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Charnwood Forest - Wikipedia

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The summit of Beacon Hill

Bluebells in Swithland Wood

Charnwood Forest is an upland tract in north-western Leicestershire, England, bounded by Leicester, Loughborough and Coalville. The area is undulating, rocky and picturesque, with barren areas. It also has some extensive tracts of woodland; its elevation is generally 600 feet (180 m) and upwards, the area exceeding this height being about 6,100 acres (25 km2). The highest point, Bardon Hill, is 912 feet (278 m). On its western flank lies an abandoned coalfield, with Coalville and other former mining villages, now being regenerated and replanted as part of the National Forest. The M1 motorway, between junctions 22 and 23, cuts through Charnwood Forest.

The hard stone of Charnwood Forest has been quarried for centuries, and was a source of whetstones and quern-stones. The granite quarries at Bardon Hill, Buddon Hill and Whitwick supply crushed aggregate to a wide area of southern Britain.

The forest is an important recreational area with woodland walks, noted for their displays of bluebells in the early spring, rock climbing and hillwalking. Popular places with public access include Bardon Hill, Beacon Hill, Bradgate Park, Swithland Wood and the Outwoods and Stoneywell Cottage (National Trust).


The area of hills and open land known as Charnwood Forest has no jurisdictional boundary. (The Borough of Charnwood covers roughly two thirds of Charnwood Forest, and the eastern half of the borough is not part of the forest.) Furthermore, despite its name, Charnwood was never a royal forest, and was never subject to forest law. So although it is an ancient and well-established locality, it has only recently been officially defined, by the Natural England National Character Area (NCA) process,[5] which takes a somewhat wider definition than many previous attempts to define the area.


Many of the craggy rocks of Charnwood Forest are of volcanic origin and are very old, dating back through 600 million years to Precambrian times. It was the site of the first-ever recorded discovery of Charnia masoni, the earliest-known large, complex fossilised species on record. It was discovered in 1957 by a local schoolboy named Roger Mason (thus masoni) who, with friends, was exploring a quarry near the Charnwood village of Woodhouse Eaves. The rocks of Charnwood Forest remain the only place in Western Europe where these Precambrian fossils have been found.

Along the western edge of Charnwood Forest the rocks are mainly Precambrian igneous diorites. These formed from molten lava deep within the sedimentary rocks, cooling slowly to produce hard, blocky rock with large crystals. This is extensively quarried for roadstone around Groby, Markfield and Whitwick, and is known as granite (formerly also called Markfieldite).

The central area of the forest has older rocks still. These are sedimentary and are very variable in character, They were formed by material from volcanoes, settling in deep water, and it is in these beds that the fossils are found. Uplifting, tilting and erosion have produced the distinctive jagged exposures found across the highest parts of Charnwood. On the eastern side, a much more recent series of rocks are found. Again igneous diorites, that formed deep underground, but these are Ordovician, from a mere 450 million years ago. These are extensively quarried in the areas near Mountsorrel.


The earliest form of the name Charnwood is probably derived from cerne woda, from the Celtic carn, meaning cairn, and the Old English wudu, meaning wood. Some sources give cwern as the derivation, meaning a tool used to grind grain and other materials by hand. The area was a source of stone for these tools, called quern-stones.[13]

Archeological evidence has shown that the area was inhabited as far back as the Neolithic period, approximately 4,000-2,000 BC. Beacon Hill is the site of a Bronze Age hill fort, dating from between 600 BC and 43 AD. This forms one of the last surviving visible features in the landscape known to the Coritani, the tribe who occupied most of the East Midlands area at the time of the Roman Conquest.

According to Domesday Book, there was only one settlement in Charnwood Forest in 1086, at Charley whose name would appear to come from the same root, with the suffix -ley denoting open land, rather than forest.

In the 200 years after the Norman conquest, newly created settlements took major areas of land out of the forest for use in agriculture. Quorn was established between 1086 and 1153, and all the land up to Woodhouse had been deforested by 1228.

There were comparatively few major changes in land use in the post Medieval period, until the demand for timber and charcoal for the early Industrial Revolution contributed to a further loss of woodland. By the end of the 18th century, most of the woodland had disappeared leaving large areas of moorland and pasture.

In literature[edit]

The area was the inspiration for "Charnwood Poems", a collection of poems by the author, playwright and poet Albert Francis Cross (1863-1940). It is also the setting for the speculative fiction novel "Some Kind of Fairy Tale" by Graham Joyce (2012), in which it is depicted as a possible portal to the realm of fairies.

