Medbourne and Hallaton

Discover some very unusual Eastertide goings-on

NEAREST LOCATION

Medbourne

RECOMMENDED BY
DISTANCE

8.75 miles (14.1kms)

ASCENT
820ft (249m)
TIME
4hrs 30min
GRADIENT
DIFFICULTY
Hard
STARTING POINT
SP799929

About the walk

Bottle-kicking, they claim in these parts, is a sport older than football, cricket and even so-called real tennis, but whether 'sport' is the right term is open to question. It takes place every Easter Monday when hundreds of people gather in Hallaton to try and propel a tiny barrel (known rather confusingly as a bottle) towards the neighbouring village of Medbourne. The villagers of Medbourne, meanwhile, try to physically stop them by any means possible. And, as far as rules go, that's about it.

But bottle-kicking is just one part of the day-long celebrations which are believed to go back to medieval times (although rather typically no-one is quite sure when). The beer inside the actual barrels plays an important part in the day's proceedings, naturally enough, as does the hare pie scrambling. The hare has long been a symbol of Easter and used to be paraded ahead of Hallaton's procession each year. Home-made hare pie is as important as the actual bottle-kicking, although the traditional dish has variously been made with beef, veal and bacon over the years. To the south of the village the walk passes Hare Pie Bank, which records show has been a local meeting place and scene of festive and religious gatherings for many centuries. This is where Easter's mayhem truly begins.

The order of ceremonies

The events of Easter Monday follow a set order in Hallaton. The morning starts with the children's parade led by a marching band, after which comes the bottle-kicking service in St Michael's Church. The bottles and hare pie are then paraded through the village and the pie is cut up and 'distributed' (often thrown at the assembled mob), who move on to Hare Pie Bank to begin the contest. Like the annual Shrovetide football match at Ashbourne in Derbyshire, bottle-kicking is a rough and unruly affair, usually conducted by scrums of young men who get covered in mud and bruises. There are no set rules, no team kits, and not even any limits on numbers. The sole objective is to propel the small wooden cask to the opposing village boundary, which in Medbourne's case is several fields away over hedges and brooks. The result is usually decided from the best of three games, and afterwards the winners gather at the Butter Cross in the centre of Hallaton.

For more information on this bizarre and fascinating custom, read John Morison and Peter Daisley’s engrossing book published by (and available from) Hallaton Museum, on Hog Lane, open weekend afternoons and bank holidays from Easter to the end of September.

Walk directions

Walk up Main Street and turn right on to Rectory Lane, opposite the church, which becomes a path. Go over the road at the end and up through the fields opposite. Cross a stile to continue through the yard of Nut Bush and across the field beyond, then climb over the low wall on your left to the road. Turn right and walk along the road to reach Nevill Holt.

Turn right at the end of The Avenue. Walk past the ornate gates and in 100yds (91m) take the second public footpath on the left across the parkland to the south of the site. At the end of a young hawthorn hedge turn left for a grassy path back up to the church, following yellow waymarkers. Join a lane beside a high brick wall back round to the road.

At the junction go through the gate opposite to cross a wide arable field. Continue down through two fields, separated by Uppingham Road. Beyond a woodland strip go left, then up the right-hand side and across the top of the next field – aim for the solitary tree on the skyline. At the far corner drop down through the field and turn right at a junction for a farm track into Blaston. 

At the lovely Church of St Giles turn left and follow Hallaton Road to the junction at the end. Go straight over and after the second stile turn right to walk through the wide open pasture towards Hallaton. Follow the yellow-topped waymarker posts, aiming initially for the spire of Hallaton church, then veer to the right of an isolated clump of trees in the middle of the field, and cross a footbridge.

Go left, then sharply right beyond another stile and follow the signs through a small, modern housing development. Eventually turn left on to Medbourne Road and straight on to reach the centre of Hallaton. 

Leave the village via a passageway underneath a house, just along from The Bewicke Arms and almost opposite the Butter Cross. Cross a footbridge and go directly up a sloping field, aiming just to the right of a wooden fence beneath trees. Arriving at the summit of Hare Pie Bank, go through a gate and turn left on to a wide track. Continue along the edge of two gated fields, then turn left into a lane. Turn right at the first bend and follow this long, semi-surfaced lane below Slawston Hill.

At a road junction go straight over and down a lane, and 500yds (457m) beyond the former railway bridge turn left for an unswerving bridleway along the foot of successive fields. When you reach the far end, turn left to follow the road back into Medbourne.

Additional information

Farm paths, field tracks, some rough and muddy lanes, many stiles

Rolling pastoral scene of fields and woodland

Some good enclosed tracks, but on lead around livestock

OS Explorer 233 Leicester & Hinckley (224 Corby, Kettering & Wellingborough also useful)

Roadside parking near village hall, Main Street, Medbourne

None on route (nearest in Market Harborough)

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About the area

Discover Leicestershire

Leicestershire is divided between the large country estates of its eastern side and the industrial towns of the East Midlands to its west. Coal mining was an important part of the county’s industrial development in the 19th and 20th centuries. This is reflected in its heritage, including a reclaimed mine near Coalville, now divided between a nature reserve and Snibston Discovery Park, where families can learn about the mining industry. Meanwhile, agricultural areas are concentrated around the pleasant market towns of Market Harborough and Market Bosworth.

The county’s administrative centre is the city of Leicester, and other major towns are Loughborough, which includes bell-founding among its many industries, and Melton Mowbray, home of Stilton cheese and a particularly English item, the pork pie. One shop in Leicester has been specialising in this meaty delicacy since 1851. Northeast of Melton Mowbray is the lovely Vale of Belvoir, beneath which are large deposits of coal.

Charnwood Forest, with fewer trees than one would expect, provides a wild and rugged landscape conveniently situated for escape from the city. It lies to the northwest of Leicester extending to Loughborough and Coalville, with some interruptions.

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