First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Early morning over the Leicestershire wolds, cold and foggy, with a Sunday morning slumber over the golden stone village of Hungarton. Rose Cottage, Pear Tree Cottage, Lilac Cottage: they snoozed, one and all. The cat-like gargoyle on the tower of St John the Baptist’s church lifted a silent howl into the mist as I slipped out of the village past grazing horses and over a kale field, my boots already clotted with dark clay soil. Sheep came running up to lick my fingers with their stiff tongues and butt my knees gently with their woolly foreheads.
The 15th-century moated manor of Ingarsby Old Hall, its house and barns beautiful in rich gold and pale silver oolitic stone, presides in isolation over a field of hummocks and hollows, seamed across with deep old trackways – all that’s left of the deserted village of Ingarsby, the property of the Canons of Leicester Abbey in medieval times. In 1469, in the middle of a wool boom, the abbey enclosed and hedged the land for sheep, forcing the crop-growers of Ingarsby to abandoned their homes and fields. It was a ghostly place to wander, the grassy humps sparkling with dew and buttered with sunlight cutting through the mist.
Ingarsby is one of half a dozen abandoned medieval villages in this rolling corner of Leicestershire. From Ingarsby I followed a slowly plodding horse across fields trenched with the ridge-and-furrow of strip farming, up to Quenby Hall. This magnificent red-brick Jacobean pile, a palace in the wolds, is a different and more showy order of architecture from the domestic enclave of Old Ingarsby. The village of Quenby lay reduced to a patch of ridge and furrow in the smooth, lawn-like parkland. Beyond, the abandoned settlement of Cold Newton was an echo of the Ingarsby model, all slopes, humps and slanting house platforms.
From this haunted landscape of abandonment I followed the gentle green valley of the Queniborough Brook. A bedlam of cawing from the rookery in Carr Bridge Spinney; seven horses nosing an ancient oak tree at Bell Dip Farm; the handsome pale stone Baggrave Hall on a knoll above its still lake. The park still carried faint ridges of the vanished fields of Baggrave village. There is deep poignancy in such landscapes. But the well-laid hedges around Waterloo Lodge Farm, and the beautifully looked after sheep in the homeward fields, were proof that not all the old agricultural traditions are gone from this countryside.
Start & finish: Black Boy Inn, Hungarton, Leics LE7 9JR (OS ref SK 690075)
Getting there: Train (www.thetrainline.com; www.railcard.co.uk) to Leicester (7 miles). Bus (www.rutnet.co.uk): Rutland Bus Rural Rider 5, 6, 11 (Sat. and Wed.) to Black Boy, Hungarton. Road: Hungarton signposted off A47 at Houghton-on-the-Hill, between Leicester and Uppingham
Walk (8½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 233): Black Boy Inn – Hungarton Church – south by lane and field paths to Ingarsby Old Hall – road/footpath triangle through Ingarsby deserted village, back past Old Hall (685053). Bridleway for 1½ miles by Quenby Hall to road (713064). Footpath north through Cold Newton deserted village; ahead to road (717077). Follow Queniborough Brook NW (Carr Bridge Spinney, Hall Spinney) past Baggrave Hall to road (698091). Baggrave Park; Waterloo Lodge Farm; past Watson’s Spinney; south across fields to Black Boy Inn.
NB – Detailed directions (highly recommended!), online map, more walks: www.christophersomerville.co.uk
Lunch: Black Boy Inn, Hungarton (0116-259-5410; www.theblackboyhungarton.co.uk)
Accommodation: Nevill Arms, Medbourne (01858-565288; www.thenevillarms.net) – delightful, friendly village inn
More info: Leicester TIC (0844-888-5181; www.goleicestershire.com)
Coast Along for WaterAid: Sponsored walks day, 11 September (info 01225-526149; www.coastalongforwateraid.org)