If you had to concoct a quintessential English rural town, it might look a lot like Melton Mowbray.
This is a place that still has a weekly livestock market and an almshouse, all in the shadow of a beautiful Perpendicular parish church.
Two traditional delicacies with European Protected Designation of Origin come from Melton Mowbray and its environs.
One is the Melton Mowbray pork pie, enjoyed cold and baked without a mould so the sides bow outwards.
The blue cheese, Stilton is also local and came to the fore in the 18th century.
The Melton Mowbray Food Festival is a platform for both specialities, but you can get in touch with the local food culture at all sorts of smaller events, dedicated shops and markets.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Melton Mowbray:
1. St Mary’s Church
The largest parish church in Leicestershire is also the finest.
Inside, St Mary’s Church is almost entirely from the 13th and 14th centuries, while the Perpendicular Gothic exterior, clear by the castellations, broad clerestory windows and pinnacles, was completed in the 15th century.
You can call in Monday to Saturdays, to soak up the scale of this building and admire its solemn funerary monuments from the 13th to the 18th century.
There’s one for Roger de Mowbray, 1st Baron Mowbray (d. 1297) and a fine recumbent effigy, believed to be for Hamon Belers, a relative of the de Mowbrays.
His crossed legs indicate that he died in the crusades.
2. Twinlakes Theme Park
This family-oriented theme park couldn’t be closer to Melton Mowbray and is all designed with younger children in mind.
Twinlakes’ various zones have names like Excalibur Adventure, Xtreme Scream Park and Action USA, all found in 70 acres of lush countryside next to a pair of lakes.
And unlike many attractions like this, Twinlakes remains open all year, closing only in January.
Linking the zones is a Wild West-style miniature train, and the massive choice of activities, from intense to calm, ensures no child will be left out.
Just to set the scene there are rollercoasters, smaller rides of all descriptions, old-time fairground games and numerous soft play areas.
Add to all that a log flume, petting zoo, boating lake, go-kart track, assault course, falconry centre, all-weather live entertainment and a lakeside beach in summer.
3. Melton Carnegie Museum
Melton Mowbray’s town museum is in a former Carnegie Library, one of more than 2,500 that the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie funded worldwide at the turn of the 20th century.
This one was built in 1905, becoming a local museum in 1977 and then undergoing a renovation and extension in the 2000s.
You can brush up on the history of the town, and dip into some topics distinct to this region.
One is fox hunting, as the local countryside is used by the Quorn Hunt, one of the oldest in the UK. An exhibition presents the arguments for and against this antiquated activity, and for something lighter you can learn all you need to know about Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies.
4. Melton Heritage Trail
A jaunt around the town centre won’t take long, but there’s much to see with the help of a free app and a pdf map of the Melton Heritage Trail on the Go Leicestershire website.
On Burton Street you’ll come to a row of fascinating historic buildings.
The Bede House here is a 17th-century almshouse where six lowly widows or widowers could stay for free provided they prayed daily for their benefactor’s soul.
Also on this street, Anne of Cleves’ House (now a pub) has 14th-century origins as a chantry priests’ residence and was given to Anne in her divorce settlement with Henry VIII. The Egerton Lodge (1829) on Wilton Road was a base for the Quorn Hunt, while the palatial George Hotel on the High Street is an 18th-century coach house.
We’ll deal with Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe on Nottingham Street later, but next door is the stately facade of the Corn Exchange, built in 1855.
5. Melton Country Park
A ten-minute stroll from the town centre, this park in the north of the town has been awarded a Green Flag every year since 2015 and boasts all the amenities needed to win this prize.
There’s a cafe, open seven days a week in summer, a sensory garden, nature trails, a European tree circle, some deep woodland on the south side, picnic areas and a large lake at the centre.
Now with vital reedbeds on its margins, this was formed in 1990 by damming the Scalford Brook to protect the landscape from a possible flood.
There are stepping stones and a footbridge over the brook, and on the north bank of the lake is a bird hide to observe the park’s diverse wildfowl, which includes seven different species of duck alone.
6. Melton Mowbray Pork Pies
The Melton Mowbray pork pie is took off as a favourite snack of fox hunters in the 19th century.
The true version has a hand-made crust, with a chopped, uncured pork filling enclosed within a layer of pork jelly.
Ye Olde Pork Pie Shoppe is an essential stop on Nottingham Street, and demonstrates the art of making a hand-raised pie.
At the end of July Piefest is an entire event dedicated to pie-making, and has a programme chock full of workshops, talks, tastings, demonstrations and competitions.
7. Stilton Cheese
This crumbly blue cheese with a potent whiff was also first produced in the countryside near Melton Mowbray.
As it happens, Stilton comes in blue and white varieties, but blue is far more famous.
By the terms of Blue Stilton’s PDO it has to be made from local milk, have a cylindrical shape and delicate blue veins that radiate from its core.
If you’re in town on a normal day the Melton Cheeseboard on Windsor Street stocks 150 varieties of regional cheese, but Stilton is their forte, supplied directly by the Cropwell Bishop and Long Clawson dairies.
On the first Bank holiday weekend in May the UK’s largest dedicated cheese fair sets up in Melton Mowbray, with talks and demonstrations from expert cheese-makers, and endless opportunities to sample the country’s best cheeses.
