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Charnwood

| Beacon Hill | Beaumanor Hall | Billa Barra | Bradgate Park | Buddon Wood | Charnwood Forest South | Charnwood Trustlands | Linford Woodlands | Lawn Wood | Loughborough University | Markfield | The Outwoods & Jubilee Woods | Ratby Woodlands | Sheet Hedges Wood | Vale Farm |

Beacon Hill

At 245m (802 feet), Beacon Hill is the second highest point in Leicestershire and the site of an ‘Ancient Monument’; a Bronze Age hill fort. A toposcope at the summit indicates landmarks that can be seen in every direction. There are more than 100 hectares of heath and woodland, including an arboretum with a collection of trees native to Britain. A newly-planted area in West Beacon includes a woodland trail featuring woodland crafts, a viewing platform and a shelter built of straw. This new area incorporates an old hedge line, existing field ponds and an open area being managed to support different types of grassland (acid grassland, hay meadow and heathland). An old stone wall provides cover for various reptiles including adders. The park is also home to the unusual sight of Manx Loughton sheep and perhaps more surprisingly, alpacas. The latter are similar to llamas and coexist happily with the sheep and afford them some protection from any dogs that get through the unfortunate amount of fencing now in the park. Another ‘hazard’ for those enjoying the park is the droppings from the long horned cattle that wander much of the area.

The adjoining Martin’s & Felicity’s Woods are owned by the Woodland Trust and Broombriggs Farm and Windmill Hill are owned by the County Council as is Beacon Hill itself. Martins Wood was acquired with help from the Friends of Charnwood and named to remember their President, Sir Andrew Martin a former Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire who lived at the Brand as his family still do. The Brand is private but organised access is usually permitted. Similarly there are woodlands and wetland areas beside the Brand in the ownership of Roecliffe Manor, again private but adding to the bio-diversity of the area.

There are seasonal restrictions on organised use of Beacon Hill to protect the SSSI area and in particular to avoid disturbance to ground nesting birds.

The National Forest Way long distance trail starts at Beacon Hill.

Felicity’s Wood
This small area includes open ground and glades and slopes steeply down to Wood Brook where a permissive footpath links the area to the Outwoods. The open aspects afford tremendous views over the northern parts of Charnwood Forest and into the valley of the River Soar. It is owned by the Woodland Trust and was designed and planted with help from the National Forest Company. Also known as Beacon Cottage, it is of about 9 Hectares and is only separated from Beacon Hill by Martin’s Wood and Deans Lane and for access and wildlife considerations forms one large block.

Martins Wood
Martins Wood by Beacon Hill was acquired with help from the Friends of Charnwood and named to remember their President, Sir Andrew Martin who lived at the Brand, a former Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire.

Broombriggs Farm & Windmill Hill
The farm was presented to Leicestershire County Council in 1970 and is a 55-hectare mixed arable and stock farm. It has a 2.4km (1.5 mile) farm trail and information boards explaining the working of the farm. The trail is interlinked with a network of waymarked footpaths and horse tracks between Beacon Hill and the adjoining Windmill Hill, which got its name from being the site of a 19th-century windmill. There is a Permanent Orienteering Course laid out with the area mapped together with the adjoining Beacon Hill into which the courses run.

For more detail on how the whole Charnwood Forest area came into being and its history see the Charnwood Forest South entry.

Beaumanor Hall

Beaumanor Hall, situated within the village of Woodhouse, was built during the 19th Century for the wealthy Herrick family and has played many roles over the years. Originally a grand country home, it later played an important part in World War Two, when it became home to a signals unit.

Surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland, Beaumanor Hall was purchased in the mid 1970’s by Leicestershire County Council, and developed as a busy Conference and Education Centre. It has been mapped for orienteering and they provide course for school groups and we occasionally use it for small training events.

Billa Barra & the Partings

Billa Barra is a small area of rock and surrounding meadow showing part of the rim of an ancient volcano which is a regionally important geological site due to its rock outcrops of Markfieldite.

It is near to Stanton under Bardon and just off the busy A511 near junction 22 of the M1, with views across to Bardon Hill, the highest point in Leicestershire. This small but remarkable site was bought for The National Forest by Hinckley & Bosworth Borough Council in 1996 and is a local nature reserve covering nearly 50 acres and providing a variety of habitats including grassland – ideal for ground nesting birds such as skylarks. There is a specially created wildflower area that was planted creating magical flower-filled meadows on the hillside each summer. Part of the hilltop has been identified as Open Country under the CRoW Act.

It has public access and can be linked to Altar Stones and Cliffe Hill Quarry by the footpath network. In the other direction there are a number of new tender schemes including The Partings and these are progressively being mapped for use in conjunction with South Charnwood School.

Bradgate Park

Bradgate Country Park is Leicestershire’s most popular country park with approaching a million visitors each year. Bradgate Park with the nearby Swithland Wood also managed by the Trust responsible for Bradgate itself, are contiguous with the Brand. There is actually evidence of man’s activities in the area from as far back as Palaeolithic times and it is steeped in history.

The National Forest way goes through both Swithland and Bradgate.

The usable parts are all mapped together for our purposes.

Bradgate Park
The park was privately owned until 1928, when it was bought from the Grey family and donated in Trust by Mr Charles Bennion to be preserved in perpetuity in its natural state for the quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire and visitors to the County. In 1931 Swithland Wood was gifted by the Leicester Rotary Club. Over the years, various other areas of conservation and amenity woodland and agricultural land on the edge of the Country Park have been donated or purchased and the estate now extends to approaching 1300 acres of which 984 is an SSSI.

Bradgate itself covers 340 hectares and is known to have belonged to the de Ferrers family of Groby in the thirteenth century and later by the Greys, most notable of who was Lady Jane Grey, who was uncrowned Queen for nine days following the death of Edward VI. She was ultimately imprisoned in the Tower of London charged with treason and beheaded in 1554. Lady Jane (1537-1554), elder daughter of Henry Grey (later Duke of Suffolk) and his wife Lady Frances Brandon, was born and spent her early childhood at Bradgate House. There are a range of other important historical connections including the Grey family, influential nobles in mediaeval and Tudor England who married into the Royal family.

The folly at the top of the hill in Bradgate is called Old John and was built in 1786 by an old horse race course and stables. This building is believed to have been erected by the fifth Earl of Stamford, in memory of John, a retainer killed accidentally there. It resembles a large beer mug apparently something old John was used to handling. Nearby can also be found, the Prince Albert’s Own Leicestershire Yeomanry Regiment Memorial.

