The Leicester Ring
10 Days to 2 Week Route
A varied route taking in parts of the Oxford Canal, the Grand Union Leicester Line, the River Soar, a short section of the River Trent, part of the Trent & Mersey Canal, and the Coventry Canal. The route includes five tunnels, several aqueducts, and 100 locks.
This canal holiday route can be navigated in 10 days, but we suggest two weeks to allow more leisurely progress with time to visit the numerous places of interest and other canals branching off the main route (e.g. the Ashby). A further week would enable you to include the Warwickshire Ring through Birmingham for a thorough exploration of the Midland’s canal network.
Leaving our boat yard you travel southwards and through the first of five tunnels on your journey at Newbold. The canal then passes through the outskirts of Rugby, with some convenient mooring spots for shopping (there is a Tesco supermarket, cinema and retail park next to the canal at Brownsover) before heading out into countryside again before you reach Hillmorton. Three locks here carry you effortlessly uphill and on through rural Northamptonshire to Braunston (the heart of the canal system) where you ascend six wide locks before entering the 1.2 mile long Braunston tunnel. A couple of miles after the tunnel you turn left at Norton Junction onto the Leicester Section of the Grand Union Canal.
Soon you reach the first of two flights of staircase locks. The Watford flight takes you up onto the Leicester Summit – a 20 mile pound running through remote and attractive Leicestershire countryside. You must brave the reputedly haunted Crick tunnel – but there’s an excellent canalside eating place just beyond. Then the canal passes by the village of Yelvertoft and through rolling countryside steeped in the history of the English Civil War – the site of the 1645 Battle of Naseby is close by. There is a short (1 mile and one lock) arm to Welford which you may wish to explore with a marina and old coaching inn at the end. On the main line the next place of note is North Kilworth where there are boatyards, but sadly both the pubs are now closed. The canal passes under Husbands Bosworth village in another tunnel, emerging to run along the edge of Laughton Hills to the end of the summit section at Foxton. Here two more sets of staircase locks, one of the most famous flights of locks on the canal system, lower you dramatically down the hillside. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxton_Locks)
At the bottom of the locks the Market Harborough Arm sets off across the fields to the right. Originally intended to go all the way to Northampton, only the first five miles were built and a basin constructed at the terminus in this historic and prosperous classic English market town.
Below Foxton there is another tunnel at Sapperton and you descend steadily through a number of wide locks into the vibrant city of Leicester which has a number of attractions including the National Space Centre and an industrial museum (http://www.leicester.gov.uk/museums/). There are good moorings right in the heart of the city.
Below Leicester you travel along the River Soar which is arguably one of the prettiest rivers in England. Immediately below Leicester there has been much extraction of gravel close to the river and boats were used to transport the gravel from the pits to washing plants until quite recently. There is only one major town on the Soar: Loughborough, where there is an excellent heritage steam railway(http://www.gcrailway.co.uk/), then there are more attractive views on the way to the Soar’s confluence with the River Trent near Ratcliffe-on-Soar.
A short journey upstream to the head of navigation on the River Trent at Derwent Mouth Lock brings you on to the Trent & Mersey Canal and the pretty canal village of Shardlow lies just ahead. The canal climbs steadily from here through rolling countryside and villages, never far from the River Trent in the valley below. The now closed Derby Canal branched off at Swarkestone and the last wide lock is at Stenson, just before Burton on Trent which has a museum (http://www.nationalbrewerycentre.co.uk/) dedicated to its most famous product – beer!
Just below Alrewas the navigation joins the River Trent for one last time. Hopwas has pleasant moorings and is adjacent to the National Memorial Arboretum (http://www.thenma.org.uk/) A further 5 narrow locks complete the gentle climb to Fradley Junction where you turn left on to the Coventry Canal and head towards Lichfield. The canal goes around Lichfield, but it is a pleasant city and a trip to the ancient and beautiful cathedral is worthwhile. At Huddlesford Junction the Lichfield Canal, closed in 1954, branched off to the right. The first mile or so remains as mooring for the Lichfield cruising Club and the rest of the canal is being actively restored. The canal runs through a very attractive wooded section before Hopwas, with canal cut into the side of the valley above the River Tame. Hopwas is another popular mooring with places to eat and some interesting walks.
Before Tamworth the canal cuts across the Tame Valley, crossing the river on a substantial three arch stone aqueduct and at Fazeley Junction the Birmingam and Fazeley Canal the canal heads off to the west before the canal climbs up two locks at Glascote. The famous Robin Reliant three wheeler was built here, in a factory next to the towingpath between the two locks. Now the canal begins to show signs of its industrial past with many old loading wharves on the long pound to Grendon which once served the local industries for whom the canal was built. Above the 11 lock Atherstone flight there are plenty of clues that this area was once a major coal mining and stone quarrying area.
At Marston Junction the Ashby Canal spurs off, and you may have time to explore the 22 lock free miles which run through the rural town of Hinckley and many smaller villages of Leicestershire’s rural heartland.. Back on the main line you soon reach Hawkesbury Junction, another canal landmark and formerly a gathering point for the trading boats whilst they waited for instructions as to their next cargoes. From here you may have time to travel into the centre of Coventry, or take the turn and head back onto the Oxford Canal toward our base at Stretton Stop.
The 5 ½ miles into Coventry are urban and of no scenic note whatsoever, but as compensation there are excellent moorings in the restored basin at the end of the canal, very close to the centre of the city. Coventry was nearly obliterated by bombing in World War 2 but there are still many fine buildings; the old cathedral was destroyed by bombing and left as a poignant monument with a new modernist cathedral built next to it. Coventry was the heart of the British motor industry and there is an excellent motor museum (http://www.transport-museum.com/) housing examples of many of the famous marques built there. The museum also houses two Land Speed Record breakers, Thrust 2 and the current record holder, Thrust SSC. Like most museums in the UK, entry is free.