First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Thornton Reservoir is shaped like the tail of a dolphin in the act of plunging headfirst into the coal-bearing country to the west of Leicester. Tucked into a bowl of shallow hills, it’s a lovely stretch of water on a sunny morning with dog-walkers, runners, cyclists and walkers exchanging the musical ‘How-do’ greeting of the area as they follow the circuit path through the resinous pines around the reservoir.
We took our time, watching fishermen in their small boats casting and tying flies with monumental patience. Great crested grebes sailed the reeds with snow-white cheeks and breasts, and a pair of half-grown cygnets sat tight on a dome-shaped nest padded out with the downy white feathers their parents had plucked and laid there.
From the north-western tail tip of the reservoir we climbed the ridge where Thornton village straggled on either side of the church spire. Down on the western side, young woodland has grown tall and graceful in the twenty years since it was planted – Manor Wood and Bagworth Heath Wood, component parts of the inspiring enterprise that is the National Forest, 200 square miles of planting to green up and beautify a great swathe of the post-industrial Midlands.
Where the lakes and meadows, the woods and commons of Bagworth Heath now lie, the pit wheels and slag heaps of Desford Colliery stood until its closure in 1984, the year of the miners’ strike. Many of the 700 miners who lost their jobs have joined their children and grandchildren in planting the millions of oak, ash, silver birch and rowan trees that compose today’s woodlands. A single pit wheel installed on an islet in one of the lakes is the only reminder of the pit and its hard realities.
We followed the path through Desford Brickworks Wood, looking out between the fresh young trees onto a vast red bank of spoil burrowed into thousands of corrugations by the digging machines. Then we turned away and made for the homeward path.
Start: Thornton Reservoir car park, Thornton, Leics LE67 1AR (OS ref SK 470074).
Getting there: Bus 26 from Leicester.
Road M1 Jct 22; from Markfield follow ‘Thornton’; car park is on Reservoir Road in village.
Walk (5½ miles, firm trails, field and woodland paths, OS Explorer 233):
From car park walk anticlockwise circuit of Thornton Reservoir. In 2 miles, just before Visitor Centre, cross weir at NW tip of reservoir (466081); right through kissing gate; follow ‘Leicester Round’/LR up bank to Thornton. Cross road (465079); down Hawthorne Drive opposite (LR). In 250m on left bend, ahead (LR, ‘Bagworth’) across paddock. Left down lane, following LR past Thornton Mill and up to cross railway (459079). LR through Manor Wood for 550m; at yellow-topped post/YTP (454076) left off LR on gravel cycle path to reach lake at Desford Colliery site (458068).
At roadway with car park opposite, right to T-junction. Left along road; in 150m, left through kissing gate (457066, fingerpost); up grass track. Half left to kissing gate (YTP; yellow arrow/YA); path through young woodland. Cross a grass ride (YTP); in 100m, right at T-junction (459065, YA). In 100m, left over stile (‘Permissive Path’/PP arrow); follow PP through Desford Brickworks Wood to recross fence. Left on grass path, which turns left (459062) beside road.
Follow this path for ⅔ mile, parallel with Heath Road and then Merrylees Road, to south-west corner of industrial estate at Merrylees (467058). Left (north) along bottom edge of field, following YAs and YTPs. In ½ mile, right down steps (464066) through industrial area. Ahead (YAs, YTPs) to pass fishing lake, then cross railway and river (465067). Up across a field; in following field, don’t turn left (466069), but keep ahead uphill with hedge on left, following YTP/YA to road (469072). Left past garage; first right to reservoir car park.
Lunch: Reservoir Inn, Thornton (01530-382433, thereservoirinnthornton.co.uk)
Accommodation: Curtain Cottage, 92 Main St, Woodhouse Eaves, Leics LE12 8RZ (01509-891361, curtaincottage.co.uk) – immaculate B&B
Info: Leicester TIC (0116-299-4444); nationalforest.org