River Eye, Leicestershire
The River Eye is a river in north-eastern Leicestershire that becomes the Wreake.
The Eye rises at Bescaby, about six miles (10 km) north-east of Melton Mowbray. It flows east towards Saltby, where it turns south and flows past Sproxton, Coston and Garthorpe. At Saxby it turns west and flows by Stapleford, Freeby, Wyfordby, Brentingby and Thorpe Arnold. At Swan's Nest it enters Melton Mowbray, where it flows under bridges at Burton Road and Leicester Road. It then passes Sysonby, where, at Sysonby Lodge it changes its name to the River Wreake, which flows into the River Soar. Its full journey is about 13 miles (21 km).
The river is neither wide nor fast flowing, although it does flood periodically. It drifts through the gentle rolling countryside of north-east Leicestershire by fields bounded by hawthorn hedges. There is very little woodland in the area, what's there is largely man-made in the form of fox coverts. Farming in the district is largely pastoral, with the grassland given over to sheep and cows, the traditional beasts of local agriculture. Stilton and Red Leicester cheeses originally came from the village and farm dairies in the Eye basin.
The name Eye comes from the Old English ēa, meaning "the river".  It probably had an older, pre-historic name that has now been lost. However, Wreake is Danish in origin, meaning the twisting or meandering one.
Iron Age remains
The river has been the centre of human activity for many centuries. To its north-east, at Saltby Heath, are King Lud's Entrenchments, which may date from prehistoric times, although historians debate this. It may be significant that the Entrenchments lie just inside the county boundary with Lincolnshire, which may have been a territorial frontier. The county boundary follows the watershed between the River Eye and River Witham, and is marked by the ancient routeway from south-east England to the north, known as Sewstern Lane or The Drift.
About six miles south of the river at Melton Mowbray lie the impressive remains of an Iron Age hill fort at Burrough Hill. It is suggested that this may have been the tribal centre for the Corieltauvi people who lived in the East Midland counties of Leicester, Lincoln, Nottingham and Rutland. There is a presumed prehistoric trackway from Burrough Hill northward towards Melton Mowbray, where it crosses the River Eye and heads north towards the Vale of Belvoir. In Roman times the tribal centre was moved to Leicester, which the Romans named Ratis (or Ratae) Corieltauvorum.
Danish and Saxon villages
Nine of the villages bordering the river have Danish names. The rest are Saxon. It is likely that these incomers used the river to reach their new homes. All these villages are likely to have been sited on dry ground close to a good source of water. The River Eye provided this source. Stapleford means 'the ford (over the River Eye) marked by posts'  and indicates that the lanes around the Eye were in use twelve hundred years or so ago.
Melton Mowbray appears to have become the Eye basin's trading centre in Saxon times. Its market probably pre-dates the Norman conquest and is one of the few in England listed in the Domesday Book (1085). Melton continued as the main trading centre in the area throughout medieval times, up to the present day.
The Eye valley was used by the Oakham Canal when it was built early in the nineteenth century. The stretch of the river from Stapleford to Sysonby (about six miles, 10 km) was canalised. There are a few sparse remains of the canal, although the river has largely reverted to its natural state. In 1844 the Midland Railway built the Syston and Peterborough Railway alongside the canal. It had to buy out the canal company as part of the agreement to build the railway. The Midland Railway allowed the canal to fall into disrepair because it was the major competitor to its new route.
The river today
Today, the River Eye is a relatively unknown part of the English landscape. Like many rivers it has a long history, much of it unwritten. It is still vital as a water source and drainage route and has a leisure focus for fishermen and those who walk the rights of way that criss-cross its route. The Eye has given its name to the UK's first community radio station 103 The Eye which has been broadcasting to Melton Mowbray and Vale of Belvoir since 2005.
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- Cox, B. A Dictionary of Placenames of Leicestershire and Rutland, Nottingham, 2005.
- Cox, B. 2005.