Discover a fairy-tale castle and a lost canal on the Lincs/Leics border.
Distance 4.8 miles (7.7km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 558ft (170m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Tow path, field and woodland tracks and country lane
Landscape Steep wooded hills and open arable land
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 247 Grantham
Start/finish SK 837342
Dog friendliness Excellent, under close control near livestock
Parking Main Street in Woolsthorpe by Belvoir
Public toilets None on route (nearest in Bottesford)
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1 Walk northwards out of Woolsthorpe by Belvoir on the pavement of Sedgebrook Road, the continuation of Main Street, towards Bottesford. Turn right into the wide-verged lane for the Rutland Arms (signposted) and go over the canal bridge at Woolsthorpe Wharf.
2 Turn left and follow the straight, grassy bank of the Grantham Canal until Stenwith Bridge (No 60). Go underneath and immediately right, for a short path up and on to the road. Turn left and follow this over the old railway bridge and out along a lovely wide lane of oak trees. At the far end it bends left, and here turn right.
3 Follow the initially hedged and unmade Longmoor Lane for just over ¾ mile (1.2km). When you reach the far end turn left before the bridge, to join the neat gravel tow path, and walk along this as far as an elegant wooden arched bridge (the 'Bridle Bridge').
4 Cross over the bridge and head out across the middle of a wide arable field. Go over the course of the old railway again and continue up the left-hand side of a sloping field. At the top turn left on to a well-walked track.
5 Follow this pleasant route with lovely views out towards the hills surrounding Grantham. Where the track kinks left, after a fenced section, go straight on/right across a wide field - follow the direction of the public footpath signpost and aim for the hedge opening at the very far side. Go across Cliff Road for a track into woodland.
6 Just before you reach a private tip, turn left to enter a field via a stile. Turn right and follow the field edge along and then down the bumpy, grassy slope back to Woolsthorpe. There are excellent views across the head of the Vale of Belvoir to Belvoir Castle opposite. At the bottom go over the stile behind the cricket scorebox, along the edge of the pitch (with the football ground to your left), and down the drive of the pub to reach the centre of the village.
7 If you want to extend the walk to visit Belvoir Castle, turn left into Main Street then right into Belvoir Lane. At the end of this cul-de-sac go over the small brick bridge and continue straight ahead across fields towards the hilltop fortification. Using the same route to return, the complete journey is an extra 2 miles (3.2km) and involves a further 100ft (30m) of ascent.
First, the small matter of pronunciation. In these parts 'Belvoir' sounds like 'Beaver', although quite why this should be is unclear since its history dates back to Norman times when William the Conqueror gave the land to his standard-bearer Robert de Todeni. The original castle was called 'Belvedere', a term still used in landscape architecture to denote an elevated room offering good views. Belvoir Castle passed through many hands over the centuries, and was virtually destroyed on more than one occasion. The most recent was during the Civil War, when Woolsthorpe's original church was also reduced to rubble (the present Church of St James dates from 1848).
In 1508 the castle came into the hands of the Manners family, and is currently home to the latest in the line, the 11th Duke of Rutland. However the present castle dates mainly from the early 19th century and is in the 'romantic' style of the day, with elaborate rounded turrets and battlements. It sits proudly astride the head of the Vale of Belvoir like something out of a Disney movie.
Both the castle and its grounds are open to the public daily from May to September. There is an impressive collection of artwork and period furniture, a museum dedicated to the Queen's Royal Lancers cavalry regiment, plus a restaurant and tea rooms. Regular special events are held throughout the summer including country fairs, concerts and medieval jousting.
In contrast to the bustle and activity of the Grand Union Canal at Foxton Locks, the Grantham Canal appears rather forlorn and overlooked. It was built 1793-7 and provided a 33-mile (53km) link between Nottingham and Grantham via Leicestershire. Despite competition from the Nottingham-Grantham railway it was initially profitable, and was used to transport local produce such as iron ore from the hills above Woolsthorpe, which was taken via the Trent and the Erewash Canal to the ironworks at Ilkeston. But the waterway's business was finally dashed by the construction of the (now defunct) Belvoir branch ironstone railway in 1883, which you can see running parallel with the canal to join the Nottingham-Grantham line to the north.
The canal was finally abandoned in 1936 and, despite the intentions of a restoration trust to return it to a navigable state, it is now a quiet and largely overlooked thoroughfare. There are clear stretches, and British Waterways has kept most of the permissive tow path in a decent walkable state, but in places the invading weeds and rushes and luxuriant vegetation have almost choked the waterway. Nevertheless this provides a wonderful corridor for wildlife, attracting large numbers of birds, amphibians and dragonflies.
The 12th-century St Mary the Virgin Church at Bottesford has the highest spire in Leicestershire (210ft/64m). The tombs and effigies of the various incumbents of Belvoir Castle include that of Francis, the 6th Earl of Rutland, who lies between his first and second wives. Two of his sons are mysteriously recorded as dying by witchcraft.
The two popular local pubs both serve food lunchtime and evening (bar meals and restaurant) and offer scenic outdoor seating. The Chequers, off Woolsthorpe's Main Street, is a handsome old place overlooking the cricket pitch, while the Rutland Arms (also known as the Drunken Duck) is located a mile (1.6km) north of the village by the canal and includes a large outdoor play area for children. Belvoir Castle has a restaurant and tea rooms for visitors.
Towards the end of the walk, on the wooded hilltop east of Woolsthorpe, is a place marked as Brewer's Grave, so called because it is believed to be the last resting place of an unfortunate brewer from Belvoir Castle who one night drank too much and accidentally drowned in a vat of his own ale.