First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
Snow had fallen across Leicestershire overnight, and hundreds of people were out running and walking, sledging and sliding in the 800 open acres of Bradgate Park beyond the northern boundary of Leicester city.
I followed the path beside the icy pools and spillways of the River Lyn, where a couple were busy building a seated snowman on a park bench – they’d even brought a nose carrot and some coal eyes to make a good job of it.
Above the path sprawled the ruins of the great Tudor mansion of Bradgate House, its red brick towers and chapel set off handsomely against the pure white of the snow. Henry Gray, Duke of Suffolk, built it early in the Tudors’ reign, and here his eldest daughter Jane grew up, a distant heir to the throne through her mother.
Poor Jane! – strictly brought up, resentful over the ‘pinches, nips and bobs’ with which her parents disciplined her, she was shovelled onto the throne against her will when the boy king Edward VI died in July 1553, in an attempt to prevent Edward’s Catholic half-sister Mary acceding. The Privy Council deserted her, and within nine days Mary had been proclaimed queen. Jane was clapped into the Tower, and seven months later the 16-year-old was executed by beheading for a treason she had never intended.
Beyond the house young fallow deer was grazing, their spotted coats and white bellies well camouflaged against the russet winter-dry bracken and the snowy parkland. Up by Hallgate Hill Spinney beyond the steel grey waters of Cropston Reservoir, Scots pines stood tall, their ramrod trunks marbled and scaled like dragon skin.
Up on the crest of a knoll stood Old John Tower, a crenellated turret with a curious arched buttress alongside, making the shape of a giant beer tankard. It was built in 1784 by the Earl of Stamford; legend says he named it and added the ‘handle’ in memory of an old retainer who had been fond of a pint or ten.
A strong northerly blew like a fury up there. I sheltered in the arm of the buttress and savoured the prospect of forty miles of countryside transfigured by the beauty of newly fallen snow. Then I let the gale shove me off the tump, and all the way down to the ruined house in the valley once more.
Start: Bradgate Park car park, Newtown Linford, Leics LE6 0HB (OS ref SK 523098)
Getting there: Bus 120, Coalville-Leicester
Road – M1 Jct 22; A50 towards Leicester; follow ‘Newtown Linford’. In village, brown signs to Bradgate Park.
Walk (5 miles, easy, OS Explorer 246. NB: online maps, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From car park, go through kissing gate to right of tall iron gates. Follow tarmac track for 2 miles, past Bradgate House ruin (534102) and Deer Barn café (539104) to gate into car park and Roecliffe Road (542114). Left along road for 100m; left (footpath fingerpost) up drive, then walled lane beside Hallgate Hill Spinney for 1 mile. Just before wooden hut opposite public toilet at Hunt’s Hill, left through kissing gate (525115); climb to Old John Tower (526112). Aim southward between Elder Plantation and Bowling Green Spinney in valley below; through gap in wall (530102), right to car park.
Lunch: Deer Barn café, Bradgate Park; or The Bradgate PH, Newtown Linford (01530-242239, thebradgate.com)
Accommodation: Mercure Grand Hotel, Granby Street, Leicester LE1 6ES (0116-255-5599, mercure.com) – large, comfortable city centre hotel.
Bradgate Park: 0116-236-2713, bradgatepark.org