ROOTS
1790 The businessmen of Grantham were somewhat tired of having to pay high tolls to carry their produce across land to Newark-on-Trent to the west or to the port of Boston to the east. Although Grantham was not big in the mining industry or abundant with quarries it was a large farming area and was exporting enough goods to make the building of a canal worth while. A navigable waterway would also allow the extremely cheap import of coal from Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. With the River Trent becoming more navigable every year and with other canals either already open or being built, the men of Grantham were keen not to be left out.
1791 William Jessop, who had just finished surveying a line for the newly proposed Nottingham Canal, was asked to make a survey for the Grantham Canal. On August 27th he reported that the canal would run for 33 miles from the River Trent, east of Nottingham, to the centre of Grantham. The initial plan was for the route to start on the River Trent at Radcliffe some 4 miles east of central Nottingham, it would be a contour canal in the main, though 18 locks would be necessary. Otherwise, there were to be no major structures such as large aqueducts or long tunnels. Like virtually all of Jessop’s canals, it was to be built to broad dimensions.

In November a meeting was held to raise money for the building of the canal. Such was the interest in canals at this time that £40,000 was raised before the meeting closed.
1792 The Grantham Canal’s Bill was presented to Parliament but was rejected. In the main this was because of objections from landowners and from carriers who delivered goods via the land route to Newark. They feared (correctly) that their trade would be almost completely lost to the proposed canal. A fair amount of support for the objectors will almost certainly have come from a group of men who were then projecting a canal of their own from Newark to Grantham.
1793 Jessop was asked to survey a new route and move the canal’s junction on the River Trent further away from Newark. His new junction was to be at West Bidgeford, just 1 mile from central Nottingham. He also added a branch line which was to be 3½ miles long and run to the village of Bingham – though this was later quietly dropped from the plans and may well only have been included to lessen the amount of objections. On April 30th, with far less feasible objections, the Grantham Canal gained its Act at the second time of asking.

Surprisingly William Jessop was not appointed as engineer though I would guess this was his own choice due to his very busy schedule and maybe also because he had been ill while working on the Nottingham Canal. He strongly backed the appointment of James Green* who already worked with him on the Nottingham Canal and was also employed by Lord Middleton, a strong backer of both the Nottingham and Grantham canals.Meanwhile, the Duke of Rutland, whose Belvoir (pronounced “Beaver”) estate was to be used by the canal, strongly backed one of his own agents, William King. Presumably this was so the Duke could have full control over what went on within his land. Eventually a compromise was made, James Green was given the job of engineering the western section of the Grantham Canal, from Nottingham to Hickling while the rest of the canal from Hickling to Grantham was engineered by William King.William Jessop was often called in as consultant to make sure the two novice engineers were doing the job properly.

  • One point of confusion for me is that (according to a magazine article I have read) when Jessop had been ill while engineering the Nottingham Canal, his replacement was one of that canal’s shareholders, Henry Green. James and Henry could be the same person – or maybe close relations. *

The main engineering feature of the Grantham Canal was Harlaxton Drift near Grantham. This was a deep cutting which was built just wide enough for one-way traffic – almost like a tunnel with no roof. Two reservoirs were also needed to feed the canal, these were built at Denton (very close to the canal) and Knipton (around 3 miles away), because both of these were on the Belvoir estate, the job of building them – along with the cutting – was the responsibility of William King.

