Woods, Parks, Hills and Country Trails, Leicestershire – Part 2

12 11 2006

11-12 November 2006

Part1 | Part2

Competition is Good!

The people of Leicester know the value of competition and enjoy its benefits. I am particularly impressed by the number of bus operators that serve the city and its surrounding regions. National Express connects the city for long distance journeys. Locally, Arriva, Stagecoach and First have a strong presence. There are smaller operators too: Centrebus, Kinchbus, Woods Coaches, Paul S Winson Coaches, Premiere Travel. There are two main bus stations – St Margaret’s and Haymarket. Both are busy places.

The effect of this competition is good value for money for the consumer. People find it more economical to take the bus than drive. Traffic congestion in the city is reduced. The city council can afford to even pedestrianize some of the lanes as part of its scheme of regeneration. All in all, it is a better shopping experience for citizens and visitors alike. As demand increases, services become profitable and more frequent. There are electronic boards at many bus stops. These give live updates of next bus services to arrive at that stop. Delays, if any, are made known to customers at the earliest by such automated means.

Regarding the cost of travel, a First day ticket costs only £2.50. This allows travel in any of their buses for the entire day within the city. An Arriva day ticket for the city costs the same. A First weekly ticket costs even less, at only £8.50. Likewise, an Arriva day ticket allowing travel to neighbouring towns and villages around Leicester, costs £4. However, it does not cover travel to Coventry which is a little too far. There are also offers such as a family city ticket for the entire day at £5. One can also make a bulk purchase of ten journeys to be used within the month. This works out cheaper than buying ten tickets separately. The bottom line is that competition forces providers to improve their services and think of new ways of making their services attractive.

Competition is not confined to public transport alone. I had dinner on Saturday at a pub named Hog’s Head. Two main meals were offered for only £6.95. This pub is not alone. But two meals are too much for one person. After dinner, I came to the conclusion that when food is bad, offers as this are necessary to entice customers who are picky about price. So even among the worst of the lot, there is competition to sell the most they can.

The ultimate in competition is at Leicester’s famous market. Timing must be right. Arrive at half-past five on a Saturday evening when the stalls are closing. Arrive when their owners are keen to get back home for a well-deserved rest. Better still, do it on a winter’s day when it is cold and windy. Competition is intense. Everyone shouts for attention in the final moments of trading. Almost every fruit and vegetable is on sale. Small baskets are heaped beyond their capacity and sold for as little as fifty pence. If only I had not been travelling, I would have bought bags and bags of fruits and vegetables. All I bought was a bag of nine large and juicy oranges, fresh as if they had been picked only a few hours ago. I bought this for a ridiculous price of fifty pence. The stall owner was even thankful that someone had been convinced to buy her simple stuff. In the end, I had to give some away to the landlady at the B&B. On a walking trip, the idea is to keep weight to the minimum.

Remembrance Sunday

On Saturday night, I watched on Channel 4 a programme titled “The Somme”. The British lost heavily on the first day of offensive, 1st July 1916. Their troops had limited training and hardly any experience. Most of them had never fought a battle. But the British were overconfident. They pounded the German defences continually. They surveyed the damage from the air. They noted the damage to most of the defences but they did not know about the extensive network of underground passages and trenches. In addition, they had not taken note that long and thick stretches of barbed wires remained virtually intact. The Germans had built many levels of defence, above and below ground. So, after many hours of air bombardment, the British troops marched confidently, expecting a certain victory at little cost. There was one powerful weapon that the Germans had, a weapon far superior to the rifles of the British and the French – the German machine gun. Man after man fell. With hardly a fight, 58,000 British soldiers were lost, a third of them dead, in one morning. While the British had a plan, their plan was too precise and rigid to respond to the changing situation on the ground. They didn’t think they would need alternatives. Where the British failed, their French allies had greater success few miles south by the river Somme. The Battle of the Somme, is now known to be the worst battle for the British.

Every city, town and village bears the scars of the World Wars. Every family has a story to tell, a loss to grieve or remember. The wars are still fresh in the minds of people. Those affected directly by them are still alive. The next generation may not make much of it but the horrors of war are real to those who have made the sacrifices.

This Sunday is the day dedicated to the remembrance of all those who gave their lives to the country. Old men dressed in pressed suits and polished shoes stand and wait at street corners. Some wear their medals but all wear a head of white hair. Girl brownies and boy scouts are dressed up in their uniforms. A boy polishes his horn and checks the sound. Mothers adjust the poppies on the vests of their little boys. Some carry flowers and wreaths. Many of these will be placed at tombstones or the town’s monuments for the dead. Everyone prepares for the day’s celebrations in his or her own way.

