Christmas Markets with Wolsey Lodges
- Travel Guide
It would be easy to succumb to the long December nights, but the runup to Christmas brings a show of defiance. Across…Read More
There’s a lot going on in Leicestershire. First the Ordnance Survey recalculated the centre point of England, moving it from Coventry to a field near Fenny Drayton in Leicestershire. More significantly a car park in Leicester was discovered to be the burial site of Richard III, the last king of England to die in battle. His remains are now more comfortably housed in Leicester Cathedral, and his history is being rewritten. Read on for Wolsey Lodges’ essential guide to the best things to see and do in a part of the UK that is often overlooked. From Roman times to the Wars of the Roses, the county has been key, the Industrial Revolution built canals and steam railways, and the county was key in the UK’s role in the race for space. Read on for excellent reasons to plan your next visit.
When Richard III was discovered under a Leicester car park, the spotlight swung on this overlooked part of England’s East Midlands. Among other things, it sparked a closer examination of Richard’s legacy. Shakespeare, seeking favour with the Tudor monarchy responsible for Richard’s death, massively traduced Richard’s history and the end of Plantagenet rule. It is Shakespeare’s heavily spun negative version that captured the public imagination and lives on in the national memory to the present day.
They know better in Leicester. A new award-winning visitor centre celebrates the discovery of Richard’s body and actually looks down on the car-park grave where he was found. It also makes sense of the Wars of the Roses, and brings the events of 1485 to life. This is the world of the Battle of Bosworth – where there’s another visitor’s centre – and Lady Jane Grey, the nine-day queen, who lived in the now-ruined Bradgate House.
Some time at the visitor centre is a perfect prelude to a gentle stroll over to Leicester Cathedral. This was actually a parish church until 1927 when it was upgraded to Cathedral status, so it’s not the biggest cathedral you’ll ever visit but it has some lovely stained glass windows, one of which features a small football, and is where you’ll find Richard’s tomb in a crypt.
It’s a 20-minute walk across the city centre, with its history dating back to the Roman era, to the ruins of Leicester Abbey in Abbey Park. For any fan of Wolsey Lodges, this is where Cardinal Wolsey died and was buried in 1530. He said on arrival ‘I am come hither to leave my bones among you’ which would never be good news for any Wolsey Lodge host and was buried near the high altar of the abbey church. His actual grave has never been found – and yes, people have looked – so he’s still there somewhere. His tomb has moved a few times since and now resides in Westminster Abbey but Cardinal Wolsey is still in Leicester.
Horseshoe Cottage Farm B&B is beautifully set near Cropstone. It’s gardens border the National Forest with walks from your door along the National Forest Way, and it’s also next to Bradgate Deer Park, with the still-grand ruins of Bradgate House, once home to Jane Grey, the five-day queen. The whole place is in a charming state of atmospheric decay. There’s no decay in Horseshoe Cottage though, with a lovely garden and wonderful accommodation. The three guest bedrooms are privately set in a beautifully-converted barn, with soaring beams, a sitting room with an open fire and – for long summer evenings – a sun terrace.
Leicester also celebrates more recent history. In the 1960s Leicester was very much involved in Britain’s race into space and the National Space Centre is located here. Displays – in an iconic modern building – include standing rockets from that era, one of only three Soyuz spacecraft in the west, a restaurant, dome cinema and planetarium.
Despite being close to the village of Rempstone near Loughborough, Hrempis Farm is quietly set within its own grounds and offers peace and solitude without being in any way remove: the village is a short stroll away. There are just three guest bedrooms here, and despite its very modest price facilities include exclusive use of the large ground-floor public rooms, including a full-sized snooker table, a grand piano and plenty of books. These make even winter visits rewarding, with open fires providing warmth and atmosphere. In the summer the gardens come into their own with croquet available on the lawn.
Leicester’s best-known culinary specialities are known throughout the world. There are two cheeses, Stilton and Red Leicester, and the comforting warmth of a Melton Mowbray pork pie.
Now a new wave of cuisines are found across the pubs and restaurants of Leicestershire. Tastes of Asia and Italy blend with the latest British cuisine in countless venues across the market towns scattered around the rolling unspoiled countryside of this, perhaps the least pretentious of all the English counties.
One unique taste in Leicestershire comes from the UK’s first, and now only, Trappist Monastery. Mount St Bernard Abbey in Coalville produces ‘Tynt Meadow’, a highly-rated beer that comes out at 7.4%. Despite strong demand from Belgium and the Netherlands the monks have no plans to expand production so your best chance of finding some is at the Abbey’s own shop or a few select local outlets.
