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Ashby Canal

The Ashby Canal runs from the Coventry Canal at Marston Junction to Snarestone near Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Ashby Canal Map

Moored boats at Snarestone Wharf on the Ashby Canal
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Facts & Stats

22 miles

(35.41 km)

The length of the Ashby Canal that is navigable. There is a further 8 miles under restoration.

0 locks

Level pound

With no locks the Ashby Canal is one of the longest level pounds in the country.

1804

Completed

The year the Ashby Canal was completed.  Its construction was begun in 1794.

Restoration of the Ashby Canal

The Ashby Canal was originally 30 miles long.  Its terminus was in Moira but the northern 8 miles of the waterway were progressively closed due to coal mining subsidence.

Planned as a broad canal it has wider bridges, designed to take barges.  Nowadays it is used only by narrow boats and some of the bridge holes have been narrowed.

In recent years the Ashby Canal restoration has improved an isolated section of 1½ miles at Moira.  This isolated section can be accessed by trail boats and includes a new lock built to wide beam boat dimensions.  The length from Snarestone to Moira is currently under restoration and was an IWA Waterways in Progress grant recipient to allow for the construction of a new footpath between Measham and Snarestone.

Snarestone is also an IWA Silver Propeller Challenge location.

Ashby Canal Conservation Area

The Ashby Canal is designated a Conservation Area throughout for its built heritage and amenity value. The 6 miles from Carlton Bridge 44 to Snarestone is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for its natural heritage.

Apart from the short Snarestone Tunnel (250 yards) and some aqueducts, major engineering features on the canal are few, although the wide bridges are a notable feature. 

As a cul-de-sac, the Ashby Canal is not as heavily used as many other waterways across the country.  However, its undemanding lock-free route and pleasant countryside are an increasing attraction.

History of the Ashby de la Zouch Canal

The Ashby de la Zouch Canal, to use its full name, was built between 1794 and 1804 from the Coventry Canal at Marston Junction near Bedworth to Wadlands Wharf near Overseal. The connection to Ashby de la Zouch was made by tramway to avoid the need for the construction of locks.  The whole canal was constructed on one level as a contour canal, with just one lock, a stop-lock at Marston Junction with normally no difference in level from that of the Coventry Canal.

It was originally intended to be the first stage of a broad canal that would link the Coventry Canal to the River Trent at Burton-on-Trent, hence the reason for the wide bridges built to take barges. However, the planned flight of locks and a long tunnel beyond Moira never proceeded.  As its only link was with the narrow Coventry Canal few barges used the canal and the stop-lock at Marston Junction was narrowed as early as 1819 and is now disused.  This makes the Ashby Canal, with the Coventry Canal to Atherstone, part of one of the longest level pounds in the country.

Passing for much of its length through a rural area its main traffic was always coal from the mines around Moira and Measham and it became known to generations of boatmen as the ‘Moira Cut’. Having to compete with collieries at Bedworth which were nearer to Coventry for the local trade, it developed an early long distance trade to the London area where the main competition was with the coastal trade or ‘sea coal’ from Newcastle-on-Tyne.  There was also significant limestone traffic including some to the short-lived iron furnace at Moira.

By the end of the nineteenth century, traffic and maintenance were declining and in 1918 mining subsidence caused a breach at Moira requiring a diversion section to be built. Continuing subsidence led to the progressive closure of the northern end, 2 miles from Moira to Donisthorpe in 1944, another 5 miles to Ilott Wharf in 1957, and a final mile to Snarestone in 1966 with the canal then terminating in a field just beyond the Snarestone Tunnel.

Nevertheless, coal traffic continued on the canal until 1981.  Since the last coal mine closed in 1990, ground settlement has ceased allowing for the opportunity of the canal being re-opened.

In conjunction with the restoration of Moira Furnace as a visitor attraction, a short section of the canal was restored in 1999. With the backing of Leicestershire County Council (LCC) this has been extended in several phases to run from Donisthorpe via Moira and down a new 14 ft wide lock to a new terminal basin next to the ‘Conkers’ National Forest Centre, giving 1½ miles of restored canal accessible by slipway for trailboats.

In 2005 LCC obtained a Transport & Works Act Order to restore the canal from Snarestone via Ilott Wharf and a new route partly along a railway line back to Measham, and enabling works started in 2009 at Snarestone. There are now no legal obstacles to this project although the rate of progress will be determined by access to funding. Eventually, it is hoped to complete the whole route but severe land subsidence between Oakthorpe and Donisthorpe may require the canal to lock down and up again and/or take a different alignment.

Waterway notes

Maximum boat sizes

  • Length: There are no locks to limit length
  • Beam: 8′ 2″ (2.49 metres) – Safety Gate near Marston Junction
  • Height: 8′ 8″ (2.64 metres) – Bridge 15a
  • Draught: 4′ 7″ (1.39 metres)

Navigation authority

Waterway news

Waterways in Progress Grant: Ashby Canal

£10,000 was awarded the Ashby Canal Trail Project as part of IWA’s Waterways in Progress Grants in 2019.

Waterways affected by HS2

We’re campaigning to protect canals and rivers from the damaging effects of HS2, especially where the tranquillity of the waterways is under threat.

Waterways affected by the HS2 plans

Both the public country park and the private moorings at the old colliery basin at Polesworth on the Coventry Canal will be severely damaged by HS2.

Waterways affected by the HS2 plans

The junction of HS2 with the West Coast Main Line at Abram requires a high embankment that will be visible from the Leeds & Liverpool Canal’s Leigh Branch across the Hey Brook valley.

Waterways affected by the HS2 plans

It is expected that the HS2 viaduct crossing will maintain the headroom and width required by the maximum size of ships that can use the canal – making the structure very high and prominent.

Local activities