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An unusually-named market town, next to the National Forest


Ashby Castle
Ashby-de-la-Zouch Museum
Ashby-de-la-Zouch's strange name came from the La Zouche family, who owned the settlement shortly after the Norman conquest of England. They contributed a lot to their new home, including the organisation of regular markets and an annual fair. They turned the town into a functioning, successful trading centre. The merchants set up their wares - as they still do today - along the wide market street. The surrounding architecture showcases the different eras in Ashby's history. Timber-framed buildings hide behind newer brick facades, and Regency houses stand next to Georgian-fronted shops.

The Bull's Head pub
Photo Mat Fascione
Ashby-de-la-Zouch's most important building has always been its castle - even after it was demolished in the 17th century Civil War. Sections of wall remain, marking out where the various chambers and courtyards used to be. The tallest part of the castle was the Hastings Tower, and you can still climb its 98 steps to the top. In the other direction, you can go underground, though a narrow tunnel to the kitchen basement.

Ashby Castle underground tunnel
Photo Quinet
Walter Scott's 1820 novel Ivanhoe, a work of historical fiction, featured a tournament in the grounds of the castle. One of its characters was Robin of Locksley, better known as Robin Hood. Ivanhoe was such a successful story that its depiction of Robin - as a noble outlaw - is the one that remains in the public consciousness. Ashby's connection to the book remains strong. In the 19th century they named a bathhouse after it, and even today many local children study at Ivanhoe College.

Ashby Castle
Photo Tim Ellis
When the castle was dismantled, the stained glass from its chapel was removed, and transferred to the nearby parish church of St. Helen. This is the location of the only surviving example of a finger pillory - a cruel wooden contraption, designed to lock people's fingers inside its narrow grooves. It was used as punishment for anyone who dared to disrupt the service.

St. Helen's stained glass
Photo Jason Bowler
The full story of Ashby-de-la-Zouch's history is told at its museum. The exhibitions are frequent winners of Leicestershire Heritage Awards. Besides the permanent exhibits - which include a Model of Ashby Castle under siege - they run a rolling programme of temporary displays, make films and run guided tours of the town.
One fact that becomes quickly apparent when browsing the exhibits is that Ashby's pubs have real character. One, the White Hart, apparently used to hold regular cock fights, between teams from Derbyshire and Leicestershire. The landlord was something of an eccentric. He even kept a bear in the cellar, which he used to encourage stubborn customers to leave at the end of the day! The White Hart's still there, and they still have a bear - although these days, it's stuffed. Pub history is the subject of one of the museum's walking tours, which are available on request.

Lime Kilns pub
Photo Steven McKay
A couple of miles out to the west is the National Forest's visitor centre, better known as Conkers. This is the hub of the National Forest, a project that mixes ancient woodland with new planting. It's a good place to stop off before heading out; they can help you plan routes, or rent to a bicycle.
Alternatively, you can stay at Conkers. Their Discovery Centre simulates walking across the treetops, then challenges you to walk barefoot over bark, rock and clay. These are just some of over 100 interactive exhibits. A separate complex, called Waterside, includes a three-storey adventure playground and an outdoor performance venue.

Ashby Canal
Photo Rodney Burton
The name "Waterside" refers to the Ashby Canal, which runs alongside. There's a walking route along the towpath, through the beautiful Leicestershire countryside. It seems only fair to have such a pleasant watercourse nearby, as Ashby is actually the furthest town in England from the sea.
Visitor Information
Ashby-de-la-Zouch Tourist Information Centre is open weekdays (except Wednesday), 9.30am to 5pm, and Saturdays, 9.30am to 4pm. Ashby Library, North Street, Ashby, LE65 1HU. Tel: 01530 411767.
Ashby Castle is open daily in summer, Thursday to Monday in spring and autumn, and at weekends in winter. 10am to 4pm. Entry is around £5 for adults, £3 children. South Street, Ashby de la Zouch, Leicestershire, LE65 1BR. Tel: 01530 413343.
Ashby-de-la-Zouch Museum is open on weekdays, 11am to 1pm and 2pm to 4pm, and on Saturdays, 10am to 4pm. Entry is aorund £1 for adults, 50p children. North Street Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire, LE65 1HU. Tel: 01530 560090.
Conkers is open daily, 10am to 5pm. Entry is around £9 for adults, £7 children. Rawdon Road (B586), Moira, Derbyshire, DE12 6GA. Tel: 01283 216633.

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