Back to Top
1796 One of the trickiest parts of the canal to build was at the entrance lock on the River Trent where it was clearly going to be very difficult for boats to manoeuvre due to the rushing waters of the river dragging them downstream. A rope and capstan system was installed by James Green to haul boats around the junction and into the first lock. Meanwhile, the River Trent Navigation Company had recently decided to re-route boats which used the river above the Grantham Canal’s entrance. Instead of travelling straight up stream all boats now had to enter the Nottingham Canal and use that waterway in order to miss out some shallow and winding stretches of the river.Due to the danger of boats being swept away in strong currents while they waited their turn to enter the canal entrances, a taut hawser was strung across the river from the Nottingham Canal to the Grantham Canal to stop boats drifting away. Clearly, manoeuvring between the river and the two canals was no fun in rough weather.
1797 In February, William King’s eastern side of the Grantham Canal was reported to be navigable and it is thought that the first boats used the canal in April. However, James Green had hit problems on his section and this caused a delay in the opening of the whole route. The problem had been caused by gypsum on the rock bed through which the canal was cut near Cropwell Bishop. Once this was overcome the canal was ready and it opened throughout during the summer.However, long after the canal’s opening, this stretch often struggled to hold water and caused many maintenance headaches. William Jessop was heavily criticised for this choice of route though I doubt many surveyors ever dug beneath the grass to test the type of earth below!
1798 As soon as the canal was up and running, the Grantham Canal Company began to operate its own carrying fleet with coal and coke being the major cargo. Other companies carried groceries along the route from Nottingham while boatloads of lime, corn, milk, beans, wool and other produce were carried from farms along the canal into Grantham. Building materials and bricks from Cropwell Bishop were one of the main cargoes leaving the Grantham Canal for places beyond Nottingham. Grantham itself became a very busy inland port servicing the rich Lincolnshire countryside. The potential of the route as a passenger service was also soon realised and a packet boat began taking Saturday shoppers from Cotgrave into Nottingham – a journey of about 5½ miles.
1803 After just 6 years the company paid out its first dividend, albeit only 2%.
1807 After complaints of delays ever since the canal first opened, passing places were added to Harlaxton Drift to speed up passage through the narrow cutting. The company created two passing points which – if my maths are right – meant 3 boats could pass along the cutting at any one time – two going one way and one going the other.
1815 The shareholder’s dividend rose to 5% and the company were doing so well that virtually all of their debts incurred during construction were now paid off.
Back to Top

1841 The canal saw its peak year with toll receipts of £13,000. Everything was not rosy however, the traders who used the canal were very unhappy about the very high tolls and the company were even accused of conspiring to keep coal tolls unfairly high to enhance prices. Some traders began to look at alternative methods to bring goods in and out of Grantham. One carrier resorted to the pre-canal days and brought his goods over land from Newark at a far lower cost than from Nottingham via the canal. Other goods, especially grain, were transferred to the Melton Mowbray and Oakham canals which were some 15 to 20 miles to the south and connected with the River Soar Navigations. Despite all the accusations and the losses in trade, the Grantham Canal did not reduce its tolls. It would appear that there were still plenty of “happy” customers, revenue remained close to the 1841 level for the next few years and the canal continued to be successful.
1845 The canal was quite able to contend with opposition from land or other distant waterways but now a new threat arrived which the waterway would not be able to ignore. The Nottingham, Vale of Belvoir & Grantham Railway was on its way and it was planned not just to run parallel to the canal (as many other railways did all over the country) but to slice straight across the countryside while the canal was left contouring its way around in all directions. The Grantham company were quick to see there was little hope of survival and negotiations were soon held with a view to selling out to the railway.It was agreed that NVoB&GR would take over the canal when construction of its line from Grantham to Nottingham was finished.
1849 While in the process of building the new railway line the NVoB&GR company themselves were merged with another company and became the… wait for it… Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway Company. The company with which they merged had already signed an agreement with the Nottingham Canal on similar terms to the agreement with the Grantham Canal and this meant the railway would soon have control of the whole waterway route from Grantham to Langley Mill.
1850 The new railway line from Grantham to Nottingham was opened on July 15th. By this time the railway company’s funds were so low that they could not afford to buy out Grantham and Nottingham canals as agreed, thus the take-overs were postponed. Matters were made worse because the ANB&EJR were hoping to sell out themselves to the Great Northern Railway Company, who already owned the whole rail route from London to Grantham (and beyond). GNR were known for their dislike of “money-losing canals” and it is thought that the ANB&EJR were trying to show that they were of the same mind, thus they were now refusing to buy the canals. However, the railway was not bought by GNR at this time and the two canals battled on to force the railway company to honour its original agreement, this led to months of lawsuits and legal wrangles.
1854 On December 20th, after 4 years of legal proceedings, the Grantham and Nottingham canal companies won their case in court and the ANB&EJR were forced to buy out both waterways as originally agreed. Thus the Grantham Canal was now owned by the Ambergate, Nottingham, Boston & Eastern Junction Railway & Canal Company!
1855 In March, and hopefully before the new company had re-painted all of its company signs, they got their longed for agreement with Great Northern Railway who then took over the Nottingham to Grantham line. The ANB&EJT&C company kept control of the canal but, having long since gone back on its word to build a line to Ambergate, they sensibly changed their name (again), this time to the Nottingham & Grantham Railway & Canal Company. Strangely this all meant that the railway who had been forced to by out the canal to stop it directly competing with its own railway, had now sold its railway and were left with the canal which was now in direct competition with the railway they had sold!!
Back to Top

