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North East Leicestershire

| Belvoir Castle | Burrough Hill | Launde Woods and Park | Melton Mowbray Country Park | Owston Woods |

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir, meaning beautiful view in French, dates back to Norman times. The English pronunciation ‘Beaver’ was built up over many centuries probably due to the inability of Anglo-Saxons to master the French tongue.

Belvoir has been the ancestral home of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland for over one thousand years. The present castle is the fourth to have stood on the site since Norman times. The existing castle was completed in the early 19th century after previous buildings suffered complete or partial destruction during the Wars of the Roses, the Civil War and a major fire in 1816.
The grounds include the Rose and Statue Gardens which are elegantly laid out round a central fountain, where a statue collection is set back into a terrace in the hillside. There are superb specimen trees dating back hundreds of years and the area is an orienteers’ delight with a great range of terrain, water features, variety of plantings and very challenging slopes. We have mapped the grounds and used them for a badge event as far back as 1981 and the odd smaller event was staged there a few years later but had not been used for many years until reintroduced a few years ago. We previously had switched our orienteering to the extensive estate woodlands to the west of the castle but have now used the combined areas for major events.
There are extensive estate woodlands to the west of the Belvoir Castle which offer a good variety of features. The downside is that the area is a bit linear in that it runs along the top of an escarpment with mature woodlands along the top and down the often very steep slopes. The flatlands below the slope are extensive with a fairly complex path network but the blocks are often severely tangled with bramble and often extremely boggy underfoot.

This is a commercial shooting estate and we can only use it outside the shooting season. For major events this means from February 2nd to March 31st but we can stage smaller event until the end of June if we avoid the bird rearing and release areas.

The overall area takes in several diverse woodlands. To the east there is a mulberry plantation which we can cross by arrangement and Old Park Wood and to the north a mature area known as Church Thorns. Then we have the middle area where the rearing is done but which we can cross by agreed routes and then the area is dissected north-south by Wood Lane. To the west of this we have Barkestone Wood, then Plungar Wood and Stathern Wood all lying in the damp bottom lands below the escarpment.

On the top of the slopes of Wood Lane we have Terrace Hills and some parking which makes an ideal base for smaller events and east from here the escarpment itself is quite complex with varied landforms and provided attractive orienteering conditions all the way to the next vehicular track, Tofts Lane. West of this Combs Plantation is part of the estate and the surrounding meadows are managed as a country park under different ownership.

Parts have been used independently of the Castle and from a number of other locations. Access charges make all but very large events beyond our reach.

Burrough Hill

The hill is one of the highest points in Leicestershire, reaching 210m (690 feet). A toposcope at the site indicates landmarks that can be seen from the summit. The 35-hectare overall site is owned by the Ernest Cook Trust and leased to Leicestershire County Council. Burrough Hill lies on the western edge of the uplands in the east of Leicestershire and the land falls away by almost 350 feet to the south-west and commands a wide view of the Wreake valley. The mixed vegetation including mature woodlands, some newer plantations, pastureland with copses of gorse and open rough grassland combined with the inevitable amount of climb can make this a challenging area.

Burrough Hill is one of the most imposing prehistoric monuments in our region and the best surviving example of a large hill fort where few exist at all. It sits on a natural flat-topped ironstone promontory about and is defined by an almost continuous rampart of stone and earth almost 10 feet high. This manmade ‘building’ must have been very effective when you bear in mind the steep slopes on three sides. It was an impressive defensive feature.

It seems it had been reinforced and updated a number of times during its active life. There seems to have originally been a massive gate at the entrance but this area was reinforced by ironstone mounds faced with dry-stone walling in the period 370-220BC but later work created a chamber or guardhouse on one side. This substantial chamber was itself the source of many interesting finds. There appears to have been multiple floor levels some covered with crude paving.

The entrance from the car park direction is the one definitely original break in the rampart, giving access to the enclosed area of around 12 acres. We have long known that it had been inhabited since Neolithic times but recent excavations are turning up many addition interesting facts. It seems that in the Iron Age the fort was surrounded by farms and settlements and was indeed the centre of a thriving community rather than an island in an otherwise sparsely inhabited and culturally insignificant land. The entrance passageway was over 100 feet long and had a cobbled roadway.

The dig we have seen, as we have run there recently, has already found distinct boundaries within the enclosed area, numerous pits and a series of round houses around the perimeter. They have also discovered evidence of a sizeable settlement on the flat approach to the entrance.

From their contents the pits disclose regular us right up to the fourth century AD with many remains of Roman and earlier origin. The Iron Age finds suggest a far more sophisticated people than sometimes they are given credit for being. They have found a number of loom weights, a flute made from polished bone, dice and other gaming pieces, hooks, tools, knives and a spearhead all in remarkable condition.

Burial chambers have also been found below what was the surface of the roadway.

We will have to contend with fenced off areas for a couple of years yet as they continue this work on what is becoming a very important dig.