The park is between Cropston and Newtown Linford, a village grandly named “New town by the ford over the River Lin”. It may well have been ‘new’ in the thirteenth century. Bradgate is part of the ancient Charnwood Forest and is now on the eastern edge of the new National Forest. The Country Park is made up of Bradgate Park itself, is a mediaeval deer park of relatively unspoilt countryside with grassy covered slopes running off one of the highest hills in Leicestershire, with walled copses, areas of bracken and rocky outcrops, and the pretty valley of the River Lin running into Cropston Reservoir. Apart from the creation of the reservoir it is probably little changed and largely unimproved over the centuries, with parts looking much as it would have done in the Middle Ages. It was created as a hunting park from the Charnwood Forest well over 750 years ago. No record exists of when it was enclosed, but it was certainly before 1240.

The River Lyn deserves a mention itself. A normally modest steam it does have a large catchment area and can come down in considerable spate. It is always fairly fast flowing and largely unpolluted and well oxygenated and supports a remarkable aquatic and bird ecology. It flows between alders over a rocky bed with occasional deep pools and is home to brown trout, bullhead, minnows, brook lamprey and crayfish. Throughout history it has served man well. It has supplied the necessary water to a monastery and Bradgate House, has filled numerous fishponds, flooded water meadows, powered three mills, been dammed to create a lake and used to fill a moated site lost now under the waters of Swithland Reservoir.

The park is famous for its herd of fallow and red deer but is also the home of many other species, having been largely undisturbed for centuries until the numbers of visitors in recent years has started to have an impact. It hosts numerous ancient trees including many oaks providing ideal habitats for insects etc. and indeed they have over 500 species of beetle. The deer (about 400 at the last count) wander at will within the park, and is one of the finest herds of parkland deer in the country. Deer have been kept in this fine example of ancient parkland, since the 13th century and to protect them from stress they have areas of the park reserved to them where they can escape from human presence when the park gets to busy.

Bradgate Park contains nationally important geological exposures (some are over 700 million years old and rank as some of the oldest in England). It also contains some of the last important fragments of wet and grass heathland in Leicestershire, wonderful veteran trees and other special habitats, with a diverse range of flora and fauna including rare plant species and is also a valued site for a wide range of birds, vertebrates and invertebrates. In addition it is home to moles, common shrews, pigmy shrews, bats, voles, mice, rabbits, foxes, adders, stoats, weasels and badgers. Throughout the estate there are 350 veteran trees – some over 500 years old and growing at the time of Lady Jane Grey and many others over 300 years old. Throughout the seasons, it is possible to find up to 106 species of bird, 20 species of mammal, 4 species of amphibians, 8 species of fish, a host of plant species, trees and shrubs as well as lichens, fungi and a host of invertebrate species with many of the flora and fauna regarded as locally rare.

Within the estate there are about 40 miles of paths, tracks and roads etc, 40 miles of ditches, streams and river, 9 lakes or ponds of one sort or another, 6 miles of hedges, 17 miles of stone walls and seven miles of other fencing. Bracken does provide extensive cover in late summer but efforts are continually made to try to reduce the amount of bracken in the park. Swithland Woods nearby however, is heavily wooded and provides cover for some species which feed in the habitat edges

The park includes the ruins of Bradgate House, one of the first unfortified brick built country houses in England, begun in about 1499 and completed over a considerable span of years. The mansion house continued to be occupied until the death of the Second Earl of Stamford in 1719.

Swithland Woods
Swithland Woods lies just east of Bradgate Park and between the villages of Woodhouse Eaves and Swithland. 137 acres of woodland were bought by the Rotary Club of Leicester in 1931 and donated to the people of the county and it is now managed by the Bradgate Park Trust. Further purchases have since been made. The woods contain two flooded disused quarries (with an inscription on the side recording the Rotary Club’s donation) and Swithland slate is a traditional local roofing material. One is now used occasionally for scuba diving and is some 58 metres (190 feet) deep.

Swithland Woods consist in total of about 170 acres of ancient woodland, being a remnant of the original Charnwood Forest Oak Wood. Swithland Wood is one of the few woodland areas in Leicestershire of national nature importance (being on acid loamy soils) and a significantly important area of ancient woodland in the East Midlands. It contains some of the best remaining examples of oak, small leaved lime and alder woodland in the county and as such is an ecologically rich habitat. It also includes holly trees, some conifers, wildflower meadows, woodland glades, marshes and rock outcrops making it one of our more diverse landscapes. The area is poorly drained giving numerous damp parts but despite this there are really no streams in the wood. Several ditch systems run into larger ditches with some appearance of natural watercourses but these often dry up.

It has a very important, rich and varied range of flora and fauna including a diverse butterfly, moth and bird population. The area is popular in spring for its wood anemones, bluebells and other spring flowering bulbs which cover large areas of the woodland floor. Whilst not obvious it also sits on the remains of ridge and furrow, the ploughed land of our medieval ancestors.

The very name of Swithland is an historic anomaly. The medieval village of Swithland was named after the area of cleared land around it and its name means ‘land cleared by burning’. A wood therefore cannot by definition be called Swithland as it is yet to be cleared.

The Brand.
The Brand is an unbelievable place. Home to the Martin family who allow occasional organised access, it is like something out of Tolkien. Apparently an example of Victorian gardening gone mad it includes massive cliff faces and lakes all man made with streams diverted through rock faces. Add to this that most of it has been left to nature’s devices for many years; it is a real challenge to navigation and an easy place to get lost. The area also includes some woodland and wet meadows west of the Brand itself which link the area to Swithland Woods.

For more detail on how the whole Charnwood Forest area came into being and its history see the Charnwood Forest South entry.

Buddon Wood

This woodland is on what was a hill to the north of Swithland Reservoir. We have mapped and used it but since 1970 the hill has been progressively quarried away. The collar of surviving woodland could be mapped with Mountsorrel Common and Castle Hill but would be fairly linear and is low priority at present. These two sites are registered common land and now ‘Open Access’ under the CRoW Act.

Despite clear felling and quarrying activities Buddon Wood remains one of the best birch-oak woodlands in Leicestershire of a type not found elsewhere in the East Midlands. It is on an area of granite overlain by Keuper Marl (Mercian Mudstone), giving a relatively free-draining, acid, siliceous clay soil. The woodland mainly is comprised of silver birch. Various oaks and small-leaved lime are indicating the ancient origins of the wood. Adjacent wet meadows and acidic flushes within the wood provide added diversity. Rare moths, butterflies spiders and other insects abound presumably because of the proximity of Swithland Reservoir.

The tall-fen and inundation plant communities of the margins of the reservoir are amongst the best in the County and the reservoir is important as a roosting and feeding area for waterfowl during winter months.

There is evidence of Bronze or Iron Age activity at Buddon.

