Monday, 15 July 2013

Watermead Park to Birstall and a visit to Leicester

Saturday 13th July posted who knows when?

We left our pretty mooring in a cloud of willow fluff blowing off the roof which Dave had so carefully cleaned last night!  We had a short cruise to Birstall where we moored by the trees below the lock.  We walked up to the village and caught the bus into Leicester which was great because we could go upstairs at the front! Our local bus at home doesn’t have an upstairs so this was a great start to the day.  As it was Saturday the streets were thronged with shoppers and strollers, lots of street stalls and the largest market in Europe.  We wanted to visit the Richard III exhibition at the Guildhall and on our way we passed the original excavation site where his skeleton was discovered.  There is a viewing platform, some information boards and the team of archaeologists working on site.  One was giving a short talk to the visitors and answering questions – it was brilliant!  Here is a view of the whole site; the area was the car park of a school which was closed for redevelopment.  As it’s an ancient city site the archaeologists from the uni got to excavate before the builders moved in and bingo!  they found part of the friary which had been dissolved and demolished in the time of Henry VIII.  It’s not very big is it?  I had got the impression it was a huge council car park.

archaeologists at work

The next photo shows the spot where his skeleton was discovered. The skeleton is currently still at the uni being studied until it is formally buried again, probably in Leicester Cathedral though there is some controversy over this.  The dig will become a visitor centre site and his grave (hastily dug by the friars after the body had been carried in triumph to Leicester from Bosworth Field by Henry VII) will be preserved for people to see.  It’s currently protected by a sheet of plastic covered with sand, the spot being indicated by the ‘R’ on the orange barrier behind it.

here layeth RIII too

They have found other human remains, which will be given a decent reburial at some point, and a stone sarcophagus which hasn’t yet been investigated but which was probably the grave of someone locally important .  They also found some places where the mediaeval floor was still in place with its floor tiles – the best examples are in the exhibition but we got to handle two examples of broken ones;

mediaeval tile 1   mediaeval tile 2

It is amazing to be handling artefacts that until recently had not been touched for hundreds of years!  Although they were damaged you could see the amount of work that had gone into their production.  The talk, given by a practising and enthusiastic archaeologist, was totally free and the best history lesson we have ever had. 

We went on to the exhibition in the Guildhall, which was interesting but not large.  We saw a 3-D print reconstruction of his skull, showing the battle injuries (sorry about the reflections from the glass case), but unfortunately the reconstruction of his head and actual features has gone off on a tour of museums so we had to make do with a picture.

RIII 3d printed skull reconstruction

There was a touch-screen display of his skeleton with explanations of his injuries and the scoliosis which twisted his spine.  Fascinating. The Guildhall itself is beautiful but was not open to visitors that day.

leicester guildhall

We walked down to Castle Park to look at the moorings (room for 3 boats only, pretty poor), then as the weather had become oppressively hot we had a quick lunch in a shady cafe and caught the bus back to Birstall where thankfully Chuffed lay in deep shade.  We did a quick bit of shopping in the Co-op (air-conditioned, hurray!) and got rid of the recycling as the thunder rolled.  We discovered later that there had been short rainstorms north and south of us but we didn’t see a drop.

We had a beer in the pub garden and then fish and chips from the excellent chippie, followed by a pleasant stroll around another of the Watermead Park lakes, where we watched terns fishing and Great Crested Grebes diving.  As with long stretches of the Soar yesterday, there were great banks of nettles and we were delighted to find some black hairy caterpillars munching away;

nettle caterpillars

The flash on my phone makes it look a bit odd but the white bits are where the caterpillars had eaten the leaves.  They could be Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell or Comma, but whichever they are they must be having a better year than last year!

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