Leicester's scenic Bradgate Country Park offers a range of enjoyable walks.
Distance 3.7 miles (6km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 558ft (170m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Easy surfaced tracks and undulating grassy paths
Landscape Rolling parkland of woods and open spaces
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 246 Loughborough
Start/finish SK 522098
Dog friendliness On lead near deer
Parking Car park at Newtown Linford (pay-and-display)
Public toilets By car parks at start and Hallgates, and visitor centre
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1 Enter the grounds from the large car park at Newtown Linford and turn sharply left on a wide track. Go through an open gateway and, ignoring paths off to the right, stick on the main route uphill (there are in fact two parallel tracks), keeping the park's boundary wall in sight on your left.
2 When you draw level with a large wooden swing gate in the wall, fork right. Go steadily uphill on a wide grassy ride through the banks of bracken, past a small plantation known as Tyburn, and soon you will see the prominent hilltop war memorial up ahead on your left. Follow the obvious grassy track all the way to the 'summit', then go round to the right of the walled plantation behind it to reach the folly known as Old John Tower. Although the centre of Leicester is only 6 miles (9.7km) away, the extensive views from this excellent viewpoint (695ft/212m) are predominantly rural, with large tracts of woodland scattered about.
3 Turn right, straight down the hillside, to a small circular pond in the bracken below. Take the left of three paths on the far side and continue on to reach a track around a walled plantation known as Sliding Stone Enclosure. Turn left and walk along this track for 100yds (91m).
4 Ignore the path straight down to the gate in the wall on your left , and instead go straight on. The grassy track gradually drops down to reach the park's boundary wall and then continues downhill on a short tarmac strip past a small underground reservoir.
5 After 125yds (114m) take the track off to the right, by a wooden bench and, rather incongruously, two drainage covers. This long, straight grassy track heads across the middle of the country park and is easy to follow. It passes between Coppice Plantation and Dale Spinney, from where there are good views across Cropston Reservoir. Continue all the way down to the surfaced drive at the bottom and turn right to reach the visitor centre (open daily April to October, weekends November to March, closed December to February).
6 Continue along this easy, tarmac route past the ruins of the house and the restored chapel, then on alongside the pools and waterfalls of a small valley known as Little Matlock. Look out for the monkey puzzle tree and the cedar of Lebanon, introduced to the park in the 19th century. Continue all the way back to the car park at Newtown Linford.
Bradgate Country Park lies just to the north west of Leicester, and for many years it has been a popular place of escape for the city's population. The spacious and diverse nature of the park's 840 acres (340ha) make it a great family venue, offering easy surfaced tracks and open grassy tracts through to more adventurous hillside paths across the heath, bracken and rocky outcrops.
The centrepiece of the original park was Bradgate House, now just a few sorry ruins. It was built at the turn of the 16th century and was home to the Grey family. Henry Grey was created Duke of Suffolk in 1551, and because (through his wife) his three daughters were the grandchildren of Mary, Henry VIII's younger sister, they had a distant claim to the throne. But the distance grew considerably shorter when a dying Edward VI was persuaded to alter the succession in order to disinherit Catholic Mary, and instead the eldest of the three daughters, Lady Jane Grey, was proclaimed queen in July 1553.
It has to be said that her ladyship was an unwilling player in the events, which were masterminded by the scheming Duke of Northumberland, and just nine days later he had her deposed and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Barely seven months on, the innocent 16-year-old girl was beheaded. According to legend, when the news of her execution reached Bradgate, her childhood home, the groundsmen lopped the tops of the oak trees, and to this day there are stumpy, pollarded oak trees scattered about the park.
Although Bradgate Park was given over to public recreation in the 1930s, it continues to support a resident fallow and red deer population of around 300. In fact deer have been kept here since the 13th century, and since they're no longer hunted they've become a bit less wary of human visitors, so that despite the private deer sanctuary south of the river you'll probably be able to get some close-up views of the handsome creatures. Signs warn against feeding the animals, and it goes without saying that dogs must be kept under tight control when there are deer about.
Bear in mind that deer, like sheep, can carry ticks, and in the summer months when the bracken and grass are high these irritating little mites can also transfer themselves to human skin. If you discover one on your person remove it carefully, but better still avoid getting bitten in the first place by wearing long trousers and long-sleeved tops, and making sure you check yourself and your children at the end of your walk. The park authority produces a helpful leaflet on the subject, available from the visitors' centre.
For more stimulating walking and another lofty country park viewpoint, visit Beacon Hill, about 3 miles (4.8km) to the north of Bradgate, near Woodhouse Eaves. There was once a Bronze-Age settlement around the 815ft (248m) summit, and now you too can gaze over the Trent and Soar valleys in search of warring tribes, sabre-tooth tigers and ice cream vans.
Plenty of choices at Newtown Linford, from the country park shop (light refreshments and ices, open April to October daily and November to March at weekends) to Jade Tea Rooms opposite the park entrance. In the centre of the village the Bradgate (pub) serves food lunchtimes and evenings.
In the centre of the park, next to the main path, is the ruined outline of Bradgate House. Built from the late 1400s, it was one of the first fortified mansions made entirely from brick, with two main wings and towers at the corners (the stumps of a couple are still standing), linked by a great hall that opened out into a courtyard. See more details in the nearby visitor centre.