Charnwood Forest South

The whole Charnwood Forest area is promoting Regional Park status and is now part of the larger new National Forest in the making which is linking Charnwood to the Needwood Forest in Staffordshire to create a 200 sq. mile forest in the heart of England.

The area is covered by a series of orienteering maps with some covering a number of specific areas. The Charnwood Forest South map includes Benscliffe, Blakeshay, Rough Hill, Maplewell Hall and part of Abell’s Wood.

Benscliffe
This is a sizeable block of privately owned woodland which is actively managed for timber. It falls away in two directions from a broken backed ridge and has complex and intricate features along the ridge. We have over the years used these woodlands in conjunction with Blakeshay (separated by a short stretch pf private land where we have been allowed linkage in the past) and / or in conjunction with the grounds and woodland at Maplewell Hall by using the small privately owned Abell’s Wood to link up.

New plantings at Rough Hill under a National Forest tender scheme are maturing nicely and effectively join the area to Bradgate Park.

Blakeshay
This is a smallish block of privately owned woodland which is partially managed for timber. Some has been taken for residential development and other parts are so overgrown as to make them barely usable but are invaluable to the wildlife and with the plantings at Rough Hill contribute to bringing this whole area together.

Maplewell Hall
This school is set in a wooded summit off the road from Benscliffe to Woodhouse Eaves. It has a pocket of interesting woodland running down to a stream with pastureland along the stream. Crossing the stream through wildlife have a corridor Abell’s Wood and into Benscliffe. It is separated from the new Rough Hill woodland area by a golf course and beyond Rough Hill it all links in to Bradgate making a large undeveloped block.

Rough Hill
Rough Hill is a 28ha National Forest Tender Scheme linking Benscliffe, Blakeshay Woods, Abell’s Wood, Maplewell Hall and Bradgate Park. This woodland comprises a good mixture of habitats. An existing spinney has been thinned to favour the broadleaved trees. Bracken has been removed and heather seeding used to establish heath grassland and heathland typical of this area. The rocky outcrops provide habitats for lichens and basking areas for invertebrates and reptiles. The pond is being managed for waterfowl and a floating island provides nesting and roosting areas. The lower areas running down towards a golf course can get very boggy but that itself enhances the bio-diversity.

To understand the complex and varied landscape of Charnwood we need to understand how it came to be.

Rocks laid down during the Precambrian Period are the oldest found within the Charnwood area, and date from around 560-600 million years ago. At this time what is now England lay within the southern hemisphere along a subduction zone, where the pressures from plate movement caused magma to rise to the surface and form a chain of active volcanoes known as an island arc. The material erupting from these volcanoes accumulated on the sea floor surrounding the volcanoes, forming the rocks of the ‘Charnian Supergroup’, which is at least 3.5km thick. Primitive life began to evolve at this time, the fossils of which can be found throughout Charnwood Forest. Igneous rocks, for example the diorites that intruded the Charnian Supergroup, are worked in quarries throughout Charnwood Forest.

During the Cambrian Period when subduction finally ceased, the volcanoes were worn down by erosion allowing the sea to advance over the land. The Swithland Slates represent the muddy material laid down on the sea floor at this time, probably about 530 million years ago. Fossilised animal burrows can be found within these rocks and examples are particularly notable on slate gravestones, as in Ratby churchyard. Swithland Slate has been quarried since Roman time and continues to a small extent, to be worked today. This was followed by the Ordovician Period and about 450 million years ago, igneous rock, created through the solidification of molten magma was forced to the surface by subduction, forming the Mountsorrel Complex. These igneous rocks are known as granodiorites and are made up of large crystals due to a slow cooling process. It is believed that Ordovician granodiorite has been worked around Mountsorrel since Roman times but there is also evidence of Late Neolithic, Early Bronze Age, Early Iron Age and Norman activity. The Buddon Wood (Mountsorrel) Quarry currently exploits a particularly large mass of Ordovician granodiorite. Budden Wood was of course an event area before they started this modern extraction.

The collision of two continental plates occurred towards the end of the Silurian Period, approximately 420 million years ago. This caused the formation of mountains, the remnants of which today form the Charnwood hills. Structures produced by this movement include folds and cleavage, the latter formed when the crystallisation of new minerals cause rocks to break along parallel surfaces. This occurs in all Charnian rock but is particularly prominent in Swithland Slate.

At the beginning of the Carboniferous Period, 355 million years ago, England and Scotland lay close to the equator and formed part of a continental landmass that was partially covered with a warm sea. Sediments from this period were rich in calcareous fossils and formed as Carboniferous Limestone, which can be found in the northern parts of Charnwood Forest, such as found at Grace Dieu. This rock does not extend throughout the whole area, however, since much of Charnwood was still a mountain range at this time. In the latter part of the Carboniferous Period the sea over sections of Charnwood was replaced by a large delta, containing humid swamps and rainforests, in which the Coal Measures accumulated. Coal seams, ironstone and fireclay deposits resulted from these environments, and can be found to the west of Charnwood Forest where they form part of the Leicestershire coalfield.

The Permian Period was one of constant erosion, lasting about 40 million years. This erosion stripped away most of the Carboniferous rock. During the Triassic Period the Charnwood area became covered in sediments. The rugged nature of the landscape produced a highly irregular erosional unconformity, seen in many Charnwood quarries, with drainage courses such as wadis commonly developing. Initially, sand and gravel was transported by large rivers flowing north and north eastwards across England, an example of which is the Shepshed Sandstone. In the latter part of the Triassic period England moved further away from the equator and a vast desert of Aeolian dust formed the red muds and silts of the Mercia Mudstone Group. During this period, flash floods caused water to cover large areas which deposited thin beds of siltstone and sandstone. A high, saline water table caused the precipitation of gypsum. The continual accumulation of sediment coupled with subsidence eventually caused the Mercia Mudstone to completely bury the Charnwood mountain range. Amongst features that have been uncovered are ‘tors’ of granodiorite formed by wind erosion during the Triassic Period, seen in Buddon Wood Quarry.

Once the Charnwood Hills had been buried, a tropical sea advanced across the area, depositing Jurassic and Cretaceous mudstone and limestone. This sea was destroyed by tectonic movement accompanying the opening of the Atlantic Ocean. By the beginning of the Quanternary Period around 2 million years ago, much of the strata formed during the Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous Periods had been eroded from the Charnwood Forest area. The onset of the Anglian Ice advance, approximately 440,000 years ago, saw the advance of glaciers across much of England. From tills deposited in Charnwood, two ice-sheets covered the area: a sheet from the north-west carrying Triassic and Carboniferous rock; and a sheet from the north-east carrying fragments of flint and chalk. As the glaciers retreated ‘superficial deposits’ accumulated consisting of sand and gravel and till. In more recent time the development of rivers has formed floodplains floored by clay and silt (alluvium).

