The Ashby Canal

The Ashby Canal is unusual among British waterways in several respects. For one thing, it doesn't go to the place after which it is named, and in fact it never did--although it came close!

For another thing, it proceeds for 30 miles through gently undulating countryside without a single lock. It is therefore ideal for the novice narrowboater who just wants to get used to steering a boat round lots of twists and turns without having to worry about negotiating locks. On the other hand, "doing the locks" is great fun too!

This canal is my "local", as its course takes it to within only about four miles of where I live, but it was only last year that our family boating holiday gave us the chance to try the Ashby.

History

The canal was originally built to transport lime and coal southwards from the works and mines near Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire. The canal links to the Coventry Canal near Bedworth (Warwickshire), and hence directly to Coventry and indirectly to Birmingham, and via the Oxford and Grand Union canals to all points south. For boaters on the Warwickshire Ring with two days to spare, a trip up the Ashby and back is well worth the trouble.

The first plans for the Ashby Canal included a link to the River Trent at Burton, but this was soon seen as being over-ambitious. Indeed, it was envisaged from a very early stage that when the canal reached the point where locks would be essential, a series of narrow-gauge tramways would connect the canal to the mines and limeworks. The canal itself therefore only ever reached as far as Moira, which is about three miles from Ashby.

The first disaster to hit the canal was the realisation that the coal reserves at Ashby were nothing like as great as had been thought. There would therefore not be the traffic to allow the canal to make a profit, and any thoughts of extending the canal to the Trent were shelved for ever. Good fortune then arrived, in the shape of extensive coal seams being discovered at Moira itself, so the canal found itself a purpose almost by accident. Moira coal was of such high quality that it was in demand as far south as London, and the route to get it there had just been constructed!

However, the second disaster was caused by the very thing that made the canal a success. When you take coal out of the ground, you almost always create subsidence as the layers above the coal seams press down to fill the holes that have been created. This happened in the Measham area, just south of Moira, in 1918 and again in 1966, the end result being that the present canal is about eight miles short of its original length.

Restoration

As things stand, the canal ends at Snarestone, which is a tiny village with an excellent pub, but not much else. To go the whole length, you have to go through the Snarestone tunnel, which is 250 yards long, then you have less than half a mile before you must turn round and come back through the tunnel.

The coalmines at Moira have long been abandoned, but the village now has a new lease of life as the headquarters of the National Forest, which is a scheme to transform a huge area of central England, much of it blighted by its industrial and mining heritage, into woodland and forest. The visitor centre at Moira, Conkers, is an excellent place to learn about how a forest works and its wildlife, as well as being an adventure centre for all ages. The plan is therefore to bring the Ashby Canal back to Moira so that the industrial history of the area can be linked seamlessly with its new role.

The Ashby Canal Association (click the link for some excellent historical photos and much more) has been working hard over a number of years to achieve this goal, and there is already a half-mile stretch of usable canal running alongside the Moira Furnace.

It is no longer possible to use the orignal route for the stretch between Moira and Snarestone, so the plan is to make use of a disused railway line through the small town of Measham.

Things to See

For much of its length, the Ashby Canal meanders through open countryside. Because it sticks to the 300 foot contour for the whole of its length, and villages in this area tend to be built on hilltops, the canal passes within sight of several settlements without actually going through them.

One exception is the town of Hinckley, towards the southern end of the canal. This is an ancient town found on the hosiery industry, but the canal skirts its western edge, passing close to a modern industrial estate and the Triumph motorcycle factory. The Limekilns pub is worth a visit, as it is built where the canal passes underneath the A5 trunk road, which was originally the Roman Watling Street. The building appears to be on two floors if you are on the road, but three if you are on the canal. During our visit there was bungee-jumping on offer in the pub garden--and no, we didn't!

Close to its halfway point the canal crosses the site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, fought in 1485 between England's just and rightful king, Richard III, and the foul usurper Henry Tudor (guess whose side I'm on!). The battlefield site is well marked out along a circular pathway that offers a good, brisk walk, and there is also a visitor centre. However, there is much debate as to whether the battle actually took place here or about half a mile away.

If you moor up at the battlefield you can also take a trip on the Battlefield Line Railway, which is a preserved four-and-a-half-mile section of the former Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway. Throughout the summer there are regular services between Shenton (battlefield) and Shackerstone. The canal passes close to all three stations on the line, although it takes six miles to do so! The Shackerstone Railway Society has preserved a large number of steam and diesel locomotives, many of which make regular trips along the line.

