Camp canalside or in the UK’s only new forest in 1,000 years as you explore this Midlands county.
Leicestershire is proper Middle England (England’s geographical centre is here, where outdoor exploration is focused around rivers, canals, reservoirs, ancient parklands, and country estates. The compelling National Forest project has transformed much of the land northwest of the regional capital of Leicester, creating a new expanse of forest since the 1990s through the planting of some 200 square miles of trees. The fairly flat Leicestershire countryside renders the region brilliant for hiking, biking, and camping, as the long-distance Leicestershire Round path takes campers on a 100-mile loop through the county’s top sights.
The de facto outdoor playground for citizens of nearby Leicester, Bradgate Park is a centuries-old deer park and a medley of moors, crags, and woods with more similarities to the wild Peak District than to a country park close to the city. Come to walk, explore wildlife-reclaimed industrial land, bird-watch in Swithland Woods, and visit the former residence of Lady Jane Grey, Britain’s shortest-reigning monarch. Look a few miles north of Bradgate Park, near Quorn, for camping.
A serendipitously wild, craggy and wooded area lying between Leicester and Loughborough, Charnwood Forest’s best-known spot is Bradgate Park on its southeast edge, but it spreads far further. Try narrowboating on the Grand Union Canal that bounds the area, or visit historic spots like Mount St Bernard Abbey and the Battle of Bosworth Field site. Set up camp in Quorn, where the most unique site is on Broome Island—only accessible by boat.
The area around Moira was scarred by its former coal mining industry—hence why it was chosen as the location for the National Forest. This major reforestation project straddles parts of Leicestershire, Derbyshire, and Staffordshire, combining existing forest with newer plantations, and has reinvented the area as a walking, cycling, and horse-riding destination. Ex-mining village Moira now hosts the National Forest Discovery Centre, mining-related attractions, and a camping and caravanning site.
The UK’s longest canal, the 137-mile Grand Union Canal connects Birmingham and London while cutting through much of Leicestershire. It showcases a greener, quieter side to the big towns it passes through and traverses some beautiful countryside. Highlights on Leicestershire’s section include the gorgeous county estate Stanford Hall; Britain’s longest set of canal locks, Foxton Locks; and Leicester city’s Belgrave Hall Gardens area. Narrowboat, walk, or cycle the towpath, visit canal-side pubs, and camp at waterside sites like Quorn’s Broome Island, reachable only by boat.
It would be remiss not to mention one of the Midlands’ most famed outdoor spaces when talking about the Leicestershire outdoors, despite it being over the border in neighbouring mini-county Rutland. The nearest edge of this reservoir and its nationally famous bird reserve is a mere 22 miles east of Leicester. Much of this watery expanse is protected as a nature reserve, and a cycling trail completely laps the shoreline. The southern shore and Hambleton Peninsula have campsites.