Walking: In a winter wonderland: Paul Gosling braves the cold for a stroll in snowy Leicestershire

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The Independent Culture
WITHIN minutes I was wishing I had dug out a woolly hat as well as thermal underwear. It was a cold, clear day, with a thorough snow covering and a golden sun - just the right sort of day for a winter walk. My word processor could wait until darkness fell.

I got off the bus from Leicester at Woodhouse Eaves, a well-to-do village just south of Loughborough. Striding out of the village northwards I ignored 'Ye Olde Bull's Head' pub, and took the small road opposite.

Immediately the north Leicestershire countryside opened out on my right. Near to me was the stately home turned council conference centre, Beaumanor Hall. Even closer were army buildings, protected by a heavy security cordon.

The gentle wooded hills gave way to Loughborough town as I walked further. Even that unattractive place looked appealing in the flattering sunlight, with the green copper roof of a park's pavilion shining out as if spotlit. Only the old and ugly Ratcliffe-on-Soar coal-fired power station, belching out carbonated air, spoiled the view.

I passed Pocket Gate Farm, and followed the path on the eastern outer edge of the Outwoods, part of the ancient Charnwood Forest. The area was once covered in oak, but much of the local woodland is now coniferous. In other seasons the paths in the centre of the wood have the greatest appeal, but in the snowy weather I opted for the path with a continuous open view.

The outer path leads to a small hill, where once horizontal layers of rock have become upright because of the disturbance from Pocketgate Fault which runs along the wood. I scrambled up the slippery path onto the top of the rocks for an even better view to the east and north. A squirrel that had taken a break from hibernation watched me suspiciously.

As I crossed the last of the woodland, now Jubilee Woods, I had to keep the hood of my cagoule up as every gust of wind disturbed the settled snow on the tree tops, enveloping me as if in a blizzard.

Crossing the road I walked up Buck Hill. A few weeks before a group of us had sat at the top marvelling at the rich browns of autumn - now everything was white. It seemed impossible that it was the same landscape. We had looked at the stone of the hill top, with its tinges of pink and green, and stopped for lunch. Now the stone was invisible and the wind was stingingly cold. Despite the woods underneath and the striking Nanpanton Hall I moved on quickly.

Following the ridge the path went back into woodland, by now going south, and then across a stream, then alongside it through a number of fields, heading directly into the sun. Eventually I had to cross the stream again, using stepping stones covered by the briskly moving water. I avoided slipping in.

The path then wound back uphill through woodland. It sounded as if there were a gale blowing over my right shoulder, but the noise was coming from two wind turbines in the next field. A hardy jogger overtook me, the first person I had seen for a couple of hours.

Continuing uphill, the path opened into a wide avenue of trees, leading to Beacon Hill, a Bronze Age hill fort. I could see for miles across northern Leicestershire. On the eastern edge of Loughborough the fields had thawed, but on Beacon Hill the snow was still in drifts up to a foot deep. Usually the hill is used by kite flyers but today there were just a few visitors, most of whom had sledges.

The view was beautiful, but the wind was chilling so I reluctantly moved on. The path downhill, back towards Woodhouse Eaves, was favoured by more sledgers. An old quarry in the distance had become transformed into a sight of rich brown beauty by the full force of orange sun. The hunger of missed lunch was nagging me to catch a bus home, but the desire to make the most of a still beautiful day drove me on to follow a further path.

I turned right off the road, bisecting Broombriggs and Windmill hills (the base is all that remains of the windmill). This is signposted as part of the Leicestershire Rounds long- distance footpath. The Rounds encircles the city of Leicester, in a wide circumference that takes in much of the beauty of the county.

Walking through a golf course, under too much snow for playing, I looked down at the charming Roecliffe Manor buildings. The unspoilt, deciduous Swithland Woods were also below me.

Ahead was Bradgate Park, a beautiful, if heavily used, country park. It has 1.6 million visitors a year - most of them each Boxing Day it seems. Bradgate House was the country seat of the family of Lady Jane Grey, who was queen for 10 days in 1553, until her luck changed and she was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and beheaded the following year.

The Park lies under the shadow of a folly called Old John, a tower shaped like a mug with a handle (among the local souvenirs are probably mugs with handles, shaped like Old John). It was another spectacular viewing spot.

There were plenty more sledgers, and dozens of people throwing snowballs. The deer were today out of sight, and a man I spoke to regretted that the heron on Cropston Reservoir, at the bottom of the Park, had also gone into hiding.

The grey clouds were moving in from the east, and the sun was slipping towards the horizon. It was time to head to the village of Newtown Linford and one of its tea shops. Only when I was inside, and my face felt like fire, did I realise how cold I had become from the buffeting of the wind.

As the last of daylight ebbed away the bus arrived to take me home. Even though I would have to work through the evening to make up for a lost working day I had made the right decision. It had been a perfect winter's walking day.

(Photograph and map omitted)

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