Mention ‘Bradgate Park’ to anyone who has lived in Leicestershire and their face will light up. It’s my home county’s pride and joy, its crown jewel, its ‘David Attenborough’. Everyone loves it, adores it, treasures it. Everyone has memories and tales and stories to share. It is one of the shire’s high points… quite literally. If you stand atop the tallest hill in the park, next to the ruins of famous Old John, you can see for miles around. It’s a very special place to me, and a very special view. But sadly, one that I’ve been unable to reach and see for these past seven years of illness. Until last month… 🙂
I’ve been visiting Bradgate Park since forever. I have so many memories of picnics and walks and bike rides through the grounds. Rock-climbing up the tall cliff faces, paddling in the little stream, staring in awe at the majestic deer. Clambering over the ruins of old Bradgate House, playing rounders in the open parkland, jumping across the river to the mini-island. Sledging down the big hills, wandering around the dusty old museum, carefully plodding across the stepping stones. Climbing the grand ancient trees, playing hide and seek in the tall bracken, searching for sleeping adder snakes. And of course, making the steep, tiring hike up to Old John. The summit. The pinnacle. No visit was complete without touching the door of the much loved folly, and admiring the view.
Bradgate Park was a big part of my childhood. Only a few miles from my family home, we would regularly drive over to spend the day in the fresh air. It was, and still is, a wonderful piece of wilderness, a rural retreat, a mini national park. Bequeathed to the people of the county, to ensure all residents could experience the great outdoors, it is beloved by all. As well as regular family visits as a youngster, I’d get to run around the parkland on school trips and play-scheme outings and youth club jaunts and many other childhood club excursions. I still remember the magical summer day, that my friends and I were allowed to cycle over to the park ourselves for the first time. A taste of freedom, a rite of passage. It was exhausting… but we treated ourselves to ice lollies as a reward! 🙂 Later, when Phil and I bought our starter home in Leicestershire, it became our go-to place to take visitors. I love Bradgate Park. In fact, when I die, I’ve asked for some of my ashes to be sprinkled in their new memorial wood. I can spend my afterlife watching the rutting deer! 😛
But since becoming ill with Pulmonary Hypertension, nearly seven years ago, my Bradgate Park has got smaller. The acres and acres of bracken and grass and woods and rocks, suddenly became inaccessible to me. My wonderful scooter could take me off-road for a few hundred meters, but the difficult terrain always drained the battery, forcing us to turn back. So for the past seven years I’ve been admiring the park from the small carriageway that runs through it. My scooter can easily manage the mile long, flat, hard-surfaced route through the grounds and past the reservoir. So I still get to drink in the countryside and feel the fresh air. I still get to enjoy the atmosphere and indulge in nostalgia. But I have to admire the deer from afar, the woods from afar, the cliff faces from afar. I have to walk with the masses. And there’s definitely no way for me to get up to wonderful Old John. I satisfy myself by photographing it every time I visit. But it’s not the same. It’s just not the same. 🙂
However, last month, thanks to a tip off from a friend, I got to experience the real Bradgate Park again. My Bradgate Park. Thanks to a National Lottery grant, they now have a brilliant off-road mobility scooter: a Tramper! And it was wonderful. My Dad and I spent a fabulous day roaming around the grounds, testing the scooter over the mud and meadows and moss. So much fun. 😀 I could go wherever I wanted to. I didn’t even need to stick to the grass footpaths through the parkland, as the scooter could handle the overgrown swathes of meadow and bracken. Very useful when trying to escape the (frankly, quite intimidating! 😉 ) stags! So I got off the beaten track, I escaped the masses, I got very close to the majestic deer. I scootered past the woods, I splashed through the sludge, I bumbled over the stones. And after a couple of hours of rocking and shaking, and laughing and loving, that wonderful Tramper got me to the top. Old John! Well in actual fact, it delivered me to the rocks below it. 😛 Although I was exhausted, although I find inclines so difficult, although I was carrying a heavy oxygen canister… I really really really wanted to touch that folly door. So I did. It took all of my breathe and energy reserves to scramble up the last thirty meters of rock face. So so proud. And as my Dad, Lottie and I stood atop the hill and looked down on the county below, I couldn’t stop smiling. For after seven long years, I’d made it back to the heart of my childhood. And it felt wonderful. Exhausting, but wonderful. 😀
Sometimes you don’t realize how much you’ve missed a place, until you return again. 🙂