A dead-end wa­ter­way with no locks and just the odd short tun­nel and aque­duct, the Ashby Canal is nonethe­less well worth a visit for the many miles of quiet Mid­lands scenery and some in­ter­est­ing sites to visit

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT & PIC­TURES BY DEREK PRATT

Take a stress-free trip to tran­quil­lity and avoid all those locks on this Mid­lands stretch

The 22 mile Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal (to use its sel­dom-heard full name) has no locks at all. This makes it a stress-free cruise for in­ex­pe­ri­enced boaters and a leisurely jour­ney for reg­u­lar boaters need­ing a rest from end­less flights of locks – with the added at­trac­tion that the wa­ter­way is al­most en­tirely ru­ral.

De­spite its ru­ral ap­pear­ance, it was a busy coal-car­ry­ing canal in its day, its ter­mi­nus near the vil­lage of Moira be­ing sur­rounded by coal­fields (The name is a mis­nomer as the canal never reached Ashby-de-la-Zouch). Work­ing boat­men, who called it ‘The Moira Cut’, car­ried coal from around Moira for many years. How­ever, the trade which had brought suc­cess to the wa­ter­way even­tu­ally be­came its down­fall, when min­ing sub­si­dence caused the suc­ces­sive clo­sure of its north­ern eight miles from 1944 on­wards, leav­ing just the 22 miles from Marston Junc­tion to just north of Snare­stone.

After the Sec­ond World War, boats from Gop­sall Wharf con­tin­ued car­ry­ing coal to cus­tomers in­clud­ing Crox­ley paper mills and Coven­try power sta­tion. This traf­fic ended in 1970 and since then the sur­viv­ing length of the canal has be­come a pop­u­lar plea­sure cruis­ing wa­ter­way. Re­cently the canal’s north­ern limit has been ex­tended via a re­built bridge to about half a mile be­yond Snare­stone, the first stage in am­bi­tious plans to re­store it back to Moira.

Apart from a short tun­nel at Snare­stone and a small aque­duct at Shen­ton, the canal lacks ma­jor ar­chi­tec­tural fea­tures – but it makes up for this with the splen­did coun­try­side and the nearby at­trac­tions of the Bos­worth Bat­tle­field site and the steam rail­way.

At times the canal can be shal­low in depth and bank veg­e­ta­tion growth is of­ten high in late sum­mer – so just take it gently and en­joy this quiet ru­ral route.

The canal starts at Marston Junc­tion, which is just to the north of Bed­worth,

where it leaves the Coven­try Canal, pass­ing through the re­mains of a for­mer wa­ter-con­trol stop lock and heads off into the coun­try­side. In­ci­den­tally, the old stop lock was built to take stan­dard 7ft wide nar­row­boats, but the rest of the canal was built to broader stan­dards, a re­minder that the orig­i­nal in­ten­tion was to con­nect with the wide-beam eastern sec­tion of the Trent & Mersey Canal near Burton upon Trent.

In­dus­try and hous­ing es­tates are soon re­placed by fields and wood­land as the canal ap­proaches Burton Hast­ings vil­lage, which is set on a hill and can be reached from Bridge 8. Two miles of peace­ful open coun­try­side fol­low, lead­ing to the Lime Kilns pub. This for­mer coach­ing inn pro­vided sta­bles for work­ing boat­men’s horses. It’s now a wel­come stop for boaters and those on the busy A5.

The canal now passes through the west­ern fringes of Hinck­ley, sur­rounded by hous­ing and some in­dus­try. Hinck­ley Wharf is now used for boat club moor­ings and a lit­tle fur­ther on, Trin­ity Ma­rina pro­vides all boaters’ fa­cil­i­ties plus a shop, pub, restau­rant and an ad­ja­cent ho­tel.

Leav­ing the town be­hind, there are an­other three miles of open coun­try­side with the oc­ca­sional bridge be­fore reach­ing Stoke Gold­ing, which to those ar­riv­ing by road proudly pro­claims it­self ‘The Birth­place of the Tu­dor Dy­nasty’. No such pro­nounce­ments on the canal, but there is a boat­yard with a hire-fleet and a ma­rina known as the Ashby Canal Cen­tre. Stoke Gold­ing vil­lage is a short walk from the canal, with a use­ful farm shop, post of­fice and pubs.

The canal bends to­wards Dadling­ton but then shies away avoid­ing the vil­lage en­tirely be­fore re­sum­ing its northerly course to Sut­ton Cheney Wharf. Here, sud­denly after the quiet ru­ral lengths, there is plenty of ac­tiv­ity with trip boats, a wa­ter­side cafe and a car park full of coach par­ties. Boaters can moor up and walk to the Bat­tle of Bos­worth site, or carry on to moor­ings at Bridge 35 at Shen­ton known as King Richard’s Field and fol­low the marked trail.

