Leicestershire pub walk: Peatling Magna to Claybrooke Parva via The Crab & Cow at Leire – a great walk made even better!

By Bobby Twidale

Late in July, with lockdown restrictions sufficiently lifted, we set off to walk from Peatling Magna to Claybrooke Parva, along the footpaths that make up this section of the Leicestershire Round footpath.

Having already completed the Rutland Round in early June and now a good way through the Leicestershire Round, this particular section was auspicious in that it would be only the second occasion that we were assured of being able to sit down for lunch in the 150 or so miles we had thus-far covered; levels of anticipation were naturally high.

A basic map of the Leicestershire Round

Covering a total of around nine miles, we would be stopping off at the Crab & Cow in Leire, a couple of miles before our final stop for the day. We were a team of three, one of whom was a well-mannered Labrador, Buzz, who was welcome to join us for lunch, sitting in the outside dining area.

Buzz the Labrador

Typical of the previous stages of the Leicestershire Round, our walk took us through some beautiful rural countryside and was for the most part well-organised and clearly signposted. However, also typical was a varying quality in the accessibility of some stretches of the path with a mix of hand-gates, kissing gates, stiles with dog gates and those without. When walking with a 34-kilo dog who needs lifting over a series of high stiles, you certainly earn your lunch! Although we always keep an Ordnance Survey map in the bottom of our rucksack as a back-up, we were using the Leicestershire Footpath Association’s guide to the route and found it helpful and informative. Many of the fields also contained livestock. Buzz lives on a farm and so is uninterested in a field of sheep but nonetheless, we always follow the countryside code, keeping him under close control. The only caveat to this is that cows with calves can be extremely protective of their young; if we are chased, we follow National Farmers’ Union advice and release the dog as he is much faster than us and can get himself out of trouble.

Our route took us across open fields out of Peatling Magna and on to a hedged track, heading for Willoughby Waterleys. We then headed downhill and over a stream before climbing up towards the village, passing the lovely Norman church onto the main street. There are several impressive houses in the village that are worth a pause and an inn (The General Elliott) named after George Augustus Eliott (1717-1790), former Governor of Gibraltar.

The next stage took us for a short while along the main Ashby-Willoughby road which had less traffic than we expected before turning through the Holy Farm Fishery with its two non-dog-friendly stiles. The lakes were busy with fishing enthusiasts enjoying the opportunity to be angling again, post lockdown. From here, you head towards the M1. You hear it long before you see it, something that always prompts a discussion about how often noise pollution sadly impacts the countryside we walk through. After crossing over the motorway, we were glad to head away from the noise and across the fields to Dunton Bassett. We passed young cattle on the way but happily they were merely curious!

Out of Dunton Bassett, we took the bridleway past Stemborough Mill, en route to Frolesworth. The path passes alongside a stream and fishponds. The brambles were alive with butterflies and we bumped into two little boys heading with their fishing nets and grandma for the ponds where they told us they had caught crayfish the week before. The route into the village follows a well-trodden path with a series of stiles, all happily with dog-gates. In Frolesworth, we paused to admire the alms-houses before heading out of the village in the direction of Leire and lunch.

The Crab & Cow is a modern and relaxed pub-restaurant, with a lovely chilled ambience, open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Friday and all day at the weekend. It consistently rates highly for food, service and value and serves a range of dishes from lunchtime sandwiches, through a good steak menu to a nice range of seafood. Tuesday night is pie night, Wednesday Italian night and Thursday steak night, with Sunday lunch served between 12 and 5pm. My walking partner and I have different palates; she definitely has a sweet tooth and always saves room for dessert. I have a fairly small appetite and so we both opted to have a starter-sized meal. The service was attentive and friendly but laid-back enough to not be overwhelming and Buzz was made very welcome. The Covid-related formalities were carried out efficiently but without spoiling our enjoyment of the experience.

I chose spiced beetroot arancini with whipped goats’ cheese and grilled artichokes and Gillian went for the fish finger sandwich. We were most impressed. The arancini were delicately spiced and the goats’ cheese mild and light – a really nice balance. I thoroughly enjoyed the dish. Gillian’s meal was more substantial, and she couldn’t finish all of the chips, even though they were excellent (Buzz was very happy about that). The fish fingers were hand-made with the perfect balance of crispy breadcrumb coating and light, soft fish. Very nice. The waitress who served us was also patient about Gillian’s lengthy explanation of which dressing she would like and how it should be served. Ticks all round for this course.

After a lengthy deliberation, Gillian opted for an iced coffee parfait, served with caramelised bananas and sable biscuits for dessert. Although delicious, the parfait was not coffee flavoured. This was quickly improved by the coffee sauce chef sent out shortly afterwards. A quick internet search at home revealed that this week’s menu has iced honey parfait on the dessert menu, and I suspect this is what Gillian was served. An easy mistake to make and either way, she had polished it off so quickly I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo of the untouched dish. No harm done then.

Lunch finished, we set off for the final stop of our walk, Claybrooke Parva. It is at this point that I usually congratulate Gillian, chief navigator, on her good planning by positioning lunch not too far from our final destination and today was no exception. The last section of the walk was very pretty and included some beautiful scenery, a rather magnificent sweet chestnut tree with a twisted trunk and coffee from a flask on the extensive green lawns in front of the church at Claybrooke Parva, but a little sleep would have been rather nice!

A very nice walk and a lunch that was definitely worth the lockdown wait.

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