Walk 18 - Markfield - Chitterman Hills
This is a challenging walk and you need to be fit, and have some walking and map reading experience. It is hilly and while it includes a lot of country lanes there are some navigational challenges. You must have the correct shoes but in return you will be rewarded with the most spectacular buildings in the Forest
It can be done in two hours but it is better to make at least a half day of it and stop to enjoy the delights along the route.
Starting from Markfield and Leicester Road, take the path to the right as you go downhill which passes under the A50. Keep left and go up the hill to reach Lea Lane. Turn right here and on your left you will see the entrance to Stoneywell, a National Trust Property (see note 1).
Along your route is one of the cluster of houses built by the same arts and crafts devotee Ernest Gimson.
Keep past the property and follow Lea Lane round to the left till it meets Ulverscroft Lane where you go left.
This in turn meets Priory Lane where you will eventually go to the left.
Straight in front of you though, a track carries on and reaches the historic Ulverscroft Priory, private but visible from the track (see note 2)
Retrace your steps to the Priory Lane and go right following it across Lea Lane and downhill.
Eventually you will see a drive into Ulverscroft Wood and Manor.
The Manor is an educational and activity facility owned and managed by the Shuttlewood Clarke Foundation (https://shuttlewood-clarke.org/). During opening hours, the woods are open for all unless there is a private party on site. There is a network of waymarked paths and information boards so it is worth a quick wander before proceeding long Priory Lane.
After a few yards, you will then see a surfaced track going off uphill to your right. Go up this steep hill (there is a bench half way up!) and you reach Ulverscroft Grange (see note 3) with a tearoom affording one of the best views in the area. It also has a remarkable model train layout though this is only open occasionally.
When you have recharged your batteries, carry on through the grounds to come out on Whitwick Road which you follow back to Markfield (turn left).
Care is needed on this busy road as there is no pavement.
Note 1 – Stoneywell Cottage (National Trust)
This property is not actually visible from the road but is one of a cluster of properties designed by Ernest Gimson. The family were very prominent in the Leicester Secular Society. It was following one of their meetings, at which William Morris had spoken, that 19-year old Ernest met and greatly impressed Morris. It was Morris that steered Gimson to his subsequent career.
Ernest decided to move to London to continue his architectural training, whilst his brother, Sydney, followed their father into the family business. However, he returned regularly to Leicester, even after his move to the Cotswolds in 1893.
It was there, at Sapperton, that he collaborated a great deal with the Bransley brothers, who, like him, designed and made some of the furniture at Stoneywell Cottage.
As well as producing furniture, he continued his architectural work, including, of course, designing Stoneywell for his brother in 1898.
Stoneywell is currently closed to visitors because of the pandemic. In normal times, you must pre-book. There is a tearoom and shop on site. Parking is only available to pre-booked visitors to the house and is located on Whitcroft's Lane.
Note 2 – Ulverscroft Priory (private)
The Priory was founded as an Augustinian Priory in 1174, a successor to an earlier hermitage. The 13th and 14th century buildings are built from local stone. Ruins of the priory church and tower remain. The prior's lodging and refectory are incorporated into the farmhouse constructed on site. The priory's door was reused at Thornton Church. The site was purchased in 1927 by Sir William Lindsay Everard, preserving the decaying ruins from total destruction.
Note 3 – Ulverscroft Manor and Ulverscroft Grange (Shuttlewood Clarke Foundation)
The amazing model railway was the brain child of the founder of Shuttlewood Clarke, the late David Clarke. Clarke was a successful racing driver gracing Silverstone, Goodwood, Le Mans and the Monte Carlo Rally.
Construction of the railway was started in 1977, having been initially situated in a factory drawing office in Mountsorrel. It was designed from the outset to be a technical exercise in the operation of points and signals based upon the Great Western Railway of the 1930's. Both colour light and semaphore signals are represented as realistically as possible, including signals and points operated by mechanical interlocked levers and track circuiting in a near prototypical manner. It first operated successfully from about 1983.
The layout, built to a scale of 4mm to 1ft, has been radio controlled from the outset with radio gear fitted along with batteries in the rolling stock behind each locomotive. This, in itself, is quite a unique feature especially for the time of its inception.
In normal times, it is well worth timing and pre-booking a visit to this layout or Stoneywell Cottage to be part of this walk around the historic properties.