conifer and broadleaves make a significant impact on the landscape driving along the A511 into Ashby from Coalville. Nature conservation is a focus of the site. A large area of hay meadow has been created next to the road and a series of pools and scrapes created down the eastern edge of Roecliffe Wood. In Breach Wood, wet woodland consisting of willow and alder has been planted next to Demoniac Plantation. Parkland style planting next to Roecliffe Farm creates a more open feel to this part of the wood. It is relatively newly planted in areas and is of about 75 hectares in size. Back To Top
FOSSE MEADOWS is where the River Soar meets the old Fosse Way. Fosse Meadows Nature Park backs onto the village of Sharnford. The former farmland was bought by Blaby District Council in two lots, first opening in 1987.
The old course of the river can still be clearly seen across the fields even though it was long ago diverted to its present course and this provides a series of shallow depressions unfortunately often very damp. Much of the site was planted with trees, mostly of native species, but there is also an arboretum. Add in the pond and you have an area ideal for and rich in wildlife. Some copses have been planted with conifers amongst the deciduous trees to provide year round green cover. The shrub areas contain gorse and broom amongst rough grassland, giving a heath effect to the area.
At the southern end of LEICESTER’S RIVERSIDE PARK, we have the Aylestone Riverside, part of this overall park following the Soar as a twelve-mile long green corridor running through the city along the river Soar and the Grand Union Canal and a focus for regeneration in the City. It is regionally important for wildlife and comprises a network of open spaces, nature reserves and parks. It has a range of cycle paths and footpaths, and is subject to constant change due to a number of the regeneration projects along the river and canal corridors. New planting have matured into a warren of intricate copses.
This Aylestone area runs from the ring road by the Fosse Park shopping area through to St Mary’s Mill lock by the Ivanhoe rail line. The area immediately to its north includes Abbey Park and continues north intro Watermead Park.
This southern section is cut by Braunstone Lane East but can be crossed either under by the tow path of the canal or over via the bridge carrying a long distance trail along the old track bed of the Great Central Railway. Previously running from London to Manchester this line closed in 1963 but in the 1980s became a cycle and foot way which is now part of the National Cycle Network.
South of Braunstone Lane there is a sports pavilion on extensive playing fields and to the north and east we have the Aylestone Meadows Local Nature Reserve.
Riverside Park is a wild life and recreation corridor running right through the city of Leicester taking in a number of small urban parks and green spaces by way of tunnels, underpasses and bridges. Abbey Park was formed from water meadows and opened in 1882 and was extended in 1925 when the Abbey Grounds, the site of Leicester Abbey, were added to the park and linked by two footbridges across the Soar. It includes a reconstructed site of the Abbey and a memorial to Cardinal Wolsey who was laid to rest in the grounds. Founded in 1143, as St Mary de Pratis (St Mary of the Meadows) the Abbey stood for 395 years and became the 2nd wealthiest Augustinian abbey in the country. Totalling about 85 acres, the park comprises a mixture of copses, playing fields and gardened areas round a central one hectare lake, with islands and an irregular shoreline. Back To Top
Further north we enter WATERMEAD COUNTRY PARK. The history of this area is a bit vague. Initially the park area was used as farmland in as far as being in the Soar Valley flood plain permitted, and later for gravel extraction. In 1989 the park was developed from the disused gravel pits. Excavations were undertaken in 1996 at a gravel extraction quarry now lying within the park, after wardens found human remains in peat disturbed by the quarrying. Research uncovered remains of part of an ancient bridge which appeared to be crossing a peat-filled channel, perhaps an old course of the river Soar. Also there were the remains of cooking activity consisting of a stone lined hearth; a circular trough with its base lined with planks; a smaller, charcoal-filled pit and a large spread of fire-cracked flints and ash. Also found were various animal bones including Aurochs which are thought to have died out by about 1000 BC. Domesticated cattle are believed to be devolved from these early oxen.
The life size Mammoth sculpture on top of a small mound overlooking the lakes, reminds us of times when our ancestors shared this area with these magnificent creatures. The prehistoric remains found on this site also include bison and deer, all discovered during the gravel extraction process. These remains are thought to date back to the last ice age.
