Sunday, 11 September 2011

The Ashby Canal

My latest longer distance walk saw me stretching my legs along the Ashby Canal. At 31 miles in length it was open by 1804 and connected the mining community of Moira in Leicstershire with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth in Warwickshire. While it was quite easy to walk the navigable 22 miles remaining inside two days (one day is also achievable), as I did not walk this on consecutive days and the practicalities involved in looping back to my starting point (in order to pick up the car) this was stretched over three days.

The abandoned section of this canal was closed in three stages, 1944, 1957 and 1966. Ironically the subsidence from the coal and limestone mines the route was built to serve was its own downfall. There is a restoration project in full swing, although it will never be possible to reopen the original route for much has been filled in and some now developed. A mile around Moira was restored between 1999 and 2005 and, while it is hoped that all but the last mile will eventually be reopened, today the route ends just north of the Snarestone tunnel.

While the canal is generally travelled from south to north, at least initially, I walked in the opposite direction. Normally I find walking along the tow path to be surprisingly tiring, unexpected because they are obviously very flat away except for the occasional lock or bridge. However that they are flat means you are using the same muscles all the time, unlike when crossing undulating fields or steeper inclines. Yet with the Ashby Canal the tow path, and indeed the canal itself, are not (yet) as well maintained as those more popular routes. As result the tow paths have many holes and are quite rutted owing to a lack of hardcore and the many cyclists which pass along here. Thus the problem is not that it is lvel but the very real problem of turning an ankle, so beware!

Finding the end of current the canal, north of Snarestone Tunnel, in the car is not easy so I resorted to parking at Snarestone and walking as far as I could before turning round and retracing my footsteps south and beyond. Along the route to Shackerstone the canal winds along the contour line, wih the former railway line still visible in the landscape to the right from time to time. Indeed there are a number of circular walks posted on boards on the tow path, parts of which utilise the old trackbed.

Reaching Shackerstone at the Turnover Bridge, take the time to visit the Battlefield Line Museum at the station or take advantage of the station cafeteria should these be open on the day. Incidentally the Turnover Bridge will not be named anywhere but the OS map, yet it cannot be mistaken for it will be where the tow path switches over to the opposite side of the canal. Returning to the canal retrace your walk along the tow path back to Town Bridge, passing underneath and ascending to the road. Turn left, away from the town, cross another bridge over the trackbed clearly visible below and tirn immediately left along a single-track and very straight road. Just after a lefthand bend the Ivanhoe Way is signed off to the left. Crossing a series of fields and stiles brings us back to the road at Snarestone where, turning left, takes us back to the Globe Inn which is adjacent to the Snarestone Tunnel and the start of the first leg.

The second leg was easier to organise, walked at the weekend with a little help from the Battlefield Line. Parking at Shackerstone I bought a single and travelled along this heritage line to Shenton. The Battlefield Line began as the Shackerstone Railway Society in 1969 but, by the following year, had relocated to Shackerstone for the facilities were better for housing the steam engines. First operational in the 1970s by 1992 the one and a half mile extension to Shenton was opened when the first engine pulled the inaugural service. This 0-6-0 tank engine was appropriately named Richard III, appropriate as this stop links to Bosworth Field and the famous engagement which ended the Wars of the Roses and the crown passed from Richard III to Henry VII in 1485. Bosworth Field Visitor Centre and Ambion Hill, now generally acknowledged as the true location of the important events, are just a short walk away. However my route was along the canal, a short journey which continued along the former track bed to cross the canal and then head north back to my starting point.

The third and final leg took me back to Shenton. This was the longest of the three legs and required a little juggling with public transport. Parking at Hinckley I caught a bus to Market Bosworth and then walked to Shenton. Before joining the canal by climbing up to the Shenton Viaduct, I took the short detour to see King Richard's Stone, a reminder this was where Richard III was said to have died following defeat at Bosworth.

This leg winds along passing near Stoke Golding where, at bridge number 25, Ashby Boats have a good selection of narrowboats for hire which, as there are no locks on the Ashby Canal, makes for a leisurely journey. Also at bridge 25 we can find 'the Ghost Railway', so-called as it is a stretch of track bed where the sleepers and rails have been removed but is remarkably well preserved considering it is not in use.

A rather close and warmish day slowed my pace a little and, as I paused frequently to gather blackberries (amassing over two pounds by the end), it took a little longer than I had planned to reach the junction with the Coventry Canal at Bedworth. From here I found the railway station and, changing at Nuneaton, took the train back to my starting point at Hinckley having walked a total of more than sixteen miles.

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