Leicester: time capsule country

Date: 30 Sep 2015

Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre | Reader Club trip

Pictured: Group Leisure readers at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

Sarah Holt joined GTOs from all over the UK to explore the rich history of Leicester and Leicestershire.

As far as five minutes of fame go, Leicestershire has had more than its fair share recently. In March, the body of King Richard III was reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, and more than 366 million viewers watched live coverage of the event worldwide.

On the weekend of 12th and 13th September, Group Leisure hosted a Reader Club trip to the county, in partnership with Leicestershire Promotions, to find out what all the fuss has been about.

The War of the Roses

As you might expect, the first stop on our itinerary was the lime-lighted Leicester Cathedral. In March, four-hour-long queues formed at the entrance to this 11th to 19th century building, packed with people who wanted to see the coffin of King Richard III before its internment.

The coffin has now been buried, but visitors to the cathedral can still see the late King’s tomb which is where the insider knowledge of one of the cathedral’s own guides really comes into its own. On our trip, our guide told us things about the grave that we could never have known without his insight.

We discovered that the palm-sized coat of arms at the foot of the grave was made using 330 separate pieces of stone, sourced from all over the world – and that the man who made it was the only person in the country skilled in the craft of pietra dura.

Guided tours of the cathedral usually last an hour, but they can be combined with a visit to the brand new King Richard III Visitor Centre, which is a two-minute walk across the road. This is exactly what we did on our trip.

Leicester Cathedral | King Richard III tomb

Pictured: Readers near the tomb of King Richard III at Leicester Cathedral.

At just over a year old, the King Richard III Visitor Centre is one of Leicester’s newest attractions. It’s spread across two floors, with the ground floor detailing the history of King Richard III and the first floor explaining all about the discovery of the King’s body, including the archaeology and the science. The visit ends in a room that’s been built over the section of car park the royal skeleton was discovered back in 2012.

This centre is slick. Exhibits are interactive, making you feel like you’re taking in the history of King Richard by osmosis rather than through hard work. It has also put a lot of thought into its groups offering, and extras like out of hours tours, talks with experts, and even private dining in the form of a Medieval banquet are available for parties who want an individual experience.

My favourite part of our visit had to be walking on the Perspex glass that has been placed above the part of the car park where archaeologists found King Richard’s body. It’s hard to believe that this tiny grave remained undisturbed for over 500 years as a modern city spouted around it.

The third stop on the first day of this Reader Club trip took us to The Curve. With no backstage area, this is a goldfish bowl of a theatre. During lunch on the mezzanine floor of the building we were able to watch the cast of Hairspray zipping between the open-sided wardrobe department and the café, where they were grabbing a quick coffee or pastry before their matinee performance. Lunches like ours are available to groups on selected Thursday to Saturday performances.

We continued our Richard III trail with a trip to Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre, where we took a guided walk up to Ambion Hill, where King Richard’s army are thought to have camped before the Battle of Bosworth.

A falconry display at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre

Pictured: A reader handling an owl during a falconry demo at Bosworth Battlefield Heritage Centre.

It’s a peaceful place today. The flags of King Richard and King Henry quiver in the breeze and fields ebb in every direction. It’s difficult to image a sky filled with camp fire smoke and the pre-blood bath talk of more than 10,000 soldiers.

But a visit to the Heritage Centre helps to put the battle into perspective. This museum is also interactive and you can follow one of three virtual characters around the exhibits to gain a deeper understanding of the past.

Falconry displays are also available here to groups who book in advance. Up to half day sessions can be arranged so you can learn how Medieval people used birds of prey to hunt. On our trip, we had half an hour during which a few Group Leisure readers got to experience feeding and handling an owl.

The Ramada Encore was our home from home for the Saturday night of our break. The hotel is next door to The Curve and just a ten-minute walk from the cathedral. Add to that the mallowy mattresses and it made a good base for a busy weekend of exploring.

National Space Centre | Learning Resource Centre

Pictured: A Group Leisure reader learning to be an astronaut at the National Space Centre.

Quantum leap

Speaking of exploring, the following morning we set about to discover the final frontier. The National Space Centre is a 15-minute drive from the centre of Leicester and has coach parking almost directly outside the door.

We watched the We are Stars show in the planetarium, before our group entered the Learning Centre to boldly go where, we can safely say, none of them had ever gone before – into a mock space shuttle to take part in a role play/problem solving exercise in which they had to work together to ‘save the world from an asteroid strike’.

This experience is brilliant for groups. As astronauts, you have to take part in science experiments, probe buildings, and even medical examination – which I’ll leave you to find out about yourselves.

The Great Central Railway

Pictured: The Elizabethan at the Great Central Railway.

All aboard

Reward for saving the world came a 20-minute drive later at the Great Central Railway in Loughborough, where our group boarded The Elizabethan steam train for a scenic journey and a three course lunch in first class.

Movie scouts seem to have a homing instinct for this station, as it’s featured in many Hollywood and TV hits including The Hours with Nicole Kidman and, more recently, Shadowlands and Ripper Street.

Lunch on-board is, as the carriages suggest – first class. The journey, through the Charnwood countryside, passes against a soundtrack of clinking glassware, popping Champagne corks, and the chimes of silver service.

Recently, the glare of the national press has dimmed on Leicestershire. However, I’d recommend you train your group’s own spotlight on it, for some time to come.

For more information visit www.goleicestershire.com.

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