The River Trent is one of Britain’s longest navigable rivers. It was also one of the first to be used for carrying goods over long distances, as long ago as 1000BC it was used as part of a trade route between the continent and Ireland. Two dug-out bronze age canoes were discovered in the river bed near Nottingham earlier this century.
The Romans were not exactly welcome when they first arrived but at least they improved the living standards of the average Briton. Around 750 years later (870ad) some less welcome visitors made great use of the River Trent and Foss Dyke to penetrate deep into the centre of England. These of course were the Danes who fought off the guardian knights of Torksey and travelled on into Nottingham. In 924ad Edward the Elder expelled the Danes from Nottingham and built Trent Bridge, but the Danes were back again around 90 years later when King Swein Forkbeard reached Gainsborough. In 1156 a new Trent Bridge was built and it stood till 1871 when the bridge which forms today’s basic structure was constructed. Where as Trent Bridge is the most well know structure to cross the river, it has few counterparts. Only eight other road bridges cross the waterway in the 80 miles between Trent Bridge and the River Humber.
And so… Long before the canal era, the River Trent already allowed goods from the coast to reach South Yorkshire (via The River Idle to Bawtry), Lincoln (via the Foss Dyke), Newark and Nottingham (which were on the River Trent) and Derby (via the River Derwent).
The Romans also made great use of the river which gained them easy access from the east coast to many of their towns. They even made Britain’s first canal in 120ad during the reign of Emperor Hadrian.This was the Foss Dyke which ran from the River Trent to Lindum Colonia (Lincoln) where it joined the River Witham.
1699 The first Act of Parliament to allow improvements to be made to navigation on the River Trent was passed. This made little difference to the river below Nottingham but it helped navigation above the city in a big way. Previously it had been unsafe to take a boat past Nottingham but the new improvements allowed navigation all the way to Burton-upon-Trent. This section became known as the Upper Trent (or Burton) Navigation.
1753 Lincoln Corporation, who controlled the Fossdyke Navigation (which connected with the River Trent at Torksey) were granted an act to improve their waterway. Improvements included dredging and straightening parts of the route. This, and subsequent improvements over the next 10 years, enabled River Trent traffic to reach Lincoln and Boston a lot more easily.
Over the next few decades little happened on the River Trent though big changes were about to take place all around it…
1766 An Act was granted (to a separate company) which allowed the building of an artificial navigation (a canal) which was to connectthe River Mersey to the upper reaches of the navigable River Trent.This would create the country’s first ever east coast to west coast waterway.
1768 A survey was made to extend the River Idle, which left the River Trent at West Stockwith. The extension was to take the navigation well past its current terminus, at Bawtry, to Chesterfield.After a number of route changes work began on what was to become the Chesterfield Canal. This new waterway was to have a junction and basin on the River Trent at West Stockwith.
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1776 A number of prominent businessmen in Loughborough, to the south of the River Trent, obtained an Act of Parliament allowing them to make the River Soar navigable from their town to the River Trent near Long Eaton. When completed the new navigation would allow boats from the Humber to travel inland further south than ever before.
1777 The Trent & Mersey Canal opened and became the first artificial waterway to connect with the River Trent since the Roman’s built the Foss Dyke. It connected with the river at Wilden Ferry (which later became Shardlow). The new canal provided a navigable link from the River Humber to the River Mersey (albeit via a very long route) but it didn’t go down well with the people who ran the Upper Trent Navigation between Wilden Ferry and the head of the river navigation at Burton. The Upper Trent Navigation Company feared that the new canal would render the meandering and often shallow Upper Trent redundant – and they were right! An early attempt was made to attract traffic off the canal and onto the river by constructing a new link at Burton but this had little effect and most traffic stayed on the canal.
Meanwhile, much further down stream on the River Trent, the Chesterfield Canal opened at West Stockwith. It connected the River Trent to Retford, Worksop and Chesterfield.
The traders of Long Eaton and Ilkeston were clearly inspired by the success of these early canals. They obtained an Act of Parliament for what would become the Erewash Canal. This route would head north from the River Trent at Long Eaton to Langley Mill.
1778 The navigable River Soar, or Loughborough Canal, opened and linked with the River Trent near Long Eaton. It was an immediate success for the traders of Loughborough, helping the town to grow very rapidly.
1779 The Erewash Canal opened from a junction on the River Trent south of Long Eaton. It ran north along the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire border through rich coal fields. All traffic heading for Nottingham came down the new canal and then headed north east along the River Trent while traffic bound for Derby would head west along the River Trent to the River Derwent. However, this was limited to sailing barges only as neither the River Trent or River Derwent had a towpath at this stage.