The topography of Charnwood Forest is distinct and varied. The central Charnwood Forest area is high, and rocky. It forms an upland island, isolated within the Midland plain, which is generally low and flat. The highest point, Bardon Hill, is 278m high. The hill has two very distinct faces: one preserved as an SSSI, the other removed by Bardon Hill Quarry. Beacon Hill is the second highest point in Charnwood Forest, rising to a height of 245m. It has long views over Charnwood Forest and the Soar Valley and beyond. Other high points and viewpoints include Old John Tower in Bradgate Country Park, Billa Barra Hill near Stanton under Bardon and Hill Hole Quarry at Markfield. Bardon is covered by a long term planning application for a massive extension of the quarry and as part of the process many were pressing for the summit and surrounds to be designated as a country park in due course.

The ground rises to form a characteristic spine down the centre of Charnwood Forest. Land in the rest of the area is gently rolling or undulating and small streams and brooks transect the area creating localised changes in topography. The River Soar, Rothley Brook and Grand Union Canal corridor form a low lying floodplain landscape in the east. The landscape to the north, beyond Loughborough and Shepshed, is the typical low and flat land of the Midland plain. The hydrology and drainage of Charnwood Forest and the surrounding area are defined by Charnwood’s high relief and the fast flowing streams that drain from Charnwood to the north and east into the River Soar and to the south and east into the River Sence, which lies beyond the Charnwood Forest landscape character area. The Grand Union Canal runs parallel and at points crosses the River Soar emphasising the flat floodplain landscape to the east of the Charnwood Forest itself. Rothley Brook flows into the River Soar and also forms a flat floodplain that separates the south-eastern extent of the Charnwood Forest area from the urban extent of Leicester City. A number of smaller brooks and streams carve through their way through fields and woodland from the higher land of Charnwood Forest into the several reservoirs or towards the River Sence, the River Soar or Rothley Brook. The streams tend to be small but provide ecological interest and influence the character of the landscape surrounding them. These are largely unpolluted, fast flowing and well oxygenated. Species include brown trout, minnow, crayfish and much invertebrate life. There are a number of large water bodies within Charnwood Forest. Swithland, Cropston and Thornton reservoirs are all man-made and constructed in the late 19th century while Blackbrook Reservoir was first constructed in the late 18th century but replaced with a gravity dam in 1906. Groby Pool is an SSSI, as are Swithland and Cropston Reservoirs; all of which are important nature reserves for wetland birds

Charnwood Forest contains a wealth of ecological habitats and species which, because of the upland topography, wetter and cooler climate and poorer soils, are rare in other parts of Leicestershire. These include heath and acid grasslands and heathers. Cross-leaved heath and bilberry are prevalent and a wide variety of associated vertebrate and invertebrate species are common. These habitats are at risk however from natural woodland regeneration. Meadows are to be found with fragrant orchid, meadow buttercup, meadow saxifrage and many other associated species. The area has many valuable woodlands. There are areas of semi-natural ancient woodland, as well as some woodlands which are known to have been present since the Doomsday Book of 1086. This is because they sit on the pre-Cambrian spine which has made the site unsuitable for agriculture. Examples include Buddon Wood and Swithland Wood. Groby Pool has a rich population of aquatic flora and fauna, and Blackbrook, Cropston and Swithland Reservoirs make a major contribution to the wildlife and birdlife.

There are at least 20 Sites of Special Scientific Interest; both ecological and geological, covering what equates to almost 12% of the ‘Forest’ area (according to English Nature’s Charnwood Forest Natural Area Profile. There are also locally designated wildlife sites including three Local Nature Reserves, Woodland Trust sites, Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust sites and the Country Parks. Charnwood Lodge is designated as a National Nature Reserve due to the pre-Cambrian rocks which are visible as jagged peaks protruding through the overlying Mercian Mudstones.

There is a rich tapestry of archaeology and cultural heritage in the Charnwood Forest landscape. This has led to the designation of numerous Scheduled Monuments, a wide variety of listed buildings and a Conservation Area in the historic core of almost every settlement in and around Charnwood Forest. The earliest archaeological record is found at a site in Bradgate Park which provides clear evidence of man’s presence in the area in Palaeolithic times. This is an important site as archaeological remains of the period are rare. Mesolithic activity is evident at Grace Dieu and in the vicinity of the present Mount St Bernard’s Abbey. Buddon Hill and Beacon Hill are sites of Bronze Age and/or Iron Age settlements. Beacon Hill is a nationally important site and is a Scheduled Monument. It is the site of a Bronze Age hill fort, evident today in a series of earthworks. Spearheads, the mould of an axe and bronze bracelets have been found in the area. Beacon Hill is now owned by Leicestershire County Council and is a publicly accessible open space.

Charnwood Forest has several castle sites, such as the site of the motte and bailey Castle at Mountsorrel, Whitwick castle site, the remains of a castle at Groby and a hill fort site at Woodhouse, all of which are scheduled monuments. There are also moated sites such as a prehistoric site at Bardon, a moated lodge at Newton Linford and a moated lodge at Quorn. Other Scheduled Monuments in the Forest include the Packhorse Bridge at Anstey, the Market Cross at Mountsorrel, Bradgate House at Newton Linford and Rothley Cross at Rothley. There are a number of large country houses within the area including Quorn Hall, built during the reign of Charles II, Beaumanor Hall, a stately home in Woodhouse which was built in the nineteenth century, and Swithland Hall, ancestral home of the Earls of Lanesborough.

The Great Central Railway passes through Charnwood Forest, with stations at Quorn and Rothley. It was opened in 1899, and closed due to a decline in use in 1966. It was then re-opened as a tourist facility in 1969 and is the UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway. Between 1791 and 1794 the Charnwood Forest Canal was built to take coal from mines to in the north northwest of the county to Loughborough. Problems with the engineering meant the canal was never used to its full potential and when the feeder canal from Blackbrook Reservoir was destroyed as the reservoir dam burst in 1799 the canal became unused. Remains of the canal can still be seen in places, particularly south of Osgathorpe, but there is generally little evidence of the canal to be seen in the landscape.

