Saturday, 26 May 2018

Leicestershire Round #3 - Somerby to Hallaton 24/05/18

12.7 miles, via Owston (& the Woods), Withcote Hall, Launde Abbey, Ridlington Ridge, 
 Belton in Rutland, and Allexton.

Long Distance Trail means selfies!
#3 at the Stilton Cheese inn, Somerby.
You will know that it's not my nature to walk on consecutive days, but my rescheduling of my walking days has given me opportunity to get in a third day when I'd only intended to walk two, though the Friday weather looking like hot garbage means that I have to get out on Thursday morning, not quite with the lark like the preceding trips, but early enough to tend to the pressure blister that I've developed on my right sole, so padding is applied and we return to High Leicestershire with the feeling that could get painful. So on the my third leg of the Round and the guide's fourth as the parental Taxi drops me off at the Stilton Cheese inn in Somerby at 9.05am with village looking a lot less bright beneath overcast skies and it's off down Manor Lane on a southwards track, with foot injury in tow as we pass the Manor Farm and note the new build houses that perfectly complement their surroundings before we push out into the countryside, fully intent on passing this way again. There's a pretty heavy mist hanging over the eastern county, and once we hit the edge of the high plateau that's home to both Somerby and Burrough, there's not much of a view to see, so the path descends one of the many stream grooves down the hillside, away from another large dairy herd, and on up another landscape rise where there's a staring bench on the field boundary, from where there isn't much of a view in the direction of Tilton on the Hill. Then on, down past plantation that isn't on the map or in the guide book, to meet the stream crossing by a very old sign pointing to the "Leic's Round", and join Newbold Road, which is rising hard surface that takes us uphill towards Owston, which was once home to a monastic foundation, since vanished but living on in the name of The Priory house, next to St Andrews church, with the rest of the small village strung out along the Main Street. Pass the village pump, nicely preserved and on to the cluster of very rustic farmsteads at the bottom, and then on to the farm track that leads on towards Owston Woods, concluding by a large open field with many cows in it, and with the way out not visible, so that doesn't make for the easiest going as I start to feel like I'm going on one leg. I pass through untroubledthough, and the ancient woods spread out ahead, a couple of fields distant, but there's a lot of grass to cover to get there, downhill and uphill with little other landscape context to see aside from Owston Wood Road as we approach.

Manor farm, and its modern neighbours, Somerby.

Not many views available in High Leicestershire today.

St Andrew's church, Owston.

The green lane to Owston Woods
The ancient Owston Woods do not advertise their entrance.

The woods finally arrive, a field further on than expected, and the path route in is not obvious, well hidden by low hanging branches, but found and wandered onto eventually, finding that the going is just as wet and gooey as the guide book warned, as this is no managed plantation, it's 141 acres of ancient woodland that's been an SSSI since 1956, and walking through densely packed and randomly located deciduous trees is not something I've done a lot of, though I must say I recommend it thoroughly. The trail through is not all that long, as the woods mostly stretch out on an east-west axis, and we get a good landscape locating moment as we emerge at the southern edge, spotting Whatborough Hill off the the west, and then descend through the overly planned avenue of Horse Chestnut Trees that lead us down to Oakham Road, which leads us directly on the driveway to Withcote Hall. It's a short walk off piste to see the frontage of the hall, an 18th century house in Ironstone and Ashlar, built around an earlier foundation, and looking very sad indeed, like someone's dream restoration project ran out of steam some decades ago, and the Tudor chapel is worth a look up close but is all locked up, despite being in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and it's all guarded by a single wary-looking collie, with no other signs of life around. Back on the official path, we pass through the farm that stands next to the hall, also looking somewhat devoid of life before passing the eastern face of the hall, which maybe looks even sadder than the west, passing the mostly concealed lake and some actual people fixing in attendance some fences before the Round route leads us into long grass and up onto a hillock that doesn't offer an obvious route beyond. We do at least get a view to the hills behind Tilton, adding Robin-a-Tipoe and Colborough to the company but nothing else in the panorama as we descend to meet the River Chater, with my sore foot starting to object loudly as we meet the field walk over towards Launde Abbey, which I do much with my route finding on this occasion. The house, looking distinctly Jacobean, was founded by Thomas Cromwell on the site of the former Augustinian Priory after the dissolution of 1539, and now endures as an ecclesiastical retreat, offering refreshment to the passing visitor if you're willing to go the extra mile to get there, but I'm not and rest by the track's side to have elevenses and let the sore foot rest. Then we can strike east, on the undulating path through the fields that shadow the perimeter of Laude park and its woods, offering a clear route until we meet a long field with no obvious route taking us through the rapeseed, which demand a detour to its southern and eastern perimeter that run us out to meet the very edge of the county and the border with Rutland.