1783 Following an Act of Parliament an new company took control of the middle sections of the navigable River Trent. This was the River Trent Navigation Company who took charge of the river below Wilden Ferry (by now known as Shardlow) down to Gainsborough. This was the first time that the river below Shardlow had had a governing body.The sections which the new company controlled included the junctions with the Trent & Mersey Canal, Erewash Canal, Loughborough Canal and Fossdyke Navigation so the new company’s first action was to build a towpath along the whole of their section. This enabled cargoes to be carried from the adjoining canals onto the river without the need to change from horse-drawn canal boat to Trent sailing barge.Although this was well received by the canal companies and carriers, it was not such good news for the river barges. In the centre of the newly owned section was Newark where an artificial cut had existed for many years. This had been built by the Newark Navigation Commission who continued to maintain it while the River Trent Navigation Company had control of the river on either side of the town. Situations like this often ended in tears but it would appear that the two controlling bodies got along just fine.
Some time later the river below Gainsborough was taken over by the Humber Conservancy Board. Their section included the connection with the Chesterfield Canal and River Idle.
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1790 A new canal was proposed which would link Nottingham to the Peak District via the Erewash Canal and the Cromford Canal (which was then under construction). This new “Nottingham Canal” was supported by the Trent Navigation Company because it was expected to bring a lot of extra trade to the river. Even better news came when the promotion of another new canal began. This one would run from the Trent at Radcliffe to the town of Grantham.
1791 Two more sets of would-be canal owners came to the fore but these were not such good news for the Trent Navigation. The first wanted to build the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Canal which would have bypassed difficult parts of the River Trent to the south of Nottingham.The second group of promoters wanted to build the Derby Canal which would link Derby to both the River Trent (at Swarkestone) and the Erewash Canal (at Sandiacre), from where boats could easily reach the Nottingham Canal, allowing traffic to travel from the Trent & Mersey Canal to Nottingham wholly by canal, bypassing the River Trent completely. Both the Derby Canal and the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Canal routes would have provided stiff competition for the River Trent which would be at a significant disadvantage due to its often shallow waters and long meandering route. In the end the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Canal was turned down and it was the Derby Canal that won the Act of Parliament.
Slightly further away but promising better things as far as the Trent Navigation Company were concerned was the news that an extension was to be made to the Loughborough Canal (River Soar) which since 1778 had been navigable from the River Trent at Long Eaton to Loughborough. The extended navigation was to be called the Leicester Canal and would give that city access to the inland waterways system and the coast for the first time. To do this, all boats would have to use the River Trent.
1792 The Grantham Canal’s promoters went to Parliament seeking an Act of authorisation. Unfortunately for them they didn’t get it due to objections from landowners and from men in the Newark area who feared losses on their land carrying trade. The company set about re-surveying the route, the new line would now terminate on the River Trent in Nottingham just yards away from (and opposite to) the entrance of the Nottingham Canal (which was still being built).
1793 When the Derby canal got its go-ahead from Parliament, the Trent Navigation Company were faced with losses due to boats using the Derby Canal and Nottingham Canal to bypass the river around the south of Nottingham. The Trent Navigation Company put a plan together which it was hoped would counter this new canal route. The plan included the installation of locks on the river for the first time and the inclusion of weirs which would significantly increase the depth on shallow sections. A number of training walls were planned which would also make the river deeper by making it narrower. The company also planned to build some completely new canalised cuts which would bypass some particularly difficult and meandering sections of the river between Nottingham and Shardlow. Some of these ideas were never put into practice but, crucially, the new cuts were begun straight away.
1794 The Leicester Canal opened which, along with the Loughborough Canal, made the River Soar navigable for almost 40 miles.Over the next 15 years other branch lines and extensions were added to the Soar Navigation which allowed River Trent traffic to reach Oakham in Rutlandshire and Market Harborough on Leicestershire and Northamptonshire border.
