This is undoubtedly the city’s premier park. On the western side are the impressive remains of the 12th century Leicester Abbey, where Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey died while on his way to London to answer to acts of treason (he failed to get Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon annulled by the Pope and so had fallen out of favour). There is also a pet’s corner with rabbits, guinea pigs, goats and various exotic birds, a sensory garden and a lavender maze. The Western Park Café leads you over the beautiful park bridge on to the eastern side where there’s a boating lake, model railway, Japanese garden and acres of walking.
Castle Park and Castle Motte
A small but perfectly formed park between the DMU campus and the River Soar. This is an oasis of calm for students to chill between lectures. It is where the city council’s parks staff excel with magnificent floral displays throughout the summer months. Set in the heart of the former medieval city, the area around the park includes the Great Hall of Leicester Castle – now DMU’s Leicester Castle Business School - and the medieval castle motte. Follow the footpath to take you to the top.
New Walk’s open spaces
New Walk itself is regarded as the jewel in the crown of Leicester’s streets and avenues. A mile-long tree-lined route that was laid out in 1785, it connects the city centre with Victoria Park and has some stunning Georgian and Victorian buildings along its stretch, as well as the fantastic New Walk Museum and Gallery. But while you stroll along this pedestrianised pathway it is worth stopping off at the beautiful green spaces of The Oval, De Montfort Square and Museum Square.
When you reach the southernmost point of New Walk you get to Victoria Park, known to everyone in Leicester as Vicky Park. It was home to Leicester Racecourse until 1883 and is notable for its magnificent Cenotaph, built in memory of the fallen soldiers of World War One. It was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, whose other great landmark is the Cenotaph in London’s Whitehall. There’s a real buzz around the park on Saturdays throughout the seasons when hundreds head there to play cricket or football. It is also the showground site for Leicester Pride and the Caribbean Carnival while in 2016, a quarter of a million people gathered there to celebrate Leicester City winning the Premier League.
Stroll along the Great Central Way from DMU and you reach Aylestone Meadows, Leicester’s biggest nature reserve. Head along the boardwalks leading through the marshland next to the River Soar and it’s hard to believe you are walking between the city centre and the traffic-heavy outer ring road. Popular with dog walkers, horse riders, cyclists and anglers it is full of rare plants and wildlife. Pebble Beach becomes a playground for families in the summer who pitch up with deckchairs and picnics while cooling off in the river. Last time we went there was still a rope swing a short walk from the ‘beach’ which kids jump off into the water *health and safety rules may apply.
Watermead Country Park
Watermead Country Park is a network of lakes woodlands and nature reserves created from 340 acres of former quarry land along the River Soar, to the north of the city.
It is now a haven for wetland wildlife and boasts fine lake views as well as woodland walks with good footpaths and picnic areas. A life-sized sculpture of a mammoth stands on the higher ground and is inspired by the mammoth, bison and deer bones found when the gravel pits were excavated.
We know it’s not in the city but Bradgate Park is a must see during your time at DMU. It was first enclosed as a deer park around 800 years ago and covers a whopping 830 acres of countryside. The park offers a wild and rugged landscape with dramatic rocky outcrops, and gnarled old oak trees, many of which are well over 500 years old. The deer still roam freely around the ruins of Bradgate House, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and birthplace of Lady Jane Grey - Queen of England for nine days in 1553. The most famous landmark, however, is Old John Tower, an 18th century folly that sits at the highest point of the park. Another beautiful stroll is alongside the River Lin, Leicestershire’s shortest river. Great for a paddle.
Developed in 1897 this is still the largest park within the city boundaries with 177 acres to explore. It’s a classic Victorian park designed for leisure time with a tree-lined avenue leading to bowling greens, tennis courts, cricket and football pitches as well as a woodland walk. There’s also an excellent BMX race track. The community-oriented Western Park Festival takes place every summer with music performed in the bandstand with a wide range of food and drink stalls.
Sitting just behind Leicester Racecourse, Knighton Park is relatively modern by city park standards having been established in 1953.
Head for The Wash (or Saffron) brook to spot wildlife as you take the meandering path through the shaded spinney. The Heath Garden is a great spot to get away from it all with a rockery garden, pond, shrubs, heathers and annual plants that create a peaceful and colourful part of the park.
It’s a particularly impressive place to walk in spring when the magnolias lining the path through the middle of the park start to flower. There are also tennis courts and football pitches allowing plenty of space for a kickabout.
168 acres of open parkland, ancient spinneys, wooded areas and meadow land, Braunstone Park was originally part of Leicester Forest, in a wood called Barnho, which was first recorded as early as 1250 AD. If skateboarding and riding BMXs is your thing there is a huge skate park as well as an outdoor gym. Braunstone Carnival is a great annual community event. The park’s centrepiece is the beautiful 18th century Braunstone Hall. It had fallen into disrepair but was recently restored as the impressive boutique Winstanley House Hotel. The area around the hall was a base for American and British soldiers in World War Two. After the war, until 1950, the temporary nissen huts that housed the soldiers were used by families before permanent homes could be found for them.