Monday, 21 May 2018

Leicestershire Round #1 - Newtown Linford to Rearsby 20/05/18

14.7 miles, via Bradgate Park, Woodhouse Eaves, Swithland Reservoir, Mountsorrel, 
 Cossington, and Ratcliffe College.

Long Distance Trail means Selfies!
#1 at Bradgate Park, Newtown Linford
Spring Jollies time, and the days of getting away to a fresh trail in the countryside are sadly done, as My Dad is no longer able to travel as he continues to struggle with the onset of Parkinsons Disease, and thus my holiday breaks this year will be spent in The Old Country to lend him some extra company and to be an extra pair of hands and ears around the house for My Mum, a sequence that will finally give me an opportunity to tilt at the Leicestershire Round. Devised by the county's Footpath Association in 1987 and standing at 100 miles long, it will be the longest trail that I have attempted so far, and its circuit is relatively accessible from our base in Humberstone, though the guide's division of the route into ten legs seems a bit modest, so I boldly figure that it can be easily done in seven, and that's the plan that I have in mind as the Parental Taxi drives me out to Newtown Linford for a very early start on Sunday morning, planned as such so that I might be of maximum use to My Parents on my non walking days. Pass through Newton Linford village to get dropped off at just after 8.15am in the Bradgate Park car park, and we are certainly not the earliest starters out here as joggers and folks gathering for the Emergency Services day already crowd the tarmac, and as we have no distinctive route marker to indicate the Round's start line, I'll set out from the main gate to head on into the park itself, along the side of the stream that flow eastwards, in the shadow of tall trees and outcrops of granite. Immediately get entertainment from the herd of juvenile Red Deer, retreating across the track and stream from the main park into the deer enclosure as we march on towards Bradgate house, the home of Lady Jane Grey, and the Earls of Stamford, and notable as one of the oldest all-brick stately homes in the country, now ruined but preserved along with the rest of the park for the people of Leicestershire in 1928, thanks to the generosity of Charles Bennion of British Shoe co. Naturally the route takes us uphill immediately from here, up past Bowling Green Spinney and through the recumbent herds of Fallow Deer to rise to Charnwood Forest's most notable hill, where the Old John Tower sits atop it, not the sort of climb the body wants as the heat of the day comes on already, but it's alway good to be up on this granite top to take in the view around the county from 212m up, even if there's way too much morning haze to see much all that clearly in these conditions.

Bradgate Park and its herding Red Deer.

Bradgate House, with Sunday morning joggers.

The rise up Old John Hill, unwelcome so early in the day.

Despite getting a grand view over Charnwood Forest and its summits, the path of the Round won't be going off among them, but it will be following part of the route that I burned here in 2013, as we descend through the exposed carpet of Blue Bells to the Hunt's Hill car park, where many groups of young girls have gathered for what appears to be their school's walking day, and it would be a good idea to not get tangled up with them so fast steps are put down to get ahead across Sharply Hill and up Benscliffe Road. I ought not need a map to navigate my way through Rough Hill wood, which is looking distinctly more mature than it did five years ago, albeit not as colorful, as the growth of The National Forest takes a pretty firm grip on this corner of the county, following the descending track as it runs down to the edge of the plantation where we cross Joe Moore's Road and head into Lingdale Golf course. The route through seems better marked than it did before, though I have passed through so many golf courses that I might be thinking of a different one, and I'll have to observe that golfers are focused bunch as they are out on all parts of the course at 9.30am, and its sound going when pacing along the sides of the fairways, but crossing them needs you to be alert as golf balls really do go zipping through the air at head height. Feel secure away from the golfers as we depart the course and head across the meadow towards Maplewell Farm, getting a thorough coverage of buttercups and dandelion clocks as we progress on up to the farm driveway and past the paddock that sits below the big ol' granite house by the corner of Maplewell Road on the southern edge of Woodhouse Eaves, and move onto a fresh path as we pass the previously walked corner that leads to Broombriggs Farm. This is one of those villages that has always felt a bit like suburbia in the countryside, with so many plots laid out in the years before WW1 and so few built in the familiar stylings of Charnwood Forest, and the best corner on this axis is clearly the corner around the junction with Main Street and Church Hill, below the Pear Tree inn. Meadow Road leads us past 80s suburbia and an old farmstead before passing the village primary school and sending us back out into the countryside, beyond the immediate influence of the higher hills, on a flat track through arable fields in the direction of Rushey Fields farm, with its silos looming large beyond Brand Lane. This leads us towards a path seen before and a herd of dairy cows that I've previously encountered which would have me trepidatious in most circumstances, but today they are well spread out over three fields and despite there being a hundred or so of them out there, and having more than one running group passing among them, the heat and sunshine mean that not one of them is in a mood to be disturbed from their ruminating.

Rough Hill Wood

Lingdale Golf Course.

Woodhouse Eaves's Best Corner.

Field Walking to Rushey Fields farm.

The chilled-out Rushey Fields dairy herd.

