Towns & villages | Visit National Forest

Towns & villages

Posted on Tuesday 1st March

Our market towns and villages within The National Forest fuse the magical heritage of traditional England with the contemporary bustle of irresistible shopping, farmers’ markets and restaurants, providing vibrant hubs at the very heart of Forest life.

Ashby-de-la-Zouch – battlements and bazaars

Get medieval among the remains of Ashby’s fascinating castle, built in the 15th century by one of England’s most powerful men, mostly destroyed during the Civil War and now a captivating ruin: climb Lord Hasting’s great tower, delve into the subterranean passage and experience why Sir Walter Scott set part of his most famous novel Ivanhoe here. Elsewhere, browse Ashby’s farmers’ market and independent shops, and visit the town’s intriguing museum to discover where the ‘de la Zouch’ in its name came from.

Barton-under-Needwood – marina and memorials

Once the lifeblood and highway of this part of Staffordshire, the Trent & Mersey Canal is once again thriving. Today, visitors flock to Barton Marina to enjoy a range of restaurants, specialist shops and, of course, fishing and boat hire. Follow the canal south to reach Alrewas,  home of the National Memorial Arboretum; the UK’s centre for remembrance. It is a haven for wildlife, and ideal for walks and contemplation among wooded groves.

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Burton upon Trent – beer and football

It’s the rocks that lie beneath the town that give Burton its unique water – reputed to have healing properties and well proved to be wonderful for brewing beer. Long Britain’s ale capital – at the end of the 19th century half of its male population worked in the beer industry – today fascinating tours of the National Brewery Centre and Marston’s Brewery provide insights into its heritage. Just outside of the town lies St George’s Park, home of the FA’s National Football Centre and key to England’s sporting future.

Coalville – collieries and countryside

The clue’s in the name: Coalville owes its existence to the seams that have been worked since medieval times. Today, wildlife is returning to Coalville’s former industrial sites, as a visit to Snibston Country Park or the Grange Nature Reserve reveals.

Burton upon Trent Washlands © National Forest Company/Jacqui Rock

Melbourne & Ticknall – abbey and arts

Today an attractive Georgian town, the history of Melbourne can be traced through some ten centuries. Named as Mileburne in the Domesday Book, it has an imposing 12th-century church, the scant remains of a 14th-century castle, grand 18th-century Melbourne Hall and, down the road in Ticknall, fascinating Calke Abbey – a wonderfully crumbling stately home surrounded by grounds studded with venerable oaks. Melbourne also boasts a host of famous sons – not least Thomas Cook, creator of the package holiday – and, each September, a vibrant arts festival. The town centre has a wealth of opportunities for shopping including local produce,  galleries, antiques shops and clothing alongside a wide range of restaurants, cafes and bistros.

Trent towns – canals and castles

Dotted along the River Trent and the 18th-century Trent & Mersey Canal you will find a number of appealing towns and villages: Willington, with its marina and nature reserve, where you might spot a bittern; Repton, home to one of England’s most notable historic schools and Anglo-Saxon St Wystan’s Church, whose 8th-century crypt is the resting place of Mercian kings; Shardlow’s historic wharf; and Elvaston Country Park, 80 hectares of  rolling greenery and landscaped gardens spread around the Gothic revival castle.

Mercia Marina © National Forest Company/Jacqui RockSwadlincote – clay and coalmining

The earth has been yielding its mineral treasures around Swadlincote for over seven centuries – a document dated 1294 refers to the granting of mineral extraction rights. The ‘Cottages of Swartling’, as the Old English name meant, saw a boom fuelled by coalmining and clay extraction in the late 18th century, becoming South Derbyshire’s largest town. Today you can discover the legacy of that industry at the fascinating Sharpe’s Pottery Museum, centred on a 19th-century kiln, and explore over 12 hectares of country park in Swadlincote Woodlands.  The town has a variety of offerings to suit all tastes from Swadlincote Ski & Snowboard Centre to The Pipeworks with its cinema, food & drink and retail outlets. In the heart of the town centre, The Delph public square hosts events throughout the year from the annual pancake races to the award winning farmers’ market.

Tutbury & Uttoxeter – horses and hauntings

Another village with ancient history, Tutbury’s now-ruined Norman castle, encircled by Iron-Age ditches, once hosted – or, more accurately, imprisoned – Mary Queen of Scots; unsurprisingly, it’s reputedly haunted by the ghost of Mary and a phantom guard! Nearby Uttoxeter is famed for its racecourse – a day at the races is a treat at any time of year – but there’s plenty more to enjoy here, including the the remains of 12-century Croxden Abbey.

Uttoxeter Racecourse