Mill, mines and railways walk
This 7-mile walk takes in wonderful ancient woodland and open countryside and passes many of the industrial heritage features of Swannington and Whitwick villages. You’ll see remnants of 5 railway lines, 3 mines, a castle and a restored windmill! This walk has been developed with help from volunteers at the Swannington Heritage Trust.
The route is packed full of history, and explores the cultural and industrial heritage from the Industrial Revolution, much of which is still visible to this day.
Coal mines were once a dominant feature of the landscape, and a mix of smaller bell pits and deeper mines populated this part of the Forest. Some of the earliest railways in the country were built here, replacing old horse-drawn tramways, used to transport coal to the factories of Leicester and beyond. The area is criss-crossed with public footpaths, which have their roots in miners tracks – well-trod paths from a place of work to home.
Today, things are much quieter and greener, new woodlands have been planted, and abandoned railway lines have returned to nature, but if you look closely clues from the past still remain.
- Picnic Area
- Walking Trails
DirectionsDistance: 7 miles (11km)
Time: Allow 3.5 hours.
Start at: Vicarage Street car park,
Whitwick, LE67 5GZ
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OS Grid Ref: SK437160
Use with map OS Explorer 245 The National Forest
Points of Interest
The Hough Windmill was built in the late 18th century and stands on the boundary between Swannington, Leicestershire and Thringstone. The mill served a coal mining community and the structure is surrounded by the remains of ancient shallow coal mines. The mill was then sold to the Swannington Heritage Trust in 1994, which through a grant from the heritage lottery fund was refurbished in 2000 and was opened to the public. The mill is now a partially restored brick windmill, containing two pairs of millstones, cap and associated stone floor machinery, mill-related artifacts, exhibits, graphic materials and a new annex building with changing display of pictures, adjoins attractive, trust-owned, common land with a nature trail and picnic area, surrounded by National Forest planting.
Next to the mill is a 5-acre field of gorse and birch woodland, with a network of grass paths. Gorse was grown as feed for animals and was also used as a fuel for heating bread ovens. The gorse burns rapidly and hot and produces very little ash. The nearby Califat Spinney, purchased by the Trust in 1993, was planted on the site of the Califat mine as a small arboretum. The mill pond provides an excellent wetland habitat for flora and fauna.
The inclined plane railway was constructed in 1832 to carry coal uphill from Swannington and Coleorton mines to the Leicester and Swannington Railway (L&SR), where it was taken in wagons to Leicester to power the textile mills. The L&SR was one of the first steam railways in the world, built by Robert Stephenson in 1832. Today the incline forms a linear wood of nearly 2,000 trees, with a variety of dead wood making ideal habitats for wildlife, and in the spring blankets of bluebells can be seen, followed by the scent of wild garlic in the summer.
Off Route Highlights
Grace Dieu Priory
Grace Dieu priory or ‘Grace of God’ as the French name translates was founded by a small Augustinian nunnery in the 13th century and was once home to 16 nuns until 1538 when it was closed during the dissolution of the monasteries and converted into a Tudor house. Today the ruins stand in a valley bottom encircled by a small brook on the edge of Charnwood Forest, the standing ruins include the east end of the 13th-century church, parts of the east range, and the exterior wall of the south range, and by far the most impressive features are the chapter house, entered via a sturdy stone arch and a number of Tudor fireplaces. The priory is believed to have been home to various mysterious sightings of spirits from the past, over the years. The most infamous reportedly being the White Lady ghost.