the Leicestershire Ring
Leicestershire Ring Narrowboat Holiday Hire
A rural and varied 164 mile canal and river cruise, that will put your helmsmanship skills to the test. This interesting fortnight's holiday takes you through parts of Staffordshire, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Derbyshire and navigates 5 exciting tunnels.
From the Coventry Canal Basin round the Leicestershire Ring – 70 hours – 101 locks - 5 tunnels
It is best to travel the Leicestershire Ring in an anti clockwise direction so that you are going with the current on the River Soar. From our our base in Coventry Canal Basin after just over 5 miles you will pass under the M6 and find yourself at Hawkesbury Junction, a favourite meeting place for boat folk of old.
Here you will encounter your first lock. This was a ‘stop lock’ between the Coventry and Oxford Canals, which were originally owned by different companies. Passage from one to the other was chargeable and the stop lock ensured the boats paused long enough to pay their toll. Some of the old loops provide evidence of the canal’s older, more meandering course, before it was made more competitive with the railways, whilst and the M6 reminds us of the nature of transportation today. The landscape quickly resumes its rural splendor until you reach Stretton Stop and some canal style hustle and bustle (beware the swing bridge). The canal then skirts Brinklow Village, site of a former wharf. Brinklow is now a ten minute walk from the canal. Straddling the former Roman Road of Fosse Way (nowadays surprisingly busy) this petty village boasts a Norman motte-and-bailey castle, one of the largest and best preserved in England and a 13th century church. Brinklow Marina is a little further along the canal, again occupying a section its former course. Look out for further evidence in the shape of long abandoned bridges in the middle of fields!
With lock free progress, it takes very little time to reach Newbold, again much coloured by the canal’s 19th century rerouting. This explains why the Boat Inn is nowhere near the canal, and why there are old tunnel entrances blocked off nearby. Newbold’s new tunnel, at right angles to the old one, has a magical light display (turned off after dark so as not to inconvenience the bat residents) whilst the village is a good place to pick up provisions. The next place of note is Rugby. Cruising through the northern reaches of the town, the old loops are very much in evidence. It’s quite a walk to the town centre but, naturally, there are lots of eating, drinking and shopping opportunities and, for fans of football with a non-spherical ball, the various museums are a must!
It’s not until you reach Hillmorton that you remember that canals have locks. There are three here – paired to speed up the traffic in this canal’s heyday. There follows over an hour of lock free countryside until you reach Braunston Turn. Here you will turn left and head along the Grand Union Canal towards Braunston marina. Described by Michael Pearson in his indispensable canal guides as "a point of pilgrimage which has captured the imagination of waterway writers, artists and photographers more than almost any other canal location", Braunston is a source of pleasure and inspiration to all canal enthusiasts. The village is also extremely pretty and has a choice of eating, drinking and shopping facilities. Look out for the de-sailed windmill with its panoramic views.
There follows a truly fascinating stretch of water. You begin with six wide locks followed by the 2042 yard tunnel at Braunston, the seventh longest in the canal network) and the longest on the Leicester Ring. Turn left at Norton Junction and up the Watford Staircase Locks, followed by 22 miles of level waterway, meandering through the countryside, 412 feet above sea level and including the 1528 yard long Crick Tunnel and Husbands Bosworth Tunnel at 1166 yards. You are lowered back down 75 feet by Foxton Locks, two staircases of five locks each, one of the wonders of the canal system. Next to the locks are the remains of an attempt to move boats up and down hill by use of a steam driven winch on an inclined plane. The engine house is now a museum. (See picture courtesy of Stephen and Lucy – www.luphen.org.uk). If time permits, you might like to turn right down the Market Harborough Arm to the eponymous town, established as market town in the 11th century and famous for holding the first recognized canal rally in 1950. Saddington Tunnel (beloved of the local bats!) and a few more locks see the environment become increasingly urban until you find yourself in the city of Leicester itself.
Leicester, nestled next to the River Soar, is one of the oldest cities in England. Some 2000 years ago it was the capital of the East Midlands and populated by Celts. Around AD 50 it was founded as Ratae Corieltauvorum, a Roman city and military settlement upon the Fosse Way Roman Road. It later grew into an important trading centre and one of the largest towns in Britian. The remains of the baths can be seen at the Jewry Wall with artifacts on display at the adjacent museum. Leicester also boasts an open top bus tour, lots of parks and gardens, a cathedral, several theatres, the Abbey Pumping Station, the National Space Centre, many historic halls and the remains of Leicester Abbey (see picture), two universities, plus lots of shops, places to eat, sports and leisure facilities.
From Leicester your journey takes you onto the River Soar, a beautiful river with some very deep locks, then down to Trent Junction, an impressive site. A left turn will take you briefly onto the River Trent and on to the beginning of the 93 mile long Trent and Mersey Canal. You will pass through the 18th century village of Shardlow, sporting a restored canal port, the famous Clock Warehouse and a Heritage Centre (see picture below courtesy Up The Cut).
Just after the village of Willington you will pass across a series of aqueducts, one of which is a twelve arch stone affair, crossing the River Dove. In no time you will find yourself passing through Burton upon Trent (of brewery fame – enthusiasts may enjoy the Coors Visitor Centre) and Branston (of pickle fame). The pretty village of Arlewas, bisected by the canal and backing on to the River Trent, is the last place of note on the Trent and Mersey before you reach Fradley Junction. This picture postcard location remains unspoiled and the Swan Inn pub still offers a traditional canal side welcome. Left at Fradley sees you back on the Coventry Canal, also at its rural best. Pretty villages, including the lovely Hopwas with its twin canal side pubs, are intercepted by stunning woodland and the odd glimpse of the River Tame. All too soon you are back at functional Fazeley and following the Coventry Canal back to its terminus in the canal basin.