1796 The Derby Canal opened from Swarkestone on the Upper Trent Navigation to Sandiacre on the Erewash Canal. The Nottingham Canal also opened from Langley Mill on the Erewash Canal to Trent Bridge on the River Trent in Nottingham. The River Trent now had direct competition for the first time and the navigation company must have been pleased to be able to open their own river bypasses just in time.The most significant cut was the Beeston Canal which diverted traffic away from the River Trent at Beeston and headed east to link with the Nottingham Canal on the outskirts of the city. This meant Trent barges were able to bypass a particularly bad stretch of the River Trent without trade being lost to the new canal routes. Of course this meant that the Trent Navigation were dependent on good relations with the Nottingham Canal to allow their traffic through the city. Two other canalised bypasses, at Cranfleet and Sawley, were also opened to add to the attraction of staying on the river. While the River Trent gained the new connections provided by the Derby and Nottingham canals, it also lost a connection at the same time. The Derby Canal Company had, as part of their Act, been granted the right to buy out the River Derwent Navigation. As soon as the Derby Canal opened, the company closed the River Derwent and that route into Derby from the River Trent was never used again.
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1797 The Grantham Canal opened with its junction just below Trent Bridge. Like the Nottingham Canal, the Grantham Canal was a great success with many boats heading into Nottingham and travelling along, or crossing straight over the River Trent. In fact, so many boats were crossing straight over from one canal to the other that the Trent Navigation Company installed a hawser which stretched right across the river from the Grantham Canal junction to the Nottingham Canal junction to provide a safety measure against the rushing river currents.
1802 The Stainforth & Keadby Canal opened on the River Trent at Keadby just 7 miles from the Humber (on the section run by the Humber Conservancy). The new canal ran west to join the River Don north of Doncaster, giving boats from Sheffield, Rotherham and Doncaster a much needed easier navigation to the Humber via the River Trent.
1814 A new canal opened connecting the Grand Junction Canal, in Northamptonshire, to the River Soar in Leicester. This now provided a straight forward inland route all the way from the Humber to London.
1817 When the Derby Canal first opened it began on the Upper Trent Navigation at Swarkestone. Not long after the opening of the canal its owners had realised that very few boats were using this junction. Boats were simply using the Trent & Mersey Canal to reach their waterway and were bypassing the Upper River Trent. Thus the Derby Canal closed the short section (containing 4 locks) between the Upper Trent Navigation and the Trent & Mersey Canal. The closure ended the River Trent’s direct link with the Derby Canal and this had a bad effects on the Upper Trent Navigation. The company had been struggling ever since the Trent & Mersey Canal had opened and the closure of the Derby Canal link left the winding and shallow upper stretches of the navigable River Trent (Shardlow to Burton) completely redundant.
1818 As well as cargo, the River Trent also formed a major part of an important passenger route. With connections to Leicester, Birmingham, Stoke, Derby, Cromford, Lincoln and Sheffield, the River Trent was akin to the present day M1. With the coast and an important port (Hull) at the end of the line the river was doing a roaring trade.Improvements were being made all the time to make passenger (or Packet) boats more comfortable and faster. The latest innovation was the introduction of steam powered Packet Boats which caused an even more rapid growth in passenger services.
During the 1800’s the River Trent continued to be successful. When the railways arrived (from 1840 onwards) the navigation was not directly affected because no railway was built alongside the river. However, the railways did eat into much of the trade coming onto the river from the connecting canals. Passenger travel was also eventually hit by the faster and more convenient railway routes.
1906 Navigation was good on the River Trent from Trent Falls, where it ran into the Humber, up to Newark. Above Newark however it had always suffered from shallows which only small craft could negotiate.This usually meant transhipment was necessary at Newark and that meant extra costs. The navigation company had planned to improve the section above Newark way back in 1793 but for one reason or another it had never been done. There had been no competition on this stretch from other waterways and the river had managed to “stay afloat” even when a railway had been built between Nottingham and Newark but now a new threat was becoming a major worry – motor vehicles and road traffic.The Trent Navigation Company obtained an Act of Parliament allowing them to make new improvements above Newark. These included widening and deepening the channel and the building of 10 locks. However, the company soon realised it could not afford to do the improvements and subsequently only one lock (at Cromwell) was built. The only other “improvement” made before the start of WW1 was the dredging of the river below Newark.
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1915 Nottingham Council were eager to see the River Trent improved to their city so they got together with the navigation company to see what could be done. It was decided that the city corporation would finance the completion of the improvements and extra help would come from the Development Commissioners who’s job it was to find work for the unemployed. The local railways opposed the new Bill when it went to Parliament but the Act was successfully obtained.Unfortunately, by now the war was beginning to take its toll on everybody’s finances and the corporation found it could not find the necessary capital. On top of this, the Development Commissioners were also struggling – not having trouble finding work for the unemployed – but find anybody unemployed to do the work! Hence, no improvements were started.
