Walk 14 – Cropston Forest Circular
This circular walk takes you into Bradgate Park, the home of the 9 Days Queen of England and still a wonderful deer park with much of interest to all visitors, and then into Swithland Wood, one of the finest ancient woodlands in the Forest. You will experience some of the characteristic landscapes of Charnwood Forest with granite outcrops, dry-stone walls, a Victorian water supply reservoir and ancient woodland.
There is a bus stop for the Centrebus 154 service from Leicester to Loughborough by the Bradgate Arms near the start point of the walk.
The walk will take about two hours, plus whatever time you wish to devote to exploring Bradgate Park and Swithland Wood. There is an element of on-road walking.
Walk to the crossroads at the western end of the village (Cropston Rd/Station Rd) and walk down Causeway Lane. Beyond the houses the lane becomes a bridleway and provides excellent views towards Bradgate Park over Cropston Reservoir. One kilometer from the start point the bridleway turns sharp left through a field gateway but you need to keep heading broadly straight on but with the field hedge now on your right. Follow this path around the edge of a 40 acre field and then across two pastures and go through the pedestrian gate into Bradgate Park. Follow the well-marked and very well maintained short-cropped grass path (the deer provide an excellent sward!) keeping an eye out for Green Woodpeckers which regularly feed on the ant hills on your left. Cross the bridge over the River Lin opposite the ruins of Bradgate House and turn right on to the tarmac road. This road passes the Park visitor centre, café and toilets. 500 metres after these you come to the Hallgates exit. Walk out of the car park and turn left along Roecliffe Rd.
After passing the Hallgates buildings, go over the stile into the pasture field and follow the well-trodden path across the field into Swithland Wood.
Turn left in the wood and after just 80 metres walk up an embankment and turn right on to the bridleway running through the wood.
After 200 metres turn right, still on a bridleway, and follow this route as it leads you out of the wood.
80 metres after leaving the wood turn right, still on a bridleway between fields and after 200 metres take the left fork onto a footpath which leads you past horse pastures and a very attractive small lake, known locally as Puddledyke, which is excellent for dragonflies in summer, to Bradgate Road.
Turn left on to the road and after 450 metres, when the road forks, take the footpath on the right (which would make the 4th leg of a crossroads) and follow this path back to Station Rd, Cropston, turning right onto it to get back to the start.
Some of the old names are fascinating and cause you to ponder over their historic origins. Puddledyke sits in the corner of three woodland blocks. It sits where Farther Broom Close and Near Broom Close meet Big Meadow, names lost in the mists of time.
Bradgate Park was bought by Charles Bennion in 1928 and given 'to be preserved in its natural state for he quiet enjoyment of the people of Leicestershire.'
It has long been held that Lady Jane Grey, the Nine Days Queen lived in Bradgate House. What is known for certain is that Edward Grey's son married Elizabeth Woodville, who after John's death married Kind Edward IV. Their son, Sir John Grey of Groby, 1st Marquess of Dorset prepared for the building of Bradgate House in the late fifteenth century but died before he was able to begin. It was his son, Thomas Grey, second Marquess of Dorset, who built Bradgate House. The completion date was believed to be c.1520. However, there is now some uncertainty over the completion date. An older house under Bradgate House has been revealed by recent archaeological work by the University of Leicester Archaeological Service and findings have suggested that Lady Jane Grey who wasn't born until 1537 may have lived in the older house.
Bradgate Park is also internationally important for its geology and palaeontology. The Pre-Cambrian outcrops include four 'type-members' of the Charnian Supergroup formed some 560 million years ago.
Bradgate is one of the few places in Britain where these rocks can be seen at the surface. The oldest rocks within Bradgate Park are the rocks nearest Old John and memorial summits.
The fossils at Bradgate and in other nearby Charnian rocks are the only known Precambrian fossils in Western Europe. Until 1957 it had been thought that complex life forms and perhaps life itself began with the Cambrian Period and that all rocks older than this developed in a world without plants or animals. Fossil discoveries, in the 1950s, subsequently required a re-evaluation of when life began. It also resulted in the re-classification of other rocks in Southern Australia and Newfoundland, which have similar fossil marks. At Bradgate Park there are some 50 known examples. They mainly take the form of two-dimensional impressions of fronds and disks and have at various times been described as seaweed, jelly fish, corals or sea anemones. They are now described as belonging to the Ediacara biota. The latest research suggests that they are animal and most similar to corals.
BradgateParkisalsoimportantecologically andisaSiteofSpecialScientific Interest designated as one of the finest remaining examples of ancient parkland in Leicestershire and contains some of the last remaining fragments of wet heathland in the county. Fauna that can be seen, in addition to the captive herds of Red and Fallow Deer include Rabbits, Hares and Foxes. Birds that are specialities of the Park include Green Woodpecker, Little Owl, Stonechat, Common Buzzard and Yellowhammer.
One of the outstanding woodlands in the Charnwood Forest, Swithland Wood was sold in 1921 to the Leicester timber merchant William Gimson, who began to extract the timber commercially, with the aim of dividing up the land for building plots as it was gradually cleared.
Following public concern about
the threatened loss of this ancient woodland of importance for its geological, natural history and industrial history features, in 1925 the Rotary Club of Leicester, with the cooperation of William Gimson, bought the whole site of approximately 137 acres (55 ha) for preservation and to provide access to the public for recreation ''as a national heritage."
The Rotary Club established the Swithland Wood Trust, repaired and renewed the fencing of the area, provided car parking and restored the paths, spending around £6,000 on the original purchase, fencing and landscaping.