The natural resources of the Charnwood Forest landscape have been exploited since Neolithic times, when Charnwood stone and wood from the forests were used to make hand-axes. It is believed prehistoric activity was generally localised. Roman activity in the area tended to remain within the Soar valley but Swithland Slate is known to have been quarried for use in Roman Leicester. Exploitation of the landscape continued around the edges of Charnwood Forest throughout the Anglo-Saxon period and there is evidence of Scandinavian influences around Charnwood, evident in place names such as Groby. Within the Domesday Book Charnwood was identified as a wooded tract called Hereswode. By this time most of the settlements in Leicestershire existed in some form however colonisation of the Charnwood area predominantly occurred some 200 years later in the 12th and 13th centuries. The only Domesday settlement recorded was Charley, with settlements such as Woodhouse Eaves and Newton Linford first recorded in the late 13th century. Many of these new settlements were linked to those around the edge of Charnwood, for example Newton Linford was a daughter settlement of Groby.

During the medieval period monastic orders settled in and around Charnwood: Ulverscroft Priory was founded between 1134 and 1150; Charley Hall Augustine Priory in 1190; and Grace Dieu in 1230. The medieval period also introduced hunting parks to the Charnwood area including Groby, Bradgate, Quorndon, Beaumanor and Bardon. The end of the medieval period saw the development of a number of larger ‘country houses’ set in formal park landscapes, such as the 15th century Bradgate House, remains of which still stand within Bradgate Country Park.

Unlike much of Leicestershire, colonisation within the Charnwood area slowed beyond the Middle-Ages. As a result the landscape remained largely unaffected by enclosures until the 19th century. By this time many of the hunting parks and much of the woodland had gone. Change started to occur within Charnwood Forest with the expansion of quarrying and the introduction of canals. Systematic quarrying of the granite began in the late 18th century, at sites such as Mountsorrel and Shepshed. The Soar and Wreake Navigations and the now defunct Charnwood Forest Canal enabled aggregates to be transported countrywide. Extensive quarrying continued throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, in particular for roadstone. The slate industry also expanded rapidly but by the 1840s went into rapid decline as a result of competition from Welsh and Cumbrian slate.

Other major 19th century landscape changes included the construction of Swithland and Cropston Reservoirs and the introduction of railways with branch lines to serve the quarries. In the 20th century the principal changes included the steady expansion of the settlements at the edges of Charnwood Forest into farmland and undeveloped land; the reduction in grazing of the surviving heathland areas; a change from pasture to arable farming stimulated by agricultural subsidies; a reduction in hedgerows and hedgerow trees due to intensified farming practices and Dutch Elm Disease; the construction of the M1, roads and other communications infrastructure that sever fields.

Gracedieu and Thringstone Woods where the event is being held have a multitude of owners which can be something of a logistical nightmare. One pocket known as Gracedieu Wood is owned by N W Leicestershire DC and is one side of Gracedieu Ancient Woodland and was created with help of from the National Forest on what had been an arable field just outside Thringstone. This block is about 10 acres in size and has some rock features. Another block is Spring Barrow Lodge, much the same size and off Turolough Road again planted with financial assistance from the National Forest. Some of the nearby existing woodlands and meadows are owned by Gracedieu School and more by the Gracedieu Estate.

As previously mentioned there is evidence of mans activities going back to Mesolithic times. The actual school is in Grace Dieu Manor and is set in 120 acres of beautiful rolling countryside and adjoins the woodlands. On 25 July 1833, Ambrose Lisle March Phillipps de Lisle married Laura Mary Clifford and received a settlement of £1200 per annum and the Manor of Grace Dieu made to him by his father Charles March Phillipps of Garendon Park. Grace Dieu received its name from the Priory founded by Roesia de Verdun, c. 1240, and dedicated to Our Lady, ‘de Gratia Dei’, or in the Norman French of the period, Grace Dieu, and it is still so called to the present day. The Priory was dissolved in 1538 by Henry VIII, and the picturesque remains are greatly admired.

Grace Dieu Priory was an Augustinian nunnery founded around 1240. In 1377 there were 16 nuns and a hospital for poor people, yet during the Dissolution it was converted into a Tudor mansion. For the last few years, the land has been owned and managed by the Grace Dieu Priory Trust, which was set up to save the ruins. English Heritage has been working closely with the Priory Trust since the work began in 2003, to give archaeological, architectural and general technical advice, along with funding towards the project to ensure that the site is preserved for future generations to enjoy.

During the years 1833 to 1834 Ambrose de Lisle built a splendid manor house at Grace Dieu; it was designed by William Railton in the Tudor-Gothic style. A small chapel was attached. But in 1837 Augustus Welby Pugin visited Grace Dieu; he was very impressed by what he saw, and greatly enlarged the house and chapel. Later, Sir Banister Fletcher, whose grand stair-case still stands, also enlarged the house. Grace Dieu Manor faces south and east. The windows are Perpendicular style, mullioned and transomed with arched lights. Acres of lawns, gardens, trees – the cedars of Lebanon were famous – surrounded the manor house which had a fine view of the rocks and wooded slopes of Charnwood Forest.

The school opened on 1933 when the Rosminian Fathers opened Grace Dieu as a Preparatory School for Ratcliffe College. During the war years the school grew in numbers: Grace Dieu was a safe and desirable place for parents to send their boys in those grim years. Since then Grace Dieu has gone from strength to strength.

The deLisle family still own much of the Gracedieu Estate and the de Lisle Arms was a popular inn on the edge of the Whitwick but, perhaps a sign of the times, it is now an equally popular restaurant, ‘Out of India’.

The overall area is perhaps one of the best we have locally in that it covers a large block of land, has many different types of vegetation, and has considerable relief, water features and many dramatic rock formations not least of which is the nearby High Sharpley. Adjacent to Cademan Woods, this is a politically sensitive area with serious ‘history’. It is a towering sharp ridge of miniature pinnacles surrounded by a field of boulders with the jagged summit commanding superb views. The location can realistically claim to be unique in the area and indeed pretty well anywhere. The area is of small crags on and around a rocky ridge which runs from High Sharpley to Gun Hill where there is an old ruin. The rock is very coarse granite (Precambrian porphyroid) and the outcrops lie on the extension of the ridge through Cademan Wood just across the road and are thought to be part of the rim of an ancient volcano.

There is claimed to have been an access route through the site in the past and The Ramblers’ Association has sought to reopen it for many years and it has been the scene of mass protests and ‘questions in the house’. More recently the RA and LCC sought to have it included in the ‘right to roam’ under the CRoW Act. There is evidence to demonstrate that tree cover is self regenerating shrub, only there because it has not been managed. The decision of the appeal however sided against open access to the ridge area but agreed that much of the rest qualified. However it was decided that this element had insufficient size to warrant inclusion as access land. The Planning Inspector accepted that historically the public used this land for open recreation until the 1970’s but that was outside the scope of the appeal which was to decide land type definition and identifiable boundaries. As things stand at present the public are not welcome at this location. The area is owned by the DeLisle, Gracedieu Estate but despite this history they are supportive of any responsible body, if they make proper arrangements. There is a shooting syndicate in the area and any arrangement can only use it at agreed times of the year and access to the Gun Hill area where breeding is done is usually not allowed.