Wildlife and geological sites[edit]

Map showing sites in Charnwood Forest notable for wildlife and geology

Charnwood Forest covers approx 67 sq mi (170 km2) of Leicestershire, split over three local government districts: Charnwood Borough, North West Leicestershire District and Hinckley and Bosworth District. It includes a national nature reserve (NNR), 19 SSSIs (Some subdivided in the list of sites below), 4 Geological Conservation Review (GCR) sites of international geological importance plus a further 6 GCR sites, 13 regionally important geological sites (RIGS), five local nature reserves (LNRs), seven Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT) nature reserves, and one Woodland Trust woodland. Seventeen sites have open access to the public. Footpaths and bridleways give views and limited access to the other sites listed, and to the rest of the Charnwood Forest landscape. Over half of Charnwood Forest is included within the English National Forest. It is also crossed by two waymarked long distance walking routes—the Leicestershire Round and the Ivanhoe Way.[14] The 45 sites listed here include sites with statutory wildlife or geological designations, plus other sites included in published lists of notable sites. On both the map and table, green denotes a site open to the public, amber denotes a site with limited access or restricted by permit or membership. Red denotes a site with no public access except by special arrangement with the owners.

Plants found within the woods include Digitalis purpurea, Dactylorhiza fuchsii, Sorbus torminalis and Vaccinium myrtilus.

Sites in Charnwood Forest notable for Wildlife and Geology Map No. Site Name Status Access Location and map link Area (ha) Habitat Ownership and details 1 Breedon Cloud Wood and Quarry SSSI(B&G)[15] & RIGS[16] Restricted 52°47′19″N 1°23′10″W / 52.7886°N 1.3860°W

    SK415214 63 Ancient woodland and limestone quarry Breedon Cloud Wood is owned by LRWT. Permit needed.[17] Cloud Hill Quarry is owned by Ennstone Breedon Ltd. 2 Shepshed Cutting SSSI(G)[15] Partial 52°45′47″N 1°19′00″W / 52.7630°N 1.3168°W

    SK462186 6.1 Old Quarry with Galena of a type unknown elsewhere in the world.[18] The quarry is crossed by a disused railway cutting of the Charnwood Forest Railway which is now a path and cycleway and of the short-lived Charnwood Forest Canal. 3 Morley Quarry, Shepshed LNR,[20] GCR & RIGS[22] Open 52°45′24″N 1°17′46″W / 52.7566°N 1.2961°W

    SK476179 3 Disused quarry Charnwood Borough Council. Car Park off Iveshead Road.[22] Cliff faces show the oldest of Charnwood's Precambrian rocks and the Triassic unconformity. 4 Newhurst Quarry, Shepshed SSSI(G),[15] GCR & RIGS[16] None 52°45′23″N 1°16′58″W / 52.7565°N 1.2828°W

    SK485179 9 Quarry currently being used for waste disposal Landfill site managed by Biffa.[25] GCR listing for Mineralogy significance. 5 Holywell Wood Woodland Private 52°45′36″N 1°15′00″W / 52.7599°N 1.2501°W

    SK507183 Woodland Private. Public footpath runs along its northern edge from Snells Nook Lane. 6 Longcliffe Quarry, Shepshed RIGS[16] None 52°47′04″N 1°16′21″W / 52.7844°N 1.2726°W

    SK492170 Quarry site Midland Quarry Products: working quarry. 7 Ives Head GCR(I) & RIGS[27] Partial 52°44′55″N 1°17′36″W / 52.7485°N 1.2933°W

    SK478170 Old quarry and craggy hilltop Privately owned disused quarry. A public bridleway passes 500 m south of the summit (201 m). 8 Blackbrook Reservoir SSSI(B&G)[15] & GCR Partial 52°45′12″N 1°19′27″W / 52.7532°N 1.3243°W

    SK457175 38.6 Open water, wooded banks, wetlands Severn Trent Water. Access to the viaduct and wooded slopes via One Barrow Lane. 9 Grace Dieu And High Sharpley SSSI (B&G)[15] Partial 52°44′56″N 1°21′14″W / 52.7489°N 1.3540°W

    SK437170 89 Heathland and Carbonifierous limestone outcrops Private owners. Adjoins National Forest access land and Grace Dieu Priory site. 10 Cademan Wood Woodland Partial 52°44′56″N 1°21′09″W / 52.7489°N 1.3526°W

    SK438170 Mixed woodland with rocky outcrops De Lisle family. Public footpaths and informal open access.[29] Spectacular outcrops that formed very close to a Precambrian volcano. 11 Snibston Country Park and Grange Nature Reserve LNR[20] Open 52°43′26″N 1°23′08″W / 52.7238°N 1.3855°W

    SK416142 40 Woodland, meadow, marsh and ponds Leicestershire County Council.[30] 12 Nature Alive! Coalville LNR[20] Open 52°43′55″N 1°22′41″W / 52.7319°N 1.3780°W

    SK421151 6 Regenerated scrub and wetland on former industrial land North West Leicestershire District Council. Valuable site for dragonflies.[31] 13 Whitwick Quarry RIGS[16] None 52°44′20″N 1°20′16″W / 52.7389°N 1.3379°W

    SK448159 Quarry site Midland Quarry Products 14 Mount St Bernard Abbey Abbey Partial 52°44′29″N 1°19′28″W / 52.7415°N 1.3245°W

    SK457162 Cistercian Abbey Visitors to the Abbey and grounds are made welcome.[32] The crags around The Knoll show steeply dipping Charnian tuffs. 15 Charnwood Lodge NNR, SSSI(B&G)[15] & GCR Restricted 52°44′06″N 1°18′41″W / 52.7351°N 1.3113°W

    SK466155 193.5 Acid and heath grasslands with some mixed woodland LRWT, permit needed for parts.[34] Timberwood Hill and Warren Hills are accessible under the right to roam.[35] 16 Jubilee Wood, Woodhouse Lane Public woodland Open 52°44′37″N 1°14′46″W / 52.7437°N 1.2460°W

    SK510165 10 Mixed woodland and rocky outcrops Leicestershire County Council.[36] 17 Loughborough Outwoods, Woodhouse Lane SSSI(B&G)[15] GCR (I) Open 52°44′21″N 1°14′19″W / 52.7392°N 1.2387°W

    SK515160 44.6 Mixed woodland and rocky outcrops Charnwood Borough Council. Free car park.[37] 18 Woodbrook and Deans Wood Stream and woodland Partial 52°44′15″N 1°15′13″W / 52.7375°N 1.2535°W

    SK505158 Charnwood stream and woodland Permissive path from Jubilee wood to Deans Lane.[38] 19 Charley Woods Nature reserve Open 52°43′44″N 1°17′48″W / 52.7288°N 1.2966°W

    SK476148 28.8 Oak woodland LRWT, open to the public.[39] 20 Bardon Hill Quarry SSSI(G)[15] GCR and RIGS[16] None 52°42′55″N 1°19′19″W / 52.7154°N 1.3220°W

    SK459133 79 Quarry. Precambrian Igneous Rocks Aggregate Industries. 21 Bardon Hill SSSI(B)[15] Partial 52°42′52″N 1°19′08″W / 52.7145°N 1.3190°W

    SK461132 13 High moorland, highest point in Leicestershire (278m) Private land. Access to the summit, via public footpaths with expansive views. 22 Beacon Hill, Woodhouse Eaves SSSI(B&G)[15] GCR & Ancient Monument Open 52°43′36″N 1°14′30″W / 52.7266°N 1.2418°W

    SK513146 135 Heathland, rocks, woodland hillfort Leicestershire County Council.[41] 23 Broombriggs Farm and Windmill Hill Farm Trail Open 52°43′29″N 1°13′38″W / 52.7247°N 1.2271°W)]

    SK523144 55 Farmland and heath Leicestershire County Council. Pay car park.[42] 24 Buddon Brook Stream Partial 52°44′07″N 1°10′41″W / 52.7352°N 1.1780°W

    SK556156 Stream habitat Private farmland. A public footpath runs beside the stream. 25 Buddon Wood SSSI(B&G)[15] and RIGS[16] None 52°43′54″N 1°10′30″W / 52.7316°N 1.1751°W

    SK558152 89 Ancient Oak woodland, now mostly quarried away, Private - including Lafarge Aggregates.[43] 26 Main Quarry, Mountsorrel SSSI(G)[15] & GCR None 52°43′40″N 1°08′49″W / 52.7278°N 1.1470°W

    SK577148 14 Quarry site Lafarge Aggregates. Largest man-made hole in Europe. School visits are possible.[45] 27 Swithland Reservoir and Brazil Island SSSI (B&G)[15] and RIGS Partial 52°43′21″N 1°10′20″W / 52.72260°N 1.1723°W

    SK560142 98 Open water, wooded banks Severn Trent Water. Limited road and footpath access. Excellent views from Great Central Railway, which crosses the reservoir via Brazil Island. 28 The Brand, Swithland SSSI(B&G)[15] & GCR None 52°42′53″N 1°12′29″W / 52.7147°N 1.2080°W

    SK536133 18 Oak woodland, grassy heath and old slate quarries Private (Martin family). Occasional open days.[27] 29 Roecliffe Manor Lawns SSSI(B)[15] None 52°42′27″N 1°12′56″W / 52.7076°N 1.2155°W

