Sunday morning we crossed the river/canal (I'm not sure anymore which it is!) and visited a very small part of Watermead Country Park, a vast expanse of rivers, meadows, lakes and woodlands open to the public in the north of Leicester. It was buzzing with families and activity groups walking and cycling which was good to see.
A life-sized representation of a prehistoric riverside resident - the mammoth - in Watermead Country Park
An assortment of birdlife at the park
Leaving Birstall, we headed south towards Leicester and continued to be accompanied by greenery until just before Belgrave Lock. Belgrave is the predominantly Asian part of the city and sounds fascinating, but we didn't see any moorings that looked 'secure' enough to moor up and walk to the 'Golden Mile' where the focus is on all things Asian - restaurants, shops, Mosques, etc.
The National Space Centre, across the river from Belgrave
From here to the city centre the canal/river sadly went a little downhill with an abundance of litter floating on the surface as well as some unidentified objects under the water which we felt occasionally with a 'thud' - we dragged something along for a few yards before it let us out of its grip, heaven knows what it was! But it was still nowhere near the disgusting state of the canal in Blackburn that we visited in August 2009 and posted a blog titled 'What a load of rubbish!'. Reading the book 'Kiwi Afloat' of a New Zealand woman's journey's on the canals in the late 1970's, I was interested to read that her impression of the canal there mirrored ours - isn't that awful that Blackburn appear to have no pride in their waterway whatsoever and obviously haven't for many a year?
Anyway, I digress, back to Leicester ...
The waterside becomes more urban as we enter Leicester
Old mill buildings apparent & the ornate bridge just before the moorings at Castle Gardens
Pulling up at Castle Gardens wasn't the most pleasant experience as the rubbish bins were overflowing on the landing stage; must've been a busy weekend! Otherwise they're a fine place to stop, though really only sufficient space for about four average length narrowboats. They're fairly secure as you need a BW key to access the Castle Gardens which are all locked at 2000hrs - there's a BW padlock at one entrance that's accessible after hours for boaters.
We walked into the city centre to watch the second half of the England/Germany match - I have to admit that the atmosphere in the places that we've watched the football at in the past couple of weeks has been enjoyable, people really do get right into the spirit of it and it's such a shame that England lost (miserably!) as the streets would've then been lined with happy revellers rather than idiots shouting and swearing and calling Germans nasty names. Why can't the English be pragmatic sportsmen - England played appallingly bad football (from what we know about the game) and Germany played very well, grasped all opportunities and deserved to win!
A tense crowd bite their nails in the Weatherspoon's pub in Leicester City Centre ...
What we hadn't realised was that they were televising the match on a large outdoor screen a short distance from the pub we'd been in, so when we emerged into the sunshine we couldn't believe how many people were wandering the streets - there was a strong police presence in readiness for any hot under the collar aggressive fans. There was definitely a different mood from last week when England won their game, and later in the evening we did witness some heated debate between two idiots which became violent for a short time but soon dissipated thank goodness; I abhor violence of any kind. Let's hope that those pathetic low-lifes who pick on their wives and girlfriends (and bless them children too) when their team lose in football, were too tired to take it out on them when they got home.
Hoards of people in the centre of Leicester on what would normally be a quiet Sunday afternoon
There's some eye catching buildings around
Shame about the signs!
People dressed in various red and white outfits wander around in a morose mood
Castle Garden moorings on the right
St Mary De Castro Church
The Rectory house and castle walls
Leicester was honoured to have two Kings pass through in August 1485 - Richard III was greeted on the 21st as he travelled to do battle for his Kingdom in the penultimate battle of the War of the Roses, otherwise known as the Battle of Bosworth. His body was returned the following evening by the victorious King Henry VII, who became the first English monarch of the Tudor dynasty due to his conquest and subsequent marriage to a Yorkist princess. The occasion of the 500th anniversary of this was marked in Leicester in 1985.
Statue of Richard III in Castle Gardens
I'm sure I've previously said how I wasn't terribly interested in history when I was at school, but visiting so many places in England I've become fascinated to discover more as it all comes to life when you've experienced their ambience. Leicester has so many fascinating facts that it was a challenge to get it down to the five most fascinating ones, but here's my choice:
- In the 19th century, the newly constructed rail and canal network routed through the area stimulated industrial growth, and Leicester became a major economic centre with a variety of manufacturers engaged in engineering, shoemaking and hosiery production;
- It is said that the mythical king of the Britons, King Leir, founded the city of Kaerleir ('Leir's chester' – i.e. fortified town). In Welsh, the city is named Caerlŷr. Leir was supposedly buried by Queen Cordelia in a chamber beneath the River Soar near the city dedicated to the Roman god Janus, and people celebrated his feast-day near Leir's tomb annually. William Shakespeare's play King Lear is loosely based on this story and there is a statue of Lear in Watermead Country Park (we didn't realise this before or we'd have searched it out!).
- Leicester played a significant role in the history of England when, in 1265, Simon de Montfort forced King Henry III to hold the first Parliament of England at the now-ruined Leicester Castle and this building still stands today opposite St Mary De Castro Church, and is known as The Great Hall.
- Since the war Leicester has experienced large scale immigration from across the world. Immigrant groups today make up around 40% of Leicester's population, making Leicester one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the United Kingdom. The Commission for Racial Equality estimated that by 2011 Leicester is likely to have approximately a 50% ethnic minority population, making it the first city in Britain not to have a white British majority. It comes as no surprise then that in primary schools in Leicester, English is not the ‘preferred’ language of 45% of pupils and the proportion of children whose first language is known, or believed to be, other than English, is significantly higher than other cities within the region, or within the UK.
- Leicester Market is the largest outdoor covered marketplace in Europe, selling such things as fruit and vegetables sold by enthusiastic market stallholders who shout out their prices, and fresh fish and meat in the Indoor Market.
If you want to find out more, click here. There are some (dare I say bigoted) people, who feel that the influx of 'foreigners' into Britain is a problem, but we didn't see any sense of racial tension during our short visit, and from what I've read and heard Leicester is proud of it's cultural diversity holding many festivals and celebrations to rejoice rather than deny it, which I for one think is wonderful.
Back onto the water and we've discovered that facilities on the River Soar/Grand Union Canal Leicester are sparse, so we found ourselves running low on water once more, with a red light on our toilet and probably needing diesel in the not too distant future also! So on Monday we'll be motoring to the nearest place for water and pump out - 10 miles and 15 locks away! No excuses this time, we have to travel that distance or we'll be in a spot of bother!