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    Ashby Canal ~Canal Boat Holiday Hire

    Ashby Canal canal boat holiday hire

    The Ashby Canal, or ‘Moira Cut’, is 22 miles of unspoilt, lock free tranquillity, which diverges off the Coventry Canal at Marston Junction in Bedworth, Warwickshire and terminates at the Leicestershire village of Snarestone. It is far removed from motorways and duel carriageways and barely touches any towns or villages. It even manages to avoid its namesake, the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche!

    From Coventry Canal Basin to Snarestone and back - 18 hours - 0 locks each way - 1 tunnel

    The Ashby Canal is an idea ‘starter canal’ for those wishing to gain their confidence in the art of boat handling before having to acquire the knack of working a lock. It is ideal for the less physically energetic and for those who wish to enjoy a canal boat holiday at its most relaxing. The Ashby Canal exemplifies the Heart of England’s rural, natural and historical heritage at its very best.

    The Ashby Canal, or ‘Moira Cut’, is 22 miles of unspoilt, lock free tranquillity, which diverges off the Coventry Canal at Marston Junction in Bedworth, Warwickshire and terminates at the Leicestershire village of Snarestone. It is far removed from motorways and duel carriageways and barely touches any towns or villages. It even manages to avoid its namesake, the town of Ashby-de-la-Zouche!

    The original plan proposed by William Jessop and Robert Whitworth in 1781, was for it to meander from the Coventry Canal, opened in 1769, on a substantially level coarse, until the last four miles, where it would climb 139 feet to a summit at Ashby Wolds rich in coal and limestone deposits. This summit level would be supplied by a steam-engine pump from a nearby reservoir. It would continue for four and a half miles to a junction on the far side of Asby-de-la-Zouch. One branch would run to near Breedon-on-the-Hill, the other to Ticknall, both near Burton upon Trent in Derbyshire. The Ashby finally opened in 1804, at the cost of £184,000, running the 30 miles between the Coventry Canal and a scattering of tramways that served the coalfields. It failed, however, to arrive at Burton and missed Ashby by 5 miles! The coalfields were extensive and produced the highest quality coal and, for over 150 years, it was carried by water to the London markets. Potteries also flourished in the area, and many boatmen’s wives seized the opportunity to buy a traditional brown glazed Measham teapot, often decorated with relief adornment and the name of their boat, strictly for Sunday best. It was sold in 1846 to the Midland Railway Company for just £110,000, a considerable loss for the owners. Later it passed hands again to the London Midland and Scottish Railway Company.

    The new railway owners did not invest sufficient money into the canal to maintain it properly, preferring to see cargo being carried on the railway and so its condition gradually deteriorated. In 1918 a major breach caused by mining subsidence caused the last few miles of the canal near Ashby to be abandoned. The canal was nearly closed completely: only the strategic importance of the coal supplies during the First World War allowed it to survive. Further mining subsidence caused sections to be closed, from Donisthorpe in 1944, Measham in 1957 and Snarestone in 1967.

    With mining in the area at an end and subsidence no longer an issue, there is now a major project underway to restore the Ashby Canal. Between 1999 and 2005 a section between Donisthorpe and Moira was been rebuilt and re-filled with water. This award winning mini canal passes through some of the newly planted Heart of England National Forest, skirts the historic Moira Furnace, now a museum, and adds an added dimension to the Conker’s National Forest Visitor Centre. It is also the location for the annual Moira Canal Festival. At the end of 2005 it was announced that a further section of 2.5 miles, extending the existing canal proper from Snarestone to Measham, was to begin. This project is estimated to cost £13,100,000. This is an increase from about six thousand pounds per mile to construct the original canal to five and a quarter million pounds per mile to restore it! (No wonder the fund raising projects proliferate.) The newly restored section will feature a Wharf at Moira and an aqueduct over Measham High Street. It now seems just a matter of time until complete restoration will be accomplished.

