Wanderer at Large: Melton Mowbray (Leicestershire)

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the Eastern Midlands including Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Rutland and Huntingdonshire.

Melton Mowbray pies by the CSSdiv. CC license BY 2.0

Melton Mowbray

Loves of good hearty food will delight in the rural paradise of Leicestershire which is world famous for its culinary specialities. Red Leicester cheese is globally known of course, and is made locally today by the Leicestershire Handmade Cheese Company. The county is also renowned for takeaway favourites: chip shop big-sellers Pukka Pies are made in Leicestershire. The companies United Biscuits and Walkers have bases in the county, too. They are the makers of popular snacktime choices Jacob’s Cream Crackers and Quavers respectively. But it is the Leicestershire town of Melton Mowbray, in particular, that sticks out as a name synonymous with traditional food.

Melton Mowbray is a definitive example of an English market town and one of the oldest in the country, established over 1,000 years ago. A visit to the area around it is never dull, as there are almost 800 places of special architectural, scientific or historical interest near the town, including a huge medieval church, the fantastically gothic Belvoir Castle, and a 14th century pub, the Anne of Cleves, where a legend holds that it was once actually owned by Henry VIII’s fourth wife.

The local museum in Melton Mowbray was built by the great American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and celebrates the global success of the town’s woollen exports: the dense woollen ‘donkey’ jacket favoured by dockers, sailors and loggers around the world is traditionally made of Melton cloth. The story of the town’s connections to England’s fox-hunting culture is also told at the museum: we are told the phrase ‘painting the town red’ originated here.

The Melton Mowbray Pork Pie is said to have been made originally as subsistence for hunt assistants. Pork production is a big local industry. The pigs are fed on whey, a by-product of the local dairy industry. Although supermarkets routinely carried pies with the label ‘Melton Mowbray’, there is specific process and recipe which marks a pie as such. For example, the pies are still made by hand and are moulded in the tin, not baked. Other pies contain cured meat. This pie is fresh pork. It has a grey filling when cooked, not pink. In 2008, the European Union awarded the Melton Mowbray pork pie ‘Protected Geographical Indication’ status. As a result of this ruling, only pies made within a designated zone around Melton, and using uncured pork, are allowed to carry the Melton Mowbray name on their packaging.

In Nottingham Street, one can buy true Melton pork pies at Dickinsons & Morris’s ‘Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe’. The pies are made in a factory outside of town, just one of nine manufacturers allowed to make Melton Mowbray pork pies. They are also sold at Tuxford & Tebbutt Creamery and Brockleby’s Farm Shop.

Stilton cheese is named after the town in neighbouring Huntingdonshire where it was first sold on the main road to London. It dates back to at least the 1700’s. The distinctive shape and characteristics are traditionally credited to Frances Pawlett, a ‘skilled cheese maker’ of Wymondham in Leicestershire. It’s all about the autumn-time: a second pasture growth after summer apparently produces better milk. Also, a September calving time produces a higher protein content. The blue veins are achieved by adding a tiny amount of mould. It takes eight weeks for the blue-veins to develop. Then three more weeks to mature, making it the perfect cheese to enjoy at Christmas time (especially with some Cream Crackers, a Melton Mowbray pork pie and a packet of Quavers– a real festive Leicestershire treat!) Only six manufacturers in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire are licensed to make and use the name Stilton and they have to use the stipulated method. Websters Dairy in Saxilbye near Melton Mowbray is a local supplier.

Melton Mowbray – as a day out, it’s the upper crust.

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Worcestershire/Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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