1861 In an ever changing world, the N&GR&C company leased itself to GNR for a period of 999 years – roll on 2860! GNR now found themselves controlling a canal, the very mode of transport that they normally avoided like a plague. Worse still for them, it was a canal running very successfully and providing stiff competition to their own railway line. The easy way out, avoiding closing the canal down and causing a riot, was to do (literally) nothing, thus from this time on GNR did nothing to promote or maintain the canal and as a result of this canal traffic slowly declined.
1879 Canal carriers and local boatmen were well pleased when they heard that Stanton Ironworks Company had begun to excavate a site at Brewers Grave, near Woolsthorpe, just ½ a mile away from the canal.They confidently predicted an increase in canal traffic and income.However, the canal’s owners, Great Northern Railway, were also in the business of increasing income and as soon as it was announced that iron ore had been found, GNR began to build a railway line from the Nottingham to Grantham line at Bottesford to Woolsthorpe. The line opened in 1883, running right alongside the canal near the Woolsthorpe lock flight. The line proved to be very successful, surviving until 1973.
1905 The Grantham Canal – or maybe its users – were very stubborn and even after 50 years of railway ownership there was still a healthy tonnage being carried on the waterway. Most of this was road stone and also a fair amount manure which was used as fertiliser.However, you have to shovel a hell of a lot of shit to make money out of it and despite the tonnage, the toll receipts were just £242.
1924 The canal was now owned by London & North Eastern Railways who probably found Grantham very hard to spot on the map of their enormous empire. The canal was in a very poor state and tonnage had dropped to just 1,583.
1929 By now you could count the manure carriage per year on one hand – so long as you washed it afterwards. Virtually no boats used the waterway and its future looked doomed, but by now – nobody cared.
1936 LNER officially abandoned the Grantham Canal, it had not seen a commercial boat for quite some time. Of course a lot of this was a chicken and egg situation, it was very difficult – if not impossible – to navigate the canal because of its poor state of repair but the railway were granted permission to close it down because they claimed too few boats used the route to warrant repairing.

Following the closure of the canal nothing changed for many decades, it continued to be left to its own devices and only the sections at either end, in the growing suburbs of Nottingham and Grantham, became blocked or filled in. The main bulk of the waterway, still running through mainly isolated countryside, was left untouched and has survived as a useful drainage system and linear reservoir. Structures were only removed if they fell down or became dangerous and this has left most of the route intact.
Back to Top

1969 Following government Acts which categorised the Grantham Canal fit only for filling in, the Grantham Canal Society was formed with the sole aim of restoring the route to a fully navigable state.
1970’s The early years of the Canal Society’s existence were less than fruitful. All attempts to begin restoration of the canal were knocked back by the government due to coal mining interests around the Vale of Belvoir. This got even worse when it was announced that a new mine was to open in the area. The canal society could easily have folded and given up interest in the derelict waterway but, instead, they fought on and eventually became strong enough to reform as the Grantham Canal Restoration Society Ltd.
1980’s A big change in “leisure awareness” arrived during the 1980’s and this helped all canal societies around the country to gather support – even from government bodies. The British Waterways Board had often been very aloof towards unofficial strangers who usually had no true “relationship” with the surrounding area and yet wanted to “interfere” with their quiet backwaters! Restoring a canal meant work and costs for BWB who would be responsible for the upkeep of the restored waterway. But then things changed, the “awareness” arrived – along with big tourist income from already navigable canals.And so, the government became a little more helpful, the more friendly (and slightly renamed) British Waterways began to actively help canal societies and this included the Grantham Canal.
1991 In Spring, 22 years after forming, the Grantham Canal Society had finally gathered enough support and money – not to mention the vital official permission – to begin restoring the canal. The first lock to be restored was to be Woolsthorpe Top Lock which gave an indication of what a rotten job restoring can be. The first thing that had to be done was to de-water the lock and then dig out sludge which had mounted up to a depth of 5 feet! Meanwhile, the members of the society who still had clean wellies went to Lincolnshire County Council to try and persuade them to heighten Casthorpe Bridge (about 1½ miles east of the top lock). The bridge was an important obstacle to overcome as it was the only thing preventing the full restoration of a 4 mile stretch from the lock to the A1.
1994 Lincolnshire County Council removed the low Casthorpe Bridge and rebuilt it at a navigable height. The restorers built a slipway making the Grantham Canal navigable (for 4 miles) for the first time since 1936.

