Wonderful walk at Hicks Lodge last week - I loved this birch with its golden leaves shining in the autumn sun. Wasn't sure if the 'Return to Centre' sign was telling me something deep and meaningful or simply saying it was time to visit Grounds Cafe for my daily cappuccino!
Brilliant news too - the lovely people at Grounds now have Walks for All in the Heart of the Forest. There is a copy available for you to browse while you are enjoying your refreshments and, if you want to buy it, then they have some for sale behind the counter.
You'll find 2 walks that start and finish at Hicks Lodge within the book plus plenty more from other local spots.
If you are looking for some good dog walks during the winter months Hicks Lodge gives you a few options.
Most popular with dog walkers is the simple loop around the main lake - just follow the trail around from the main car park. It can be fairly bracing and certainly blows away the cobwebs - if fact, before the Hicks Lodge days, this spot used to be known as 'The Windy Place' in our house!
My favourite for an 'everyday' walk is to cross over to the trails on the other side of the road and follow the first loop of the family trail around (as long as it isn't too wet you can vary this by including bits of the horse riding track too).
When we fancy a longer walk we again cross over the road, head out on the family trail, venture down the hill onto the second loop and then join the Wood Farm trail. This gives a good hours walk even at a fairly brisk pace and again you can make it longer or shorter by adding bits of the horse track too.
While the cycle centre side of the site is very popular you'll often find that the paths on the other side of the road are really quiet (especially if you can go weekdays). I love the little ponds over there too. And, of course, the icing on the cake (literally!) is the wonderful food at Grounds Cafe, plus dogs are welcome too :)
Two stunning days of early winter sunshine so time to do a bit of exploring in the forest.
Saturday morning saw us heading out to Billa Barra Nature Reserve - the site of one of the 6 noon columns that are sited within the National Forest.
I am very familiar with the noon columns at Sence Valley and Staunton Harold but had never got around to exploring any of the others. Then in September, when walking the Charity Link Leicestershire 3 Peaks Challenge we passed through Billa Barra Nature Reserve and lo and behold there was a noon column. By this time we were quite a few hours into the challenge and feeling a little the worse for wear - I think my walking buddies, Vanessa and Bernadette, thought that I'd completely lost the plot when I suddenly perked up and started shouting 'Look, Noon Column!'. Once I'd explained the whole noon column concept they got with the programme though and subsequently a plan was hatched for some of the 2018 Ashby Life walks to visit the various noon columns.
Saturdays outing was a preliminary visit to see the layout of the site, take some pictures, and have a stroll round to get a feel for the place. I was very impressed - there is a neat little car park and plenty of well kept paths to lead you around the site. The noon column is close to the car park and, of the 3 I've seen so far, this is my favourite - there is something very pleasing in the shape and look of it that I just love. The site is centred around a hill and has a mix of grassland, which was sporting quite a variety of fungi on Saturday plus areas of young trees and a lovely mature copse on the top of the summit. The area within the copse has interesting dips and rocks which we guessed were the signs of possible quarrying? The name Billa Barra is thought to indicate that there was once a barrow (or burial ground) there. We loved it - I'll be going back to plan and write up a short stroll around the site to share with readers of Ashby Life and What's Around in months to come. Meanwhile if anyone fancies a longer walk, Roots Community Singers did one which is now available as a download from their website.
On Sunday we went in search of a yurt. If you haven't come across yurts before then the best way I can describe them is as a sort of huge, and very attractive, tent, but much more luxurious! They have become quite popular for 'glamping'.
My partner Mark actually lived in a yurt for a period and I was keen to see one 'in the flesh (or canvas!)'. I knew that the Shuttlewood-Clarke Foundation had one within their woodland at Ulverscroft Manor so we headed back out towards Markfield. Sadly a lot of the site was closed and dogs weren't allowed on the woodland paths but I did manage a quick walk around part of the Yew Trail and found the yurt. It was covered over (for the winter I'm guessing) but a bit of pegged up cover allowed a view through the window into the interior - very tardis like, it looked much bigger on the inside than from the outside! Certainly a lovely space.
Summary - exploring is good! Two new places discovered, and loving the winter sunshine.
Every so often we get all adventurous and venture just outside the National Forest and this week we went all the way to Market Bosworth.
The arboretum in Market Bosworth Park is just beautiful all year round but I particularly wanted to check out the autumn colours so we headed down there with the dogs on Monday and it certainly didn't disappoint.
Last time we went it was conker season and we collected enough to fill a big wooden bowl which now graces our kitchen windowsill. This time we were greeted by the sight of trees still laden with apples - everything from tiny green crab apples to much larger and rosier versions. The oaks in the parkland were a wonderful mix of green, russet and brown as the leaves are gradually turning.
The real treat though was when we arrived on the far side of the park at the arboretum. Reds from the maples, stunning dogwoods with everything from pale lime and light russet leaves to almost purple stems, rich green evergreens - it's got the lot at the moment.
I once lived in Pennsylvania in the USA for a year. We were surrounded by woodland and when we left in October my last memories are the beautiful colours of the trees turning. I don't know if it is global warming, the planting of the National Forest, or simply because I notice it more now but I think the trees around here give an autumn display that is every bit as stunning as those of my memories from the other side of the pond.
If, like me, you love a bit of autumn colour then it's well worth popoing down to Market Bosworth Country Park - head across the parkland towards the duck pond and on the other side of it you'll find the Arboretum. Well kept paths lead you down under the trees meandering past the Stew Pools and over little stone bridges. There is a bird feeding/watching area, benches to rest on and an amazing variety of trees. It's a great space to while away the time and enjoy natures wonderful autumn display.
If you are heading down that way I can recommend combining your visit to the park with either refreshments at Cafe Torte (just off the market square in Bosworth), or a trip to the Farmers Market (held on the 4th Sunday of the month).
I just can't resist a footpath sign. The lure of that little arrow just says 'explore me' and sooner or later I just have to find out where it goes. Happily the National Forest is just full of paths. Public footpaths, permissive paths, tracks, trails and long distance paths - we've got the lot!