First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The track to Burrough Hill ran through pastures corrugated by medieval ridge-and-furrow, and rubbed to billiard table smoothness by sheep. On this hot cloudless afternoon they lay in any shade they could find, ewes sweltering in heavy fleeces, lambs panting like little steam engines at three breaths a second.
The ramparts of Burrough Hill’s splendid Iron Age hill fort stood ahead, an undulating line of turf-covered stone whose hollows spoke of millennia of weathering, trampling and quarrying. We walked the circuit, pausing at the topograph to spy out the hazy towers of Leicester, the red brick smear of Melton Mowbray and the charmingly named Robin-a-tiptoe Hill.
The path led steeply down the north face of the fort, past a crowd of young bullocks too hot and sleepy to follow us, and on through the cool avenue of ash and beech in Rise Hill Spinney. A seat placed for the northward view was presented by two foresters, Jack Atton and Terry Darby, who spend nearly twenty years in the 1980s and 90s planting the trees that now cover these hillsides.
Turning south, we followed the Leicestershire Round long distance path through the parkland of the Dalby Estate, looking back to where Little Dalby Hall peeped from a collar of trees. A short sharp climb led to uplands characteristic of these Leicestershire Wolds, broad corn fields and plough, the hedges dotted with pink spindle berries, where the dip and roll of the land hid the nearby fort on Burrough Hill.
Did Mrs Orton, farmer’s wife, produce the world’s first Stilton cheese in this parish in 1730? Certainly they claim she did in nearby Somerby, where the village pub is named after the pungent delicacy. But should you fill the hollow in your truckle of Stilton with crusty port? That debate is still open.
Beyond Somerby we skirted the rim of a dry valley where ridge-and-furrow plunged down the flanks, testament to the exploitation of every bit of land by our hungry medieval ancestors. Under a pearly evening sky we made for the ramparts of Burrough Hill, now in full view ahead once more. The homeward path skirted the hillfort, a green track through thickets of gorse above which rooks flocked on their homeward flight.
Flora: spindle berries
Birds: rooks (nothing prettier, sorry!)
How hard is it? 6 miles; easy; well-marked field paths
Start: Burrough Hill car park, Burrough Road, Somerby, Leics LE14 2QZ (SK 766115)
Getting there: Bus 100 (Syston-Melton Mowbray)
Road – Car park signed off Somerby-Burrough on the Hill road (signed from A606 Oakham-Melton Mowbray)
Walk (OS Explorer 246): Up signed track to Burrough Hill. Clockwise round ramparts via topograph. At north side near cut tree trunks (761121), descend past yellow-topped post/YTP to gate (763122, YTP, yellow arrow/YA) and on. In 450m, ahead through wood (767124, ‘Leicestershire Round’/LR). In ⅔ mile, at T-junction, right (775126, Dalby Hill Path’) and follow YTPs. In 300m up steps (775123); diagonally across field; follow LR/YTPs) for 1 mile to road in Somerby (778106). Right; in 200m, right (776105, ‘The Field’) to cross road (775107). On across fields (‘Public Footpath to Borough on the Hill’). In 400m at kissing gate, right (771108); follow fence on your right (YAs) round top of dry valley. Descend to cross stream (763107); aim for pole on knoll, then to left of house with prominent window. Right at road (758109); in 50m left (YTPs) across fields. In ¾ mile at YTP with LR arrows (756119), right past Burrough Hill to car park.
Lunch: Stilton Cheese Inn, Somerby (01664-454394, stiltoncheeseinn.co.uk)
Accommodation: Admiral Hornblower Hotel, High Street, Oakham, Rutland LE15 6AS (01572-723004, hornblowerhotel.co.uk)