That's the only herd that I'll be encountering today, thankfully, and there's clear going through the open fields ahead, with the embankment of the Great Central Railway to the east, and before travelling the timetable had been checked to see if I could spot the train passing, and having observed 92214 pass south at some distance away, it feels like I have probably missed my opportunity for an action shot, and the sounds of a distant steam whistle just seem to tease me. So as we come up to cross the Rushey Lane bridge, I'm pretty damn happy to arrive mere seconds ahead of 73156 (which has only recently been restored to service a mere 50 years after being withdrawn) heading north on a Loughborough bound service, and I'll then pace on pondering whether I'd prefer to have this as the premier preserved line in this land, or as originally conceived as the HS2 of the late 19th century. Shift focus forwards as the lane draws us on into the woods that surround Swithland reservoir, giving a full view of this body of water as we draw up by the waterworks house and boast house at its northwestern corner of the dam, and as it's a construction dated to the 1890s, it's got a lot of dramatic touches to it, with an ornate and Gothic-y valve tower and a water works below that looks like a Georgian garden feature. There's also the GCR line passing over it via a pair of viaducts that link it to Brazil island, meaning we get no perspective at all to the southern half, scene last September, and the attention will always be hopeful of catching a train passing over it as we pass onto the eastern shore and follow the lane as it slips into the shade of Buddon Wood, which surround the vast Mountsorrel Granite quarry, which sits well concealed behind it. Rise away to meet Kinchley Road, and meet a man operating a wheelchair tricycle, which is certainly something new to see among the other riders and runners on these paths, rising to get a rare view of Old John Hill from its western end and to meet the vast pile of red spoil and debris that sits to the south of the quarry bowl. Meet Mountsorrel's outlying houses by the side of Swithland Road before crossing it and pacing along the new path by Bond Lane before meeting the Mountsorrel Railway, recently restored by the GCR and once reaching all the way to the Midland Mainline at Barrow on Soar, built to service the original quarry workings and since severed by the Hawcliff quarry and cement works. Now providing an extra terminus for the parent line, it's a curious little railway branch line that could easily have been lost to history, left in our wake as we depart the main road to follow the path of Cufflins Pit Lane that passes around the edge of the first major quarry in these parts, since infilled and landscaped and creating a green barrier that prevents any more  unnecessary suburban growth on this axis.

73156 on the GCR, at Rushey Lane bridge.

Swithland Reservoir dam, with Buddon Wood beyond.

Swithland Reservoir, with Valve Tower and Viaduct.

The Mountsorrel Quarry spoil tips.

The Mountsorrel Railway terminus at Bond Lane.

Past Crown Lane, Watling Street descends into Mountsorrel village, but before we head down to the old A6, we need to step off the trail for a short detour as Castle Hill advertises itself as a viewpoint to see before we delve into the Soar Valley, and it's a short but steep trip up from the street to get atop this mount, home to a castle in the 12th century to offer us a fine panorama to the east from the War Memorial in carved pink granite at the north end, and from the beacon atop natural pink granite at the south. It's a place to pause for lunch, a bit early before we take the twisting path back downhill, describing a long s-bend above the village before we drop down to meet Leicester Road by the Buttercross, the former market place focus that somehow escaped my gaze when other features like St Peter's church and the ornate 18th century house opposite are sights not forgotten, admittedly not seen since the A6 bypassed the village two decades ago. That's the end of leg one according to the guide, but I fancy 6+ more miles of the official second leg as we head down into the valleys of the rivers flowing towards the Trent, north of Leicester, a route that starts down Sileby Road to pass over the River Soar, and then over the Grand Union canal's navigation channel at Mountsorrel lock, just down stream from the quarry railway bridge, now carrying a conveyor to Barrow. The sunshine has brought the people out to enjoy it at the Waterside Inn, open to grab the lunchtime traffic, and away from the boating action at the lock, there's still more folk to be found down on the riverside path, meaning that I've met more people out on the trail on a sunny afternoon in Leicestershire than I have on various moorland edges in West Yorkshire, a crowd that gradually thins down after we pass under the A6 bypass and progress south. We get another riot of meadow action down here, fields thick with buttercups that are yellower than any field of rapeseed, and with tall growths of cow parsley at the water's edge, and I'll ponder my burgeoning familiarity with the season fauna as we look to boating action on the Soar to one side, and over to the colourful building of the Barrow stone works on the other, familiar to anyone who has ridden the Midland Mainline through Leicestershire. Take the bridge over to the west bank as we meet the Sileby Marina, developed around the former watermill and its various channels, another veritable hive of activity on a sunny Sunday afternoon, moving back the east bank as we pass over the GUC lock, the main Soar channel and the race into the mill, before carrying on south with the tower of St Mary's church Sileby looming over the meadows as we pass beyond the pipe bridge.

The War Memorial, Castle Hill, Mountsorrel.

The Buttercross and Market Place, Mountsorrel.

Mountsorrel Lock, and the Waterside Inn.

Boating on the Soar - Grand Union navigation.

Sileby Marina and Mill.