During this same period a second section, 2½ miles in length near Hickling, was also restored. However, this section does not (in 1997) include a slipway yet so it can only be used by dinghies for the moment. Unfortunately, the newly restored section at the eastern end of the canal is a long, long way from a connection with the rest of the waterways network. To the east of the newly opened stretch the A1 dual-carriageway has long since blocked the canal and the route has been filled in on the east side of the A1, within Grantham town centre. Reports say that a restored canal may end on the western side of the A1, missing out the last mile or so. Similar problems have occurred at the western end where the ever developing city of Nottingham is spreading eastwards and bringing new roads and bridges with it. One plan to overcome this may be to build a brand new section of canal which would join the River Trent at Holme Pierrepont where their is already a growing sport and leisure area near the river. This would take the canal close to William Jessop’s original route which was rejected by Parliament in 1792.

Back to Top

THE ROUTE
The Grantham Canal begins at West Bridgeford on the River Trent about ¼ of a mile east of Trent Bridge at the eastern side of Nottingham Forest FC’s City Ground. The canal is still intact as it leaves the river and passes through its first lock – Trent Lock. The first few hundred yards run between the football ground and the A6011 but a new junction on this road has been built over the canal’s route. My road atlas shows the line of the canal past the new junction on the north side of the A6011 (Radcliffe Road), this stretch appears to last about ¾ of a mile with the canal right alongside the road running south easterly. The road then turns east, becomes a dual-carriageway and crosses the canal on Gamston Bridge. The canal is full of water all the way out of Nottingham.

The Grantham Canal heads south for about ½ a mile until it also bends east to arrive at two locks. One of these is marked in the Nottingham A-Z at the north side of a superstore in Gamston. Immediately after the locks is the A52 dual-carriageway which blocks the canal and its embankment has to be scrambled over to reach the canal on the eastern side of the busy road. The former towpath is marked in the A-Z all the way along the southern bank on this stretch.

For the next mile the canal heads slightly north of east in a fairly straight line with Nottingham Airport to the south. After a bend to the south east, at Bassingfield, the route soon encounters two small streams. The first is crossed on Thurlbeck Aqueduct while the second, Polser Brook, is the possible future route of the restored canal. A brand new section would be constructed on the brook to take the canal north east for nearly 2 miles to Holme Pierrepont on the River Trent, an area already re-developed for sport and leisure including the national rowing course.

Back on the canal, just past Polser Brook Aqueduct, is the first of 5 locks which take the canal up to the village of Cotgrave. On route to the village the canal first curves north east and then bends south east to run parallel to a railway branch line that ends at Cotgrave Colliery. I visited these locks on beautifully hot summer day in 1997.They can be accessed by car from Main Road, the long straight road heading north from Cotgrave. There is a car park, slightly hidden, just north of the canal on the left hand side. Cotgrave Bridge has been flattened but the locks are in excellent condition – just waiting for gates and boats! The locks are well spread out. The is one close to the west of the flattened road bridge with another some 400 yards west. You can walk along either side of the canal here. A former lock cottage (known as Skinner’s) stands by the lower lock. East of the road bridge the canal immediately curves south with a lock about 600 yards along the towpath. Two more locks are some distance to the south, I believe the last of these is to the east of Hollygate Bridge, which carries Hollygate Lane north eastwards out of Cotgrave.