The park is a 140 hectare natural oasis bordered by built up areas, apart from its northern tip which offers the prospect of further extension as present gravel extraction comes to an end. It is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful stretch of countryside extending for nearly 2 miles. Many of the paths are surfaced making it an ideal site for the less able and pushchairs. The park is managed by Leicestershire County Council, Leicester City Council and Charnwood Borough Council in partnership. It is developing one of the largest reed bed areas in the Midlands and as its name suggests it is a wetland area with over 12 lakes and smaller ponds. Running through the Park are the River Soar and Grand Union Canal which provide an essential corridor for wildlife. Boats are known to have used the River Soar since the Roman times but during the 19th Century the river became a significant commercial waterway following works to improve the navigation between Loughborough and Leicester. The Leicester Navigation Bill received its Royal Assent in May 1791 and work started to improve the River Soar / Grand Union Canal with the navigation finally opening in 1794.
The heyday for the canal was in the 1820's and 1830's when it was the most profitable navigation in the whole of the UK, transporting goods to and from London. This booming waterways trade aided significant development in Leicester. When the railways came to Leicester the commercial use of the canal faded away and today it is used almost exclusively by recreational boats.
Overall there is a mix of mature and semi-mature trees and shrubs forming a contrast to the open expanses of water, with reeds and other flora adding to the appearance of an untouched natural environment. However it is all man made and would not exist in its present form if it had not been for the period of gravel extraction. The south (City) part of the park forms a part of the Watermead South Local Nature Reserve, as designated in March 2005.
There are many different insects to be found, perhaps the most spectacular being the large dragonflies and smaller brightly coloured damselflies flitting over the lakes in the summer months. Voles, mink, mice, bats and foxes have been seen and roach, tench, perch, carp and pike are some of the species of fish which are to be found.
Newts, frogs and toads abound and countless species of birds are to be seen. 175 species of bird have been recorded, including the resident Tufted Duck, Mallard, Black Headed Gull, Sparrow Hawk, Kestrel and Kingfisher. In the winter you may well see the Shoveler, Teal and Goldeneye ducks and in the summer see swifts skim across the water or the Common Tern waiting to dive for fish. A very rare but welcome transient is the Osprey. Geese and swans are found in such numbers as to be more than a bit of a nuisance.
Bird hides are throughout the park and to the west of the park are meadows and scrapes managed by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust. Here on the Wanlip Meadows Reserve (a restored gravel pit) numerous species have been recorded. The birds do not recognise boundaries and obviously move freely between this reserve and Watermead but recording their presence on the reserve does give indications of those present on the area. To the east of the park and across the canal are further lakes, not part of the park but adding to this wildlife sanctuary. Recorded are hundreds of Greylag Geese and Teal, a single Garganey and a number of Shelducks and Oystercatchers. A juvenile Hobby was spotted and some young little-Ringed Plovers and a young Little Owl. Seen in considerable numbers were Golden Plover and Lapwing (Green Plover or Pee Wit). More unusual visitors were Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Whinchat and Redstart.
Watermead had a successful bid for funds from the Big Lottery Fund via a TV programme and with matched funding received £1.4M. The money was used to create new cycle and pedestrian links between Watermead Park and surrounding villages, as well as improving bridges within the park for cyclists and people with mobility problems. Back To Top
THE STAUNTON HAROLD ESTATE owned by one of the Blunt Family, offers a number of walking opportunities. Rough Park & Rising Woods contain mature woodlands both sides of the road which in places include evidence of early mining activity in the shape of a series of depressions which are almost certainly old bell pits. This area is known as Rough Park but surrounding an area of pastureland to its west is a circle of new plantings which are now maturing, interspersed with older copses and hedgerows. This area is known as Rising Wood and has numerous ditches and ponds. The area can get very wet in places and there are areas of dense undergrowth but others where the going is good. This is an area of differing terrain offering good opportunities for wildlife. Nearby is the Lount Nature Reserve on the site of New Lount Colliery. In 1997, Leicestershire County Council completed restoration with financial aid from the Government and through European funding. Three wetland pools near the top of the tip were created in 1986 to safeguard plants threatened by nearby open cast mining. Marshland, grassland and waterside plants from that time have now established themselves well. Unimproved grassland which naturally colonised the site when mining ceased, is left as open ground and is a haven for grass snakes and bee orchids. Bats hunt over both water areas and the open grassland. The old tarmac areas of the sidings remain intact as a reminder of the site's past - the last deep mine in Coleorton parish which, when closed, ended 500 years of deep mining in the parish.