1918 When WW1 ended and money was more obtainable, the work on the river was finally started. The channel was dredged from Newark upwards, new locks (which could hold 3 Trent barges and their motorised carrying tug) were built and a new cut was constructed near Holme Lock to bypass a tedious meander. The improvements took until 1927 to complete and cost Nottingham Corporation £450,000 but when finished they allowed large vessels to reach as far as Trent Bridge in Nottingham (the journey from Hull being just 24 hours) but above Trent Bridge in Nottingham the river was not improved and was still too shallow to take anything larger than small Trent Barges. The only route to the upper reaches of the river was by canal.
1920 Following WW1 all canals and rivers were struggling to regain pre-war trade – and even that had often been very low! A special commission was set up by the government to work out how to make canals and rivers profitable again. The commission proposed ideas which included restricting railway tolls in order to persuade traders back onto the water, improving badly maintained canals and the setting up of new “trusts” (governing bodies) to run groups of canals and rivers as one. The River Trent was planned to become the guinea pig for these ideas because it was already undergoing the improvements mentioned above. The commission planned to group the river with the canals around Nottingham and Derby. However, it would appear that after the commission decided to set all this up, nothing more was done. A similar list of proposals 10 years later were also never acted on. Thus the declining canals in the area continued to decay and the river soldiered on without the help of the government.
1927 The work from the Acts gained in 1918, 1906 and originally 1793, was finally completed. Locks were now installed for the first time at Stoke Bardolph, Gunthorpe, Hazelford and Cromwell.Trade on the river quickly rose to four times that of the pre-improvement era.
1936 The railway company who owned the Grantham Canal closed that waterway down after many years of very low usage. The closure had very little effect on the Trent Navigation as most of the trade between Grantham and the river had been lost in the 1850’s when the Nottingham to Grantham railway had opened.
1937 The Nottingham Canal’s railway owners were granted permission to close down their waterway – most of which was not used at all by this time. One part of the route which was used – and was vital to the River Trent Navigation – was the stretch that ran from Trent Bridge to the Trent Navigation’s own Beeston Canal, cutting out a whole section of the river south of Nottingham which had not been used since around 1796. Thus, the navigation company took control of this portion of the Nottingham Canal, securing the through-route which is still in place today.
1947 The River Trent was nationalised along with virtually all of Britain’s inland waterways. As well as controlling and maintaining the river, the government also bought up all of the Trent Navigation Company’s carrying fleet.
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1950 Following the government take-over improvements were made to the river’s basins and wharves and a development research department was set up.
1951 In the government classification of all inland waterways, the River Trent was classified in group 1, “having scope for commercial development”.
1952 At a time when most canals were being closed, the River Trent was flourishing. To cope with its success the government built a new Newark Town Lock and eliminated a lock at Holme where a flood prevention scheme was created. This meant larger vessels could travel from Hull docks to Nottingham.
1953 The government built two self-propelled motorised barges for use on the river.
1957 Work began on renewing Cromwell Lock in order to allow it to take 8 barges at a time. The work took 3 years. At the same time all locks were converted, making them fully mechanised. The river was dredged and work on protecting the river banks was increased.
1959 The navigation’s Meadow Lane warehouse in central Nottingham was expanded and modernised. A container service, using small 4 ton fibreglass containers carried on sea-going vessels, was introduced from Nottingham to the continent. However, this proved to be rather limited in success as the containers were too small to have any major impact.
1970’s The ongoing improvements continued on the river following the new Transport Act of 1968 in which the River Trent was once again classed in the top group, “to be principally available for carriage of commercial freight”. New improvement programmes included the removal of a number of “black spots” such as Torksey shoal which was removed, allowing a depth of 7 feet.
1996 Today the River Trent is still one of the most commercially used inland waterways. However, almost all of this is on the lower, tidal stretches. Very little (if any) commercial traffic ventures above Newark to Nottingham. On the other hand, the non-tidal stretches are now popular with holiday makers who use the river to connect from the Trent and Mersey Canal, Erewash Canal and River Soar to the Fossdyke Canal, Chesterfield Canal and South Yorkshire Navigations.
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The River Trent is almost back to front! Almost all rivers began in rural areas, devoid of roads, bridges, towns and industry. As they head seawards their banks become steadily more populated, the towns grow in size, the bridges become more numerous. Finally a river reaches its mouth which is usually surrounded by a large town, busy port or holiday resort. However, the River Trent starts just north of Stoke-on-Trent, densely populated and busy with industry. After travelling through the Potteries the river enters smaller and smaller towns. It is busy again around Burton-upon-Trent and then finally at Nottingham but from then on the surrounding land becomes more and more rural with very few towns near it, only ½ a dozen bridges crossing it and its mouth is nowhere near a town, a resort or a port.