The Bos­worth Bat­tle­field Her­itage Cen­tre and Coun­try Park is a must (see in­set), and on a fine day, a walk along the bat­tle­field trails over hills and wood­land is mem­o­rable.

But after all the de­scrip­tions of King Richard’s gory demise in­clud­ing Shake­speare’s of­fer of his king­dom for a horse, it comes as some re­lief to re­turn to the tran­quil­lity of the Ashby Canal.

Shen­ton Aque­duct spans a mi­nor road close to the sta­tion where you can take a steam train on the Bat­tle­field Line from Shen­ton to Shack­er­stone (see in­set). If you are feel­ing en­er­getic on a nice day, con­sider a sin­gle jour­ney on the train, re­turn­ing by a five-mile walk along the tow­path from Shack­er­stone. For those boaters pre­fer­ring more leisurely pur­suits, stop for a while at the beau­ti­fully si­t­u­ated pic­nic site by Bridge 37 where there are moor­ings.

The canal con­tin­ues north­wards to­wards Mar­ket Bos­worth but keeps to the west­ern edge of the town. The cen­tre of the town with all its shops, banks, post of­fice, pubs and an ex­cel­lent fish and chip shop are about a mile walk from Bridge 42. Boaters may wish to stock up with pro­vi­sions, as there is lit­tle chance of find­ing any­thing sub­stan­tial be­tween here and the end of the wa­ter­way.

A 50-acre leisure park with large lakes for fish­ing, sail­ing and wa­ter sports can also be reached from Bridge 42 in the op­po­site di­rec­tion from the town, and a new ma­rina has opened not far north of the bridge.

In the next three miles the canal leaves civil­i­sa­tion be­hind as it winds through re­mote coun­try­side. The iso­lated vil­lage of Conger­stone can be dis­cov­ered west of Bridge 47, and you may hear the odd whis­tle from a steam train on the nearby rail­way, but oth­er­wise this is a very peace­ful sec­tion of canal.

The rail­way be­comes more ev­i­dent as you reach Shack­er­stone which marks the end of the Bat­tle­field Line, and the site of the rail­way mu­seum, tea room, and head­quar­ters of the rail­way so­ci­ety which op­er­ates the line.

The canal leaves Shack­er­stone over a small aque­duct, and there then fol­lows an­other two miles through lovely wooded coun­try­side to Gop­sall Wharf. From there it is just a short jour­ney to Snare­stone where the canal’s only tun­nel has a pub above it. Two stone-arched bridges lead to where the canal used to end; but now a re­cently re­stored bridge con­tin­ues the route for an­other quar­ter mile or so. There isn’t much to see at the tem­po­rary ter­mi­nus, but you can moor up and walk for a mile and half to Measham. If you’re feel­ing en­er­getic, you can ex­plore more of th­ese dis­used north­ern reaches of the canal.

The canal once con­tin­ued eight miles through Measham to Moira, un­til min­ing sub­si­dence re­sulted in its clo­sure. But al­ready an iso­lated length at Moira has been re­stored, and there are am­bi­tious plans to link up to this, although di­ver­sions will be needed where the orig­i­nal line has been oblit­er­ated.

The re­stored sec­tion hosts the an­nual Moira Canal Fes­ti­val, which fea­tures the

Moira Fur­nace Mu­seum (see in­set) and Conkers Wa­ter­side (the Na­tional For­est Dis­cov­ery Cen­tre).

If you want to get an idea of what the canal will look like when restora­tion is com­plete and the north­ern reaches are busy with boats, visit dur­ing the an­nual Moira Fes­ti­val, when the re­stored length sees many vis­it­ing trail boats at­tend­ing. This year’s event also hosts the In­land Wa­ter­ways As­so­ci­a­tion’s Na­tional Trail­boat Fes­ti­val, and takes place around Moira Fur­nace dur­ing the May bank hol­i­day week­end on May 27-28.

Be­yond the fur­nace, a new lock was built in 2001 al­low­ing ac­cess to a newly re­built sec­tion of canal ter­mi­nat­ing at Conkers and the Na­tional For­est Cen­tre. Moira Lock there­fore has the dis­tinc­tion of be­ing the first lock ever built on the Ashby Canal. Conkers is an ad­ven­ture cen­tre for fam­i­lies with chil­dren. The 120 acre site has lots of out­door and in­door ac­tiv­i­ties in­clud­ing the ‘En­chanted For­est’ and a Wa­ter­side Cen­tre.

Hope­fully, one day this will be a pop­u­lar ter­mi­nus for the com­pletely re­stored and re­opened Ashby Canal.


View from along the canal from Marston Junc­tion

Ap­proach­ing Stoke Gold­ing Wharf

Splen­did ru­ral cruis­ing near Burton Hast­ings

Pic­nic time at Mar­ket Bos­worth

Busy scene at Sut­ton Wharf

Pass­ing Mar­ket Bos­worth

A fes­ti­val brings the canal at Moira to life

Ap­proach­ing jour­ney’s end at Snare­stone

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