    SK531125 1.2 Species rich grassland with rare fungi Private (Cottingham family). 30 Swithland Wood SSSI(B&G)[15] Open 52°42′21″N 1°12′08″W / 52.7057°N 1.2022°W

    SK540123 61 Ancient Woodland and disused slate quarries Bradgate Park Trust. Pay car parks. 31 Benscliffe Wood SSSI(B)[15] None 52°42′34″N 1°14′26″W / 52.7095°N 1.2406°W

    SK514127 10 Mixed woodland Private wood. Particularly rich in lichen species. 32 Ulverscroft Nature Reserve, Whitcroft's Lane Nature reserve Restricted 52°42′26″N 1°16′34″W / 52.7071°N 1.2762°W

    SK490124 56 Mixed woodland, marshy grassland and meadow NT, managed by LRWT (NT members need LRWT permit).[46] 33 Rocky Plantation, Nr Markfield Nature reserve Restricted 52°42′06″N 1°16′19″W / 52.7016°N 1.2719°W

    SK493118 3.4 Mixed woodland and rocky outcrops NT, managed by LRWT. Open to Wildlife Trust and National Trust members only.[47] 34 Lea Meadows, Ulverscroft Lane SSSI[15] Open 52°41′56″N 1°15′10″W / 52.6988°N 1.2527°W

    SK506115 12 Meadow LRWT, open to the public.[48] 35 Billa Barra Hill LNR[20] & RIGS[16] Open 52°41′51″N 1°18′32″W / 52.6974°N 1.3089°W

    SK468113 20 Old quarry, grassland, mature and recent woodland. Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. Open to the public. Car Park on Billa Barra Lane.[49] 36 New Cliffe Hill Quarry RIGS[16] None 52°41′34″N 1°18′59″W / 52.6929°N 1.3164°W

    SK463108 243 Quarry. Precambrian Rocks Midland Quarry Products: working quarry (A tunnel links this to Cliffe Hill Quarry).[50] 37 Cliffe Hill Quarry SSSI(G)[15] GCR (I) and RIGS[16] None 52°41′24″N 1°17′55″W / 52.6901°N 1.2987°W

    SK475105 37 Quarry. Precambrian Rocks Midland Quarry Products: working quarry.[51] 38 Altar Stones, Markfield Nature reserve Open 52°41′30″N 1°17′02″W / 52.6918°N 1.2839°W

    SK485107 3.7 Rough heath grassland with rock outcrops LRWT, open to the public.[52] 39 Hill Hole Quarry, Markfield Nature reserve and RIGS[16] Open 52°41′14″N 1°16′57″W / 52.6873°N 1.2825°W

    SK486102 5.4 Flooded quarry, rock faces and grassland Hinckley and Bosworth Borough Council. Open to the public.[53] The old quarry faces show the youngest of the area's Precambrian rocks. 40 Cropston Reservoir SSSI(B&G)[15] None 52°41′38″N 1°11′37″W / 52.6939°N 1.1936°W

    SK546110 55 Open water, wetlands Severn Trent Water. No access but with good views from Bradgate Park. 41 Bradgate Park SSSI(B&G)[15] GCR(I) Open 52°41′30″N 1°13′17″W / 52.6917°N 1.2214°W

    SK530110 340 Bracken heath, rocks, river, woodland, ancient oaks Bradgate Park Trust. Pay car parks. 42 Sheet Hedges Wood, Newtown Linford SSSI(B)[15] Open 52°40′25″N 1°13′35″W / 52.6735°N 1.2265°W

    SK524087 30 Mixed woodland Leicestershire County Council. Free car park near Groby Pool.[55] 43 Groby Pool SSSI(B)[15] Partial 52°40′08″N 1°13′41″W / 52.6690°N 1.2280°W

    SK523082 28 Open water, wetlands Amalgamated Roadstone Corp. One side has good roadside paths and access with a large nearby free car park. 44 Groby Quarry RIGS[16] None 52°40′12″N 1°13′30″W / 52.6699°N 1.2251°W

    SK525083 Working Quarry Amalgamated Roadstone Corporation (ARC) 45 Martinshaw Wood Public woodland Open 52°39′36″N 1°14′51″W / 52.6601°N 1.2474°W

    SK510072 102 Mixed woodland Woodland Trust.[56]

Abbreviations used in the table: National nature reserve (NNR). Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) (B=Biological, G=Geological). Geological Conservation Review (GCR)(I=of International importance). Regionally Important Geological Site (RIGS). Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust (LRWT). National Trust (NT). Local nature reserve (LNR).

See also[edit]


 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Charnwood Forest". Encyclopædia Britannica. 5 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.

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External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°42′N 1°15′W / 52.70°N 1.25°W