Celebration is the order of the day. It is a controlled celebration of thanksgiving and reflection. While some may remember those gone with sorrow, their personal loss is put aside to the greater good of society. On the whole, it is a happy and peaceful day. If not, their sacrifices would have been in vain.

Woodhouse Eaves

This is a village which I passed on leaving Beacon Hill. I reached the village by a nature trail that skirted some fields through wooded paths. A signboard at the start of the trail, named Windmill Hill Woodland Walk, read:

The National Forest is transforming 200
square miles of Leicestershire, Derbyshire
and Staffordshire. Ultimately, 30 million
trees will be planted which will cover a third
of the Forest area. The National Forest is
steadily turning what was once one of the
least wooded parts of England into a
sustainable forest for the twenty-first century
and beyond.

Woodhouse Eaves is one of those typical English villages with interesting lanes and cottages. In one particular house, I noted three gabled windows peep out of the sloping roof. This made the eaves much more noticeable. Perhaps, this is how the village gets its name.

Yet another icon of an English village, in these parts at least, is a disused water pump. Keyham has one of these too. So does Woodhouse Eaves. It stands quietly in a niche by the road. The space is now used as a well-maintained bed for small garden-plants. The pump no longer serves its original purpose. It is today a decorative piece, one could almost say a garden sculpture. This particular pump is painted in colours of grey and white. Where pots and pitchers used to be placed under its spout, a potted plant grows in the open air. To me, this little scene was an allegory life and growth, and their supports of light, water and air.

Cottages and their gardens

Cottages and their gardens

Just adjacent to this water pump is a lovely cottage, or rather a series of cottages that are part of the same building. It stands near the intersection of four roads – Main Street, Church Hill, Maplewell Road and Meadow Road. Anyone familiar with this village will need no such directions. I am sure it is a well-known local treasure. There are three main gables sheltering two main doors each. The sloping roofs on these gables cut the main roof, thus linking the roof with the walls. This intersection is one of the main eye-pleasing aesthetics. The main roof is then interspersed with small gabled windows. These are points in the facade where the walls pierce through the slope of the main roof. This adds to the associations between different parts of the facade. This breaks up the main eaves but also defines it more clearly. Finally, the roof is capped by four chimney stacks. All windows and doors are interesting in their criss-cross lattice work. Next to the doors, hanging under the overhanging roofs, are baskets with flowers.

All these would not make the cottage lovely without the advantage of the large garden at the front. This not only enhanced the overall appearance but also provided that comforting distance from the busy road where I stood. The lawns were green and well-maintained. There were flowers of many colours and varieties. These grew to great effect. They were not overcrowding the garden or imposing themselves on the scene. Rather, they had been cultivated to work in harmony with the cottage, the stone walls, the garden chairs and tables, the lawns and the paths through the garden.

On the whole, this cottage did not appear at any one moment to be an item of luxury. Sure, it may be expensive and even luxurious on the inside; but one cannot judge what one does not see. Everything about it was in harmony with the elements of nature. In essence, it epitomised the simple but classic comfort of English country. It was a controlled balance of all that man may need and all that nature can provide.

Gujarati Dinner

On Sunday, after a good walk in Leicestershire, I returned to Leicester by bus from the village of Newtown Linford. I had more than an hour before my return bus to Luton. I enquired an Indian if he knew of a bus to Belgrave Road, which has a number of Gujarati restaurants. This man, a Gujarati himself, went out of his way to drive me to Belgrave Road. He lives in Groby, a neat village I had passed in the morning. He is a dentist by occupation. He used to live in London some years ago. He is now settled in Leicester which has a large Gujarati population. Moreover, in Britain, dentists are always in demand. The British loves chocolates and have bad teeth. There is a general joke that British teeth are yellow, brown and black.

A vegetarian Gujarati dinner

A vegetarian Gujarati dinner

Many Gujaratis are vegetarians. If they are Jains, they will be vegetarians. Therefore, along Belgrave Road and Melton Road, one is spoilt for choice. I was recommended to try Sayanora Restaurant. I ordered a full thali meal – pilau rice, chappatis, vegetable side dishes, daal, potato vadas, paapadums, sweet lassi, yogurt and shrikand. There was nothing to complain about any of the items. The rice was well-cooked. It was served with a colourful and balanced mix of peas, carrot, corn, cashew nuts, jeera and broad beans. The chappatis were soft. They were of the right thickness and texture. They were so good that one could eat them on their own without the daal. It was a perfect end to a perfect weekend.

Part1 | Part2

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