J.B. Firth, in his Highways & Byways in Leicestershire, is very taken by Charnwood Forest, which he calls “the most romantic district in Leicestershire”:
It is a fragment of Wales taken up and set down boldly in the heart of England, for no ostensible reason save the freakishness of Nature. In this small space are found are found all the varied delights of the most picturesque scenery – hills and airy summits clad with heath and bracken, pleasant woods, spacious parks, fair sheets of water, and the ruins of ancient mansions and religious houses. There is nothing like Charnwood Forest elsewhere in England.I was in Charnwood Forest today, visiting Woodhouse Eaves. It is a large village, so large that I suspect it began as a number of townships that have grown together. This was once marginal land and the surviving early artisan dwellings, together with the surprisingly wild landscape, put me in mind of the Stiperstones.
The major reasons for the village’s later expansion is that it was once a significant tourist destination. The Woodhouse Eaves Village Design Statement, published by Charnwood Borough Council, explains its rise:
As the city of Leicester and the other towns of north-west Leicestershire were industrialised during the 19th century, and their air became polluted or ‘unwholesome’ in the terminology of the time, people felt a need to escape to the country, even for the briefest of periods.
At the same time rising prosperity meant that larger numbers of people were able to have short holidays. The advent of the railways also made it easier for ordinary working people as well as members of the more prosperous middle class to reach outlying villages such as Woodhouse Eaves.
With its already varied natural attractions and rural, almost upland setting, Woodhouse Eaves thus became an early tourist destination. Numerous tea-rooms, bed-and-breakfast establishments, shops and other services came into existence during the late Victorian period. Several of the most architecturally interesting houses in the village were just such commercial premises during Woodhouse Eaves’ period as a significant tourist venue.
These years similarly saw the opening of a remarkable number of recovery and convalescent homes, these being established to take advantage of the relatively high altitude and fresh breezes during the late Victorian, Edwardian and post-First World War years.
These large new buildings were, however, on or beyond the outskirts of the main village itself. One such establishment proclaimed that ‘our country residence with beautiful grounds, an abundance of fresh air untainted by obnoxious fumes of city traffic, helps to restore health together with a high standard of nursing care’.
These were the decades when the Charnwood Forest, including Woodhouse Eaves, became known as ‘the playground and the sanatorium of the Leicestershire towns’And today, the first hot day of the year, the countryside was alive with hikers and Scouts, giving it something of the atmosphere of its 1930s heyday
Those days have gone, but one of their legacies is that there are still plenty of places to eat in Woodhouse Eaves. I ate in the sun outside Gino’s Pear Tree, a superior Italian restaurant.
Originally Ye Pear Tree Inn, this ornate Edwardian building would indeed look at home in an inland resort like Church Stretton - or quite possibly in the Black Forest.