In the area between Gracedieu and High Sharpley we have Broad Hill, Temple Hill, Cademan Woods and High Cademan. In the midst of these is an open area of rough acid grassland, and south of Broad Hill is a granite quarry known as Grimley’s Rock.

This fine wooded uphill area to the north of the village of Whitwick contains a number of natural granite tors and bosses, some of which peep above the trees and give good views.

Charnwood Trustlands

One of the most attractive areas in Leicestershire and one where we would hope to be able to establish our presence is that know generally as Charnwood Lodge. The area covered by the reserve was originally part of the Charnwood Forest ‘wastes’ and the now familiar stone walls were erected during the enclosure period, followed by a period of afforestation and drainage. As the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust’s largest land-based reserve and one of the biggest nature reserves in the Midlands, it is subject to apparently conflicting considerations.

The reserve is owned by the Trust and covers 227 ha. Most of the reserve is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and it was also declared a National Nature Reserve in 2000.

It seems unlikely that large events will be permitted, but if we can find time to map the area we may be able to use it for small training events and hopefully thereby earn the trust of the L&RWLT. It is the Trust’s stated intention to maintain Charnwood Lodge as a quiet, wild place and they aim to keep activity to a minimum both in terms of their own management and interference and organised activities by third parties. It is however now access land and new signs were put to inform people that this reserve is now open to the public through the Countryside and Rights of Way Act. Quite apart from its potential for our use and the truly great views it enjoys particularly from Bomb Rocks it is also a wildlife haven, hence its sensitivity.

The area includes Timberwood Hill, Gisborne’s Gorse and two areas we have mapped and used previously, Oaks in Charnwood and Warren Hills

In 2006/7 the following species were sighted; Peregrine, Snipe, Jack Snipe, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Wheatear, Tree Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Stonechat, Goldcrest, Long-tailed Tit, Willow Warbler, Raven, Yellowhammer, Lesser Redpoll and Common (Mealy) Redpoll not to mention numerous more common species. A White Admiral butterfly was an unusual visitor and the Essex Skipper was also added to the reserve list. In addition a family of 5 Stoats, including 3 young, was seen near the Bomb Rocks. 30 bat boxes have been provided and last spring 6 had bats in them. Five were occupied by a total of over 50 Pipistrelle and one had a Brown Long-eared in it. A further 9 boxes had bat droppings in them. Habitats include planted oaks and other mixed woodland, acid grassland, heath grassland (called moorland by some), with occasional sphagnum dominated wet areas, a small reservoir and a number of small ponds.

Grazing is the most important management tool used to contain coarser grasses and scrub birch which would otherwise eradicate the smaller and more vulnerable species to be found in certain areas. Selected bracken-covered areas are cut by hand or machine and although this policy has to be maintained regularly to show any significant effect, the results are impressive. In much of the woodland the spread of rhododendron is a menace and large areas have been cleared. Colonisation by sycamore is also a problem and several large trees have been removed to prevent the spread of seed: native species will be planted in place of the sycamore. In the longer term it is intended to remove some of the denser conifer stands and replace them with a more varied and interesting tree canopy although the presence of some conifers enhances the woodland habitat, particularly for birds.
Charnwood Lodge is actually the largest area of wild land remaining in Leicestershire. The access land, identified as Open Country by the Countryside Agency, occurs in three separate parcels which are of differing potential use to us. There is also a forth parcel not available to us and Oaks in Charnwood adjoins the site.
(See also Warren Hills, Timberwood Hill, Gisborne’s Gorse and Oaks in Charnwood)

The part we know as Charnwood Lodge is actually know to the Trust as The Rough and is now open to the public and includes Bomb Rocks commanding great views out over Charnwood. Among the most striking features of the reserve, these prominent 600 million year old Precambrian rock outcrops protrude through the surrounding Keuper Marl (Mercian Mudstones) and other Triassic deposits. The famous ‘Bomb’ rocks – porphyroid ‘Bombs’ buried in the agglomerate rock which attract attention from geologists nationwide, have led to the reserve being declared a National Nature Reserve. The Rough is also part of an SSSI and this large compartment is bisected by a small stream that usually dries up in summer. It is an area of acid grassland with a stream lined with silver birch, and there are good fern populations along the banks, including mountain fern. Marsh violet is locally frequent.

Either side of the stream are extensive stands of bracken, while large open areas with abundant purple moor-grass also occur. Heather and bilberry are occasional, with rarer species such as petty whin, creeping willow and western gorse. To the south of the stream silver birch is locally frequent, and there is a wet, flushed area present with many locally rare plants such as lesser skullcap, creeping forget-me-not and bog pimpernel. A shallow, fenced pond is present by one of the metalled roads through the site, and has some bog mosses and blunt-flowered rush around the margins.
There is a breeding population of tree pipits present and this is a ground nesting bird that has declined sharply both nationally and locally over recent years.

Timberwood Hill
This is part of the Charnwood Lodge National Nature Reserve. It was declared a National Nature Reserve in 2000 in recognition of its importance, including part of Timberwood Hill. The area is also a SSSI.

Timberwood Hill is a prominent landscape feature in Charnwood Forest. At its highest point it is 249m (about 809 feet) above sea level. The Pre-Cambrian rocks give rise to thin, acid soils, with numerous rock outcrops. Boundaries consist of dry stone walls, and a dilapidated wall traverses part of the hill.
Bracken forms extensive stands and there are scattered specimens of oak and rowan. Silver birch is more frequent, with numerous saplings on the southern slope, and birch woodland is well developed along the eastern boundary. The slopes of the hill are steep, boggy in places and are littered with boulders and dense stands of bracken. In the remaining open areas a good heath-grassland flora is still to be found. Bilberry is especially abundant on the top of the hill; as is cross-leaved heath in a wet flush to the east, but both occur elsewhere. Sphagnum mosses are frequent in the bog, and other species found on the hill include heather, heath rush, toad rush, wavy hair-grass, western gorse, mat-grass, climbing corydalis, star sedge, wood sage, purple moor-grass and heath bedstraw. Wood-sorrel is to be found in the shade of rocks and walls.

The invertebrate fauna of the hill is important in respect of spiders and beetles. Both groups are thought to be well represented. Butterflies include a good colony of green hairstreaks and other fauna includes a population of breeding tree pipits, a ground-nesting bird that has declined sharply both nationally and locally in recent decades. The meadow pipit is another ground-nesting bird species that breeds here. Badgers use the hill for foraging.