Owston Woods.

Withcote Hall.

Robin-a-Tiptoe, Colborough, and Whatborough Hills on the western horizon.

Launde Abbey.

Field walking, to the Rutland Border!

The Round departs Leicestershire and enters its diminutive neighbour as we cross over the Chater again, but this isn't necessarily the route wandering away to find the most interesting path because when the route was established in 1987, Rutland didn't exist at the time, having been absorbed into the larger county in 1974, only to re-established in 1997, not that you'd spot any sort of difference as the bridleway we follow rolls its way uphill through bucolic splendour. Thankfully the day takes it turn for the warmer around this time, as we rise to a vantage point to look back over Launde Park, though I'll keep the windcheater on as we've got a high track to come, as we meet a well built farm track that descends us to pass over the Chater for the third and final time as it heads off to flow into the Welland, dodging the tractor driven by the only other person out in this quarter before the long walk up Ridlington Ridge starts. Not the sort of climb you fancy when going on one good leg, so the pace drops to immediately give the feeling that this might be a 5 hour walk completed in 6 hours, as we commence a long rise of about 80m to the south, initially through a field of docile sheep and then up between thick hawthorn hedges, and not having much luck in identifying anything that sits on the hillsides to the east because I'm at the limit of the E233 map, and the guide book offers no clues. It does suggest that we might see Rutland Water from the top of Ridlington Ridge, but you'd need to be taller than the hedges for that, and I do know that we are pretty close to Manton when up here too, so we aren't super remote from anywhere we've walked before, but the descent from the ridge has to come, pretty steeply and the view from the top gives us a view with much colour and undulation as we look south to the distant Eyebrook reservoir on the hazy horizon and west back to the rolls of Leicestershire. It's field walk back down, on another track that does the ankles and feet no favours before we reach a grassier and more level path that drops us out at the top of College Farm Road, a long mile of metaled surface that runs up from Belton in Rutland to service the farms in this area, like Bluestones and Brickle (which my mind keeps reading as Sticklebrick, if anyone recalls those). For a dead end lane, it sure does seem to have a lot of traffic on as multiple cars roll up and down it as I make my passage, enjoying the shade of the trees now that we have the Spring sunshine in full effect, and enjoy the blossom and the cow parsley at the roadside before making my best efforts to photograph a cock Pheasant in and adjacent field, as avian photography seems to be A Thing for me now, finally drawing up on the village as we pass the cemetery plot and rise to the corner by the Methodist Chapel.

Bridleway walking in Rutland.

The ascent of Ridlington Ridge.

The view off the summit, to Eyebrook reservoir.

The top of College Farm Road.

The shaded road walk to Belton.