The River Trent begins just south of Biddulph in the far north of Staffordshire. Of course at this stage the tiny river is far from navigable but it travels just 3 miles to encounter its first canal. At Milton, to the north east of Burslem, the river is crossed by the Caldon Canal and the two stay fairly close together for a few miles as both head towards Stoke-on-Trent. While the Caldon bends away north westwards towards Hanley, the small River Trent continues south west into Stoke where the Trent & Mersey Canal crosses it in the centre of town just north of the canal’s bridge 112. Further south west the river turns south and passes by Trentham Gardens, a country park with a skiing lake, outdoor swimming pool and a miniature railway – among other things. The River Trent now follows the A34 south into Stone. The Trent & Mersey Canal is never more than a mile away to the east and is often considerably closer, at one point the two waterways are separated only by the A34 dual-carriageway. In Stone the river comes even closer to the canal near the bottom two locks of the Stone Flight.
Both river and canal turn south eastwards below Stone and run very close together for the next 10 miles to Great Heywood where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal comes in from the south west, crosses the (still small) river on an aqueduct and then joins the Trent & Mersey Canal. Within another ½ a mile the River Trent is crossed by a very old packhorse bridge which takes a lane from Great Haywood to Shugborough Hall. This is Essex Bridge which is an Ancient Monument. At the bridge the River Sow runs into the River Trent as it continues to run alongside the Trent & Mersey Canal in a south easterly direction with Cannock Chase on its western bank.
Just before Rugeley the canal looms up above the river on Brindley Bank and then it swings to cross the river on a substantial aqueduct. In Rugeley the Trent & Mersey Canal disappears over to the west while the River Trent passes close to Rugeley railway station. In fact, it clings close to the railway for the next 3 miles, first on the west side and then, after 2½ miles, on the east. At Armitage the Trent & Mersey Canal reappears, though only on the far side of the railway. However, at this point the River Trent (which is now a medium sized river) changes direction and heads due east and then north east to the village of Nethertown. East of the village it splits into 2 for a short while. The northern split is joined from the north by the River Blithe and the two rejoin the southern split at King’s Bromley. East of here the river meanders for about 5 miles until it reaches Alrewas and meets the Trent & Mersey Canal once again. In fact, it is more than just the usual meeting of river and canal where the man-made route crosses the natural course or where the two might run side by side. Here at Alrewas the River Trent actually runs into the canal from the north west, directly below lock 12. A long wooden footbridge takes the towpath across the junction at a height that prevents canal traffic from straying up the wrong route! The confluence is short lived as the two waterways are one for just 600 yards, the river leaving the canal via a weir to the east. East of Alrewas the River Trent is crossed by the busy A38 dual-carriageway as it moves away from the canal and bends south. After passing under two railway viaducts it reaches its most southerly point.At that point, the River Tame runs into the River Trent having journeyed north from Tamworth and Birmingham. The smaller Seal Brook also flows into the River Trent just past here.
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Heading generally north east now, the River Trent meanders for about 10 miles into the centre of Burton-upon-Trent. In the town it is crossed by a railway viaduct, the A5189 and the A50. Burton is the furthest upstream that any commercial boat has ever been able to reach. However, when the Trent & Mersey Canal opened in 1777 the Upper Trent Navigation Company were not too pleased! They felt the canal should end here but Brindley had been determined to reach the much better navigable sections of the river further downstream. At one point a short connecting canal was built in Burton but the opening of the canal saw the beginning of the end for the Upper Trent as a navigation.
Past Burton, the river continues to meander north eastwards. After about 3 miles it is joined from the north by the River Dove which has come from Uttoxeter, Rocester and Ashbourne. A couple of mile further on, at Willington, the River Trent turns eastwards for 7 miles to Swarkestone. On its way it meanders wildly at Ingleby, passes well away from Barrow-upon-Trent and then passes to the north of the famous Swarkestone Bridge, a Norman structure carrying a main road across marsh land. The Derby Canal used to start at Swarkestone, leaving the River Trent to head north towards Derby. Just ¼ of a mile north of the river, the Derby Canal also used to cross the Trent & Mersey Canal but when it became obvious to the owners of the Derby Canal that very few boats were using the Upper Trent Navigation, they closed the short section between the river and the canal.
