The Grantham Canal runs through the north end of the village in an east/west direction on its way between Grantham and Nottingham. These days the canal is a remainder waterway and the Hickling section has changed over the last 100 years into a tranquil wildlife haven.
We are busy collating information for our canal pages and this will follow in due course; in the meantime, please contact us if you have any information or any questions.
We hope to be able to work with The Grantham Canal Society as time goes on; in the meantime, the Society shared some early photographs of the Grantham Canal in Hickling on their Facebook page, recently:
The Beauties of the Grantham Canal (1935)
A wonderfully idiosyncratic record of the canal and its villages at the end of the canal’s working life and just before it was remaindered (- although a little fact-checking may be needed?). This article was transcribed from an original article in the Nottinghamshire Guardian by Tony Jackson of the Grantham Canal Society. The name of the original author is not recorded; if you can help us to find a name or a copy of the original article, please contact us.
With our grateful thanks to the Grantham Canal Society for sharing the article and images.
A delightful old waterway is the Grantham Canal, endeared in the hearts of many Nottingham People. Connecting Grantham with the River Trent at Nottingham, and constructed about the year 1793, it is now disused. There is a Bill being presented to Parliament by the LNE Railway Company, owners and lessees, to relieve them of responsibility of cleansing and maintaining the canal. It is being watched very carefully by the Trent Fisheries Board, and local authorities whose domain it passes, in the best interest of the great general public. Following a sinuous course through the lovely Vale of Belvoir (NE Leics) all along it is charmingly pretty. The resort of anglers, artists, photographers and nature lovers, its varied flora, fauna and aquatic life make a strong appeal.
The old whitewashed bridges, now disappearing with the claims for modern transport for strong concrete and iron structures, have formed the subject of many a study. There is a peacefulness on the canal which might be more sought after, and a ramble by the banks is a tonic at all seasons of the year, especially to the jaded town dweller. It is very local, but away from the traffic, and here the motor car can be briefly forgotten. At the same time a car can be very useful to reach certain stretches and points of vantage, where many leafy alcoves can be found for a picnic.read more
Fifty years before the advent of the railway connecting the chief towns, the canal was used for cheap conveyance of agricultural and dairy produce to the markets, and in return it brought coal and building materials to numerous places through which it passes.
Throughout the entire length of some 33 miles, the angler may enjoy good course fishing, roach, bream, perch and tench abounding, and for the ardent ones when snow and ice are about, pike are numerous.
Some splendid specimen fish in our Wollaton Park museum came from these waters, particularly the great pike, nearly 30lbs, of only a year or two ago. Various permits can be purchased. West Bridgford Angling Association holds from Tollerton Bridge up from the Trent. There to the Foss Bridge at Cropwell is the Trent Fishery Board’s ticket. For the higher reaches various clubs and tickets are necessary, and everywhere the one shilling rod tax applies. Mention of all this is made because many a holiday jaunt or picnic is spoilt through what may appear to be an innocent bit of fishing in the canal.
It will interest readers if we describe the tour, starting from where the canal empties near Trent Bridge, Nottm to the Wharf Yard, at Grantham, where it begins. Such a tour can easily be undertaken rambling along the banks and be planned in two or three sections. The whole route is easy of access, and bus services excellent – nice to know in case of inclement weather or fatigue. Refectory arrangements are also good at many inns en route, and particularly the good old ‘ham and eggs’ can be enjoyed with gusto. On a long trek of this kind see to the feet, good well fitting boots, and an ash plant, with no other luggage, make for progress. It is really surprising the ease with which many miles can be covered on the canal bank. There are no hills, you are not in fear of being run down by a motor car, and with a fresh point of interest in view at every turn of the water’s meanderings, the rambler is, as it were, goaded along without knowing it.
Haunt of Heron
To come back to our tour, we leave West Bridgford with its fringe of modern housing soon abutting on both sides of the canal, and there take the tow path at Gamston Bridge. We are soon in the environment of Tollerton Aerodrome and looking back on Nottingham we get some excellent views of the city’s expansion and feel with some pride, as all good citizen’s should that are attached to it. Nottingham takes a leading place in modern housing and beautifying of surroundings, as witness the Trent Embankment, which is not excelled anywhere in the country.
