First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Hallaton is a beautiful village, all thatched roofs and golden walls, set in the rolling wolds of East Leicestershire. But there’s more to Hallaton than meets the uninformed eye. Setting off from the Bewicke’s Arms past the Buttercross on a windy spring morning, I glanced up the road to St Michael’s Church. In a couple of weeks’ time Hallaton’s great Easter Monday procession would gather at the church gates for the ceremonial cutting of a giant Hare Pie, the gentler half of the village’s annual ritual Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking.
If you don’t like rough play, beer drinking and large muddy men, stay away from Hallaton’s Hare Pie Bank on Easter Monday afternoon. It’s there that the dismembered pie is sent flying into the crowd. After that, the Master of the Stowe launches a painted wooden cylinder or Bottle into the air. Hundreds of men and one or two women hurl themselves on top of it and each other, and battle commences
The rough aim (and rough’s the word) is for Hallaton to score by getting the 12lb Bottle – actually a wooden keg filled with beer – across to their bank of the Medbourne brook through fair means or foul, while the neighbouring and rival villagers of Medbourne do their damndest to force it across to their side. Best of three Bottles wins. And that’s it. Unlimited numbers can take part, with no time limit and no rules. Everyone ends up plastered with mud, covered with bruises, full of ale and hilarity. Bragging rights and glory are all the victors gain.
Picturing the mayhem and the fun, I walked fast over fields of fresh spring wheat where the farmers had refrained from ploughing in the old ponds. Frogs croaked there, enmeshed in mats of spawn. From Keythorpe Hall the Midshires Way long-distance path led me south, an easy, undulating track between pastures where the ewes brought their new-born lambs to stare at the stranger. Hunting fences separated the fields, their upper rails smoothed by the friction of passing horse legs – a reminder that I was tramping the ‘Galloping Shires’.
Down among the immaculate gardens of Medbourne, daffodils were out along the brook. Another Bottle stood on a rail above the bar of the Nevill Arms. Which village had gained the victory last Bottle-Kicking? ‘They did,’ mumbled a tough guy in a teeshirt, ‘but not next time, mate!’
A giant spring hailstorm marched across the wolds as I walked back to Hallaton by way of Blaston Chapel. Hailstones pattered on my coat and heaped up among the primrose clumps in the hedge roots. Blackbirds sang. Nature seemed bursting with life; and people, too, were preparing in their own rough-and-tumble way to celebrate health, strength and proper vigour.
Start & finish: Bewicke Arms, Hallaton LE16 8UB (OS ref SP 788965)
Getting there: A47 Leicester towards Uppingham; minor road East Norton-Hallaton. Park near Bewicke Arms.
Walk (11½ miles, easy grade, OS Explorer 233): Bewicke Arms – bridleway for 2 miles by Hallaton Spinneys to Keythorpe Hall Farm (766994) – south for 3 miles by Midshires Way, through Cranoe to Churchfield House (760945) – bridleway for 2 and three quarter miles across Welham Road and Green Lane to Medbourne and Nevill Arms (798929). Along Uppingham Road for half mile – left (802938 – ‘Blaston, Field Road’) for 1 mile to Blaston – left at foot of Horninghold Lane (803956) across fields to Medbourne Road (794961) – right to Hallaton.
NB – Online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Nevill Arms, Medbourne (01858-565288; www.thenevillarms.net)
Accommodation: Bewicke Arms, Hallaton (01858-555217; www.bewickearms.co.uk)
More info: Leicester TIC (0844-888-5181; www.goleicestershire.com)
Hare Pie Scramble and Bottle Kicking 2009: 13 April 2009