From Swarkestone the River Trent heads east, coming within splashing distance of the Trent & Mersey Canal after 2½ miles and within earshot of Donnington Park motor racing circuit after 3 miles. It is at this point, known as Newton’s Corner, that the river takes a sharp turn north eastwards to head towards Shardlow.
Before the Trent & Mersey came to Shardlow and turned it into one of England’s major inland canal ports, it had been a quiet riverside village named Wilden Ferry. The River Trent has now become a fairly substantial waterway and just east of Shardlow it becomes officially navigable for the first time. At the head of navigation, at Cavendish Bridge, is a boat yard and a fairly large marina. The navigable river meanders east for about 1½ miles to Derwent Mouth Junction where the Trent & Mersey Canal ends and runs into the river. In fact, this is a four-way junction as the River Derwent also enters the River Trent here. It has come from Derby, Cromford, Matlock and the far reaches of the Peak District. Before the Derby Canal was opened, the torturously meandering River Derwent was navigable to the centre of Derby.
Past the junction the River Trent Navigation passes under the M1 and then enters Sawley Cut while the original route of the river leaves the navigation via a weir on the north bank. The original river bends round and rejoins the navigation ¾ of a mile further east. Sawley Cut has 2 locks on it, one is just a flood lock while the second (Sawley Lock) takes the canal down 6 feet to the river’s new level. In fact, the second lock is actually two parallel locks, one being manually operated and the other being mechanised. Between the flood lock and Sawley Lock is Sawley Marina, one of the largest in the country. As well as the substantial off-line marina there are always many boats lining the banks of the cut.
At the east end of Sawley Cut, almost across the top of Sawley Lock, is a railway bridge carrying the line to the power stations at Castle Donnington and Willington. In the distance downstream, the massive cooling towers of Red Hill power station can also be seen and they loom nearer for the next ¾ of a mile as the River Trent Navigation heads towards Trent Lock. Confusingly there is no lock on the river at Trent Lock though there is one on the Erewash Canal which leaves the river and heads north towards Long Eaton, Sandiacre and Ilkestone. The tiny settlement around the junction has become a tourist attraction and anglers haven. There are two pubs and a farmyard “zoo” as well as plenty of room for picnics. At the junction, the River Trent curves south east though the Trent Navigation heads due east into Cranfleet Cut, a ½ mile canal section with Cranfleet Lock at the eastern end. The original river course is actually navigable for the first 400 yards south as this is the navigable route into the River Soar Navigation which, like the Erewash Canal, is part of the Grand Union Canal network. The River Soar runs into the River Trent alongside Red Hill power station having headed north through Leicester and Loughborough. The original River Trent heads east under a railway bridge at Red Hill power station and then down through a dangerous weir before rejoining the canalised section directly below Cranfleet Lock. The rest of the river’s course is well described in many canal guides so I will only give a brief description here. From Cranfleet Lock, which has a pretty accommodation bridge and a lock cottage (now used for the Nottingham Yacht Club HQ), the river travels for about 5 miles to Beeston Lock. On route, the general direction of the river is north east though it meanders quite a lot a it passes near to Thrumpton and Barton in Fabis. The River Erewash flows in from the north at Barton in Fabis while just past here the River Trent surrounds the picturesque Barton Island before passing a number of gravel pits which make up Attenborough Nature Reserve.
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At Beeston Lock the River Trent Navigation leaves the original river and heads north east on the Beeston Canal. This runs for almost 2 miles to Lenton Chain where it makes a junction onto the Nottingham Canal. To the north the Nottingham Canal has long since been closed while to the east it now forms the Trent Navigation’s main line. It travels right through the centre of Nottingham, turning sharply south after passing Castle Lock and the waterways museum to run back into the original river via Meadow Lane Lock at Trent Bridge. (For a fuller description of this section see the section on the Nottingham Canal). The original course of the River Trent meandered around the south side of Nottingham from Beeston Lock to Trent Bridge. To the west of Trent Bridge the river is still navigable for a short stretch. The river in Nottingham is very wide and lined with a promenade and park on its north bank – this is where the annual Nottingham Boat Show is held. At Trent Bridge, the ornate old structure crosses the river carrying the A60. On the north bank the Nottingham Canal (Trent Navigation) rejoins the river next to Notts. County FC while directly opposite on the south bank is Nottingham Forest FC and the Nottinghamshire cricket ground. Directly after these the disused Grantham Canal’s junction can be seen on the south side just before the A6011 crosses on a relatively new bridge. Past here the river heads out into a much less populated land.
