The Ashby Canal was opened in 1804 from the Coventry Canal at Bedworth to Moira, with tramroad connections to Ashby de la Zouch. The northernmost part suffered from coal mining subsidence and some 8 miles were progressively closed between 1944 and 1966 back to Snarestone. Now that underground mining in the area has ceased, the Ashby Canal Trust which includes Leicestershire County Council, the Ashby Canal Association and other local interests are promoting restoration of the Canal back to near its original terminus.
A short section of the Canal at Moira was re-opened in 1999 in conjunction with the restoration of Moira Furnace, and has been the venue for various Trailboat events since. It was extended northwards in 2001 to a new terminal basin adjacent to the ‘Conkers’ National Forest visitor centre. This included a road bridge and a new lock, the first on the Ashby Canal and built to wide-beam dimensions, which the canal was originally constructed to. A further extension, from Moira southwards to Donisthorpe, was reopened in 2005 giving a total length of nearly 1½ miles for this isolated restored section.
Leicestershire County Council has been leading the restoration and formerly employed a Project Officer to take it forward. Following many years of preparation and a short public inquiry the Council was granted an Order under the Transport & Works Act in 2005 to restore the canal from its current terminus at Snarestone for 2½ miles to Measham, including a small marina. The Order cost £50,000 to obtain and purchase of the land required has since been completed. Work started at Snarestone in 2009 but the main works await a major source of funding to be found.
The first short length of restored canal at Snarestone was reopened in 2010, including a swing bridge and slipway. A further 400m up to the site of Bridge 62 was restored in 2014. The bridge was rebuilt in 2015, with assistance from WRG, and a temporary terminus created with a 55ft winding hole just beyond the bridge. The funding for this has mostly come from a nearby surface coal mine site. Restoration of the next section back to Ilott Wharf will require a new aqueduct over the Gilwiskaw Brook. IWA’s honorary engineer is helping design the aqueduct, Ashby Canal Association are leading a fundraising appeal, and Ashby Canal Trust are working towards obtaining the necessary agreements for its construction. An HLF grant obtained in 2018 funded archaeological and historical research of Ilott Wharf prior to its restoration.
However, it had by then become increasingly clear that Leicestershire County Council no longer had the resources to continue the restoration. In 2019 they agreed to seek the consent of DEFRA to transfer their remaining TWA Order powers and responsibilities, along with all the land acquired for the canal between Snarestone and Measham, to the Ashby Canal Association.
Beyond Ilott Wharf the approved route follows a diversion along a disused railway line, passing through the original railway station and crossing Measham High Street with another aqueduct where the railway bridge once stood. Continuing along the railway, the route then doubles back on the historic alignment to a basin in the centre of the town. Reconstruction of the arm to Measham wharf and a section of the new route along the old railway line was included in the approved plans for a housing development, but this has been blighted by several changes of plan for the route of HS2, the proposed High Speed Railway line.
Plans for restoration of the route between the A42 at Measham and Donisthorpe are not yet finalised as this section has suffered most from subsidence. From Oakthorpe a loop took the original canal up a valley towards Willesley and back and this section may need to lock down to a lower level and then back up again at Donisthorpe, or follow a new alignment using a further section of the abandoned railway line.
The restored canal from Donisthorpe to Moira has its own water supply from a borehole, and a winter storage reservoir was provided during restoration of the surface mine site to supply the Measham section.
For more information see the websites of:
Ashby Canal Trust: www.ashbycanaltrust.co.uk
Ashby Canal Association: www.ashbycanal.org.uk