The route leaves the village heading east but the canal bed soon becomes completely dry, looking as derelict as any canal can. However, the towpath survives and the canal’s line is easy to follow. About a mile east of the village the line turns north east and is crossed by the minor road from Stragglethorpe to Cropwell Bishop. Past here the route swings alongside the ancient Foss Way built by the Romans and now the very busy A46. After running parallel to the Foss Way, on the north west side of the road, the canal turns sharply under the road at Foss Bridge and heads south east again. Near Foss Bridge are the 3 Foss Bridge Locks which take the canal up to a pound which is 20 miles long. Locating Foss Bridge by car is not too easy as the road is very busy. Heading north on the A46 the bridge is about 600 yards north of the traffic-light crossroads to Stragglethorpe and Cropwell Bishop. Just over the bridge there is an entrance which has parking room for a couple of cars though getting back out onto the busy road can be tricky. This entrance now leads nowhere but may once have led to a lock cottage or other can buildings.

Back to Top

Just east of the bridge is a lock with a very broad lock side, again indicating that a building probably stood where now there is just nicely cut grass. The lock itself is also full of grass and small flowers (in mid-summer). Dozens of butterflies were fluttering about the lock when I visited it in 1997.I found I could climb into the lock and sit on the former sill, apart from lack of water and lots of grass the lock is in good condition. The stretch from here to Cropwell Bishop was the place which brought Jessop a lot of criticism for his choice of route. The rock here is gypsum which lets in water like a sieve and this is why the canal has been dry for the past 2 miles. In the village the dry route is crossed by the minor road heading west to the A46 and then by the minor road heading south. The canal briefly runs parallel to this road and it is here that water reappears in the canal. Soon after regaining water the route curves south east for a few hundred yards and then bends south under the minor road running from Cotgrave to Colston Bassett. Within ½ a mile the canal once again comes right alongside the minor road heading south out of Cropwell Bishop though the route instantly bends away to the south east to run around Oddhouse Farm. Shortly after being crossed by the minor road running from Owthorpe to Colston Bassett the canal bends again until it is heading south west – facing completely the wrong way – with Grantham some 15 miles (as the crow flies) to the north east! All of the above minor road crossings provide access to the towpath. When I saw the canal here in 1997 it was in water but thick with weeds and reeds in some places.

After heading the wrong way for about a mile, the route reaches Devils Elbow which is a sharp turn to the left sending the route south east into Kinoulton. From here it is about 1½ miles to the next village, Hickling, but the journey may have had the boatman “sickling” as it zig-zags left and right the whole way. The 2½ mile stretch on either side of Hickling was restored in 1995 though only small boats can use the canal at present because there is no slipway. The village is well worth a visit, the canal arrives under the road in a culvert because the bridge has been flattened but on the far side of the former bridge the waterway opens out into a wide basin. Because of its position beside the main road through the village, the basin looks more like a village pond. In fact, it was well populated with ducks, swans and moorhens when I was here. The road is known as the causeway as it is higher than the land on either side. On the far side of the road are pretty cottages and a pub. There are mooring bollards on the roadside to tie your car to! Around the basin there are some old canal buildings and a notice board describes the area.

Past Hickling the canal wanders around in every direction possible. If anybody ever needed to demonstrate a contour canal they could not do better that to show them the Grantham Canal. After passing close to a number of small villages the route crosses from Nottinghamshire into Leicestershire and reaches the village of Harby. The next 4 miles are amazingly straight compared with what has gone before. On this stretch the route comes alongside the road from Harby to Plungar at a point where a small lane to Stathern Lodge crosses on a humpback bridge. At the junction there is a picnic site and a well kept grassy area alongside the canal. This is the site of Stathern Wharf though there is no evidence of commercial activity to be seen today. This is a nice spot, as I found out on a hot sunny day, and it will be a prize “gongoozling” location when the canal is restored. Just a few yards north is a small aqueduct over Rundle Beck and then Plungar is reached, the canal passing on the west side of the village.The bridge here has been culverted and to its north the canal was very overgrown when I was here in 1997.