Present management consists of rolling and hand cutting of bracken, scrub removal and summer grazing by cattle.
Timberwood Hill is now open to the public and a permissive path has been created to link it to The Rough, another parcel of the reserve.

Warren Hills
This is part of the Charnwood Lodge reserve parts of which were declared a National Nature Reserve in 2000 in recognition of its importance, including part of the Warren Hills. The area is also a SSSI and is listed in the Geological Conservation Review as a Caledonian Igneous site
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The higher ground along the ridge is of a short, heath-grassland type, with plants such as wavy hair-grass, heath bedstraw, heather and bilberry. Rock outcrops hold numerous lichens and the green hairstreak butterfly occurs in large numbers.

To the north of the ridge the ground is lower lying and is dominated by bracken and purple moor-grass, although both bilberry and heather are present, and silver birch saplings are locally frequent. Creeping willow is present and curlews have bred in the past.

The lower Warren Hills are grazed regularly and grazing has recently been re-introduced to the upper Warren Hills. In the west of the compartment, near the road, is an underground reservoir, constructed in the 1970s and parts of the upper Warren Hills have been designated as a Scheduled Ancient Monument (remains of rabbit warrens).

A public footpath, with permissive extension, runs along the ridge and is very well used, extensively by dog walkers and over the years we have orienteered in this block. Given that dogs are walked here regularly and are banned from other parts of the reserve there is no link from Warren Hill to the other parts without travelling along the roads.

Oaks in Charnwood
We have for many years used a small area under this banner which is actually a scout camp with a strip of fairly complicated woodland running up hill to other areas which we hope to incorporate and use. Nearby is Charley Wood, 27 hectares owned by the Leicestershire & Rutland Trust since 1995 and now open to the public. On the same hill area are Gisborne’s Gorse (not open to the public), Charnwood Lodge (the Rough), Timberwood Hill and Warren Hills also owned by the Trust with different degrees of access formalised under the CRoW Act legislation. We have used Warren Hills in the past.

Charley Wood is actually two distinct woods. Cat Hill Wood is documented back to1260 and Burrow Wood certainly as far back as the 1500s.

Linford Woodlands

This area incorporates the John’s Lee Woods scout camp and an increasing number of adjoining newer woodlands. Bailey-Sim Woods and Tangle Trees Wood were created in 1996 on what was farmland. Several paths link the area to other woodlands. More recently planting has been done at Sandhills with public access and the overall size of the area has quadrupled since we first mapped it. It now extends to the A50 at Markfield and the map has been extended to include some of Markfield itself as a location for parking and possible starts / finish.

The woods sit in the Ulverscroft Valley and the Johns Lee part and other pockets are classed as Ancient Woodland. Bailey-Sim includes a fishing lake and wetland areas. Orienteering has been a feature at the scout camp for many years and we are permitted to run out into and through the newer woodlands with some restriction in the blocks

Lawn Wood

This block of undisturbed woodland was used for orienteering, many years ago despite active quarrying in the middle. When it changed hands Lefarge withdrew permission and now it is worked out and has been used for landfill.

We still have the old map and sufficient woodland remains to be very useable but in today’s health & safety concerned era our last approach drew a blank.

Loughborough University

This is an extensive and growing campus at a university specialising is sport and we have assisted a student orienteering club but this waxes and wanes under different intakes and in the past has taken up much time and effort to little ongoing benefit to the club. With the advent of sprints we have remapped the area and use it regularly for urban type events and have staged the British Sprints Championships there.

The Loughborough campus (once the estate of Burleigh Manor) covers an area of 433 acres (1.75 km²), and includes academic departments, halls of residence, gardens and playing fields. Of particular interest are the beautiful walled garden, the “garden of remembrance”, the Hazlerigg-Rutland Hall (“Rigg-Rut”) fountain-courtyard and the Bastard Gates. In the central quadrangle of the campus stands the famous cedar, which has often appeared as a symbol for the University. Unfortunately a heavy snowfall in December 1990 led to the collapse of the upper canopy which gave the tree its distinctive shape. The acquisition by the university of Holywell Park from Advantica Technologies and a 23-acre parcel of land between New Ashby Road and Holywell Park from 3M Heath Care Limited has increased the size of the campus to 433 acres

Markfield

We have an urban map of Markfield and it includes the complex but small area of Altar Stones and nearby Wildlife Trust hillside. Markfield is now largely a commuter village sitting within both the National Forest and Charnwood Forest. The settlement however dates back to at least the time of the Norman Conquest and is mentioned in the Domesday Book under the name Merchenefeld. A variant of this is still used as the name for the village primary school, Mercenfeld. There is a rocky hilltop on the edge of the village with a water-filled quarry used for informal swimming and climbing in the past. We can no longer access the quarry itself since it was acquired by Hinckley & Bosworth Council who have fenced it off as a nature reserve. The slopes do offer some open country and good views and routes to link the village centre to Altar Stones and the wider area including a footbridge over the M1 to Cliffe Hill Quarry and a tunnel under the A50 to the Ulverscroft Valley.

Altar Stones
This is situated just outside Markfield on the route of the old A50, now a dead end up to the M1. Previously owned by Leicestershire County Council and managed by the Country Parks Service, it was gifted to the County Council in 1949 and is noted for its rocky outcrops which date from the pre-Cambrian period and are designated as a Regionally Important Geological Site. It was part of the rim of an ancient volcano.

A neighbouring piece designated as Open Land under the CRoW Act is Blacksmith’s Field with public access which is managed by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust who have now taken over the management of Altar Stones itself. Another neighbouring piece called Raunscliffe is also open to the public under the CRoW Act as registered Common Land and is owned by the Parish Council.

The surrounding areas support heather and gorse. Numerous paths wander among the stones, passing two small ponds and giving good views over Charnwood Forest to the north. The area was once the site of a post mill and you can see the remains of the miller’s store.

Whilst small the area is very technical and has been mapped and used for small training events for many years, sometimes in conjunction with the nearby Markfield Quarry (called Hill Hole locally) and the paths and lanes around Markfield itself. The path network does link it to Cliffe Hill Quarry via a cattle bridge over the M1.

Markfield Quarry itself was active in 1830 and large scale extraction began in 1852. By 1863, Ellis and Everard who operated it employed 90 men. Quarrying ended about the turn of the century. The rock is Markfieldite. The quarry is on top of a hill – and is in two tiers. The lower tier (pit) is filled with water to a depth of at least 5m.

Usage is now fairly restricted under the L&RWLT regime.

Cliffe Hill – Markfield
Cliffe Hill Quarry is the largest quarrying operation in our region and has its own rail link.