Passing along, we come in another mile to Bassingfield Basin, a widening of the water course, to allow in the old days of boats turning, tying up for the night, or handling cargo for that particular village or place. These basins are frequent at all villages en route, usually near a road bridge, although some have filled up, and only traces remain for the keen observer. Hereabouts the heron, largest of our familiar birds, is frequently seen by those with a keen eye, and always at some distance, for he strongly objects to intrusion on his solitude. A contemporary stated recently that this most lonely bird was now very rare, but ten were counted the other day in a field by the canal, and a like number at Averham weir, down the Trent. There was formally a heronry in Colwick Woods before road improvements, and the general encroachment of buildings. Last summer, in some tall willows in land adjoining the canal at Owthorpe, a pair nested with some success, so that with all events with us, there is no danger of extinction. Like the otter, the heron takes a few fish, but the balance is in his favour, by reason of the vermin and other pests destroyed.
Pass the pretty scene at the Lock House, where lovely old trees overhang, we come to Cotgrave, probably the oldest village in the district. It is a mile from the canal bridge, but if visited, the waterside can be regained in a short walk on the lane to Stragglethorpe.
We hear a trickling over the hedge, and if we investigate above the lock, we find a sill, where the water runs over, or perhaps a small culvert under the towpath, to return to the pond below the lock. Suck overflow is a safety valve, and is part of the Belvoir Hills and the castle. Another mile on a bend, with their sedge and Bullrush-grown basins brings us to the salubrious Devil’s Elbow, as the name implies, a very sharp left hand turn in a pleasant setting, with the trill of watercress brook rushing off to join the River Smite not far away.
Next is an occupation bridge, leading up to a farm christened Vimy Ridge, and the retreat of ex-officers after the war. Note its prominent concrete silo, a tower likened to a huge vacuum flask for preserving green cattle food for the winter.
The basin here commences a stretch of good fishing, especially tench in the hot summer months. It is called Kinoulton and the red brick church at the canal bridge, with surrounding thatched cottages makes a pretty scene. If the waterside be left here the wandering village street, leading down to the ‘Hind Arms’, is full of interest, and a walk then to Hickling by the road does not forfeit anything of the canal side in any way of beauty as it is here rather plain.
Hickling, famous for its ‘Basin’, the largest on the waterway, is a fine though non-progressive village but must have been of some importance in the old transport days. It would ‘put up’ for the night some 20 to 30 boats and horses at the Navigation Inn with overflow accommodation at the Plough next door. The first named and the Wheel, a hundred yards down the road have long since ceased to function, but with euphony in the titles for those who recollect the grand old inns, remembering their usefulness. For anglers, when the railway acquired the canal, the traffic quietened down, the slabs of slimy bream held a particular fascination and many stories of large pike and monstrous eels are still told to the younger aspirants. It was here that the record otter for the county met his fate, to grace to this day our local museum at Wollaton Park.
Proceeding, we follow a pleasant bank, past three swing bridges, where villagers are wont to bathe in safety, after the broiling hot summer days, and come upon Clawson brick bridge, just past where the River Smite, the boundary of Leicestershire runs under the canal. A fox cover is noted on the right in a wide bend and then Hose basin at the corner of which, on the offside, reached from the bridge a little way back, is a stile and a footpath leading up through one or two fields to the village.
The next stretch is the valley, rather sheltered and pretty, where, as on the past mile or two of bank grass snakes disport themselves in the very hot weather. One can come upon them closely if quiet, coiled up on the dry bank and bare earth, and when startled, to see them leap in and swim the canal, with pointed snout and little beady eyes always above water, is an arresting sight. Young ones can often be caught in the landing net when fishing. They are absorbingly pretty and quite harmless. The water vole is everywhere, a clean living little fellow, not afraid, and he will give you, whilst sitting up under the opposite bank, a demonstration of toilet etiquette if you remain quiet.
