Vale of Belvoir
The Vale of Belvoir (pronounced beaver, i//) is an area of natural beauty on the borders of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire in England. Indeed, the name itself derives from the Norman-French for beautiful view.
Extent and geology
The Vale is an east-north-east trending tract of low ground of somewhat ill-defined area. Its vale-like form can be viewed from either its southern flank (the Belvoir "ridge") or from the north-west along the A46 (Roman Fosse Way) from which it is much less conspicuous. It is the product of geological processes, being occupied in the main by the sedimentary mudstones and thin limestones of the Liassic (Lias), with a northern fringe comprising the upper parts of the Triassic (Mercia Mudstone and Rhaetic). As described above its south-eastern margin is the most clearly defined, as it is formed by a conspicuous scarp slope, about 100 metres higher than the valley floor, upon which Belvoir Castle sits. Its resistance to erosion is due to a capping of relatively thick Jurassic Ironstone. The vale-like form is further constrained by cappings of ancient glacial till that form the higher ground along its western margin.
In the Pliocene epoch (1.7 m years ago) the Vale of Belvoir was occupied by the 'Proto-Trent' River, which cut a gap through the limestone ridge at Ancaster and then on to the North Sea. At the end of the Wolstonian Stage (c. 130,000 years ago) a mass of stagnant ice left in the Vale of Belvoir caused the river to divert north along the old Lincoln river, through the Lincoln gap.
Belvoir Castle, which occupies a dominant position overlooking the vale, is the ancestral home of the family of the Dukes of Rutland. The castle saw significant damage in both the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War and has consequently been rebuilt a number of times in its history. It is now open to the public, whilst still remaining a family home, and provides a popular tourist centre to the area. In recent years the Belvoir name has become more widely known through the national and international sale of various cordials and other produce, a scheme introduced by the present duke's father to raise funds for the continued upkeep of the castle, and to provide employment in an otherwise farm-dominated local economy.
Two other local specialities dominate the world reputation of the vale: Stilton cheese, and pork pies. Of the six dairies currently allowed to produce true Stilton cheese under the terms of its protected origin status, only one is not located in the area. The vale is the historic centre for the production of this king of English cheeses and until the end of the 19th century all Stilton cheese was being produced within 20 miles of Melton Mowbray. However, the cheese took its name from the Huntingdonshire village of Stilton, where it was served at the coaching inns on the Great North Road. Melton is also the home of the Melton Mowbray pork pie, produced by traditional methods using uncured pork and hand-formed pastry and served cold. Both Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pies are covered by European Protected Designation of Origin orders.
"Belvoir Angels" are a type of early 18th century Swithland slate tombstone found in the district. A comprehensive account of the natural history of the Vale was compiled in 1790 by the poet George Crabbe, who was chaplain to the Duke of Rutland and rector of Muston, Leicestershire. It includes a list of more than 70 beetle species. The vale is renowned fox hunting country and has many historical ties to the sport.
A controversial coalfield development was proposed in the 1970s. It became the subject of a public enquiry in 1979. The requisite planning applications were ultimately quashed by the secretary of state for the environment in 1982.
The Vale has been publicised in recent years by former Leicestershire and England cricketer and current BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew on the BBC Radio cricket commentary show Test Match Special.
- "About Belvoir Castle". Bevoir Castle official website. Retrieved 2007-06-25.
- Langar Parish Council site has an illustrated feature on "Belvoir Angels": Retrieved 30 March 2011.
- Natural History of the Vale of Belvoir. In: Bibliotheca Topographia Britannica, VIII, Antiquities in Leicestershire, 1790. Online facsimile: Retrieved 31 March 2011.
- Belvoir Hunt site: Retrieved 31 March 2011.
- Hansard: Retrieved 31 March 2011.