Introduction to Orienteering

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Leicester

Including some areas outside the city boundary

| Abbey & Riverside Parks | Aylestone Riverside | Brocks Hill (Oadby) | Castle Hill | Evington | Humberstone Park | Knighton Park & Spinney | The Orchards | Spinney Hill | Watermead Country Park | West Leicester Parks |

Abbey & Riverside Parks

Riverside Park stretches from Aylestone in the south to the northern city boundary in Watermead Country Park. It follows the River Soar and Grand Union Canal and the path/cycleway along what was the Great Central Railway. The whole length is covered by orienteering maps and the park has been used for a Long-O in the past. The areas south of that mapped as Abbey & Riverside Parks is mapped as Aylestone Riverside and the parts north of this map are included on the map of Watermead Park.

Riverside Park is a wild life and recreation corridor running right through the city of Leicester taking in a number of small urban parks and green spaces and until very recently could be travelled in its entirety without having to cross a road. This was by way of tunnels, underpasses and bridges but one old railway bridge is to be demolished and one road crossing will now have to be negotiated.

Abbey Park was formed from water meadows and opened in 1882 and was extended in 1925 when the Abbey Grounds, the site of Leicester Abbey, were added to the park and linked by two footbridges across the Soar. It includes a reconstructed site of the Abbey and a memorial to Cardinal Wolsey who was laid to rest in the grounds. Founded in 1143, as St Mary de Pratis (St Mary of the Meadows) the Abbey stood for 395 years and became the 2nd wealthiest Augustinian abbey in the country. Totalling about 85 acres, the park comprises a mixture of copses, playing fields and gardened areas round a central one hectare lake, with islands and an irregular shoreline.

Abbey Park has a Permanent Orienteering Course.

Aylestone Riverside

This is the southern end of Leicester’s Riverside Park. The Riverside is a twelve-mile long green corridor running through the city along the river Soar and the Grand Union Canal and a focus for regeneration in the City. It is regionally important for wildlife and comprises a network of open spaces, nature reserves and parks. It has a range of cycle paths and footpaths, and is subject to constant change due to a number of the regeneration projects along the river and canal corridors. New planting have matured into a warren of intricate copses but many are being cut back due to antisocial behaviour in the area.

This area runs from the ring road by Fosse Park through to St Mary’s Mill lock by the Ivanhoe rail line. The area immediately to its north is mapped as Abbey & Riverside Parks and continues north on our third map of Watermead Park.

This southern section is cut by Braunstone Lane East but can be crossed either under by the tow path of the canal or over via the bridge carrying a long distance trail along the old track bed of the Great Central Railway. Previously running from London to Manchester this line closed in 1963 but in the 1980s became a cycle and foot way which is now part of the National Cycle Network.

The area includes a number of reclamation sites. There is the site of an old gas works and what was its employees sports ground. South of Braunstone Lane there is the remains of a demolished sports pavilion on what used to be extensive playing fields and to the north and east Aylestone Meadows Local Nature Reserve was a municipal tip until 1960s. The west side of this reserve runs along the valley of the River Biam

Brocks Hill (Oadby)

This small country park extends to just 30 hectares (67 acres) Native trees have been planted, wildflower meadows and an orchard created, together with a play area and ponds. The visitor centre and park were opened in 2001. The project received £939,000 funding from the Millennium Commission and match funding from various partners including De Montfort University and Leicestershire County Council. This green wedge between Oadby and Wigston has now been protected from housing development! The plantings are maturing nicely and we have created a permanent orienteering course throughout the park and in the grounds of the neighbouring leisure centre.

Castle Hill

This small Country Park is on the borders of Leicester City and the County and adjoins Anstey. Established in the early 1980’s the park comprises some 250 acres of grassland, plantation and broad leaved woodland. The A46, Leicester Western By-Pass cuts the park into two linear sections but the ability to cross at both ends and in the middle lends it to figure of eight courses and makes it quite useable.