The route continues north eastwards to Barkestone-le-Vale and then regains the contours to curve south east and then north east at the village of Redmile. Here the long and straight minor road from Whatton to Belvoir, which is obviously the former Castle drive, crosses the canal. The next stretch is a north easterly one ending at the bridge carrying the minor road from Bottesford towards Belvoir. Bottesford is actually about 1½ miles north of here but Bottesford Wharf is close to the bridge and here, like at many other sites along the towpath, there is a notice board describing the canal and a mile post nearby (this one indicates 24¼ miles back to West Bridgeford in Nottingham). The canal now turns fairly sharply from its north east heading to a south easterly one.Soon after the bend the route enters a cutting through Toston Hill.The cutting is fairly short and soon flattens out. Within another ¼ of a mile Easthorpe (or Middlestile) Bridge is reached though the bridge, like others along the canal, has been flattened – having originally been humpback. Restoration will necessitate the building of embankments on either side and the heightening of the bridge itself to create a safe approach to cater for modern traffic standards.

Past the bridge the scenery opens out and there are views of Belvoir Castle to the south. After about a mile the canal begins to curve left and on the curve it also begins to widen out to form what was once Muston Gorse Wharf. From here the Duke of Rutland had a tramway laid which carried coal and other goods from the wharf to Belvoir Castle (around 1½ miles away). Near the former wharf is Muston Gorse Bridge which carries a track from Muston in the north towards the castle to the south. Both Muston Gorse Farm and Belvoir Farm are on this track. As the canal straightens out to head north east once more it soon reaches the feeder coming in from Knipton Reservoir which is about 3½ miles away on the far side of Belvoir Castle. In fact, the feeder actually travels under the castle in a tunnel. About ½ a mile further on the canal passes under Langmore Bridge which is an original accommodation bridge built for farm access. In another ¼ of a mile the canal leaves Leicestershire and enters Lincolnshire and after another ¼ of a mile it takes an abrupt turn to the right and heads south east once again. Almost immediately the canal is crossed by Muston Bridge, carrying the minor road from Muston to Woolsthorpe, just beyond the bridge is the first lock for 20 miles. This is first of 7 in the Woolsthorpe Flight which take the canal up to its summit level. All the locks were de-gated and turned into weirs though restoration is well in hand. Indeed, when I visited this area in 1995 the first lock, Woolsthorpe Bottom (or Muston) Lock, had no gates but had recently been cleared and had had some work done to the brick work. In 1992 the locks were described as “dilapidated”, by 1998 I think they could be described as “well on the way to a full recovery”!

Back to Top

As the canal climbs the flight it is joined on the northern side by a track which was once the line of the ironstone railway, known as the Belvoir Branch, which opened in 1883 and was built by Great Northern Railway (when they also had control of the canal) to carry iron ore from Brewers Grave. Its track bed can clearly be seen from just below the second lock in the flight as both the canal and the former railway cross the small River Devon. The railway bridge still stands despite being a simple wooden trestle making the small canal aqueduct, made in stone, look somewhat more sturdy. Beneath, the River Devon is heading north towards Bottesford on route to the Trent Navigation in Newark. The second lock in the Woolsthorpe Flight is Stenwith Lock which has a lock keepers cottage alongside it. The third lock, which quickly follows, is Kingston’s Lock which was described in 1992 as “crumbling”. Stenwith Bridge crosses over the canal carrying a minor road from Stenwith to Sedgebrook. On this road, just a few yards east, is a second (and much less stable) bridge which crosses the old railway. Past Stenwith Bridge the canal reaches Woolsthorpe Middle Lock, at the top of the lock is the start of the navigable stretch.The canal is (uncommonly) straight here for ½ a mile, giving this stretch the name of Half Mile Pond. It is highly likely that anyone walking along the Half Mile will come across the Grantham Canal’s first resident boat for over 60 years as the society’s trip-boat, Soliloquy, is kept here.

Most of the navigable stretch is wide and deep and affords good views across the landscape towards Belvoir Castle, sitting on its hill to the south west. All along the navigable portion of the canal, which is currently 4½ miles long, are ¼-mile distance posts which all appear to be made of cast iron though closer inspection shows that the canal society have replaced a number of lost posts with very realistically painted wooden ones. The 5th lock, Carpenters Lock, has former carpenter’s workshops standing alongside it. This lock is the first usable lock on the canal. The straight ½ mile ends at the 6th lock (Willis’) beside Woolsthorpe Bridge. As well as the lock and bridge there is also a small camp site, a pub named the Rutland Arms (known locally as the Dirty Duck) and a former lock keeper’s cottage. Its a pretty little place and will surely be the most popular overnight mooring spot when the whole canal is reopened.

