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Black to Green creates new heritage sculpture cycling and walking trail in the National Forest

Updated: May 23, 2020

Hicks Lodge sculpture on Black to Green cycling and walking trail

Cyclists and walkers can enjoy a new sculpture trail in the heart of the National Forest, exploring the industrial heritage of North West Leicestershire and South Derbyshire.

The 7 sculptures have been installed by Black to Green, a Heritage Lottery funded project that has played a key role in celebrating and collecting memories of the industrial history of the area and it's transformation to a woodland forest.

Following the Black to Green Cycling and Walking Trail

The sculptures are located at key industrial sites within the heart of the National Forest. Each sculpture includes an interpretation board, telling the history of the area.

1. Furnace Plantation, Moira Furnace (in car park near the Furnace)

Standing beside a restored stretch of the Ashby Canal, the working life of this blast furnace was short-lived. Having failed to be profitable, the building was used for housing from the 1850's until the 1970's. After major restoration work, the furnace is one of the best surviving examples of its type in the country. Today it acts as a hub for many local events, including a bustling Canal Festival and a respected folk festival. Walkers and cyclists can enjoy a gentle cycle along the Ashby Canal and through the adjoining woodlands.

2. Moira Junction South (on the Heritage trail, left at top of steps by National Forest YHA)

The sculpture sits on the old Ashby railway, which was key for transporting the coal from the mines in the area. A signal box was situated at busy Moira Junction South and trains could be guided either towards Burton or towards Leicester in the East. The line closed in 1969. Today the line is used as a bike path, running from the heart of the National Forest, to Measham.

3. Albert Village Lake (by the lake)

Albert Village was developed in the 1870s to house workers in the local clay pits and kiln yards of Swadlincote. The clay of South Derbyshire was prized and the area was once full of successful potteries. TG Green was famed for its blue and white striped Cornish-ware, which today is highly collectable. Local kilns also produced 70% of the salt glazed clay sewage pipes used in the UK, filling the air with acrid smoke. Opposite the site of the Timber Festival, the lake at Albert Village was a giant clay pit and operational until the 1970's. As part of the National Forest project, the site was transformed into a nature area, with an all-weather path circling the lake. Today the lake teems with wildlife and is an excellent local bird watching site.

4. Bath Yard Basin (near the canal bridge in Conkers car park)

The Bath Yard Basin marked the end of the Ashby Canal and was also the site of a coal mine. When the shaft was sunk in 1815, workers found that the water was salty and therefore perfect for spa treatments. After a short-lived attempt to establish a spa next to the coal mine, the water was transported by tanks to Ashby Spa. Today, Bath Yard is the home for Conkers, Waterside centre. Visitors can learn more about the Forest and enjoy a wide range of indoor and outdoor activities. The amphitheatre is a lovely place to enjoy live music in the summer months.

5. Hicks Lodge (by the lake on the trail)

Hicks Lodge sculpture on Black to Green cycling and walking trail

It's difficult to imagine that 30 years ago this was an enormous open cast mine, over 200 feet deep and mined since the 1930's. Today, Hicks Lodge is the National Forest Cycling centre, with a lake busy with birdlife and leafy woodland of oak, ash and birch to cycle through.. There are a number of different trails, including several mountain bike trails. The Hicks Lodge Cafe is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a coffee and cake, sitting outdoors. Bird lovers will enjoy a stop off at the bird hide, situated by the lake and next to the Black to Green sculpture.

6. Thortit Pit (Oakthorpe Colliery site, in the picnic area opposite the car park)

Known locally as Thortit Pit, coal mining in this area was first recorded in the 1600s. The first deep shaft was sunk here in 1787 and mined until 1810. Two new shafts in 1853 located a new seam of coal and also found additional coal in the seam that they had previously thought was exhausted. This led to the mine being know as “Who'd a thought it”, shortened over time to Thortit. Plagued with difficulty, the mine was closed after just 3 years. It reopened again in the 1860's and was mined until 1885. In later years, Oakthorpe Colliery was joined to neighbouring Donisthorpe Colliery until it finally closed in 1990.

Today, the site is managed by Woodland Trust and is a lovely place for a picnic. There is a tranquil circular walk through the woods and around the lake. Look out for heron by the lake and for the capped off mine shafts in a clearing near the car park.

7. Donisthorpe Colliery (by the interpretation board, just through the gate from the car park)

Donisthorpe Colliery was once voted Britain’s best pit, after breaking national records for coal production. Pit ponies were still used in the mine until the 1960s and it was one of only 2 mines still using a steam winding engine when it closed in 1990. The closure was surrounded by controversy, with miners protesting that there were still decades worth of coal left in the seams.

74,000 trees were planted at Donisthorpe as part of its transformation and it marks the current end of the restored section of the Ashby Canal. The woodlands connect the canal to the old railway line, now a heritage trail running from Measham to Conkers' Waterside Centre. The route forms part of the Sustrans Route 63.

Creation of the National Forest

Today, the National Forest is full of lovely woodland, crisscrossed with cycle paths and walking trails. 30 years ago, visitors to the National Forest area would have been greeted by a very different sight.

Large swathes of South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire were scarred by coal mining and quarrying. As the mines came to the end of their productive lives, an ambitious plan was borne to create a National Forest, in the heart of England, where future generations could cycle and walk through leafy woodland. The plan seemed like an impossible dream to many who lived in the area.

And yet it happened.

Fast forward 30 years and the countryside is unrecognisable, with 27% tree coverage, compared to only 1% prior to the creation of the National Forest.

Electric Bike Holidays in the National Forest

The National Forest is the perfect destination for an E-Bike holiday in the UK. Quiet cycling tracks and country lanes link a wealth of sights to explore. En route, cyclists can enjoy a warm welcome at the many cafes, pubs and restaurants within the National Forest.

Electric bike holidays in the UK's National Forest
Electric bike holidays in the UK's National Forest

National Forest E-Bike Holidays offers a wide range of electric bike holidays, designed to suit all tastes and fitness levels.


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