The south east section borders Beaumont Leys and is made up of relatively high land with good views out over Bradgate Park and the Charnwood Hills. The north and west section, bordering Anstey, comprises mainly flat meadow land associated with the Rothley Brook with periodic flooding. Aside from this pleasant brook, with its established abundance of birdlife, and the newer planting in copses, the park also has bluebell woods, located off the Astill Lodge Road and some fine ash, oak and willow trees associated with the old hedgerows and streamside.

The Castle Hill Country Park is also home to two Scheduled Monuments. The Castle Hill Earthworks located off the Astill Lodge back road, comprise of an earthen rectangular banked enclosure and fish pond dating to the medieval period. The site is associated with the Knights Hospitallier and seems to have functioned as a monastic grange or sheep farm. We tend to infrequently use this bit as it is infested with nettles for much of the year. King William’s Bridge, historically known as the ‘Dambridge’, crosses over the Rothley Brook. This is a medieval stone packhorse bridge, which was widened in 1696 for King William iii’s visit to nearby Bradgate House. As its name suggests, there was once a sheep wash associated with the bridge. Other interesting heritage features include ancient hedgerows, some complete with wood banks and deep ditches. These are a physical reminder of the area’s past as a royal hunting ground and deer park. In the vicinity of the Castle Hill Earthworks there are also industrial remains from the Victorian Beaumont Leys Sewage and irrigation scheme. In its time, this was the biggest scheme of its type in the country.

Ancient tracks pass through the park and despite the proximity to areas of some deprivation this is a corridor of genuine attractiveness.

Major landscaping is slowly being carried out and ponds and wet woodland areas are being created.

For our purposes some urban area has been used to link this with the open areas around the Speedway Park where facilities for parking etc are available to us.

Evington

Our map takes in the Arboretum and the park and a small public access are between the two (Piggy’s Hollow), a small recreation ground and part of the village itself.

Evington Arboretum
The entrance to this area used to lead into the encampment of the 504th Parachute Regiment of the US 52nd Airborne Division which was later converted into a POW camp.

The Arboretum was established by Leicester City Council in 1970 saving the area from possible development and securing its future as a public open space. Between 1970 and 1973 hundreds of trees were planted, many donated by organisations and members of the public. The trees weren’t just stuck in the ground willy-nilly. They were planted in family groups. For example, in the south west corner, near the Evington Brook, you will find poplars and willows. In all 500 species of trees are to be found. Consideration was given to preserving certain views across the site, such as the north towards St Denys’ Church, and west towards the university.

The former meadow below St Denys’ Church is now a designated area for memorial tree planting. These trees are chosen for their ornamental value and suitability to the site and are planted by the City Council.

The Arboretum is a haven for birdlife. Kingfishers and the odd heron can occasionally be seen along Evington brook. Blue tits, great tits, marsh tits, coal tits, green woodpeckers, blackbirds, owls, robins, wrens and thrushes are often to be seen together with many other species.

Our map of the area includes Evington Park and the areas between them. This involves some road crossing but Piggy’s Hollow is a complex overgrown area with a number of paths and leads into a strip of mature woodland before the village itself has to be negotiated.

The Arboretum has a Permanent Orienteering Course.

Evington Park
Only two miles away from Leicester City Centre and backing onto the General Hospital, Evington Park has the tranquil atmosphere of the country estate it once was. The 44 acres of parkland include attractive floral displays and a wide variety of trees some scattered singly and some in copses. There are gardens, ponds and play and picnic areas. The park has fine examples of English oak and chestnut, rare Gingko trees and mature beech trees. In the spring, the rhododendron and azalea beds surrounded by fragrant shrubs are a delight. The black mulberry at Evington Park was planted in 1836, the year the house was built.

The area has a Permanent Orienteering Course.

Humberstone Park

This 20 acre park with its attractive gardens is located off Uppingham Road, three miles to the east of the Leicester City Centre. It was opened in 1925.

Bushby Brook flows through the park, was at one time damned and used as a boating lake by local people. Since the 1950’s it has been straightened and the banks are now planted with willow, birch and hazel.

It is barely big enough to even sustain a permanent course.