Within 2 miles Nottingham racecourse is past on the north bank and then Holme Pierrepont Country Park with Nottingham International Rowing Course is past on the south bank. On the north side of the river (opposite the rowing course) is a meandering waterway which was once the River Trent’s main course. This now meets the current River Trent Navigation at Holme Lock and Sluices. Right alongside the lock is a white water canoe course, its top end makes a junction onto the river and it would actually be possible to steer a narrow boat down it if there weren’t barriers across its entrance – pity!
The stretch past Holme Pierrepont and Radcliffe-on-Trent is said to be delightfully rural with wide landscapes and woods in the distance. Also in this section is an oil terminal and a bridge carrying the Nottingham to Grantham railway. After 2 miles the river turns sharply from east to north and then passes an area known as The Cliffs which literally are shear cliffs rising from the river bank. Within another mile is the wonderfully secluded Stoke Bardolph Lock which was constructed to form an island and is said to be delightful. The original river bypasses the lock to the east through Stoke Bardolph Weir. There would appear to be no road access to the lock but just 1 mile north the village of Stoke Bardolph has spread to the river side. The Ferry Boat Inn is on the river bank and gives away the former purpose of this area. It is a very popular spot with day trippers and anglers.
The River Trent continues to gently meander for just over 4 miles in a north easterly direction till it reaches Gunthorpe where there is a lock about 600 yards east of the A6097 which is the first road to cross the river since Nottingham, 24 miles back. Gunthorpe Lock is mechanised and, like Stoke Bardolph, has a weir stream to the east.
Two miles east of Gunthorpe the river passes the west side of Toot Hill. Past here the forested cliffs of the Trent Hills stride along the river’s east bank. On the west side are the flat green plains of Nottinghamshire. About ½ a mile before Bleasby, a ferryman sits in his isolated hut at weekends to carry fishermen across the water while at Bleasby there is a waterside pub at the point where the river splits in two to form an island. The pub, the Star & Garter, has a gnome-filled garden and model village! The navigable route is to the west of the island, the channel curves slightly right and arrives at Hazelford Lock. This lock is surrounded by water with the eastern split of the river on one side and the weir stream on the other. The next village is Fiskerton where the river curves right for about 2 miles taking it from north west to south east. At Fiskerton there is a fine old wharf, one of very few places on the river where it is possible to moor a boat with ease. The south easterly direction lasts little more than a mile before the river begins to meander wildly as it heads north east into Newark-on-Trent. At one point it comes (briefly) right along side the A46 road – the Roman Foss Way.
Just before Newark the river passes through the pleasant village of Farndon. There is a boat club here and a small passenger ferry. Just past the village, old gravel pits have been turned into off-line moorings for pleasure boats. Just around the next meander the river splits into two. Averham Weir takes the main course of the river north around the outskirts of Newark while the navigable line (known as the Newark Branch) goes straight on towards the centre of town. After a right-left meander the canalised section runs past an old windmill by the A46 bridge. Next some old maltings are past and then a boatyard at the entrance to the River Devon which heads south to Bottesford and Muston (where the Grantham Canal crosses it) and then on into the Vale of Belvoir. Near to the River Devon’s confluence with the Trent Navigation is an old warehouse said to be “gently decaying” and displaying the words “Trent Navigation Company” on the side in fading letters. BW’s yard is next and then Newark Town Lock is reached with Newark Castle lining the southern bank shortly after the lock. The old Newark Lock (alongside the new one) can still be seen and is now used as a mooring for visiting pleasure craft. Just past the castle is a very old seven-arched bridge which carries the B6326. The narrow arches limit the size of boat that can pass through but it is an ancient monument and cannot be altered.
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Beyond the bridge is Newark Wharf and then Newark’s oldest industrial buildings – an old ironworks, maltings, brewery and glue works. At this point the navigation has been curving gently left but it now takes a sudden turn to the right near a weir on the left and then the route passes under the A46 and a railway to arrive at Newark Nether Lock with its new lock keepers cottage. After passing under another railway bridge, the main river course rejoins on the north bank and then the navigation passes under the modern A1 road bridge, surprisingly described as “graceful” in one guide. In all guide books the towpath appears to end at the A1 bridge. This is because there has been an on-going disagreement over the right of way. From here it is 3 miles north to Cromwell Lock, beyond which the River Trent is tidal. As usual there is a weir (on the east this time) and the towpath restarts here running on the west bank. Cromwell lock has been a significant point on the river for centuries. Long before the lock and weir was constructed, the Romans built a bridge here. The lock appears to be inaccessible by road though there is a lane running from the village of Cromwell, across the A1 and down to the lock, parking places are available near the lock. The scene here was certainly very pretty when I visited at 8am on a gorgeous sunny summer morning. The lock area is very well kept, there is a large lock cottage alongside and the lock keeper sits high above the huge lock in a tower. On the far side of the lock is the deafening sound of the weir though access is prohibited. The best (legal) view of it can be gained from the gantry of the lock keeper’s tower. I wangled this by going up to ask if I could cross the lock to see the weir. I knew he’d say no but I got the view I was after while being refused!
