Two Weeks In Leicester: the ultimate guide

After being knocked out of the 2009 World Twenty20, the Australian cricket team had a fortnight to kill in Leicester, and no idea what to do. I wrote this blog post to give them some help.

Now, thanks to the discovery of Greyfriars Dicky, it seems that lots of American tourists might now be heading to my home town too.

The official Visit Leicester website has improved from a few years ago, when it offered almost nothing of interest. Nonetheless, Herringshaw Tours are internationally recognized leaders in unusual urban itineraries*, so forget the official sources and use the only reliable visitor guide to this most magnificent of English cities.

Welcome to Marginal Shrew Hi's Right Proper Guide to Lestoh!
Come here straight the way!

First up, because they never did anything for us, go and see some Romans at the Jewry Wall Museum. It will probably be closed due to council funding cuts, so if necessary, pretend you're visiting the magnificent Vaughan College of Adult Education instead.

(Actually, Vaughan College itself closed in the summer of 2013, so if the museum isn't open during your visit, you'll just have to climb over the railings. Let no-one tell you that the historic sights of Leicester aren't accessible!)

Either way, to get yourself in an appropriately Roman frame of mind, make sure you've packed your glirarium so you can snack on a few dormice as you wander around the brick ruins of the 2,000 year-old baths.

Leicestrian lunchbox, circa AD 50

If you can't stop eating delicious dormice and find you've put on hundreds and hundreds of pounds in mass, your next port of call should be the revamped Newarke Houses Museum. There you will be able to rest in the enormous chair of Daniel Lambert, who is Leicester's Favourite Son TM, a title he shares in all perpetuity with Joseph Merrick.

People in Leicester love nothing more than being asked which of these two men they are most closely related to, so why not stop someone and make enquiries?

"You boy! Yes, you! You in the Mark Morrison outfit lounging idly by the Clocktower, are you a Lambert or a Merrick?"

At this point, after all those rodents, you may be feeling a tad flatulent. Thank goodness the National Gas Museum ('the biggest collection of gas...in the world') is but a short stroll away. And next door, the National Space Centre:

No shortage of space in Leicester

Breath still a bit rancid? Hop on the number 12 bus to Braunstone Frith industrial estate and knock on the door of the Fox's Glacier Mint factory. In an age-old tradition designed to welcome visitors, a cheery septuagenarian man will give you a handful of minty sweets and a pat on the head. Leicester is known around the world as the friendly city, and with very good reason.

This reputation for legendary hospitality harks back to the 1550s, when the Duke of Northumberland kindly offered up his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, as the new Queen of England. Her home in Bradgate Park is now a pigeon-patrolled pile of bricks, but Lady Jane fared rather better. Ah, no, actually, she fared slightly worse, being queen for just over a week and then having her head lopped off.

The Royal Palace of Leicester's Own Queen of Hearts

Still, if you're in Bradgate Park and in a melancholy frame of mind, you might as well go and mourn the lifeless bodies of the oldest multicellular organisms in England. Some 560 million years have elapsed since they were smothered in volcanic ash. Or about three-and-a-half months if you're a young Earth creationist. Leicester welcomes people of all beliefs. Except Scientormonoodoos, as this is a religion my brother invented.

Not only tolerant of all creeds and cultures (even Australian cricketers) Leicester also loves animals. Chimps from nearby Twycross Zoo entertained the public for many years by dressing up in human clothes and persuading them to buy PG Tips tea, so why not pay them a visit and ask when they're coming out of retirement?

Are you sure that's a chimpanzee?

Joseph Merrick, meanwhile, is best known for his wonderful impersonation of an elephant. This 'most famous [of] performers' (Copyright: The Leicester Mockery) was actually so popular in his 19th Century heyday that he had to leave his home town for safety reasons.

To remedy this, when a new city centre tower block was proposed and the original name deemed to be in 'bad taste', the council announced it would be called Merrick House instead. It was due to open in 2011, but sadly it proved to be an Elephant Man white elephant. You'll just have to put a sack over your head and pay tribute to poor old Joseph yourself.

Merrick is in good company though, as one of a litany of significant Leicestrians who are not commemorated in any meaningful way, such as Henry Walter Bates, C. P. Snow, and Joe Orton.

Happily though, there are plenty of astonishing buildings to enjoy, as architectural adventure is to be seen right across the city. Not for nothing is Leicester known as "the Houston of the English Midlands". Eyres Monsell, the St Matthews estate, and Mowmacre Hill have some of the finest skyscrapers, but don't be disappointed if they've been burnt down by arsonists or smashed up by vandals. Like spring flowers, new ones will take their place in a few short weeks.

Spectacular sights await you.

Having seen so much, all that remains is to find some gifts suitable to serve as memories of your visit. The halcyon days of socks, shoes and tights are sadly gone, but the Bostik factory is still there, so you should be able to get yourself an engraved packet of one of Leicester's greatest gifts to the world: Blu-Tack.

Another lovely Leicestrian memento is a limited edition packet of Walker's "Salt And Lineker" crisps, simultaneously celebrating two of Leicester's most famous gifts to the world - jug ears and snack food-based obesity.

For lovers of fine local folk music, the greatest hits of Dinglebert Humptyback are available from all good retailers (and most bad ones too).

No, not that one!

Those multifarious delights should keep you occupied for a fortnight, if not longer. Time will never have flown by like this before, I promise you. And I've not even mentioned David Icke. Or Adrian Mole. Or Showaddywaddy. I'm holding those nuggets back for the book.




*Just ask any acquaintance of my dear father, who has led many an unsuspecting sports photographic colleague on a fascinating jaunt around one of the world's great cities. As recently revealed in the Mockery, though, they don't hold this against him.

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