Knighton Park & Spinney

Lying two miles to the south of the centre of Leicester this beautiful 78 acre park offers colourful shrub borders, a water garden, heather woodlands, play areas and a rock garden.

Knighton village appears in the Domesday Book under its Scandinavian name of Cnihetone.

In the 1720’s, Edmund Cradock, a woollen draper of Leicester bought Knighton Hall and its associated farmland. In the years that followed, the family acquired almost all the land in the parish. Knighton Hall is now the official residence of the Vice Chancellor of Leicester University and the name of the Cradock is preserved in the Cradock pub. The City Council bought land just before the Second World War with the intention of establishing a park but work was not begun until 1953.

In 1840 oak trees were planted to form the enclosed spinney to help provide oak wood for future shipbuilding. To make the oaks grow tall and straight, ash were planted in between them. Later Cradocks decided to keep the woodland as a fox covert and in 1932 a covenant was published declaring that the spinney should be a nature reserve for all time.

The Wash (or Saffron) Brook flows through the park and is bordered by trees and herbs in the northern area. There are various avenues in the park, including the laburnum avenue close to the spinney and the gingko (maidenhair) avenue in the heath garden. A charming path bordered by magnolias runs across the middle of the park.

In addition to the spinney there are blocks of newly planted woodland consisting of a lime wood, a beech wood and a willow wood.

The park has been used for orienteering for many years and has a Permanent Orienteering Course.

The Orchards

This area is one of few within Leicester City itself. Whilst very small it is very complex.

The larger part was neglected allotments acquired by the City Council and turned into a Local Nature Reserve. Given the various fruit trees which survived, this is now a very rich if largely overgrown area, which abounds with birdlife. It is now actively managed by volunteers and numerous pathways are kept open. Some of the woodlands have been thinned and coppiced giving a variety of terrain. A school sports field has now been fenced off reducing the area and some pastureland beside the cemetery are being used to extend that facility. Other pastureland attached to the City Demonstration Farm links the area to Goss Meadows a linear wildlife reserve which in turn links to a very old and neglected copse know as Gilroe’s Spinney. By using the streets of a new housing development these can all be used together for good small training events although parking is difficult.

Spinney Hill

This was mapped under a ‘Sports for All’ award to try and bring orienteering into deprived inner city areas but circumstances have dictated that we have never really got any use out of it. Almost a soon a site was mapped part was given over to a police station. There are 34 acres of sloping parkland, with two popular and well-equipped play areas and an adventure playground. Sporting facilities include a bowling green, tennis and netball and there are large grassed areas. It includes a refurbished sports pavilion and it is thought that an aborted permanent course was commenced.

As long ago as 1885 the City Corporation were worried about a lack of public open space in this area of Leicester and acquired this land; paths were laid out, new trees planted and a pavilion erected.

The City Wildlife Project created the nature area during the park’s centenary in 1986. They planted over 150 trees. Oak, maple and birch were planted in the woodland areas and the water-loving alder and willow beside the brook. Many wildflowers were introduced into a newly dug pond.

Watermead Country Park

The history of this area is a bit vague. Initially the park area was used as farmland in as far as being in the Soar Valley flood plain permitted, and later for gravel extraction. In 1989 the park was developed from the disused gravel pits.

Excavations were undertaken in 1996 at a gravel extraction quarry now lying within the park, after wardens found human remains in peat disturbed by the quarrying. Research uncovered remains of part of an ancient bridge which appeared to be crossing a peat-filled channel, perhaps an old course of the river Soar. Also there were the remains of cooking activity consisting of a stone lined hearth; a circular trough with its base lined with planks; a smaller, charcoal-filled pit and a large spread of fire-cracked flints and ash.

Also found were various animal bones including Aurochs which are thought to have died out by about 1000 BC. Domesticated cattle are believed to be devolved from these early oxen.

The life size Mammoth sculpture on top of a small mound overlooking the lakes, reminds us of times when our ancestors shared this area with these magnificent creatures as well. The prehistoric remains found on this site also include bison and deer, all discovered during the gravel extraction process. These remains are thought to date back to the last ice age.