The river is 35 miles away from the Humber at this stage – as the crow flies – but because of its often torturous meandering, it is still 50 miles from the Humber as the boat flies!! The next section in particular is incredibly bendy but it also sees the first commercial craft on our journey. These make use of Besthorpe, Carlton and Sutton wharves where gravel is loaded from nearby pits. Also on this section, before the wharves, is an old converted windmill. This is probably the most rural section of the river so far though the green pasture land is punctuated at intervals by a number of power stations.
At Dunham is the first road bridge since Newark. This is a toll bridge carrying the A57, Lincoln road. Four miles further north is the junction where the Fossdyke Navigation heads off towards Lincoln and Boston. It is possible to reach the junction on foot by walking along the Fossdyke Navigation’s flood bank from Torksey Lock beside the A156.On the River Trent, Torksey Castle (a mansion) stands ruined to the north of the junction and Torksey Viaduct takes a railway line over the river. About 2 miles further north is Trent Port, a rather misleadingly named area which is nothing more than a wharf for the nearby village of Marton.
Its now around 8 meandering and rather featureless miles to Gainsborough where the A631 crosses the river. Although the town is said to be worth visiting, it is also said that the best view of it is from the river where old wharves and warehouses can be seen. Another 4 miles bring the navigation to West Stockwith where the Chesterfield Canal begins, heading west to Retford and Worksop. Of course it also reached Chesterfield once upon a time and restoration above Worksop is (1998) well under way. Just inside the tidal junction lock, on the Chesterfield Canal at West Stockwith, is a basin – home to the local yacht club. A few hundred yards farther north on the River Trent, and beside an unusual Georgian church, is the entrance to the River Idle.This is now completely blocked to navigation by massive flood gates but before the canal age it was the main waterway route into South Yorkshire. It ran for about 10 miles to Bawtry where goods were then carried to and from Doncaster, Rotherham and Sheffield. Later, in the 1600’s, Cornelius Vermuyden realigned the River Idle’s course when he drained the Isle of Axholme, considerably reducing the river’s effectiveness as a navigation. Later the River Don was made fully navigable and the River Idle was no longer needed. West Stockwith is said to be almost “intimate” with its tall three-storey buildings and narrow “gunnels”, or alleyways. It was once very busy too with five boatyards. Just 100 years ago it had a population of 5,000 – the number is now just 240. When I visited the village on a very hot summer day in 1997 I saw just 3 people! One was a woman in an ice cream shop which had no ice cream, the 2nd was a woman in a news agent shop and the last was a man waiting for a bus – where the other 237 people were, I have no idea. I walked right through the village and around the canal basin.It is possible to walk along the riverbank between the canal lock and the River Idle entrance. From the road bridge over the Idle you can see the large sluice gates on the river. On the far side of the River Trent is the village of East Stockwith, it is just 200 yards across the river but 12 miles away by road. West Stockwith is a lovely place – but eerily quiet!
The River Trent continues north, passing few villages but crossing under the new M180 after 6 miles. Unlike the previous isolated stretches, the river is now followed closely on each bank by minor roads. Around the point where the motorway crosses, the river begins to broaden steadily as it turns from a river into an estuary. Two miles north of the M180 is Althorpe where a railway and the A18 cross over. Within ½ a mile is Keadby where the Stainforth & Keadby Canal (Sheffield & South Yorkshire Navigation) heads off to the west. It is a very interesting junction with a pub and swing bridge on the road.Nearby is a modern power station and a few yards along the canal is a unique railway lift bridge. On the lock keeper’s hut are stickers warning about the dangers of rabies! This reminds you that this could well be the first stopping point for foreign boats.
From Keadby it is just 7 miles to Trent Falls where the River Trent ends and joins forces with the River Ouse to form the River Humber.