CRUISE GUIDE: EREWASH CANAL
Take a detour with us to visit historic mills and a museum to a famous novelist and poet
The northernmost part of the Grand Union system, and a surviving remnant of a local canal network which once reached right up into the Peak District, the 12 miles of the Erewash Canal are also well worth exploring in their own right
In the last two issues we followed the Leicester Section of the Grand Union north from Norton Junction to Leicester, and then continued down the River Soar to its confluence with the River Trent. But that wasn’t the end of the Grand Union system: crossing the Trent to the opposite bank we enter Trent Lock and continue northwards along the Erewash Canal.
Following the Erewash Valley midway between Nottingham and Derby, the canal passes through Long Eaton, Sandiacre and then skirts around the edge of Ilkeston – but while it seldom quite reaches wide-open countryside, it remains pleasantly green for much of its 12-mile journey to Langley Mill, and it’s well worth a detour.
The canal opened in 1779 with the prime purpose of serving the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire coalfields, providing them with an outlet to the south. It was an immediate success and led to the construction of four more connecting canals: the Nottingham Canal, the Nutbrook Canal, the Derby Canal and the Cromford Canal. Eventually, high tolls and railway ownership of those connected canals reduced the coal traffic; however, despite the railway competition, the Erewash stayed busy right through until after it was purchased by the Grand Union Canal Company in 1932.
Trading finally ceased after
nationalisation in 1947, and eventually parts of the canal became un-navigable with the uppermost section abandoned.
In 1968, a number of enthusiasts formed the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Association to fight off permanent closure and to restore and develop the waterway as an amenity asset. They reopened the disused section, restored Langley Mill basin and, in 1983, their efforts were recognised when the canal was officially upgraded from ‘Remainder Waterway’ to ‘Cruiseway’ status.
The Erewash Canal begins at Trent Lock which has become something of a local resort. Two pubs and the Lock House tearoom cater for its many visitors who can sit and relax enjoying wide views of the River Trent. Trent Lock also provides much interest for spectators who can watch boats negotiating the first of 15 wide locks on the canal. Boaters will need an anti-vandal key to operate all locks on the canal, available from Canal & River Trust offices.
Once through the lock, the canal passes boatyards and lines of houseboats moored on the offside of the canal. There then follows a golf course, two railway bridges and another boatyard before reaching the outskirts of Long Eaton.
The passage through Long Eaton is mostly built-up but not unpleasant, with playing fields and a pretty municipal park adjoining the canal at one point. The town became famous for its lace-making industry which once employed a quarter of the population, and many of the mills with their towering chimneys still border the waterway. Most of these can be seen in the vicinity of Long Eaton Lock which is a good place to stop to visit the town centre.
At Dockholme Lock you can look down at the Toton railway sidings which, in their commercial heyday, formed one of the largest railway yards in Europe.
The cottages at Sandiacre Lock are now the headquarters of the Erewash Canal Preservation and Development Association. There are two separate cottages, a stable and a toll house originally used by the Derby Canal Company (see inset).
Sandiacre Lock also marks the former
junction of the long derelict Derby Canal, which was 14 miles long and ran from Sandiacre to the Trent & Mersey Canal at Swarkestone. It was abandoned in 1964 (having already fallen derelict), but the Derby and Sandiacre Canal Trust was formed in 1994 with the intention of restoring the waterway.
The Erewash Canal passes through Sandiacre town centre which is dominated by the huge Springfield Lace Mill, now converted into apartments. Pleasant moorings are conveniently placed for shops, supermarket and pubs near Bridge 10.
Pasture Lock, just north of the town, is well named being situated in an area of greenery with views across a ridge called Stoney Clouds. Unfortunately, this rural idyll is spoiled somewhat by the noise of the nearby M1 motorway.
The canal then passes beneath the motorway to Stanton Lock which was once the junction of the Nutbrook Canal. Five miles long with 13 broad locks, the Nutbrook was built to carry coal from the Shipley mines. Eventually, most of the canal closed because of mining subsidence except for the bottom one and a half mile length, which was acquired by the Stanton Ironworks. During the Second World War, this short stretch of canal carried around 60,000 tons of steel, mainly used for armaments. The Ironworks sold all its boats in 1947 but some traffic continued until 1949.
After Hallam Fields Lock, the canal skirts around the edge of Ilkeston to Gallows Inn. This stands next to Gallows
‘Stop and walk through the woods to view Bennerley Viaduct: a spectacular 1500ft iron structure that once carried a railway line’
Lock, its grim name recalling a 17th Century place of execution – and sadly the pub is currently closed after the previous owners sold up.
