Grantham CanalOn Saturday I walked out of my house, stepped onto the canal and followed it to its end in Grantham 32 miles away. I have done this walk once, years ago, and have always wanted to do it again, so with the Millennium Ultra coming up I decided to have a little adventure.

The Grantham Canal meanders for 33 miles from Grantham through the Vale of Belvoir to join the River Trent at Nottingham. It was opened in 1797 to enable coal and other materials to be delivered from Nottingham to Grantham, but during the 19th century it faced stiff competition from the new railways that were able to deliver goods much faster. Eventually the canal fell into disuse and is no longer navigable as many of the locks are derelict and bridges have been lowered.

It runs straight past my house and is the first thing I see when I look out the window in the morning. I have watched the swans and coots raise their babies on it  and have used it for many a training run, so I have a special affection for this canal. I had decided to start the walk from my house rather than try to get to the beginning a mile further back, and after filling my flask I set off into the pre-dawn darkness.

First light

First light

The first part of the canal to Cotgrave is very familiar and I jogged along quite happily as dawn broke, gilding the tops of the trees in the country park with sunlight.  Last time I came this way there was no access along the canal under the A46 due to a road widening scheme but I was pleased to see that a new bridge and path have now been built under the road.

The rising sun gilding the tree tops

The rising sun gilding the tree tops

This stretch of the canal is dry, with trees and brambles growing in the canal bed and brickwork visible at the bottom of the locks.  As I passed Cropwell Bishop and headed towards Kinoulton the wind became fierce and unfortunately I was walking right into it- I tried to maintain a gentle jog but was forced to slow to a walk. I stopped for a rest and a cuppa next to the avenue of poplar trees planted by Sir William Jesse Hind in memory of his son Lt. Montagu Hind who was killed in action during the Battle of the Somme in WW1. The original poplars had to be felled in 1998 but new trees were planted for the Millennium and are already quite tall.

A dry lock near Cropwell Bishop

A dry lock near Cropwell Bishop

Apart from a brief flirtation with Hickling, the canal skirts villages rather than passing through. I could see the spires of distant churches peeking shyly through the trees, and as I neared Harby the magnificent profile of Belvoir Castle dominated the sky line. By this time I had changed direction and mercifully the wind was now at my back so walking was considerably easier. Although it was fairly cloudy with a few blustery showers driven by the wind, it was mainly a dry day with the sun breaking through the clouds now and then. This is a lovely stretch of the canal with swan families gliding by on the water and the remains of the ancient ridge and furrow farming systems seen in the fields sweeping down to meet the canal.

Clarke's bridge

Clark’s bridge

Belvoir Castle

Belvoir Castle

Once past Harby, the path becomes a wide grass track as this part of the canal is a designated Site of Scientific Interest due to the flora and fauna. Unfortunately it was quite muddy and slippery in places and I slithered towards Plungar, choosing to eat my sandwiches on a bench in sight of the village.

At Plungar there is a memorial to the crew of a WW2 Lancaster Bomber, all but one of whom tragically died when their aircraft crashed near to the canal.

The canal near Plungar

The canal near Plungar

The meandering nature of the canal is apparent on this stretch, as Belvoir Castle was left behind, only to reappear in front of me again at Redmile, and again near Muston. I was still managing to jog every so often and was surprised to notice that I felt quite strong. There are little white markers along the canal which mark every quarter mile distance from the Trent- I found myself eagerly scanning ahead for the next one and becoming disappointed when it turned out to be an old Styrofoam cup instead!

The doors... why??

The doors… why??

As I approached Woolsthorpe Flight locks and the Rutland Arms Inn (or the ‘Dirty Duck’ as it’s better known), I came across the curious spectacle of three bright yellow doors standing up in a clearing. I wondered whether they could be portals to other realms, but on reflection I think they were kind of installation art as I passed a load of painted wooden poles set into the ground further on, and then encountered a large ‘2012’ sign.

Woolsthorpe Flight locks with the 'Dirty Duck' beyond

Woolsthorpe Flight locks with the ‘Dirty Duck’ beyond

This part of the canal has been restored by the Grantham Canal Society, who’s mission is to restore the canal to full working order. I passed by working locks, boats and bridges that have been raised to allow vessels passage. As I neared Grantham I was amazed at the fact that I still felt pretty good- when I last walked the length of the canal my leg muscles were screaming by the end, yet today I was still able to lurch into my trademark shambling jog. I felt that I could have actually pushed myself a little more but decided not to risk an injury this close to the Millennium Challenge.

Approaching Grantham the canal’s progress is halted by the embankment carrying the A1 road, and the path skirts this, reaching the A607 and passing underneath the A1. I was able to rejoin the canal after a little road walking and followed it past a housing estate before it finally came to a sudden stop at a brick wall. It is that sudden- on one side of the road there is plastic bottle strewn green water, and on the other side… a tarmac car park, which would originally have been a basin of water to allow barges to turn.

The end of the canal

The end of the canal

Now you see it...

Now you see it…

... now you don't!

… now you don’t!

I bade a silent farewell to my companion of 32 miles and walked to the train station and my transport back to Nottingham. As I tried to hide my muddy feet and watched the now familiar fields and distant Belvoir Castle pass by in a blur, the irony of being on the very form of transport which eventually caused the decline of the canal was not lost on me.

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