Originally a rectory, Glebe House Muston B&B is a fine Georgian mansion in the Grantham area. It is beautifully set in extensive grounds next to Muston’s village church, where little seems to have changed for the last 200 years. The interiors are beautifully fitted with period furnishings, including four-poster beds, and there are grand reception rooms on the ground floor. Glebe House has formal gardens, including a croquet lawn, all surrounded by sixteen acres with walking trails for guests and grazing for sheep: paths lead to viewpoints with magnificent panoramas of Belvoir Castle and the Vale of Belvoir.
Some of the UK’s grandest castles and stately homes are found in Leicestershire. Belvoir (pronounced ‘beaver’) Castle has been in the same family since 1067. Its current iteration is a massive property built in Gothic Revival style in 1880. It will be familiar to viewers of Netflix’s ‘The Crown’ as it stood in for Windsor Castle Although it’s privately owned it is open to the public, and is a great place to go for a period-costumed hospitality, with a fine collection of 18th and 19th century pictures, furniture, tapestries and porcelains. The Italianate landscaped grounds are great for jousting tournaments, or even just a good walk with a dog – the views are superb.
A lot of Leicestershire land (arguably all of it) changed hands back in 1067, and for a period example of this hop across the border into Northamptonshire to visit Rockingham Castle. This was built by William the Conqueror and was used by the early Kings of England until the 16th century. The outer Norman walls remain but every century has left its trace in the largely Tudor property and its 12 surrounding acres of formal and wild gardens.
Or look small. Stoneywell Cottage is one of the smallest National Trust properties, a wonderfully quirky Arts and Crafts property designed by Ernest Gimson in Charnwood Forest. The property zigzaggs out from a rocky outcrop in a series of rooms filled with original furniture and family treasures, conjuring childhood memories of holiday excitement. The adventure continues in the grounds and this is one of the National Trust’s most popular properties with families, with lots of forts and trails to explore. Wolsey Lodge guests can get a personal intro here: Tim Jee, of Horseshoe Cottage Farm, is a driver here while Linda Jee is an official keeper of Stoneywell Cottage’s bees, and can probably arrange a honey tasting menu, on request, along with your breakfast.
Just across the border in Derbyshire and usefully close to East Midlands Airport, Breedon Hall B&B is a glorious Georgian manor house near Breedon on the Hill. B&B accommodation is in five guest bedrooms in the main house: you can choose from a range of different sizes from huge to compact, but they’re all comfortable and beautifully furnished. Alternatively go for self-catering accommodation in one of three beautifully modernised two-bedroom mews cottages in the extensive grounds. Breedon Hall is actually in the National Forest so is great for walkers, while it also has electric bikes available to explore further with ease.
How you get around is all part of the experience for visitors to Leicestershire. The Great Central Railway is the UK’s only double track, main line heritage railway – and it’s the only place where two full size steam trains can be seen passing each other in a glorious throwback to the age of steam. Trains run throughout the year between Loughborough and Leicester and there are imminent plans to extend the line to Nottingham. In all it is a wonderful life-sized railway set for adults and children alike.
Slow down a little for the Grand Union Canal. This magnificent waterway runs from London to Birmingham and the section in Leicestershire is known as ‘The Leicester Line’. This links to the River Soar to feed through to the River Trent and the Trent and Mersey Canal. In the tranquil waters of the Leicester’s ‘Mile Straight’ you’ll find rowing boats, sculls and occasional regattas, while in other sections quite towpaths skirt staircase lifts and countless canal barges. Look out for Foxton Locks, where a flight of ten locks can be bypassed by a slideway, an unusual 1900 solution to getting barges up and down hills.
Just across the border in Rutland, Holywell Lodge B&B is a welcoming property with two guest bedrooms, a large country garden and a paddock and stabling (if required) for your horses. Your hosts here spent 15 years staying in large corporate or small boutique hotels and were inspired to offer something friendlier and less formal but still offering touches of luxury. An example of their thoughtful touches is there’s a TV down in the guest snug but Ipads provided in guest rooms to catch up with programs in private. The award-winning Olive Branch pub and Burghley House are close by.
Other parts of Leicestershire can be explored on foot or by cycle. Where you do this is likely to depend on where you stay: there is forest and farmland, hills and valleys. Waymarked trails include the Leicester Round and the National Forest Way: whichever lodge you choose your hosts will know your best local options. In Leicestershire you’re surprisingly close to other attractions too: in less than an hour you can reach the Peak District, Stratford-on-Avon or Warwick. Leicestershire really is a county to visit.