In the UK, it’s traditional to knock your hometown. Nothing is ever good enough, the local council is full of idiots and there are of examples of incompetence on every street. It’s all very British…particularly when there’s an election afoot.
(Off course this is not something outsiders can do – unless you have a legitimate claim to the place keep your mouth shut and don’t voice any criticisms.)
But, I’m about to dispel this most British institution of bringing down your birth place (maybe some of it is those cliched rose-tinted spectacles 🙂 ) but I grew up in Loughborough and I think I’ve finally fallen in love with the place. Okay, so the town has been a powerhouse of UK sporting achievement for as long as I can remember, but you don’t exactly appreciate the opportunity you’re being given in being trained by the current GB Ladies Hockey captain and Olympic medallist aged 11.
Revisiting Loughborough after an absence of 20 years, I have finally fallen in love with the place.
I’m not sure if the local authorities or the Olympic legacy fund are to thank but there’s now no excuse not to enjoy a healthy lifestyle if you are resident in the town. Thanks to the university, there has always been a fair few cycling paths. Now, there’s a veritable spider’s web of cross town cycle and walking paths.
You can cycle off-road to Leicester, without coming into contact with traffic, some 13 miles away. Yup, this might be commonplace in the Netherlands but for us Brits keeping two-wheels away from four is all very new.
Pretty much every school and educational institute is now linked by off-road cycle paths and easy to follow quiet routes. It was actually faster for me to run into town than it was for me to drive and park. And I was running the 5km slow and stiff clocking in with plus 8min/kms. Okay, so you can’t load up with a week’s shopping on foot but you can with a bike. And yes, the security guard on the doors of Sainsbury’s did give me a very funny look as I wandered in with a Salomon vest strapped to my back.
Parking charges are steep in Loughborough. So this one isn’t popular with the locals, but to me it makes sense. It’s an
easy way to encourage people to get into the centre of town under their own steam – which has also been extensively pedestrianised. Basically if you don’t walk/ run/ wheel you aren’t going to be able to get around the Market Place and High Street areas.
The place is a triathletes’ haven. Aside from the local municipal pool, the university’s all-singing all-dancing pool is open to the public from around 6am to 9pm, with lanes set aside for laps, families and pool running. And Rutland Water isn’t far away. The university has also set up a public gym, operating classes for members and non-members. This is on top of all the regular reasonably priced gyms available to all.
Of course there has always been a network of footpaths and off road trails around Loughborough, thanks in part to the likes of Robert Bakewell (of farming revolution fame), Thomas Burton and the town’s geographical location in the heart of Shire’s hunt country. Folks of yesteryear needed short cuts across fields to get around fast.
For today’s trail runners, there’s our best kept secret of Charnwood Forest to explore, with public parks established at the Beacon, Outwoods, Broombriggs Farm and Lady Jane Grey’s Bradgate Park. Understandably these seem to have have been discovered and many of the muddy tracks I remember as a kid have now been gravelled over. While this makes for easier running there’s less mud to slosh through. I easily clocked up a 100km in a week without really trotting over the same path twice and without venturing outside a 20km radius of the town centre.
I saw loads of other people out running, cycling or just pottering around the town and countryside in all weathers. Indeed, it was pretty difficult not to get caught nipping ‘behind a hedge’, if you know what I mean!
Sadly, there were also plenty of people not taking advantage of what the town has to offer for free in its paths and trails. I guess we don’t realise what we’re missing sometimes…
Here’s some photos: