Leicestershire’s most attractive features are shy and quiet and have to be sought out, but they amply reward the explorer. The county is divided into two almost equal parts by the River Soar, which flows northward into the Trent. It separates the east and west by a broad valley, flowing like a silver ribbon through historic Leicester in the very heart of the county. This capital town was thriving in Roman days and is one of the oldest towns in England. It has managed to retain outstanding monuments of almost every age of English history. Red Leicester cheese was made in the southern part of the county in the 1700s, but now the only genuine product is made at Melton Mowbray, which also makes Stilton and, of course, the superlative pork pies. And every schoolchild knows the name of Bosworth Field, one of the momentous battles that changed the course of English history.
Just 20 miles across and covering a mere 150 square miles, Rutland delights in its status as England’s smallest county. Its 37,800 inhabitants were incensed when the Local Government changes of 1974 stripped the county of its identity and merged it with neighbouring Leicestershire. It took more than 20 years of ceaseless campaigning before bureaucracy relented and Rutland was re- instated as a county in its own right. Rutland has villages of thatch and ironstone, clustered around their churches, and the countryside is rich in pasture where once deer were hunted.
Its central feature is Rutland Water, whose 3,100 acres make it one of the largest man-made lakes in northern Europe. Started in 1971 to supply water to the East Midlands towns, it was created by damming the valley near Empingham.
Designated Britain’s first Environment City in recognition of its commitment to green issues and the environment, Leicester has numerous parks and open spaces, is one of the country’s top 10 shopping destinations, has a buzzing nightlife and also boasts a rich architectural heritage with no fewer than 350 listed buildings.
When the Romans built a town here in the 1st century AD they called it Ratae Corielauvorum, and when they left 300 years later it survived in some form. It was the seat of a Christian bishop in the 7th century, and in the 9th century was conquered and settled by the Vikings along with Lincoln, Nottingham, Derby and Stamford. The city flourished in the Middle Ages when the cloth and wool trades became important, and the coming of the canals and the railways brought further prosperity. The development of road transport changed the face of the city, and modern Leicester is a thriving industrial and commercial city with superb shopping and recreational facilities, and a mixture of cultures and communities as rich and diverse as any in the land.