Sunday, 3 April 2011

Walking the National Forest in Leicestershire

Monday saw me wandering more pathways. The morning mist added to the beauty of the drive to Oakthorpe in Leicestershire, although by the time of my arrival the spring sunshine was already burning this off.

These pathways, now a part of the National Forest, was a part of the Leicestershire Coal fields. Indeed these were some of the deepest shafts sunk in the county. Records of coal being extracted and brought to Leicester Abbey by packhorse can be traced back to the thirteenth century and some would undoubtedly have come from here for although the first surviving record dates from 1412 there is much evidence to suggest this was well-established by then. Over the next three hundred years landowners and yeomen farmers hereabouts earned a living from mining and agriculture. In 1606 it is shown that some 3,000 tons of coal were removed by 20 employees, without the aid of machinery. We also know the woodland had been cut down for timbers to support the mines were brought in from neighbouring Derbyshire. Mining continued until 1885, most of the coal being shipped out via the Ashby Canal (this stretch now filled-in) for by the time the railway arrived large scale mining had ended.

Today the mines are capped, only the stone markers reveal where the mine shafts were situated. Now landscaped, this area is a mixture of grassland, pathways, wild flowers, managed woodland, with still some of the original hedgerows and copses. The opencast workings towards Willesley Wood and the golf course have flooded, providing a haven for wildlife.

I took a circular walk which took in part of Donisthorpe, however there are much shorter routes. Considering the noise, grime and spoil heaps which would have dominated this area throughout centuries of mining, the idyllic modern greenery is little short of miraculous.

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