We start to feel like we're getting close to the top edge of the city as the Cossington Meadow nature reserve is entered, where flooded gravel pits have created a haven for bird life, which seems to be a pretty common land usage along the Soar on both sides of the city, and our riverside trail ends as we press away from the river between the two main pits of the reserve, making the turn only half a mile or so from where my cross city trail through Leicester along the canal and river started a few years ago. Head away from the river on a well shaded and tree lined path, finding the only muddy going on the day's trail, not that it tests my leaky pair of boots #5, which ought to see the whole trail out if the weather remains as warm and dry as it has done this week, eventually hitting another pretty meadow crossing to land us on the edge of Cossington, where All Saints church is very well hidden by a thick wall of Yews and other trees, which at least provides a shady spot to water and give My Parents a progress report on the day. Move on from the corner by the War Memorial, and down the Main Street which still retains much of its rural aspect due to being preserved by conservation area status, and its worth admiring the parade of vintage oak trees, planted to celebrate various Royal coronations and jubilees over the last century, and The Hall farm is notable for being dressed wholly in white and black. The suburban growth has been confined to the side roads, found down Bennetts Lane, which rolls us out of the village and onto Humble Lane, out into the fields once again, and rolling us a bit uphill to pass over the Midland Mainline, and despite passing over four tracks, it's mildly disappointing to not seen any train action on any of them. The lane forks and we join Blackberry Lane as it starts the rise proper away from the Soar valley, maintaining a hard surface on the way up to Barn Lodge and Humbles farm, before degenerating to a rough track, largely contained by hedges of hawthorn and lined with trees showing white blossoming flowers that I just cannot identify, and after all the hours of meeting unexpected crowds in Charnwood Forest and at the side of the river, it's good to have the path to myself again. Cross Ratcliffe Road and gain a tarmac surface again as we join Rosminian Way to head further uphill towards Ratcliffe college, looking north west to see that we've done almost 180 degrees of a circuit around Sileby since leaving Mountsorrel, and noting that we can see up the Soar valley to Loughborough from here, as well as getting the hills of Chrnwood forest rising boldly on the western horizon, looking every bit like Leicestershire's miniature version of the Alps from here.

Cossington Meadows Nature Reserve.

The War Memorial corner, Cossington.

The Midland Counties Mainline.

Blackberry Lane, with no obvious Brambles. 

Looking back to Charnwood Forest, from Rosminian Way.

Arriving by Elm farm, we meet the roads that serve Ratcliffe college, a Catholic public school with notable original buildings of 1847 by AWN Pugin, sadly well concealed by functional growths over the 20th century, and it's a place that I'd doubt would welcome a trespasser with a camera and a keen eye for architecture, so it's passed as we leave the road and traipse across its playing fields, and on thorugh the recently planted woodland that houses a processional route through the Stations of the Cross and many spawning dandelions. That brings us to a passage across the A46 Fosse Way, the Roman Road that has been in constant use between Leicester and Lincoln for nineteen centuries, nowadays a busy dual carriageway that needs great care to be crossed before we can resume field walking as the crest over to the Wreake valley has been crossed and we can turn attention forwards to East Leicsetershire, and the terrain than I can consider that bit more familiar. Get a grand view from the fields above Ratcliffe Barn farm, before having to do one of those awkward perimeter walks because the right of way has been planted over with no obvious route alternative provided, moving on to startle the only field of sheep encountered all day before meeting the farm driveway and watching the machinery in the neighbouring field getting busy with some haymaking. Meet Thrussington Road and walk alongside through one sharp corner before meeting the driveway down to Rearsby Mill, where it and its cottage have gotten a very fine residential makeover and passage has to be made over its mill race and the channel of the River Wreake as it flows southwest to join the Soar, a properly desirable idyll that has us feeling close to today's finish line. An enclosed path leads us on, surrounded by more blossoming plants before we cross our third railway of the day, the Wreake valley line, heading cross country towards Peterborough, and there'll be no train action here either, but sight of Rearsby's parish church means we haven't got far to go as the track leads us onto a footpath that sneaks tightly behind the newer suburban growths on this village, dropping onto Brookside where suburbia and farmsteads mingle in much orange brick. As village names go, this is one that really resonates with the family history, as My Dad did a quarter century of service at the automotive plant on Gaddesby Lane, but it's not actually a place I know well, as I don't think I've ever seen to ancient packhorse bridge that leads to the church in all my years. That's where we''ll depart the Round for today, dropping through the charming frontages of Brook Street to the former A607 Melton Road where I can wait for the Parental Taxi by The Wheel Inn, finishing the trip at just before 2.30pm and feeling certain that this is one place where My Folks really shouldn't have any difficulty finding me.

Ratcliffe RC College, with the Pugin Chapel well concealed. 

The A46 Fosse Way, the county's enduring Roman Road.

The Wreake Valley awaits, once we find a path!

Rearsby Mill, and the River Wreake.

The Packhorse Bridge, Rearsby.

5,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 3254.4 miles
2018 Total: 155 miles
Up Country Total: 2961 miles
Solo Total: ????.? miles

Next Up: The Round continues up the Wreake Valley and onwards to Burrough Hill.

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