8. Belvoir Brewery
Founded in 1995, the Belvoir Brewery now supplies ales, stouts and bitters to 275 pubs within 50 miles of Melton Mowbray.
Among these are some creative labels, like Oatmeal Stout, brewed with oats and Maris Otter barley, and Blue Brew, which infuses Stilton whey into its unfermented wort.
You can go behind the scenes on a guided tour, but you’ll have to book in advance.
On a visit you can watch the brewers at work through a large window, while there’s an exhibition of historic brewing equipment on display.
Belvoir Brewery has a menu of packages to choose from, the simplest being a step-by-step introduction to brewing, followed by tasting three different types in the Alehouse.
More expensive experiences involve a buffet with Stilton and pork pies, or a three-course meal.
9. Melton Regal Cinema
There may not be a finer local cinema in the UK than this Art Deco wonder on King Street.
The Regal opened in 1933 as an independent cinema, and this might account for the attention to detail in its design, as well as its sheer luxury.
The King Street frontage is clad with blue and orange faience tiles, and has an exterior balcony with tall metal-framed windows featuring intricate fanlights.
Due to dwindling audiences in the 20th century the cinema became bingo hall for a time, before being restored to its true purpose.
The last facelift in 2013 restored the Regal’s plush interiors and touched up some of its Art Deco plasterwork.
Not to forget, this is a place to watch movies after all, and you can catch all the latest releases in the cinema’s single auditorium.
10. Play Close
In the 19th century this land on the River Eye, just beyond St Mary’s Church belonged to Lord Melbourne who allowed the townsfolk to use it for recreation.
In the 1840s a baker on Park Lane to the north built a set of pigsties and allotments on Play Close, which caused such uproar that it led to the Playclose Riots in 1848, in which these plots were destroyed.
The land was bought by the town in 1850, expanding it so that Play Close borders Priors Close to the south, which is also public.
When the summer comes there’s often some sort of event on the weekend at Play Close, like the Melton Show and Festival at the end of May or outdoor cinema screenings.
11. Burrough Hill
Seven miles south of Melton Mowbray there’s a 210-metre ironstone promontory with stiff slopes.
In the Iron Age, starting about 2,500 years ago, this was the location for a bustling hillfort.
The settlement was defended by a ditch and rampart, both of which are clearly visible in the contours of the hill.
These stand three metres above the hillfort’s interior, which would have been entered via a gate on the southeast side.
A magnetometry analysis in 2010 showed that there were numerous roundhouses on the north, west and south sides of the hilltop, so Burrough Hill would have been a veritable town during its peak around 100 BC and 50 AD. Burrough Hill sticks out in the landscape and has majestic panoramas over the sea of arable farms and grazing livestock in the East Midlands countryside.
12. Melton Mowbray Food Festival
On the first weekend of October, one of the biggest regional culinary festivals in the UK graces the Melton Mowbray Livestock Market.
The town’s status as the “Rural Capital of Food” gives the event extra cachet.
There will be more than 200 stands presenting the best that the East Midlands has to offer.
Of course, cheese, pork pies and regional beers take centre stage, but don’t forget that the city of Leicester has a big South Asian community.
So there will be tempting Indian delicacies to taste in the Street Food Zone, along with artful confectionery, preserves, gins, quirky liqueurs, artisan coffee and that’s just by way of introduction.
The festival has a “Kids’ Zone”, with food oriented activities and cooking workshops, while television chefs show up for live demonstrations.
13. Markets in Melton Mowbray
Melton Mowbray is one of the few English towns that still has a livestock market near its centre.
This is on Scalford Street, within seconds of all the high street retailers on Nottingham Street.
The Cattle and Sheep market trades every Tuesday and is one of the most successful in England.
Coinciding with this is an Antiques and Collectors’ Fair at the same location.
Also on Tuesdays, as well as the first and third Saturday of the month, is the Fur and Feather live animal auction, which is exactly what it sounds like! There’s a classic street market on the Market Place at the end of Nottingham Street every Tuesday and Saturday, while on Tuesday and Friday there’s a first-class regional Farmers’ Market back at the site on Scalford Road.
On the Bank Holiday weekend at the end of May a large-scale festival goes down not far away in Wymeswold.
Instead of booking the biggest bands and artists in the world, Glastonbudget lets tribute acts take the limelight.
The top tribute acts for Metallica, the Red Hot Chilli peppers, the Beach Boys, the Beatles, Dolly Parton, ABBA, Michael Jackson, Oasis, Blur and lots more have performed at Glastonbudget since its debut in 2005. The quality of the performances is always astonishing, with the bonus that these bands will always play the hits instead of the new stuff! The Queen tribute, Mercury, are slated as headliners for 2019.
Golfers could squeeze a round or two into their plans in Melton Mowbray.
Close to Twinlakes, Melton Mowbray Golf Club welcomes non-members of all abilities and ages onto its 18-hole course in rambling Leicestershire parkland.
The course has a reputation for its tricky par 3s, like the 7th and 14th, which have an unforgiving water hazard.
Green fees are reasonable at this laid-back club, priced at £25 on a summer weekend.
For more of a family golfing experience, Sysonby Acres Leisure Park has an 18-hole pitch & putt, where children under 16 can play for just £5.