East Midlands towpath bike rides: Bede Park to King Lear’s Lake, River Soar

Go in search of a legendary royal on this riverside ride to Watermead Park

Towpath bike rides: Bede Park to King Lear’s Lake, River Soar


Distance: 6 miles (one way)
Suitable for: All bike types
Start point: Bede Park, Leicester

Is Shakespeare’s King Lear based on fact or fiction? Whatever you decide, it’s hard not to be stirred by the legend of a tyrannical king laid to rest in a chamber beneath the River Soar. There’s even a lake named after him, which is the destination of this beautiful riverside ride.

The ride starts in Bede Park and takes you through Abbey Park, a beautiful green space hugging the banks of the river. The park has a boating lake where you can hire rowing boats and pedalos, a miniature railway, and the remains of the 12-century Leicester Abbey.

Follow the river out of the park, keeping your eyes peeled for an unusual bubble-shaped tower on your left. That is the National Space Centre, well worth a visit on your return to the city.

Upon leaving Leicester you’ll soon reach Watermead Park – a patchwork of lakes skirted by foot and cycle paths for you to explore. The park was formerly a sand and gravel pit for the concrete industry – quite a transformation to the 140-acre wildlife haven it is today! Over 200 species of bird have been spotted here, including bittern, cetti’s warbler, bearded tit and barn owl. You’ll find bird hides in Reedbed Nature Reserve, although you’ll have to leave your bike locked up before exploring on foot.

Before your return journey, take a well-earned rest by King Lear’s Lake, which has a sculpture at its centre depicting the final scene of the play. There are disputes as to whether or not there was a real King Lear. Medieval chronicler (and occasional myth-maker) Geoffrey of Monmouth’s first written account of the monarch is spelled ‘Leir’, and he credits him with building a city on the river and giving it his name – ‘Leircestre’. You can ponder this ‘history’ on the lakeside bench, which depicts two Bronze Age people and an aurochs (an extinct wild ox), remains of which have been excavated here during the site’s many upheavals.

Plan your next day out on the River Soar on the Canal & River Trust website.

Share the space: drop your pace
We want everyone to enjoy visiting our canals and rivers. More than anything we want people to be safe – and with our towpaths busier than ever this is something that all visitors need to play a part in. When cycling, please pay attention to safety and warning signs, and be considerate of others. Read more about our ‘Share the space: drop your pace’ campaign on the Canal & River Trust website.

Andrew Batram