The park is a 140 hectare natural oasis bordered by built up areas, apart from its northern tip which offers the prospect of further extension as present gravel extraction comes to an end. It is a haven for wildlife and a peaceful stretch of countryside with the mapped area extending for nearly 2 miles. Many of the paths are surfaced making it an ideal site for Trail-O. Our area includes the park proper, managed by Leicestershire County Council, Leicester City Council and Charnwood Borough Council in partnership, former Severn Trent scrublands and Watermead Ecology Park, managed for the city council by Environ Trust (Groundwork Leicester and Leicestershire) as they do the community woodlands within the southern end of the park proper.

The Park is developing one of the largest reed bed areas in the Midlands and as its name suggests it is a wetland area with over 12 lakes and smaller ponds. Running through the Park are the River Soar and Grand Union Canal which provide an essential corridor for wildlife but also make route choice a major consideration in navigating round the area.

Boats are known to have used the River Soar since the Roman times. During the 19th Century, however, the river became a significant commercial waterway following works to improve the navigation between Loughborough and Leicester. The Leicester Navigation Bill received its Royal Assent in May 1791 and work started to improve the River Soar / Grand Union Canal with the navigation finally opening in 1794.

The heyday for the canal was in the 1820’s and 1830’s when it was the most profitable navigation in the whole of the UK, transporting goods to and from London. This booming waterways trade aided significant development in Leicester. When the railways came to Leicester the commercial use of the canal faded away and today it is used almost exclusively by recreational boats.

Overall there is a mix of mature and semi-mature trees and shrubs forming a contrast to the open expanses of water, with reeds and other flora adding to the appearance of an untouched natural environment. However it is all man made and would not exist in its present form if it had not been for the period of gravel extraction.

The south (City) part of the park forms a part of the Watermead South Local Nature Reserve, as designated in March 2005.

There are many different insects to be found, perhaps the most spectacular being the large dragonflies and smaller brightly coloured damselflies flitting over the lakes in the summer months. Voles, mink, mice, bats and foxes have been seen and roach, tench, perch, carp and pike are some of the species of fish which are to be found.

Newts, frogs and toads abound and countless species of birds are to be seen. 175 species of bird have been recorded, including the resident Tufted Duck, Mallard, Black Headed Gull, Sparrow Hawk, Kestrel and Kingfisher. In the winter you may well see the Shoveler, Teal and Goldeneye ducks and in the summer see swifts skim across the water or the Common Tern waiting to dive for fish. A very rare but welcome transient is the Osprey. Geese and swans are found in such numbers as to be more than a bit of a nuisance.

Bird hides are throughout the park and to the west of the park are meadows and scrapes managed by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust. Here on the Wanlip Meadows Reserve (a restored gravel pit) numerous species have been recorded. The birds do not recognise boundaries and obviously move freely between this reserve and Watermead but recording their presence on the reserve does give indications of those present on the area. To the east of the park and across the canal are further lakes, not part of the park but adding to this wildlife sanctuary.

Recorded are hundreds of Greylag Geese and Teal, a single Garganey and a number of Shelducks and Oystercatchers. A juvenile Hobby was spotted and some young little-Ringed Plovers and a young Little Owl. Seen in considerable numbers were Golden Plover and Lapwing (Green Plover or Pee Wit). More unusual visitors were Redshank, Greenshank, Dunlin, Black-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Kingfisher, Whinchat and Redstart.

At its southern end Watermead forms part of the City’s Riverside Park which runs through the centre of Leicester and out as far as Fosse Park.

Watermead had a successful bid for funds from the Big Lottery Fund via a TV programme and with matched funding received £1.4M. The money was used to create new cycle and pedestrian links between Watermead Park and surrounding villages, as well as improving bridges within the park for cyclists and people with mobility problems.

West Leicester Parks

For our purposes we have mapped Western Park and Braunstone Park together, but being either side of the A47 they are not easy to use together. Some urban areas beside both parks have been included on the map.