Have a rest on the edge of the grassy bank and watch that aquatic beetle, the water boatman, he swims upside down and backwards – and that gaudy blue dragonfly, destroying on a flag stem or floating leaf, his green companion. He submerges that frail body and sinks it to the bottom of the pool, a feat no human could perform. These and many interesting things you observe, without any special biological knowledge,
To resume our tour, Harby Mill looms before us, a magnificent example remaining to remind us of bygone days. The road here leading to the village provides a return to the next bridge, where are the remains of a one-time brewery. At Harby a fine old church has a brass tablet with the inscription: Here died* Eleanor of Castile, Queen of England, Nov 27th AD 1290
A Notable Worthy
With the mention of Harby, many readers will remember (especially those who are anglers), a notable named Tom Watchorn, known as ‘Crutchy’ by reason of a life long deformity. He passed a great deal of his life, and almost until his death a few years ago, resident on the canal. His old boat, on which he lived and slept most of the year round, was a marvel of ingenuity and condition. Lockers fore and aft, seats boxed in solid, and other contrivances revealed bedding, a complete change of clothing and boots for Sunday best, tools for woodworking, boot repairing, tailoring and every requirement. You could have hair cut, shave, teeth drawn and balm for all ills prepared from natures wayside products. Tom was a craftsman and keen fisher. He led a clean and good life and with his natural disability and limited resources, could overcome almost any difficulty. He slept aboard under the canopy of heaven during most of his long life, only bending his willows and drawing over a canvas roof on the worst of rainy and stormy nights. His later years were spent at Hickling Basin where in the summer he plied for hire and had a comfortable hut ashore for the winter.
Onwards from Harby we reach the lonely Stathern Basin, and come within sight of the railway again the first time since we set out. The station is Harby and Stathern, and the latter village, called locally ‘Statton’ nestles sweetly under the lee of the great Belvoir Woods. It is unspoiled and full of interest with good accommodation.
Stathern being wide of the canal, keep to the bank, and just beyond, under the railway bridge, near the cattle creep, kingfishers nest in the banks of the Rundle Beck. Owls of enormous size waft their way along the hedgerows hereabouts in the evening’s twilight, and wild nature is represented in almost every way.
Under the next railway bridge, the next place we reach bears the somewhat fearsome name of Plungar, a quiet retiring village, with the butcher’s shop at the basin bridge. Barkestone-cum-Plungar is even more disturbing, but with its Rope and Anchor Inn make for more assurance.
The railway hugs the water now for a considerable distance, and the small lone post mill on the hill reminds us we have arrived at Barkestone.
Another mile and the canal wheels off to the right, on a snaky course to the Little Peacock, at Redmile, near the bridge. From here, up a straight road, it is two miles to the famous Belvoir Castle, which in itself commands a chapter for description. As we on a tour of water, the famous Knipton Reservoir may be mentioned, with its alpine setting of lovely forest trees. It gives birth to the River Devon, running into the Trent as one enters Newark. Originally constructed as a reserve for the canal, it can be viewed from roads adjoining its banks. An interesting nature note concerns the Kennel Lakes – a fisherman’s Eldorado, but very strictly preserved. Here is the sanctuary of the osprey, probably the only place where this beautiful bird of prey breeds in England, and it takes an enormous toll of fish life.
Back in the canal side at Redmile, at some distance we come to a fine old relic of a windmill at Bottesford Wharf, and further on to Muston, where the derelict railway and rolling stock formerly serving the castle, may still be inspected at the basin. A feeder here will be noticed running in, and upwards of the Lincolnshire boundary is marked by the River Devon running underneath the canal. Here and at Woolsthorpe the scenery, especially in the Spring when May blossoms are out, is very beautiful.
Denton Reservoir provides yet another water supply for the canal, and it can be visited, for a walk completely around, in charming surroundings.
Next comes a fine stretch of canal, where stately overhanging trees meet, but soon sounds of busy road traffic announce the fact that Grantham is not far off. In sight of the old tannery yard, gas-works, coal heaps we lose interest from the nature point of view, but arriving at the old wharf, we stand on what is the end of this grand old cut, a relic of usefulness, but remaining to give health to all those who seek it in the solitude and simple grandeur of its course.
(* the author cites the wrong Harby here – it is Harby in Lincolnshire which is associated with Eleanor of Castile)
Snowy January (25/1/2021)
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