The thing most worth seeing on this beautiful stretch of water is the English countryside at its peaceful best. Canals attract wildlife in droves, and you will almost certainly see family groups of swans, ducks and moorhens either swimming around between the reeds or looking hopefully at you for titbits. You may also see herons, birds of prey and, if you're really lucky, kingfishers. Look out for water voles as well.

Whatever you do, enjoy your visit and take your time!

Shenton Tunnel
Shenton Tunnel
Moored up at Shenton
Moored up at Shenton
England at its peaceful best
England at its peaceful best
The Limekilns at Hinckley, with the A5 crossing the canal
The Limekilns at Hinckley, with the A5 crossing the canal
Madness can manifest itself in so many ways ...
Madness can manifest itself in so many ways ...

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Comments 6 comments

Lissie profile image

Lissie 8 years ago from New Zealand

Looks like quitessensial English countryside - can I suggest that you add some more tags such as travel, England self-drive so some other people find these excellent hubs!


The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 8 years ago from UK Author

Lissie, Yes, this is the heart of England! I live only about three miles from the Ashby Canal, so these are scenes from what is virtually my back door! Thanks for the tip about the tags. As a librarian and an indexer I have always believed in "close classification", but it clearly pays to be a bit looser when trying to attract visitors to sites and hubs.


David Witherspoon 6 years ago

Thank you for your wonderful writeup on the Ashby canal. I found it informative and the pictures are really attractive and well composed, too. Nicely done.

My wife and I (we're from North Carolina) are coming to England for the expressed purpose of cruising the Ashby for the exact reason you stated. We're newbies and Ashby and I notcied its lack of locks - well only one we're actually beginning briefly on the North Oxford canal - I made the decision that that is were we would cruise just to get our feet wet this trip. Maybe we'll do some a little more challengung nest trip; perhaps the Llongollin.

Any tips on where to get a good pint alont the Ashby? Is there just the Limekilns? A mile off the canal is a pretty good radius to go hunting a pint and a plowmans.


The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 6 years ago from UK Author

David,

Many thanks for the comment. As I said in the article, locks can be fun, so tackling a few on your first trip is not a bad idea! I can offer you some guidance here - see my articles at http://bit.ly/1NlyV2 , http://bit.ly/3J3AtZ and http://bit.ly/2qigcp. I also have some guidance on mooring up - http://bit.ly/yMoRD

Get yourself a copy of the Nicholson Guide that covers the Ashby (you want "Waterways Guide 3: Birmingham and the Heart of England") This gives you a full map of the canal and its surroundings, including all the pubs!

Give yourself time to stop off at Market Bosworth. It's a steep walk up into the village, but it's worth the trip. It's an unspoilt example of a traditional village centre, with pubs, shops, a cobbled market place, and even an American connection - Thomas Hooker, "The Father of American Democracy" went to school here. See my article at http://bit.ly/3xuZy7

There are pubs at Stoke Golding, Dadlington, Sutton Cheney, Congerstone, Shackerstone, and elsewhere.

I live at Barlestone, which is quite close to Market Bosworth, so this is defintely my "local" canal! The area is quiet, peaceful and typically English - so I hope you enjoy it!


Warren 6 years ago

My family recently had a stay at Bridge House on the outskirts of Overseal. Our nearest pub was the Navigation - which suggested to me that there was a canal neatby in days gone by. The local publican said it was the original Ashby Canal and gave us some information but I am still curious. Is there an old map available which shows the original course of the canal, specifically in relation to Bridge House and the Navigation pub? I would appreciate some info.


The Indexer profile image

The Indexer 6 years ago from UK Author

The area you mention is at the very northern limit of where the canal reached, namely the Moira mines. If you look at the satellite view of the area on Google maps you will be able to see how close the Navigation Inn is to this point. Just to the west of the Inn is a short stretch of what looks, at first sight, to be a canal, but it doesn't seem to link to the existing Ashby Canal, so it might be a red herring.

When you say "the original course of the canal", you have to bear in mind that the planned course and the actual course are not the same, because the plan was never fully achieved. If no cut was ever made, there would be nothing to show on a map, of whatever age!

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