On the level in Leicestershire

Burton Hastings – Hinckley – Stoke Golding – Bosworth Battlefield – Shackerstone – Market Bosworth

Since Burton Hastings: 25½ miles, 1 tunnel, 0 locks

It’s widely known that the Ashby Canal is lock-free. Though from the water there are views of  sloping fields and gentle hills there is no ascending or descending for boats or boaters to do. The canal route makes its way along a 300 feet contour for 20 miles or so, almost to Measham, weaving and twisting,      twisting and weaving all the way…

Along the towpath are milestones     – although they can seem misleading. 1 mile from the Junction, 29 from the canal’s end – except that the last eight miles are no longer in water, so the total navigable length is about 22 miles…

Boats must creep onto the Ashby – through the narrow one time gauging stop into a quiet and rural world.     The canal was opened in 1804 to transport coal from the North Leicestershire and Derbyshire coalfields but there are few signs these days of its industrial past.

Near a first overnight mooring was an overspill weir, protected as many are by a neat stone wall.     That first night was spent in peace and tranquility near Burton Hastings      – it would be a while before the realisation dawned that the absence of traffic noise but the presence of birdsong and sheep bleat is the status quo on this canal…

Onward, under sturdy stone bridges,     and surprisingly through a cutting, arched over by twisted trees,       with park homes perched on the banks above. Then comes a criss-cross of pylon wires,     under more bridges, and the memory dredges up that this was probably Latin-land. Watling Street, a great Roman Road, now the A5, crosses the canal near Hinckley. This boat was moored hereabouts:      somehow it echoes the practice of adding “magna” (large) and “parva” (small)  to local names.

Hinckley is the largest town beside the canal; from the water warehousing and some modern housing     is visible but the town’s centre is not apparent. Its past includes the development of a hosiery industry in the 17th century and some turbulent times during the Civil War.

Far from creating a civil disturbance at Hinckley Cleddau interrupted a boat show, of sorts. Access to Trinity Marina in Hinckley for a two-night stay meant sailing through the radio operated models being demonstrated by their owners on a blustery Sunday morning.        (One of the models was of HMS Thunderer, a 19th century battleship built in Pembroke Dock –  Captain).     Two days after arrival Cleddau pulled away from her mooring alongside the good looking nb Caxton   to continue as far as could be reached…

After Hinckley (6 miles from Marston Junction) there seem to be no further signs of urbanisation.  Onward by about three miles and Cleddau came to Stoke Golding. What better place to moor on a sunny evening than below a graceful church spire,      from where, mid-evening, bells rang out: Tuesday night, bell practice night. The floodlit tower,    (floodlit every evening or only on bell ringing nights?) was a splendid view to have. And Stoke Golding, a one shop, one Post Office village on a Leicestershire hilltop, is a very significant place, for it was here that Henry Tudor was presented with the crown after the battlefield slaughter of King Richard lll (more on that in the next post).

Occasionally, though not often by the congested standards of canals further south, there are lines of permanently moored boats. Was this sign a protest at metrication (miles rather than kilometres) or a sign designed to make speeding steerers take notice…?      Not much further on, at Sutton Cheney Wharf,      there’s a popular café and just look what sort of welcome is offered here!  

History is closing in now: remember the finding of a king’s remains underneath a Leicester car park?      This is a Yorkist part of the country – and at Market Bosworth (a small market town, again on a hill) there’s an impressive plaque set into the stone in the market place.

 

Here had rested the mortal remains of King Richard lll in 2016 as they were being taken to their  final resting place in Leicester Cathedral on Sunday March 22nd, 2016.

Market Bosworth seems a small and pretty town, street names split between the Tudors and the Yorkists.      Part way downhill is a noted fish and chip shop, which, given its location, promotes itself via a witty sign.  

Onwards, continuing through quiet rural scenery, rapeseed in the fields,     helpful signs at the stone bridges,      a tractor driver spraying crops,     over a debris clogged aqueduct     (above the River Sence, a tributary of the Anker that finds itself eventually into the North Sea) to moor in Shackerstone.

This is ‘stones’ country: think Northwich, Nantwich and Middlewich in Cheshire, here it’s Congerstone, Shackerstone and Snarestone. The middle ‘stone’, Shackerstone, is a pretty village     and home to the Victorian Tearooms and the Battlefield Railway Line Museum (more on that next time).       For the boater though Snarestone is the ultimate destination.

Just an hour onward on Friday brought Cleddau to the Ashby Canal’s terminus.  First it was past the Shackerstone moorings, sheep grazing on the motte in the field,       (past the boat with the inverted chamber pots on its chimneys),      through a long privately owned wooded area,     to Snarestone Tunnel      (250 yards long, a distinct jink along its route).    Then, two bridges and about a third of a mile later, the navigation is blocked by a footbridge.      Boats of less than 54 feet length can go a bit further      – but then, undramatically, the water peters out…

 

There are plans to reconnect the waterway with the head of navigation at Moira Furness (that’s about 8 miles further on). Meanwhile it’s an odd sensation to walk along a dry canal bed      and to gaze across a valley towards Measham, wondering when /whether the canal will end up there. There is up to date information here.

Boaters, walkers: take a cruise or a stroll along the Ashby.  You’ll be passing through a gentle rural landscape, you’ll hear sheep, cows perhaps, geese, ducks, owls – and the hoot of the steam train on the Battlefield Line as it runs between Shackerstone and Shenton.  It is spring now, the rooks are building their nests in the treetops, as are the swans on the canal banks… And where is this charming sleepy corridor? It meanders roughly north and east in the countryside east of Tamworth and west of Leicester – it’s well worth a visit, afloat – or on foot!

    

Stats so far from Higher Poynton: 119¾ miles and 49 locks

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