Not many steps need to be taken into Belton in Rutland to immediately bump it to the top of the list of prettiest villages on the trail so far, as we have another riot of Rutland Ironstone on just about every building of note, the parade of cottages from Home farm down Chapel Street to St Peter's church being about as picturesque as it gets, all uniformly of a colour and a vintage. It's a prime location to linger, and I'll grab a pew by the War Memorial to soak it it, and to ponder the fact that if you could ever afford to live here, you'd still only have enough for one of the 70s semis hidden away down one of the side roads, certainly not anywhere as grand as the former Black Horse inn or the self-styled Rutland Manor that we find down Nether Street, or the grand villas or former smithy that we meet at the corner of Main Street, which passes largely unseen. I'll tag the Rutland Round for a future trip Down Country, which is probably longer than the entire county's border circumference, and move to depart the village and the county as we descend our ways downhill on Littleworth Lane to meet the A47, our first major traffic artery in a long while as we re-enter Leicestershire opposite the road into Allexton, hidden away from the main road and for the initial steps looking like it might amount to not much at all. Its self is revealed as we pace along the shaded Main Street, revealing the vicarage and St Peter's church, closely followed by the tiny cluster of houses around the village green, and this hamlet is soon in our wake as we hit the heavily wooded path that empties us out into the grasslands of Allexton Park, which sit above the Hall, which does its absolute best to conceal itself within its enclosure to the north. The last few miles are definitely going to be up and down as we rise up the grassy plot to find the way to the southwest, landing on a field walk through wheat that offers a fine aspect west, that would have had East Norton viaduct at its heart if it wasn't for the fact that it was completely dynamited in 2001, a cruel landscape loss to theses parts, which I put from my mind as the path enters multiple plots of barley. I have to say that Barley is the most appealing of the cereal crops, and even when distinctly green and unripe like it is now, it rolls in silvery waves as the wind blows across it, just to make my ascent up to Allexton Lodge that bit prettier rising to what feels like it ought to be the last climb of the day. The horse farm at the top, about 160m up, is largely concealed by a plantation of trees, but as the path crests we get our first look out towards south Leicestershire, with the valley of the Welland sitting below the southern horizon, and with the rising hills of Northamptonshire beyond, while closer to home more undulations reveal themselves to cover this trip's last hour.

Belton in Rutland wins all the desirability awards!

Hello to the A47, and it's been a while since we saw a trunk road.

The Vicarage and St Peter's, Allexton.

Walking the barley fields to Allexton Lodge.

This eastern county view lacks East Norton viaduct.

So a slam down hill along the field edge and then hit a rise that leads to another staring bench, which gives another view of the distant Welland valley, and also indication that the way forwards to Fearn farm is going to be another steep drop and rise, which my sore foot wants nothing to do with as shifting the weight around on it has now caused most of my right leg to ache, and I'm sure the ;local sheep are wondering what I'm up to as I stagger uphill. Meet the farm and get a more level walk beyond the farm lane, where the sheep will flee as I pass and the one cow with calves observes me like a sentinel, as I move on to meet the declining fields to the southwest, before joining another field of burgeoning wheat that is particularly tough going for my tiring limbs despite there being a clear path cut through it. Interest follows beyond the large field of almost bare earth as we run up to the GNR & LNWR joint line again, way south of where we saw it yesterday and below most of its dynamic features on its run from Melton to Harborough, and we pass over its cutting by as large a skewed footbridge as a path might ever need, and noting a very good surface on the trackbed below, which might be useful if I ever choose to go in search of East Norton tunnel, not to distant to the north of here. The passage of trees along the former railway line will keep us company as a backdrop as we meet two more large and bare fields to plough on across, surely the last pair of the day that just seem to go on and on and on, as  we finally run out the day's field walking and meet East Norton road by the edge of Hallaton's recreation grounds, just above the settlement and providing us with a pavement down to the village duckpond and the Fox Inn. The new portion of the village is up here at the North End, and a stroll down High Street to Eastgate will quickly reveal this as definitively one of the most attractive villages in the county, with house of all kinds of standards in Ironstone, brick and stucco, with half timbering and thatch rubbing up against 18th century town houses and the odd suburban interloper. It even has a lock up cell, and a conical village cross on the green by the War Memorial and opposite the Bewicke Arms, at possibly the most attractive corner of the entire village, where our day will wrap at 2.45pm, on the very outer edge of on-schedule, with the Parental Taxi awaiting me on this occasion, and I'll look forward to coming back here when the Round resumes with my Summer Jollies in July, hopefully. Right now though, I need a rest, but I fear there won't be too much opportunity for that as I've promised to do dinner tonight and to attend to various gardening needs for My Parents in the time before I travel back up country, hopeful that my blistering and accumulated soreness is not going to cause me any lasting problems.

The staring bench and the view to the Welland Valley.

Fearn Farm atop its hill.

The GNR & LNWR joint line and the skew bridge,

The duckpond and the Fox Inn, Hallaton.
Give Hallaton all the attractiveness awards too!

5,000 Miles Cumulative Total: 3282.1 miles
2018 Total: 182.7 miles
Up Country Total: 2961 miles
Solo Total: ????.? miles

Next Up: Back Up country for Bank Holiday moorland walking, if I haven't gone lame.

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