Friday, 18 July 2014

The End of the Liine - For Now

It is five years since we cruised the Ashby Canal.
Despite its proximity to Hinckley it has retained a rural aspect.

The first five miles are rather shallow and with a draught of  2'9" we were polishing the canal bed quite a lot last week  C&RT have just announced that they will be dredging this week so let's see how we get on returning with an additional 100 litres of fuel in the tank.
Leaving the Ashby Canal
Because of the narrow entrance at Marston Jct, the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal is usually classified as a narrow canal but it was built originally for wide-beam boats. It opened in 1804 to carry coal and lime between the Coventry Canal at Bedworth  and Moira, near Ashby-de-la-Zouch. To protect its water supply a stop lock was located at the junction with the Coventry Canal.  For a reason I cannot fathom, the two canal companies decided in 1819 to convert the stop lock to 7ft gauge although 14ft boats still operated on the canal.   There are no lock gates at Marston Jct now but the function of a stop lock is maintained by inflatable bags on the canal bed which deploy and block the channel in the event of a difference in water level arising.
There were plans for the canal to connect with the Trent & Mersey Canal near Burton but, as with so many canal projects, the money ran out and it terminated at Moira.  This end of canal passed through the Leicester coalfields and when subsidence became too severe the last nine miles fell into disuse.
After four days in Shackerstone we ventured to the limit of navigation today - beyond Snarestone Tunnel which is remarkable for being only 250 yards long but managing  to be crooked.   
Limit of Navigation - for now

The canal is only navigable to this point at present but the  Ashby Canal Association
(ACA) has plans to restore the remaining nine miles.

The next phase

Work is under way on the next stretch with the towpath and piling already looking good.

I understand that this phase of the restoration will include the reinstatement of a bridge over the canal.  This raises an interesting problem for the ACA.  Much of the original construction was carried out by a local builder - Joseph Wilkes - who was notorious for his response to the Brick Tax of 1794.  Introduced to pay for the American wars, George III levied the tax on all building bricks. Wilkes was not alone in his response  by increasing the size of his bricks by 50%. This had two benefits for Wilkes: it reduced his tax burden and, as he paid his bricklayers piecework, it reduced the cost of each  house.  The production of the Cobs as they were known ceased in 1803. Local legend attributes this to the resisance of the bricklayers but as it co-incided with the introduction of a higher tax on bricks of over 150 cu ins this may be a little fanciful.

ACA has been fortunate in receiving support from Leicester County Council who sponsor the restoration.  When they granted permission for coal mining in the area they stipulated that the £1.5m environmental penalty be used for restoration of the Ashby Canal. A further penalty of £3.5m payable on costruction of 650 houses has been blighted by the uncertaintly surrounding the HS2 project.
Alongside the canal at its present terminus is this attractive former pumping station.

My apologies to the current residents for walking around their garden when they were out in order to obtain a picture which does justice to the fine building.

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