Whilst there have been quarrying operations since the 19th Century at Old Cliffe Hill Quarry, Markfield, it was in the late 1980’s that the construction and commencement of operations at New Cliffe Hill Quarry began. It is the old quarry that we have had our eyes on for some time.

The quarry currently produces 4.5 million tonnes of Markfieldite granite aggregate per year. Cliffe Hill has won awards for its attention to its environment and has done considerable landscaping round the old quarry. Local youths have long used the lake for swimming and the cliffs for climbing despite the best efforts of the security companies.

There are walks around and through the area but limited tree cover and as such we are not actively pursuing the potential for our sport at the present time. There is however a number of new National Forest planting sites nearby and eventually these may all be mapped together.

The Outwoods & Jubilee Woods

Jubilee is about 20 hectares much of which is open to the public notwithstanding that it is an SSSI, but part was left supposedly undisturbed. There is interesting pastureland to its north which contains many land forms. Normally seen in conjunction with the adjoining Outwoods, both are blessed with a good wildlife population and amongst plants perhaps most striking the carpets of bluebells. Despite its protected status Jubilee has been largely felled as part of a ‘restoration’ project and is largely inaccessible at present.

The Outwoods itself is a popular beauty spot, which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The topography means many of the paths include steep sections and uneven surfaces and can provide a physical challenge. The Outwoods were gifted to the people of Loughborough in 1946 by two local benefactors, Allan Moss and George Harry Bowler. The Outwoods is 40 hectare ancient woodland overlooking Loughborough and the Soar Valley and is important for its rare rock outcrops, its woodland plants and its wildlife and is also an SSSI. It stands on some of the oldest exposed rocks in Britain, being formed in the pre-Cambrian era and there has been continual woodland cover back to the days of the Domesday Book.

For more detail on how the whole Charnwood Forest area came into being and its history see the Charnwood Forest South entry

Ratby Woodlands

These woodlands are in numerous ownerships but mostly the Woodland Trust, with recent extensions carried out with financial assistance from the National Forest. There is a permanent orienteering course in Martinshaw which provides the core of the area. The Woodland Trust owns Martinshaw (103 ha) and Peartree Woods nearby (19 ha) and parts of Burroughs Woods (37 ha). They also have two smaller areas joined to the rest by the footpath network, namely Polebrook & Crow Woods. Also included in our mapped area are Grey Lodge Wood (10 ha), Wirlybones Wood, the Coppice (7 ha) and Hollow Oak Woods (12 ha) under separate ownerships but all funded in part by the National Forest.

Wirlybones Wood was established by Cawrey Homes and the National Forest along the line of a brook. It has newly planted woodland and rough grassland, bordered by mature hedges. The Coppice is adjacent to Forest Hill Golf Club near Botcheston. Nature conservation is a very strong focus for the site. However, it has also been designed to yield coppice products for craft use. The planting is a mixture of broadleaf species such as oak, lime, ash, wild cherry, whitebeam and silver birch. Hazel accounts for about 20% of the total planting. The coppiced branches, which will be cut in future years, will be used for furniture making, fencing and charcoal burning. Large areas of rough grassland have been left as hunting territory for barn owls and owl nesting boxes have been erected around the site to encourage this declining species. Marshland and a pond provide habitats for invertebrates and wetland species. This is a useful addition for short course if we base any events from the golf club.

Not surprisingly Hollow Oak wood takes its name from the old oak tree in the centre of the site. The heartwood has decayed to leave a hollow centre. It is thought that the pollarding of this tree, like those at Bradgate Park, was carried out when Lady Jane Grey was beheaded. The existing woodland within this site, Change Spinney, had been unmanaged for many years but thinning of the trees has now been carried out to allow more light and to benefit the existing bluebell population and encourage redstarts into the wood. Bat boxes have been installed and some standing dead trees left for woodpeckers and insects. The downside is that the ponds and stream running through the lower area are now hard to access due to brambles. The line of a mediaeval park pale can be seen. This was an ancient boundary marked by a ridge, on top of which a fence was built.

Burroughs Wood on two sides of Ratby Burroughs is an area of new plantings next to an existing area of woodland and it includes grassy paths and open areas. An area of the site next to the adjacent woodland has been left to allow natural regeneration to take place. This will help to extend the area of ancient woodland and its associated flora. The track down the edge of the wood sits atop the remains of a mediaeval deer park bank and ditch. The old farmhouse (Old Hayes) dates back to 1733 but a house has existed on the site since 1280. The next door Peartree Wood links Ratby Burroughs to Martinshaw Wood, creating one of the largest continuous tracts of woodland in The National Forest area. The planting design reflects both of these other woods with conifers in the northern section blending into those at Martinshaw Wood in order to allow the movement of wildlife dependent on pine, particularly moths.

Grey Lodge Wood is immediately adjacent to Martinshaw Wood and Peartree Wood. Together they form a continuous belt of woodland next to the M1 motorway. Planting comprises 80% broadleaves and 20% conifers and reflects the other woodlands in the area.

Covering a good part of an original ancient woodland site, Martinshaw Wood itself is rich in ecological and archaeological interest. The site, which was bought by the Woodland Trust in 1985, is cut in two by the M1 motorway giving us a pinch point at present. The proposal for the widening of the M1 should be within the existing footprint and not impact on these woodlands, indeed there is a strong probability that a new land bridge will be created for wildlife and pedestrians. 36 different tree species can be found in the wood, which was extensively replanted with commercial conifer species in the 1950’s. A progressive felling of the conifers to favour oak, beech, birch and other broadleaves will restore some of the wood’s origin as a deer park. Flooded quarry pits are home to a variety of wildlife such as newts, frogs and toads and wide range of birdlife frequents to the woodland.

The whole area is of about 190 Hectares

Sheet Hedges Wood

A 26 ha woodland on the outskirts of Groby managed by Leicestershire County Council. It was opened to the public in 1998 with National Forest grant aid together with funding from the County Council and Forestry Authority. Most of this woodland block has been harvested with new broadleaf planting replacing the conifers that once stood there. The eastern part of the woodland is a Site of Specific Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is one of the best examples of ash and alder woods in Leicestershire.

Too small to use in isolation, the footpath network does link it with Groby Pool and Lawn Wood opening up possibilities for the future. Groby Pool itself is a fascinating birdlife haven often described as the largest sheet of natural water in Leicestershire. However there is a good case to be made that it is actually the remains of an old slate quarry flooded as far back as possibly the 13th century.

Vale Farm

This is 50 acre small new woodland beside the M1 at Copt Oak. Planting features and overall design are sufficiently complex for an occasional training event but an initial approach drew a blank.