After two more locks, the canal arrives at Station Road, Bridge 20 where there is another nearby pub. This is a good place to stop for provisions and to walk into Ilkeston town centre, where you can visit the Erewash Museum.
The canal continues northward with built-up Ilkeston to the west and a mixture of open countryside and woodland to the east. After Stenson Lock you will see Bennerley Woods on the towpath side. Stop and walk through the woods to view Bennerley Viaduct: a spectacular 1500ft long iron structure that once carried a railway line over the Erewash Valley and the now derelict Nottingham Canal. Before leaving the area, you can visit the Bridge Inn which is next to the canal at Cotmanhay.
After Cotmanhay, the canal passes through more open country to Shipley Lock. Shipley Wharf was once a transshipment centre for coal brought down from nearby collieries on an incline railway. Coal was loaded into boats here from 1895 until 1942. Next to Shipley Lock is the MFN club which claims to be the “Midlands’ Ultimate Destination for bikers and petrolheads”. Live music and who knows what else, regularly attracts thousands of bikers to this remote spot. MFN stands for ‘Miles From Nowhere’, although it is said that some locals have other interpretations!
The canal continues northward in open countryside to Eastwood Lock which is the last lock on the Erewash Canal – but not the last on our journey. The next lock, Langley Bridge Lock at Langley Mill, is actually the first lock on the Cromford Canal, and leads to the present limit of navigation.
From Langley Mill you can visit Eastwood with its excellent shopping and a museum dedicated as the birthplace of D.H. Lawrence. As a young man, Lawrence would certainly have known the canal and this is reflected in his semi-autobiographical novel Sons
and Lovers which is a about working class life in a mining community. Today he is commemorated at the DH Lawrence Birthplace Museum (see inset).
Great Northern Basin at Langley Mill was the junction of three canals: the Cromford, Nottingham and Erewash. Having been revived and extended by ECPDA, the basin is a busy boating centre with boatyards and moorings. The name of the basin is reflected by a
convenient pub that overlooks the site.
Langley Mill is where our journey by boat must end, but it’s also a good base for exploring the remains of the other two canals on foot.
The Nottingham Canal ran for 15 miles between Langley Mill and the River Trent at Nottingham. It was a busy waterway until the 1840s when railway competition sent it into decline. Most of it was abandoned in 1937 but the final section in Nottingham stayed in use and provides a vital link on the Trent Navigation through the city. Sections of the derelict length are still in water and recognised as nature reserves.
At 15 miles, the Cromford Canal is similar in length to the Nottingham Canal but heads away from Langley Mill in the opposite direction. It begins at Langley Bridge Lock, and its first few hundred yards form what is currently regarded as the head of navigation for the Erewash Canal. Originally the Cromford had 14 broad locks and four tunnels including one 3,063-yard long tunnel at Butterley. It was the collapse of this tunnel that brought an end to commercial trading from Cromford.
The majority of the canal was abandoned by 1944, but you can still walk the route and there are plans to restore it. The top five miles from Cromford southwards towards Ambergate were restored in 1974, and more recently, the Friends of the Cromford Canal have carried out
‘Langley Mill is where our journey by boat must end, but it’s also a good base for exploring the remains of two other canals on foot’
restoration work on several sections of the route.
The northern section includes the Leawood Pumping Station with the Wigwell Aqueduct and also High Peak Junction. Here there is a small museum and information centre about the High Peak Trail, which is based on the Cromford & High Peak Railway, an early line that crossed the Peak District. The Leawood Pumping Station has regular steaming dates throughout the year. A trip boat, which is occasionally horsedrawn, operates from Cromford Wharf.
Cromford Wharf has become a popular spot for visitors with a café and information centre, and is close to Arkwright’s Mill (see inset). Perhaps one day it will form a fine terminus for a 27-mile cruise along the Erewash and the restored Cromford canal.
An assortment of houseboats moored above Trent Lock. Previous page: leaving Pasture Lock, a little way north of Sandiacre
Old mill chimneys provide a reminder that Sandiacre was a centre of the lace industry
Sandiacre Lock and restored cottages
Entering Barker’s Lock, near Cotmanhay
Waterside pub at Cotmanhay
Shipley Lock, in attractive rural surroundings
Leawood pump on the old Cromford Canal
Small boats already use the Cromford
Cromford Wharf: Eventual terminus?