Western Park
The Hinckley Road site was purchased for the development of a park in 1897 and is the largest park in Leicester offering 178 acres to explore. The main drive features a wide avenue of trees which were laid out for the inaugural opening in 1899. Within easy access from here are the children’s play areas, bowls greens, tennis courts and woodland walk.

The park is a mix of meadows, mature woods and hedgerows, interspersed with newly established shrub and wooded areas. Overall this creates an ecological environment where wildlife abounds despite being surrounded by development.

Within the park is the Eco House, a show house demonstrating ways of making your home more environmentally friendly and making it work in today’s throw away society. Set up and managed by Environ (Groundwork Leicester & Leicestershire), with financial support from Leicester City Council, this Trust also organises teams of volunteers helping with maintenance at many of the city parks.

For our purposes this park is mapped with Braunstone Park just across the busy A47, a park covering 168 acres of beautiful open parkland, ancient spinney, wooded areas and meadow land with two lakes. The combined parks provide a sizable ‘green’ oasis near the borders of the city of Leicester.

Braunstone Park
The park covers 168 acres of beautiful open parkland, ancient spinney, wooded areas and meadow land with evidence of ridge and furrow cultivation. Two lakes on the southern boundary attract migrating birds and a wide variety of wildlife. Braunstone Hall stands proudly in the centre of the park along side the refurbished stable block part of which still retains many period features including hefty wooden stalls, hay troughs and the original stone flooring. The Hall and stable block are a Grade 11 listed building.

The first records of Braunstone are found in the Doomsday Book of 1086 where it is referred to as Brantestone or Brant’s Tun. Braunstone was a daughter settlement of nearby Glenfield and was established in the late 8th or early 9th Century, sited at the southern edge of Leicester Forest.

After the Norman Conquest much of England was parcelled up amongst William the Conqueror’s noblemen and Braunstone was awarded to Hugh de Grantemesnil, one of his most trusted Barons.

Over the centuries many noble families were connected with the Manor and lands of Braunstone, a far cry from today. In 1246 Roger de Queney is named as owning the land but on his death it passed through the female line to the de Ferres family of Groby and at one time the Greys.

More recently the Winstanleys’ came to Braunstone in the mid 17th century. They played a vital role in determining the future economic and social history of their properties in and around Braunstone and Kirby Muxloe for the next 275 years. They had a reputation for being fair-minded and judicious, holding important roles as leading dignitaries in The Leicester Corporation. Their decisions influenced the lives of the communities of both Braunstone and Leicester. James Winstanley was a puritan and a lawyer by profession in the service of the Duchy of Lancaster before taking up residence in Braunstone. He was succeeded by his son Clement and in 1775 he commissioned the local architect and builder William Oldham (who later became the Lord Mayor of Leicester) to construct the present hall, built on a rise with views overlooking Charnwood Forest.

At the end of the First World War demand for land to build new houses to replace the squalid and cramped conditions many of the working class lived in brought about compulsory purchase of most of the estates and the remnant surrounding Braunstone Hall itself was opened as a public park in the early 1930s.

In 1932, after refurbishment, Braunstone Hall opened as a ‘Senior School’. However as younger families moved into the new housing estate the need for a Junior School was more essential and in 1933 The Braunstone Hall Junior School was opened. It served the community as a school until it was closed in 1996.

During WW2, the Local Home Guard was based in Braunstone Hall and in 1944 the park was the home of the HQ of the US 82 Airborne Division. The tented encampment and Nissan huts were laid out in exactly the same pattern as the neighbouring streets so as to blend in and hopefully not attract the attention of any over-flying bombers. The rest of the park was put to agricultural use. Wheat, barley and potatoes were some of the crops grown while sheep grazed the remaining pastureland.

Between 1943 and 1945 the 168 Battery of the Royal Artillery and the 52nd/53rd Field Regiment Royal Artillery were also stationed on the park. Throughout this period Braunstone Hall School remained open coping with the many difficulties that arose from being surrounded by a “friendly invasion”.

For our purposes we have the park mapped with the neighbouring Western Park and use them together for small events although crossing the busy A47 causes some problems and the level of vandalism in Braunstone Park is a problem.