5 Hours / Day • 24 Locks
This route meanders lazy miles of open countryside south of Leicester, with far-reaching views whispering old secrets of corsets and hosiery, boots and shoes, and great cargoes of coal that once travelled from pit to factories to make this region prosperous.
Your journey begins at Market Harborough, a historic market town that has attracted shoppers ever since the early 1200s. Following the Grand Union Canal - Market Harborough Arm the route explores an unspoilt landscape with only the A6 briefly interrupting the silence where it crosses the canal. The canal heads towards Foxton, one of the highlights of the journey.
Don’t go up through Foxton Lock Flight, instead carry on northwards where there are good moorings to stop and explore. Foxton Lock Flight is a staircase flight of 10 locks scrambling 75ft uphill and since it first opened in 1812, has remained unspoilt by progress. In its heyday this lock flight was travelled by horse-pulled haulage boats laden with cargoes of sugar, tea, soap, tinned food, chemicals and paper.
Look out for the old stables opposite the top lock, and allow time to visit the museum and explore the remains of Foxton Inclined Plane. The plane once lifted boats from the canal at the bottom of the hill, hauling them over dry land to the higher levels. This method of lifting boats up the hill took a fraction of the time of travelling through the locks, but after only 10 years in service the plane was deemed too expensive to maintain and was abandoned in 1911.
Travelling onwards along the Grand Union Canal - Leicester Section, you will pass under bridges, cruise over an aqueduct, swoop round a great bend in the canal at Debdale Wharf and wiggle across open fields until you meet Saddington Tunnel. The story goes that a ghost known as Anna, the headless woman, hangs around in this old tunnel. But, of course no records exist to say whether the story is true or utterly made up. It was built in 1797 and is 880 yards (805m) from end to end, scarcely leaving the light behind, yet many boaters secretly take a deep breath before they enter willingly!
The tunnel isn't only a structure for boats, it does its bit for wildlife conservation too as it is also an important roost for bats. Just beyond Fleckney, the canal descends with the first of the locks and uplifting views soar across Wistow Park. If time allows there is plenty to explore along this stretch. Wiston le Dale Model Village is a short walk from Ivy Bridge (no.78), Brocks Hill Country Park & Environment Centre is a 2½-mile walk from Clifton Bridge (no.85) and ½ a mile north of bridge 87 is Wigston Framework Knitters’ Museum. Before entering the urban outskirts of Leicester, turn around at Kilby Canal Bridge (no.87), using the winding hole just beyond the bridge. Travelling back you’ll retrace the route to Union Wharf at Market Harborough, enjoying the best sights again from a new perspective.
The following are examples of the boats that you can hire from ABC Boat Hire at Union Wharf Marina:
Alvechurch Grebe - For a maximum of 4 people, 2+2 Berth, Length 49ft, Cruiser Stern
Alvechurch Eagle (6 berth) - For a maximum of 6 people, 4+3 Berth, Length 66ft, Cruiser Stern
Alvechurch Thrush - For a maximum of 6 people, 4+2 Berth, Length 66ft, Semi-traditional Stern
Alvechurch Eagle (7 berth) - For a maximum of 7 people, 4+3 Berth, Length 66ft, Cruiser Stern
Union Wharf Gosling - For a maximum of 8 people, 6+2 Berth, Length: 63FT, Semi-Traditional Stern
Alvechurch Owl - For a maximum of 10 people, 6+4 Berth, Length 70ft, Crusier Stern
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