From our North-West Leicestershire Correspondent.
I’m so grateful to SteveM for pointing me in the direction of this fascinating blog. We’ve been chums for many years and as we’ve matured like fine wines, so our riding has developed into a more mature, rounded and full bodied product!
‘Grass up the Middle’ has given me a new impetus to explore the myriad tracks and lanes locally, many forged from the areas industrial background. Apart from the sadly now disappeared hosiery and knitwear factories, we have the legacy of hundreds of one and two man coal mines, granite quarrying and the early development of the railway network.
Many of the routes to former workplaces are themselves falling into disuse and disrepair too, as Local Government budgets are stretched beyond breaking. The only positive is that we are regaining our countryside, as these ancient byways don’t provide speedy enough commuting for today’s workers! In some cases , grass is growing up the middle!
I’ve still a fair number of local lanes to show you, but today I pottered slowly around never more than 3 miles from home.
The windmill at Swannington, will be familiar to some of you who’ve visited. It is a fine example of how local folks with old craftsmen’s skills have worked together to achieve a perfectly restored ’Post’ windmill – it is complete in every respect, apart from the sails, which have purposely been omitted – that may be a future project, perhaps?
I turned, bisecting two popular ancient woodlands, Gracedieu and Cademan, pausing briefly to admire the little ‘doorway’ created in the bark on an old oak tree at the roadside, with it’s cute door handle and notice. folks decorate it at Christmas, but its never vandalised or mistreated…
Down the steep hill and down past ‘Poachers Corner’ to muse over former rock climbing expeditions on the volcanic High Sharpely Rocks, long since closed off to the public by a feudal landowner. We had protest marches supported by hundreds of locals , but to no avail. I have spent ‘cheeky’ evenings climbing there, but thankfully was never caught!
Retrace, and a seemingly never-ending grind up the road and a left turn brings me to Mount Saint Bernard’s Abbey, a Cistercian monastery http://mountsaintbernard.org home to some 30 or so Brothers. It is a ‘closed’ order and largely self supporting. In recent years the monks ran a 200 head dairy farm, produced their own milk, cream and yoghurt, had thriving pottery, bookbinding and beekeeping operations. Sadly only the pottery remains as the other skills have lost as Brothers died. One of my friends (John Heard, Steve) has taken over the beekeeping and has a thriving honey business locally. There are Guest Houses for visitors (no fees – just a donation – separate house for ladies!) No-one is turned away who needs food or shelter. It’s not uncommon to see travellers walking the lanes on their way to and from the monastery. The monks own a large parcel of some several hundred acres, much of which is now rented out to neighbouring farmers. They refused the Quorn Hunt permission to hunt on their land, which irritated the ‘Squire’ and pleased the locals! It is a popular spot with visitors from far and wide and many attend services there. The current Abbott (voted by the Brothers) is young (early 40’s and from Norway) – he was chosen to sing at the installation of the current Pope at the Vatican. It is a very interesting site and contains a hidden burial ground containing the remains of children who were kept in the reformatory near there in the 1850’s ( this is a good read! –http://www.childrenshomes.org.uk/WhitwickRfy/ )
We can recall the hermit – a monk who spent many years living in the woods nearby. The monks would leave food for him, as would locals. He would never speak but would nod as he passed. A frightening experience to have him emerge from the mist in his white robes and heavy black hood….
From here it was a pleasant cruise back home for coffee, pausing only to natter to my 70 odd year old chum who’d put in a long 58 in a 25 mile TT in South Wales this weekend – there’s hope for us all!
Words & pictures – Robin Fisk.