Bradgate Country Park, Old John Tower, Beacon Hill, and Swithland Wood
This walk includes Bradgate Park and Old John Tower before moving onto one of Leicestershires finest viewpoints – Beacon Hill – and returning via Swithland Wood. The walk was inspired by a similar one detailed on the fantastic resource for walkers, walkingenglishman.com, and was of interest to me as I hadn’t yet explored the county of Leicestershire.
Bradgate Park is an 850 acre country park located roughly between the villages of Newtown Linford and Anstey. The area was enclosed as a deer park over 800 years ago and was only opened to the public in the 19th century. There is a high quality path that goes the whole length of the park on the lower side, and around half way along this path lies a cafe and picnic area. The open land to one side of this path stretches far, and gradually gets higher the further away from the path you get. At certain times of the year, much of this land is covered by tall ferns and care should be taken with regards to ticks. I took my 2 children to play here earlier this year and both ended up with ticks attached to them from playing in and around the ferns – so be warned.
The walk begins in the Bradgate Park car park at Newtown Linford. From here, go through a gate which is to the left of the main path, and gradually head uphill towards the War Memorial. On the way up, you will walk past some extremely old oak trees that are oozing in character – some of which are apparently over 500 years old. Near the top of the hill, there are some interesting rock formations that always seem popular with the kids scrambling on them. I have to admit, I couldn’t resist the temptation so had a bit of a climb on them myself. On the top of the hill, the War Memorial stands on an area of “Holy Ground”, and commemorates the men of the Leicestershire Yeomanry who died in the Boer War and the two World Wars.
From here, head east – either through or around the wooded area depending on your preference – and eventually you will see Old John Tower, which is built on the top of the highest hill in the park. Old John Tower was built in 1974 by the 5th Earl of Stamford, who would have most likely used the tower to watch his horses on the racecourse at the base of the hill, and also maybe to watch fox hunting or to simply enjoy the views.
After the obligatory photos had been taken, it was time to walk down the northern side of the hill, and exit Bradgate park. The walk now continues along the Leicestershire Round footpath which is marked with a signpost. The walk continues through Newtown plantation, across Lingdale Golf Course, and then across Broombriggs Farm Country Park. Eventually the footpath exits more or less at an entrance to the Beacon Hill circular path.
The path to the top of Beacon Hill is an easy walk, with the path being hard and level enough to make access easy for just about anybody, including pushchairs. Along the way are various wooden sculptures that include various figures and a fairy castle. Most of the sculptures have been created by Peter Leadbitter, who is the parks resident artist and has been working from the hut that you’ll see on the path that returns from the Beacon Hill summit. It doesn’t take long before the rock formations that surround the summit are reached. According to the Beacon Hill leaflet, these crags were created at the bottom of the sea from compressed volcanic ash around 700 million years ago. The layers of rock would have developed horizontally, however they were buckled and tilted into their current position by earthquakes about 600 million years ago. It absolutely amazes me how people know these things!
The summit itself is not particularly spectacular, however the same can’t be said for the views. If you stand on the summit and slowly turn 360 degrees, you’ll be rewarded with a fine view of Leicestershire and beyond for miles around. On a clear day, it’s possible to see Belvoir Castle as well as the hills of the Peak District. If you happen to have a pair of binoculars with you, then it’s also possible to see Lincoln Cathedral, Nottingham, and Derby. If your sense of direction isn’t very good, then a toposcope is on hand to indicate the landmarks that can be seen from the summit. After a short time spent admiring the views and eating a spot of lunch, it was time to continue.
As I arrived at the bottom of the hill, I took a small detour to explore the Rhododendron Labyrinth. I’m guessing that this place looks magical at the right time of year but on this day it looked more spooky than magical with barely a leaf or flower in sight. Just twisted intertwining branches that lacked life. The walk continued back to Broombriggs Farm where I took a slight detour to visit Windmill Hill, and the Windmill that it’s named after. Unfortunately, only the stone base of the Windmill still exists after it was destroyed by fire in 1945. It has now been transformed into a viewing platform, and is open to the public in summer months between 10am and 4pm. As it was closed on this particular day, I took a couple of quick photographs and headed back down to the main trail.
I continued with the planned route and walked through the picturesque village of Woodhouse Eaves before heading into Swithland Wood which covers 150 acres and has been open to the public since 1925. The woodland has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to its diverse plant life and complex ecosystems. It is also home to an old slate quarry that used to be a major source for slate in the area and beyond in the 19th century. The slate quarry ceased production in 1887 and is currently fenced off for safety reasons. I found it enjoyable exploring the forest, and managed to lose my bearings a couple of times as my curiosity took me off course. It was a very quiet day and I found myself really appreciating the peace and tranquility that my surroundings were bringing to me.
Eventually, and all too soon, I was back in Bradgate Park and on the main lower path. From here, it’s a simple case of following the path all the way back to the carpark although if you have plenty of time left, then there’s lots more ground here to explore. A walk up to higher ground brings fantastic views over Cropston Reservoir, and a little further down the path are the ruins of Bradgate House. Apparently it was one of the first houses of its scale to be made out of brick, and was completed in the year 1520. The last occupant was the 2nd Earl of Stamford who died in 1719. The house ceased to be lived in after this, and by 1790 was in ruins.
And that was it. A fine walk on a lovely day – made even better due to the fact it was a weekday and the usual crowds that descend on this park at the weekend were absent. In fact, I was so impressed that I’ve actually returned to Bradgate Park 3 times already since completing this walk. Thoroughly recommended – just watch out for those ticks!
Completed on 24th March, 2015. Total Distance: 10.49 miles
My Google photo album of the walk
Official Bradgate Park website
Bradgate Park – Wikipedia page
Broombriggs Farm and Windmill Hill info
Beacon Hill Country Park official leaflet
Beacon Hill official website
Beacon Hill – Wikipedia page
Swithland Wood – Wikipedia page
The original walk from walkingenglishman.com that inspired me to do this one
GPX file for the walk