    Ashby Canal canal boat holiday hire

    From our Coventry Canal Basin your luxury canal boat will take you under bridge number 1, built without a towpath for security reasons, then past a series of historic landmarks including Electric Wharf, the site of Coventry’s first power station fuelled by coal delivered by narrowboat, past the site of Coventry Climax and Daimler car works, Courtaulds textile works (now luxury apartments) and “Cash’s Hundreds”. After passing through surprisingly green & landscaped stretches and past the Ricoh Arana, under the M6 you break free from suburbia at Hawkesbury Junction (known to generations of boaters as “Sutton Stop” after the first lock keeper) with its iconic cast iron bridge and the popular “Greyhound Inn”. As the scenery starts to become more rural you will find yourself on the cusp of the sharp right hand turn of the remote Marston Junction, just after bridge 15, which will see you on to the Ashby. The junction is only one boat’s width, so manners and judgment are required if traffic is moving in both directions. Look down and you will spot that Marston was once a stop lock, a shallow lock used by the canal owners to stop boats long enough to extract a toll from them. Once on the Ashby you will be able to appreciate its beauty. It snakes along lazily as if it knows that it is going now where in particular, bordered by water lilies and rushes. Only the odd B road overhead reminds you that the 21st Century still exists out there.

    Two hours cruising will find you passing under bridge 15, Watling Street Road bridge, which marks the boundary between Warwickshire and Leicestershire. Here you will find the first of several interesting places to eat and drink, The Lime Kilns. This pub predates the canal. Originally called The Plough, it was one of the coaching inns for travellers passing between London and Holyhead. When the canal arrived, it provided the boatmen with sustenance and somewhere to stable their horses. With lime being one of the major cargos on board the boats and a proliferation of kilns along the canal side, the pub’s name was changed to reflect its new environment. Today you will find a friendly, quiet bar downstairs and first floor restaurant that is ideal for families. On warmer days one can sit canal side, enjoy other people’s boats and get harassed by the ducks. Inside, rumor has it, you may be harassed by Harry the ghost! The food is plentiful and reasonably priced and the Lime Kilns still boasts an authentic canal side atmosphere, which may explain why its popularity demands that boats sometimes jostle for mooring nearby.

    A short distance on finds you at Hinckley. This is a bustling hosiery town, but the canal shyly stays on its fringes. Hinckley’s Trinity Marina is a large canal boat centre where those truly bitten by the bug can hanker after the boats for sale. There is a large Brewer’s Fayre Restaurant, with terraces overlooking the canal and the marina and a somewhat trendier crowd in the evening. From bridge 16 it is a short walk to the local store with cash point. Hinckley itself offers an interesting museum specializing in local history and choice of shops. Once you have journeyed through Hinckley, you will again find yourself in Leicestershire’s rural best, punctuated by church steeples and hill top villages. Of particular interest is the abandoned railway which runs parallel with the canal. Like the canal, this line, part of the Nuneaton and Ashby Railway, was designed to carry coal, most of which was destined for London. This section, a loop line between Stoke Golding and Hinckley, served no purpose in this design and was dismantled, having never been used, in 1900. Stoke Golding offers limited shopping but a pretty church and the choice of three pubs.