Launde Woods and Park

This area, which would be ideal for us, is actually in three blocks; two of woodland and the other the parkland in between. Launde Big Wood covers 40.4 ha and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, whilst Launde Park Wood extends over 54.4 ha. Both are ancient woodlands, include two SSSIs and were leased by the Leicestershire & Rutland Wildlife Trust in 1997 from the Leicester Diocesan Board of Finance for a period of 350 years. It is 450 acres in size overall.

We made early overtures but these were not well received but now that the Trust knows where they are going with these areas we may well make a further approach.

Rich in history and wildlife, Launde contains an old priory set in parkland, a possible Norman motte and bailey castle site, medieval fish ponds (now re-flooded) and the earthworks of a medieval deer park.

The priory of Launde was founded some time before 1125, and lay within the royal forest of Leighfield. In 1248, shortly after the forest was reduced in size, the prior was granted licence to ‘impark’. Launde Park Wood now stands on part of the site formerly occupied by the deer park and there are some very impressive earthworks to be found in and around the wood. Both the Park Wood and the Big Wood are very old, with massive boundary earthworks, huge coppice stools clearly centuries old, and many plants known to be confined, or nearly so, to ancient woodlands sites.

The Big Wood is situated on a hill top, with superb views of the surrounding countryside. Its soils are mainly heavy and calcareous, being derived from various clays, but there are also better drained areas resulting from deposits of glacial sand and gravel. While a fine high-forest structure is developing in this wood, the fauna and flora of more open woodland has suffered since coppicing ceased to be practiced, and the rides have become narrow and more heavily shaded.

Park Wood is now larger than the Big Wood, the latter having been reduced in size in the last 150 years or so. The woods stand on similar geological formations, and this is reflected in their flora and vegetation. Park Wood contains the same range of plants as the Big Wood, and is the best wood in Leicestershire not protected by SSSI status.

About two-thirds of the Park Wood has been clear-felled and planted with a mixture of trees, especially conifers, but much of the original vegetation still remains. The wood is a very large one in a Leicestershire context, but its nature conservation interest has suffered greatly in the last 50 years. Many of the rides have become narrow and overgrown, and the coppice has been neglected. There is a real challenge here to restore it as an ancient woodland, and to use it to encourage other woodland owners to do the same.

The Trust has started to reintroduce traditional management to these woods, to benefit wildlife. Ride, glade and coppicing work will create valuable habitats for many birds, plants and insects, and the setting will provide and ideal opportunity to demonstrate to people how landscape history has influenced wildlife. Visitors are able to participate in practical work, guided walks and educational visits, learning about the history and wildlife of Launde.

The Big Wood is dominated by stands of oak, ash, hazel and field maple. Many other trees are present, including elm and aspen. The ground flora is very rich, providing magnificent displays in the spring. Wood anemone, bluebell, wood-forget-me-not, sweet woodruff, early-purple orchid and primrose are just a few of the more attractive species, while rarer ones include bird’s-nest and greater butterfly-orchids, nettle-leaved bellflower, herb paris and toothwart.

Mammals include fox, badgers, rabbits, stoat and weasel, whilst nightingale and nuthatch have been noted amongst the birds. Purple and white-letter hairstreaks are amongst the butterflies present.

Despite much of the Park Wood having been planted with conifers, it still retains many of the same features of interest as the Big Wood. These are best seen in the northern third of the wood, which escaped planting. However, where conifers have been removed the ground flora is now recovering with the spread of species such as ramsons, sweet woodruff and primrose. Towards the end of the summer the rare fragrant agrimony can be found growing beside the main ride.

The area surrounds Launde Abbey which is the Leicester Diocese Retreat & Conference Centre and is on the border of Leicestershire & Rutland. In addition to the parkland and woods it has extensive cultivated gardens and the 12th Century Chapel. The Chapel is all that remains of the Augustinian Priory that was founded here in 1119 AD.

Once the major changes being undertaken settle down we have ambitions to try and get some use of these lands in an area where we are otherwise short of possibilities.

Melton Mowbray Country Park

This comprises 140 acres of parkland and a section of the ‘Jubilee Way’ (a fifteen mile footpath that leads to Belvoir Castle) passes through the park. It contains nature & sculpture trails, a large lake and an abundance of wildlife.

It now has a permanent orienteering course which will be serviced from the visitor centre. We have included some nearby urban areas in our map.

Owston Woods

Forestry Commission lease much of this wood which includes areas of ancient woodland including a famous coppiced small leave lime many hundreds of years old. Some parts of the wood are owner occupied. Admission is by arrangement only except a single right of way. Owston Woods is representative of ancient semi-natural woodland that has developed on heavy clay soil. Owston Woods is the largest continuous area of ancient semi-natural woodland in Leicestershire (approximately 141 ha) and is one of only three sites in Leicestershire that supports purple small-reed. It has a diverse and sensitive damp-woodland plant population and intrusion is resisted.