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Doing Battle at Bosworth

Visit Bosworth - one of England's most famous battlefield sites - via a country park and a canal tow path.

Distance 8.7 miles (14.1km)

Minimum time 4hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 279ft (85m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Easy lanes and tow path, other paths may be muddy

Landscape Gently rolling woods and arable land

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorers 232 Nuneaton & Tamworth; 233 Leicester & Hinckley

Start/finish SK 412031 (on Explorer 232)

Dog friendliness Generally very good (care on street sections)

Parking Market Bosworth Country Park (main car park), off B585

Public toilets At car park, Bosworth Battlefield Visitor Centre, and Market Bosworth

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1 Facing the children's adventure playground and adjoining spinney in Market Bosworth Country Park (at the far end of the large car park), turn right and walk along the grassy track through the wildflower meadow to the woods beyond. Follow the main gravel path through the trees and bear left at a fork. Look for the wide kissing gate on the left.

2 Go through this and follow the path for just under ½ mile (800m) along the edge of woodland and past Looking Glass Pond.

3 Go over a stile and on past the right of Woodhouse Farm. The path continues down along the left-hand side of a field, then climbs the right-hand side of the next.

4 As the hedge falls away the well-walked path heads out across the middle of the field before turning right approaching (but not quite at) the top. It keeps to the top of the next field, then turns left across another to reach the car park of the Royal Arms Hotel. Turn right and walk through Sutton Cheney until, just past the church entrance, you turn right at the road junction (signposted 'Shenton').

5 Follow the lane as it forks left and in 550yds (503m) turn off left through Cheney Lane Battlefield car park to the visitor centre.

6 Follow the semi-surfaced, waymarked Battle Trail across Ambion Hill and down past Richard's and Henry's standards (bare flagpoles if they're not flying) to reach Shenton Station. Cross the railway line by the gate and turn left out of the car park entrance on to the lane. Walk along as far as the canal bridge.

7 Go over the bridge in order to double back and turn left on to the canal tow path, signposted 'Market Bosworth'.

8 After 2½ miles (4km) of easy and peaceful tow path, leave the canal at King's Bridge (No 43), the one after Bosworth Wharf Bridge. Cross this and then the railway bridge beyond for a field-edge path across stiles. This then heads half right across two large open fields - aim to the left of the house in front of hilltop woodland. Go over another stile and along the top of a field before joining an unmade lane into Market Bosworth.

9 At the end join the narrowing road (Back Lane), left and ahead, that comes out in the market place. Cross over and walk past the Old Black Horse Inn, then turn left into Rectory Lane, at the end of which is the country park.

The Battle of Bosworth Field, which took place on 22 August 1485, is one of the key events in English history. Not only did it finally bring to an end the long-running Wars of the Roses, but it also signalled the beginning of a new era as the Middle Ages gave way to the powerful Tudor dynasty.

The Yorkist Richard III had only been ruler for a couple of years before Henry Tudor landed in Pembrokeshire with a small and rather ragbag force and advanced on the Midlands. The two armies met at Ambion Hill, south of Market Bosworth, with Richard's larger force occupying the higher ground and Henry's scattered below. Nowadays their positions are marked by their standards which flutter from tall flagpoles. A third standard, located some way to the north, belonged to a faction led by Sir William Stanley, who crucially decided to pitch in on Henry's side at the last moment and in so doing tipped the scales by cutting off and surrounding the king. Richard was defeated and Henry Tudor became Henry VII of England.

There are interpretative panels all the way along the 1¾-mile (2.8km) Battle Trail, showing the position of the armies and how the fateful day unfurled. The exhibition at the visitor centre (open March to December) is supplemented by regular workshops and re-enactments throughout the summer months.

A memorial stone now marks the place where Richard was slain, but as the last of the Plantagenets - and indeed the last king of England to die in battle - he's since received something of a bad press from historians and chroniclers, most notably William Shakespeare. In fact largely thanks to Shakespeare's play there are few more villainous characters in English literature than Richard III ('I can smile, and murder while I smile'), but whether the reputation is deserved is doubtful. Although he may have been involved previously in the infamous murder of the Little Princes in the Tower, there is scant evidence to suggest that he was any worse as a king than other rulers of the time, plus he seemed to be an able administrator and leader. There is even a society established to clear Richard's name and they meet every year, around the date of the battle, at the Church of St James in nearby Sutton Cheney, where the ill-fated king supposedly heard his last Mass before going in to battle.

To get back to Market Bosworth you follow the course of the Ashby Canal, completed in 1804 and used largely to transport coal from the coalfields of North Leicestershire and Derbyshire. From Easter to September there are regular single and return canal boat trips from near Shenton Station to Sutton Wharf Bridge, to the south.

Where to eat and drink

Besides the numerous pubs in Market Bosworth, look out for the Peppercorn Cottage on Market Place (deli and café) and the splendidly named Batter of Bosworth fish and chip shop on Station Road. There are two pubs in Sutton Cheney, while the Bosworth Buttery at the Battlefield Visitor Centre provides a handy mid-point refreshment stop.

While you're there

A 5-mile (8km) stretch of preserved railway known as the Battlefield Line runs from Shackerstone, where there's a railway museum and buffet, to Shenton Station next to the battlefield site. The latter was formerly a Victorian ticket office reconstructed brick by brick from its original site in Leicester. Weekend trips (both steam and diesel) operate throughout much of the year.

What to look for

Market Bosworth Country Park occupies the site of medieval parkland once grazed by England's only herd of pure black fallow deer. Originally it formed part of the landscaped grounds of Bosworth Hall, but in the 1970s Leicestershire County Council purchased 87 acres (35ha) and established an arboretum featuring oaks, maples and conifers, as well as meadow and a lake.

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