    Bridge 33 marks your half way point and soon after you will find yourself at Sutton Cheney Wharf. Here you can spend some time watching the colourful trip boats, having a light meal in the café, browsing in the shop or enjoying a canal side picnic. The next part of your journey takes you to a location that affected the whole history of England. Ambion Wood skirts the famous Bosworth Battlefield where the battle that is considered to have ended the Wars of the Roses was fought in 1485. The War for the Crown of England was waged between Yorkist King Richard III and the Lancastrian Henry Tudor. Richard, as every schoolboy knows, was the last king of England to die in battle leaving Henry to found the Tudor Dynasty. The Battlefield today is open to the public. Moor just after bridge 35 at Shenton, King Richard’s Field and explore the Battlefield Country Park where the story is told on information boards and at the Visitor Centre on Ambion Hill. The nearby Shenton Station is one of the termini of the Battlefield Railway Line, a preserved section of the Nuneaton and Ashby Railway. Here, at weekends and Bank Holidays, you can visit the Railway Pottery and catch a steam train for the five mile journey to Shackerstone Station. King Edward VII is known to have stopped off here upon several occasions to visit his mistress on the way to and from Gopsall Hall! The home of the voluntary run Shackerstone Railway Society boasts a museum, tea room and souvenir shop and also holds special events throughout the year. You can then buy a return ticket or enjoy a ramble back along the tow path. Either way there is plenty of history, natural as well as manmade, to enjoy. Before the next bridge the canal becomes ‘top dog’ in the form of an aqueduct. From here you can access a farm shop and Whitemoors Antiques and Craft Centre which has a licensed tea room, serving lunches. A little further along you will discover Shenton itself, a very pretty hamlet and worth the short walk from the canal.

    Ashby Canal canal boat holiday hire

    Well under an hour later you will find yourself at Boswoth Wharf, where you may choose to take the mile walk east into Market Bosworth, a beautiful, well preserved town with many historical buildings and some lovely places to eat, largely clustered around the old cobbled market place, a conservation area. The right to hold a market in Market Bosworth goes back to the seventeenth century when a Charter was granted. Today the Market operates every Wednesday with a variety of stalls selling fruit, vegetables, clothing, fish, fabric, plants and other items. Market Bosworth provides the last real shopping opportunity on the Ashby canal, so bare this in mind if you require provisions. The Country Park is sited to the east of the town and is comprised of over eighty acres of parkland. There is an adventure playground, a lake, an arboretum, a wildlife pond and a network of footpaths giving access to surrounding villages. The Park is open all day. Alternatively you may prefer to head west and swap the canal for another type of water. Bosworth Water Trust is a 50 acre leisure park of gently sloping grassland with 20 acres of lakes for windsurfing, sailing, kayaking and canoeing. Toilets and showers are located on the site and there is a lakeside snack bar, equipment hire and crazy golf. Dogs are welcome on a lead. (image above right, winding at the canal terminus, courtesy Andrew Denny - www.grannybuttons.com)

    The last two miles of the Ashby is very rural and sees the canal keeping its usual dignified distance from the pretty villages, the first of which is Congerstone. Here you will find the Horse and Jockey, an old country pub with a modern twist and great food. The second is Shackerstone. As well as the station, you will find another aqueduct here and the Rising Sun Pub, where food is generally available. The railway fades back to an apparition on one side of the canal and Gopsall Woods grace the other. This leafy tunnel section of canal has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, mainly because of the aquatic plant life and varieties of dragonfly attracted to the area. The site of the 18th centaury Gospall Hall itself is some distance from the canal. It was perhaps the grandest Georgian country house in Leicestershire, set in a 1000-acre park, with two lakes, a walled garden and garden buildings including a Temple. Visitors have included King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and the young Winston Churchill. George Frederick Handel is said to have closeted himself inside the Temple for 3 weeks in 1741 to write his masterpiece “The Messiah”. Most of the buildings were demolished in 1951 and now only part of the walled garden, the electricity generating building, an underground reservoir and the ruined garden temple remain. The remaining standing stonework bears graffiti from the 1880's and 90's and World War II when the army requisitioned it.

    The final destination of the Ashby in its current form is Snarestone. This is a comparatively large village and offers a farm shop as well as two pubs. Nearest to the canal is the recently refurbished Globe, which serves well prepared food, has a children’s play area and a cash machine. Snarestone’s main claim to fame is its tunnel, the only one on the Ashby, 250 yards and single file only. Beyond the canal ends somewhat anti climatically: don’t expect any flags or streamers at its terminus. Naturally it has a large winding hole and also houses two ‘sheds’, (one containing public loos and one occasionally selling goods to raise money for the restoration) and a live aboard boat or two. There is road access but the public is not permitted to use it. All this adds up to a very peaceful and remote location to spend the night before you begin your journey back.

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