I went to Melton Mowbray as an extension of my weekend in Stamford as a friend lives there and it seemed an ideal chance to see her, for it was only a 35/40 minute drive away. However, if you talk about Melton Mowbray to anyone in UK, they will immediately think – pork pies! In fact, the thought extended to Spain on Sunday evening when messaging my good friend Linda there, and her husband George wanted to know if I’d had pork pie for supper. Can there be any Brit who hasn’t heard of Melton Mowbray’s pork pies?!
Melton lies on the River Eye and has a population of about 30,000. The name comes from an early English word ‘Medeltone’ meaning ‘middle town surrounded by small hamlets’ and Mowbray is a Norman family name. There’s evidence of settlements going back to the Romans and Anglo-Saxons. After the Norman Conquest the 1086 Domesday Book describes Melton Mowbray as a thriving town with 200 inhabitants and weekly markets. The markets still thrive today and there is even a livestock market held every Tuesday; there’s a food market in the Market Square on Tuesdays; the East Midlands Food Festival every October, showcasing not only the famous pies but also the many great cheeses you will find in the area; and in December there’s a 3-day Victorian Christmas Fayre. This makes Melton Mowbray a great foodie destination.
How to get there
By car, there are various routes from London – A1(M), M1, M40 – that will take you to Melton Mowbray in just over a couple of hours. A train from London St Pancras to Melton Mowbray takes about 1hr 30mins. Most of them require a change at Leicester but there are a couple – early morning and late evening – which are direct. Melton Mowbray station is very central so it’s easy to access anywhere in the centre of the town once you arrive.
Where to stay
I stayed in the Best Western Sysonby Knoll Hotel 3* which is just on the edge of the town and a 15-20 minute walk to the centre. It’s in a quiet location and the hotel has a restaurant and lovely garden with great views. It’s a comfortable hotel and all the staff were very friendly. If you want something more central, there’s a Premier Inn but it fronts right onto a busy road – so if you choose to stay there, I recommend asking for a room at the back.
My room (above) and the view from the restaurant when I had breakfast (below).
I didn’t ever do the walk to and from the hotel as my lovely friend, Christine, who lives in a small cottage in the centre, always came and picked me up and took me back. The first evening I went her home for supper with her and her husband. The following morning she came to the hotel to pick me up for a day’s tour of Melton and surrounds.
Walking from her cottage, we passed St Mary’s Church and then walked down pretty Church Street as Christine led me round the town. We could also see the Anne of Cleves pub nearby which was once the home of Thomas Cromwell, from 1538 to 1540, and then later Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife, lived there.
Our walk soon took us to Dickinson & Morris’s legendary pork pie shop.
However, Christine was keen I should buy a pie from Leeson’s who won the 2022 best pie award. The shop where she’d bought them before didn’t have any, so she kindly offered to take me direct to the Leeson’s shop in Oakham after lunch. Lunch, of course, had to contain pie and Stilton. We went to a cafe she goes to regularly where we had a ‘Melton Platter’.
It was a perfect size – I’d been a bit worried a ‘ploughman’s lunch’ might be huge as they often are, but this was a size to keep even Goldilocks happy and gave me the chance to sample not only Leeson’s pork pie but a wonderful – Long Clawson – Stilton. I bought a pie later but it was only on my way back home to London that I thought I should have bought some of the Stilton too as I like Stilton cheese and it was a particularly wonderful one.
But as for the delicious pie – what makes Melton Mowbray’s so special?
Melton Mowbray Pork Pies
The Melton Mowbray pork pie has geographical protected status – as does the local Stilton cheese (a gorgeous, creamy blue cheese) – and there is a link between the two in the development of the pie. There was a big growth in the dairy industry in the area from the 1700s and a by-product of cheese production – whey – is good for pigs so pork became a big feature in Melton’s diet. From here the pork pie evolved and a thick crust was wrapped round the pork filling so the pie could be easily carried to work (in a similar way to how the Cornish pasty came into being). It was eventually noticed by people from further afield that Melton’s pork pies were different – and better – than others. The recipe was developed and improved over time but Melton’s pork pies remain superior products and because of their protected status now, pork pies made elsewhere cannot be labelled ‘Melton Mowbray’ pies.
A Trip to Oakham
Replete with a good lunch, we set off by car to nearby Oakham. Oakham is just 10 miles away from Melton Mowbray and you can drive there in under 20 minutes. By train, it’s just an 11 minutes journey. I’d passed through on my way from Stamford and even stopped to have lunch in the branch of Fika there, but hadn’t really seen much of the town. We drove into a car park and Christine led me up some steep steps for a wonderful view across to Oakham Castle and All Saints’ Church in the distance.
Only the Great Hall remains of the Norman castle, which dates from about 1180-90, when Henry II and then Richard the Lionheart were on the throne. It’s said to be one of the finest examples of Norman domestic architecture in England and one of the earliest and best preserved aisled halls in northern Europe. It’s free to go inside and we were greeted by a friendly woman who gave us a guide to read as we went round. The walls are covered in large horseshoes. It’s an old custom that members of royalty or peers of the realm had to pay a forfeit in the form of a horseshoe to pass through.
It was great to see the hall and outside we went through an old arch into a square.
The Butter Cross stood to one end of the square and was once known as Market Cross. It reminded me of a market I’d seen in northern France. It was also a preaching cross and an unusual 5-hole stocks stood inside – wrongdoers in past times would have had their feet locked in them as punishment. But why five holes?
Moving into the High Street we came to our destination: Leeson Family Butchers.
I bought a couple of pies to take home and Christine offered to keep them in her fridge overnight; luckily I had a cool bag in my car, so they would be okay on the journey back to London.
I also bought some bread from the Hambleton Bakery, which makes bread for Hambleton Hall where I had a fabulous meal on Saturday (click here).
From Oakham, Christine took me further afield to see more of the beautiful, rolling countryside. We passed Belvoir Castle (pronounced ‘Beaver Castle’), perched high on a hill. This is actually a fake 19th century castle owned by the Duke of Rutland and is built on the site of a Norman castle that was built around 1066. The castle has been rebuilt at least three times.
We found a cafe on our journey to stop and have some tea: a very English mid-afternoon tea stop!
By the time we were heading back to Melton Mowbray it was close to the time we’d decided to have supper. We went to Amore, an Italian restaurant close to Christine’s home. It was a lovely friendly place and we both had a chicken dish with a creamy sauce of mushrooms and pancetta. We decided to share a pudding and ordered a tiramisu. It turned out to be a wonderful tiramisu – very authentic and delicious and clearly homemade. I had an espresso to go with mine.
Christine gave me a lift back to the hotel. It had been a wonderful day. I’d seen so much and we’d had plenty of time to talk and have fun together.