In 1858, John Spanton in his "A Companion To Charnwood Forest" described the ruins as picturesque, "the scenery here having the two elements, wood and water-which are often wanted in so-called forest landscapes, is remarkably rich; and from a distance, the grey towers of the ruin, rising above the ample foliage of its secluded, deep, romantic valley, render the scene very impressive". Previously, in 1838 Thomas Featherstone had also waxed lyrical with the words, "Ulverscroft! - thy solemn ruins alternate with the livery of Winter and of Spring - snows whiten thy gray battlements, and the warm sunshine glitters through thy deserted halls, as year after year thou crumbiest into dust! The owl immures herself in thy quiet gloom -the spectral bat wheels around thy lonely turret". Our 19th century travel guides clearly saw the romantic side to what is indeed an attractive part of Leicestershire.
The truth is however, that the Priory was a centre of local wealth and the Prior enjoyed a life as rich as many noblemen might have done. At the dissolution, the estate was worth £83.108.6d, there were 300 cattle, 1000 sheep and 60 pigs that grazed amongst the forest. The Prior enjoyed hunting and had a pack of hounds and 11 hawks. The local woods had deer, hare and partridge and for fast days there were large fish ponds! Ironically though, the Prior's sheep tainted the grass and in doing so discouraged the deer. A common complaint aimed at the inhabitants of such institutions was that "neither baron, knight, nor squire lives half so well as a holy friar!"
In the years just before dissolution, the kitchen, brewhouse and bakehouse consumed so much wood that seven men were employed just to fell the frees and to fill between four and eight cart loads of wood every day. The managed woods were coppiced, and in some places pollarded so that the livestock could not eat the fresh shoots. The peasants were also dissuaded from visiting the woods because they might disrupt the Prior's hunting activities. Interestingly, in the first half of the 20th century, there had been little change to access in this area as demonstrated by this quote, "whilst the woods contain some delightful woodland paths ...they are either preserves or fox -covers, and the gamekeepers are sometimes rigid in excluding visitors".
The ruins are not to my eye as romantic a place as Victorian writings would have us believe, though of course they did not have same ability to travel and to see grand places further afield as we do. However, knowing a little about the history of a place makes a visit so much richer. As I walked past the ruins and down the valley of the infant River Lin I knew I was following the route that a Friar would have done many years ago. Then as I walked through the nearby managed woodland nature reserve, past coppiced alders and hazel, I was reminded of the men who would have skillfully worked similar woodland in order to keep the Prior warm and fed with good food.
I've walked past this scene a number of times, but never before have I wanted to photograph it. On this occasion, the clouds just completed the composition for me. Just to the left, and out of the picture is the farmhouse, and behind it a messy structure of scaffolding and plastic sheets that are presumably intended to protect other parts of the ruin. Normally, it is difficult to notice this particular scene as opposed to the rather incongruous structure next to it!