Also within the estate near Lount is a mix of existing mature woodlands and new plantings linking them all together. The properties are in several different ownerships and managed by a number of different parties. Many of the older blocks are owned by members of the Blunt family who own Staunton Harold Hall. The hall is near the border with Derbyshire and situated at the end of a long driveway off the Melbourne to Ashby Road. The hall, church, arboretum and lake have been a major attraction for many years but these areas are only to be visited with special permission. Behind the house is the Ferrers Craft Centre, which evolved from a pottery established here in 1974. There are also nurseries and a large garden centre with parking, giving access to the area from the north.
Staunton historically means a stony place and the local stone includes sandstone and limestone, coal and iron, lead and copper and as such has been highly valued for many centuries. Staunton was mentioned in Doomsday as being held by Henry de Ferrers (previously Ferraris), remaining in the Ferrers family until its sale in 1954. The first house at Staunton was built by Sir William de Staunton in 1324. In 1423 Margaret, sister and heiress of Thomas de Staunton, married Sir Ralph Shirley, Constable of Melbourne Castle and adopted Staunton as the family Home. The house was largely rebuilt by Sir Robert Shirley, 1st Earl of Ferrers. He also built the church in 1653 which adjoins the house. Washington Shirley who became the 5th Earl Ferrers, rebuilt the Hall in the present Palladian style to which was added later the Georgian front as it is today, mellow brick with stone faced, pedimented, and surmounted by figures of Minerva, Apollo and Ceres. It is a grade 1 listed building. When sold it passed into the ownership of the Leonard Cheshire and then Sue Ryder homes and then eventually to the Blunt family. The family from Melbourne in Derbyshire already owned the arts and crafts centre in the old stables behind the hall and had been associated with the estate for more than 100 years.
To the south east are areas known as Alistair’s Wood and Jaguar Woods managed by Forest Enterprise and it is said that the car manufacturers are involved as a means of securing walnut for the dash boards of Jaguars. Further north an area is owned by the National Forest Company itself but again managed by FE. Back To Top
ASHBY DE LA ZOUCH with its history has left us with an unusual layout with numerous back alleys making it ideal for wandering about. William the Conqueror granted the manor of Ashby, along with many others, to Hugh de Grantmesnil. The Domesday Book tells us Ashby was a small hamlet clustered round the Church Streets and Wood Street. And in1160 the manor passed by marriage to the Zouch family who were originally from Brittany. It is the Zouch family we have to thank for the market and Market Street. It is probable that the properties between Market Street and North and South Streets were divided up around the middle of the 13th century accounting for the long thin nature of the plots. The Zouch family were responsible for this planned town surrounding Market Street and the subsequent prosperity of Ashby as a successful trading centre. The Zouch family died out in 1399 and the manor eventually passed to James Butler, the Earl of Ormond, who lost his life in the wars of the Roses.
The manor then reverted to the king who granted it to William Hastings but after the death of Edward the 4th Hastings became an early victim of Gloucester's ruthless campaign to become Richard the 3rd. He was arrested on a trumped up charge and beheaded in 1483.
William's son George inherited the title, avenged his father at Bosworth Field and returned to Ashby. The next Lord Hastings became a favourite of Henry the 8th and was created Earl of Huntingdon.
From 1569 to 1643 Ashby Castle was to play a role in Royal history. Queen Mary was there in custody, James the 1st also visited and Charles the 1st at least twice, once on the run after the battle of Naseby.
The 6th Earl of Huntingdon retreated to the recently acquired Donington Park and remained neutral during the Civil War but his second son Henry turned the castle into a Royalist stronghold and for his support of the Monarch he was created Lord Loughborough. His activities were aggravated by his hatred of Thomas Grey of Bradgate, the leading Parliamentarian of Leicestershire. Ashby castle was under siege for more than a year before surrendering and whilst Henry was allowed the freedom to go abroad, the castle was made uninhabitable by explosives leaving the ruin as it is today. Back To Top