Loughborough – a Market Town that Thinks Local (Day 60)
By Steph Bradley 1st June 2010
I walk really slowly out of Newtown Lynford, not even sure I will be able to walk to the next village. My rhythm has slowed right down – it is a full moon and my time of the month; I feel tired and low in energy. I have never noticed this natural rhythm so strongly before. I have felt for several days that I all wanted to do was sleep in the lead up to this time when my body had other concerns. I begin to wish that I had planned my rest periods around this phenomena and not geographical concerns, and resolve to plan my future life around it.
I promise myself a rest and a hot drink if I make it to the next village; 4 miles north. I amble very slowly through the village towards the deer park where the footpath next takes me. I have allowed myself the possibility of a bus to Loughborough if it is due when I reach the bus stop opposite the park. I get there exactly as it is due, and turn away in direction of the park, cross the road and hear the bus go past; I have realised I do not want to catch it at all but I have noticed in the past few months that giving myself permission to fail is usually all the support I need to continue, it is a liberating and empowering feeling.
Committed, I step into Bradgate Park; it is full of signs of bylaws and not a single map of the area or information board about why one would like to enter it. Again this total lack of support, disregard for well being, and lack of trust in people taking responsibility for their actions; instead, a firm top down message that you better hadn’t do anything wrong. I haven’t come across this attitude from the authorities of any other counties I have walked though; I wonder what is behind it? It reminds me of growing up in the seventies. Keep people in a perpetual state of childhood, don’t give them any knowledge to make their own informed decisions, and then be angry when they don’t behave like adults.
The main park gates are shut tight but fortunately a kind old lady hobbling along with her dogs shows me the small hidden entrance for pedestrians off to one side in the wall. Other people are already out walking, the lady tells me the gates are only open when the men with vans come…
She also says if she had a new pair of legs she’d be off across the countryside and I feel grateful for my legs and set off determinedly down the main driveway hoping it will bring me out where I want it to.
I pass an old man crossly shooing a herd of deer away; he is determinedly feeding the ducks and the deer want in. Large signs prohibit the feeding of the animals though there is no clear explanation of what bread does to them. The deer are reluctant to go away and keep coming back to try again; the man is sending out mixed messages, first he throws them a few crumbs then when they come closer he shoes them away.
They are dappled bambi type deer and quite comfortable with people. I walk on and see an official looking man litter picking; I seize on my opportunity for some actual information about where I am. Just as well, the drive does not go where I would like it too, I will need to veer off at the ruined Bradgate and head for Old John’s tower. This can be seen from the OS map but I am glad I asked as the footpath so clearly marked on the map is invisible on the ground.
The park, I read, finally, on a couple of identical plaques scattered about the park, tells me that the park was given over to the public of Leicester in 1928 by the kind intervention of a man of means who bought it from the Greys of a nearby village, descendants of the family who built the castle like home, now in ruins, in the 16th century. I glean this final piece of information by peering through a tiny crack in the fence that keeps visitors out of the castle ruins apart from 2 hours every afternoon when there is a guide available. Teaching about the roots of their settlement is obviously not a priority for the budget holders of Leicester; a bit of a shame really when knowing the roots can help to ground people in their environment, give it some solidity, some meaning.
I follow the OS map to take me onwards to Old John’s tower and again, not a squeak to elucidate what the tower was used for nor who built it or when, just a plaque commemorating Lady Jane Grey’s pageant a few years back and a view finder, one of those circular bronze discs that shows you where you would get to and how far it would be if only you could fly travel like a crow in all directions.
I recall a kindly man on the Rutland/Leicester border telling me of Leicester’s claim to fame, the young Queen Jane who reigned for only a matter of days, and gather that this property of Bradgate must have been one of her homes. She certainly seems to be honoured in these parts.
Walking on though the park and on to the next village is simple and the footpath from Woodhouse Eaves, a village with a really helpful PO master, and its own pharmacy, grocer’s and hairdresser, to Loughborough is beautifully way marked. The inhabitants of the village are very diverse and with an air of confidence and education markedly different from earlier villages I have walked through since leaving Leicester. It is a great contrast and I wonder how it can be so different only a few miles down the road.
The first sign I see in Loughborough is a large Buy and Eat Local and Support your Town sign; this is encouraging, and then I arrive in the midst of a thriving market. I have an instant sense of wellbeing and am reminded again of pattern language (http://transitionculture.org/2010/04/23/transition-network-conference-2010-now-open-for-booking/) and wonder if Loughborough fits the pattern for a perfect market town; its streets are wide so that market stalls easily nestle between the buildings and well connected so that even a stranger can easily find their way around. There is something lovely about the feeling of spaciousness that makes it a pleasure to wonder through and so though it is industrial and presents a fair amount of workers’ coarseness there is a positive feeling in the streets from the people.
The cramped in feeling of Leicester has gone and the sun has come out. I have made it to the next town and I relax and give myself permission to stay in the town that makes me feel comfortable for the rest of the day. I phone my host in Nottingham and say I will arrive the next day.
I settle down to resting and writing in comfortable surroundings in a town that has space to breathe … ahhhhh.