Just beyond here was Woolsthorpe Wharf which was opened when the locals expected lots of trade from the iron ore mine at Brewers Grave.In fact, for a short period before the railway line opened, the canal did carry iron ore from the wharf all the way to Stanton Ironworks at Ilkeston on the Nutbrook Canal in Derbyshire. Today there is no sign of the wharf at all. The canal now turns sharply to the left to head east, instantly crossing the path of the ironstone railway. This was always a very low bridge and was later converted into an embankment.Towpath users had to climb a flight of steps, cross the railway line and step back down to the canal-side but the bridge has now gone, completely removed by the canal restorers. On the far side of the former bridge is Woolsthorpe Top Lock – the last in the flight. This is the lock where the restoration society began their work and is, of course, now fully operational.

Beyond here, as the canal heads east, is Longmore Bridge, Casthorpe Bridle Bridge (restored by the Waterways Recovery Group to carry a footpath) and then Casthorpe Bridge which carries the minor road from Sedgebrook to Denton. This was the bridge that the society needed the council to raise to allow the first 4 miles of navigable canal to be reopened. The new bridge is not exactly in keeping with canal tradition but beggars can’t be choosers. The next feature on the canal, about 1¼ miles east of Casthorpe Bridge, is the site of Denton Wharf which is actually around 2 miles from the village of Denton.This section of canal is now very well kept and includes picnic tables and a slipway allowing small boats to make use of the canal. Also at the wharf is a notable humpback bridge and the feeder coming from the 61 million gallon Denton Reservoir which is close by to the south of the canal. Like Knipton Reservoir, this one is still in very good condition and still supplies the canal with water despite the waterway being closed for 60 years.

Past the feeder is a winding hole, then a curve right, then left and then the route enters Harlaxton Cutting. The very narrow and deep cutting gives a completely contrasting feeling to the canal which has been fairly open with long views of the surrounding countryside throughout its route. The cutting is overhung by willow trees and was only built wide enough for one boat to pass through at a time – though passing places were added later to speed things up. Half way through the cutting is Harlaxton Bridge which is the bridge carrying the minor road from Harlaxton to Barrowby. Still within the cutting is the site of Harlaxton Wharf followed by Vincent’s Bridge which I believe carries a track to Harlaxton Lower Lodge. East of here the cutting gradually recedes but only to reveal the tree-covered embankment which completely blocks the canal and carries the roaring A1 dual- carriageway. A photograph of this major blockage appears in Ray Quinlan’s “Canal Walks of England and Wales” though it is hard to believe that the picture really shows a canal at all. Basically is shows a weedy patch of ground with a concrete culvert disappearing under a fence which has a slight hill beyond it covered by bushes and trees. As if things weren’t bad enough – it is not just the ordinary dual-carriageway which blocks the route, the culvert is over 300 yards long because there is a slip road leaving the A1 on the far side. The only positive point to the blockage is that the embankment – unlike similar blockages on other canals – is high enough for a tunnel to be built through it. In 1992 Ray Quinlan suggested that the cost of this would be far beyond the scope of the restorers but the mid-1990’s has seen many amazing money raising ventures as well as many new schemes – such as the National Lottery and Millennium Fund – so there is plenty of scope for hope. Better news still is the chance that the A1 may be upgraded to A1(M) which may allow the building of a tunnel when the road is widened. Of course if – as with some other blocked canals – the Department of Transport still refuse to allow the inclusion of a navigable culvert, a 600 yard wide motorway would surely end all hopes of passage through to Grantham. If all fails – and in the meantime – the society have decided that a basin should be built alongside the A1 to provide a temporary head of navigation. It has been suggested that this could be named Jessop Basin.

On the east side of the A1 the canal is still intact in places. It is thought that this should be restored as normal and made into a linear water park with the hope of connecting it to the rest of the line at a later date. The short stretch into Grantham is bounded by new houses and industrial units while the towpath is wide and well kept. The path ends at Earle’s Field Bridge though the canal used to continue on under the bridge. Unfortunately, it has now been covered by a car park. Town Wharf used to be about 600 yards farther east, in the centre of the town that gave the canal its name.