The Coronavirus pandemic which hit in Spring 2020 has delayed work on the transfer of the Ashby Canal Transport & Works Act Order (TWAO) from Leicestershire County Council (LCC) to Ashby Canal Association. There were a few outstanding issues which DEFRA had required from LCC, and ACA had completed the corrective work for LCC by March 2020 ready for submission to DEFRA when work had to be suspended by LCC due to the Covid 19 Pandemic. Though understandable, this was unfortunate as the work required to complete the transfer was minimal. Until ACA has the powers it needs via the TWAO we cannot proceed further, so we await an easing of the situation when hopefully the legal processes will be completed.
In the meantime we can take stock of what has been achieved so far – read on. . . .
Bridge 62 (known originally as Faulks Bridge) was fully completed and officially re-opened in summer 2016. It is a farm access bridge, but of substantial proportions in terms of dimensions and weight carrying capacity, due to modern legislation. The old “Weight limit” sign has been put on the bridge for decoration, but the new bridge is capable of carrying weights beyond those envisaged when the original sign was cast ! The length of canal is now in water to and just beyond the bridge where there is a 16 metre winding hole (i.e. suitable for boats of around 50 feet or so), and since the summer/autumn of 2016 there have been many boats using this stretch.
The focus for the next phase of restoration is the reconstruction of the Gilwiskaw Aqueduct which is located at a site designated as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) . For some considerable distance beyond the new winding hole to wards the aqueduct site, the route has been graded down to towpath level to facilitate an easy “start-up” when works recommence. The removed material has been moved forward near to the site of the Gilwiskaw Aqueduct and consolidated to help form the necessary embankment for the canal in this location.
ACA is currently working on gaining grants for the length of canal towards Measham. There are considerable hurdles to overcome as the line of the canal will have to divert from the original route in some places, and this would therefore be classed as new build rather than restoration. Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) would originally only consider funding for restoration of the old canal, such as the length from Bridge 62 to the point where it leaves Illott Wharf (with the exception of the aqueduct, which is not restoration of an original structure). Some of the HLF requirements have now changed with greater emphasis on provision of benefits. Some good news – A HLF grant of £10,000 was awarded in March 2018 to fund a historical survey of Illott Wharf – which was be undertaken by Leicester University. This was an essential preliminary activity before restoration of the wharf area can take place. The site was cleared, and a notice board erected, much historical data was collected, and the exercise was considered to be a great success, demonstrating that ACA can successfully manage a lottery funded project. .
A revised route for the proposed HS2 line has been published. In Measham itself, a housing development was planned to start in 2017, including the construction of around three-quarters of a mile of canal west of Measham High Street. This would have resulted in an isolated length of restored canal, and it would have helped ACA to push for completion of the rest of the gaps in due course, However, the recently revised route for HS2 impacts on the scheme as it stands at present, and it is currently on hold.. We await further news on developments.
The new length of canal from Snarestone to the present end beyond Bridge 62 has already matured well, with nature taking over on either side where hedges and wild flowers have quickly established themselves. A kingfisher took up residence along this stretch as soon as the bridge was completed, and can regularly be seen fishing or patrolling along the canal between Snarestone tunnel and the new bridge. We hope the winter weather will not affect him too much. ACA’s work parties have continued to carry out grass and hedge cutting to keep the towpath tidy. The canal here attracts many towpath walkers and wildlife photographers enjoying the pleasant scenery.
The route beyond Measham towards Donsithorpe is being studied with a view to protecting it in readiness for future restoration.
The restored navigable length between Donisthopre and Bath Yard Basin at Moira (near Conkers), completed over a decade ago, is now well matured and extremely popular with walkers, cyclists, canoeists, anglers, and photographers. A trip boat from Moira Furnace provides an added attraction for visitors in the summer months. ACA has recently published an illustrated walk leaflet to enable walkers to explore the route of the canal between Snarestone and Moira.
ACA has for over two and a half years been running a “Buy a Brick” appeal to raise funds for the Gilwiskaw Aqueduct. We are very encouraged by the support we have received for our Appeal., which has been boosted by some substantial individual donations and two legacies. The restoration monies raised are now close on £200,000, but we need even more. If you would like to contribute, please see home page for details of the Buy-a-Brick Appeal, or click on the “Make a Donation” button.
In 1944 the stretch of the canal between Donisthorpe and Moira was officially closed, following unsuccessful attempts by the canal company to overcome the effects of mining subsidence. Later, in 1957, a further length was closed, down as far as Illott Wharf, south of Measham. In 1966 local residents and anglers and waterway enthusiasts unsuccessfully protested against the closure of a further stretch, north of Snarestone. It was out of these protests that the Ashby Canal Association was born. The length between Donisthorpe and what is now known as Conkers Waterside basin, at Moira was restored (complete with a new lock at Moira) and opened for use in 2001. Each year, in early summer, a trail-boat festival is held, when visiting craft make a colourful sight and attract lots of visitors. A work-boat “Firefly” is based on this part of the canal. Volunteers use the work-boat, in conjunction with the Ashby Canal Trust, to maintain this restored length.
The restored stretch has won many awards. The whole area has been transformed, and is now a tourist destination popular with walkers, canoeists, picnickers, and historians exploring the adjacent Moira Furnace.