North on Ashby Canal to Snarestone
4 Night Break
After a slightly urban feel to the start of this route it quickly opens out into fine Leicestershire countryside and prosperous villages with only one very shallow lock at Hawkesbury. 31 ¾ miles, 1 lock each way, 22 hours cruising total.
The Oxford Canal was engineered by James Brindley and built as a “contour canal” which means that the line follows the contours of land with a minimum of earthworks. This created a very tortuous route and the northern section of the canal was modernised in the 1830’s, almost halving the distance from Coventry to Braunston, striding across the countryside with a series of impressive arrow straight cuttings and embankments interspersed with winding sections of the original canal.
The first part of your journey is along mostly “new” canal (only about 180 years old!) and after passing through some impressive cuttings and high above open farmland you reach Ansty in about 1 ½ hours.
The embankment just before Ansty was the site of a serious breach in November 1963 when a 30ft high embankment gave way and washed 10,000 tons of clay and sand onto adjoining land. Fortunately the problem was spotted by a farmer who, out for an early morning walk with his dog, noticed one of his fields was now under water. He raised the alarm and quick action by British Waterways staff prevented the breach becoming a serious catastrophe that could have closed the Oxford Canal for a long time. Repairs were completed quickly and the canal re-opened for traffic. The site of the repair is still visible (look for the concrete section of wall) and the location today make a good place to tie up and visit the pay-and-play golf course (with an excellent club house)you reach Ansty in about one hour. Here there is a pub, the Rose and Castle which has an excellent reputation for food.
After Ansty you approach the outskirts of Coventry, but the canal still manages to retain a rural character for much of the one and a half hour run into Hawkesbury Junction (also known as Sutton Stop). Hawkesbury Junction was designated a conservation area in 1976 and is something of an industrial archaeology haven despite much development around it.
There is an impressive cast iron bridge, an engine house that once housed a Newcomen Beam Engine (now saved for posterity and preserved at Newcomen Engine House, Dartmouth), a colourful pub (the Greyhound), and a 6 inch deep stop lock. Just down the road is a charming Victorian pub, the Boat. This area is rich in industrial history; you can discover the mysteries of the Newdigate Arm, Arbury Hall and the various quarries and coal mines that were the raison d’etre of the canal in the first place.
Go right .round the junction (a 180 degree right turn to test the helmsman’s skill) and continue north along the Coventry Canal; the left turn takes you on a very urban journey into the basin in Coventry centre. Heading towards Marston Junction, you pass through a long wooded cutting before skirting Bedworth and passing the historic Charity Dock. Soon you come to Marston Junction where you can turn right into the Ashby Canal or carry on up the Coventry Canal. This is about one hour from Hawkesbury and about three and a half hours from the boatyard.
The Ashby Canal has twenty two miles of lock-free cruising and becomes prettier and prettier the further you go, the last 6 miles or so epitomising all that is best in English countryside. There is only a canalside pub, the Limekilns, where the A5 Watling Street crosses the canal close to Hinckley.
Beyond Hinckley the canal becomes very rural indeed. There are, however, some lovely villages only a short walk away from the canal, particularly at Stoke Golding, Market Bosworth and Shackerstone.
There is a now a very popular cafe at Sutton Cheney Wharf and the fascinating site of the Battle of Bosworth Field, near bridge 35 is well worth a look. There is a visitor centre here where you can trace how King Richard III lost his crown to Henry Tudor in 1485. Adjacent to the canal here is a steam heritage railway and museum: opening times are restricted, but there are steam trips on most Saturdays, Sundays and Bank Holidays.
After the sharp turn at Shackerstone is a fine cast iron aqueduct over the River Sense and there are good moorings here to explore the village (don’t miss “The Rising Sun”) and the heritage steam railway. The best of the scenery on this canal awaits from here to the terminus of the canal beyond Snarestone, where the canal runs under the village in a tunnel. The village pub, The Globe, is built just next to the tunnel entrance.
The canal continues a short distance beyond the tunnel to a winding hole. It used to run for a further nine miles to Moira, but due to extensive subsidence in the area due to coal mining activity the section beyond here was progressively closed and abandoned between 1957 and 1966.
Happily work is in hand to re-open canal back to Moira from the present terminus and the first stages of this work can be seen just beyond the winding hole.