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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. For several generations the open waters of the canal basin and the views across the Vale of Belvoir have been our ‘Village Green’.

W0339a The Wharf (1920s)
W0339a The Wharf (1920s)

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.

Hickling Basin & Wharf Building:

Hickling Basin & Wharf Building (1990s MC)
Hickling Basin & Wharf Building (1990s MC)

The surviving wharf and wharf building was one of two wharfs sited in Hickling; the second one was attached to the Navigation Inn (now Bridge House) to the west of the bridge in Hickling. Dating from the construction of the canal in the 1790s its original form, particularly its distinctive lop-sided sloping roof, is still very much in evidence.

An article written in 1935 (Beauties of the Grantham Canal – below) looks back to the day-to-day routines around the canal; although the article isn’t entirely reliable, it records that (in its heyday) 20-30 boats might be moored at The Wharf next to The Navigation Inn (to the west of the road bridge) with horses stabled at The Navigation and the ‘navvies’ sleeping overnight at The Navigation and The Plough. The surviving Wharf building, sited next to the turning Basin to the east of the road bridge, was where the business was carried out – loading and unloading and providing a necessary turning circle for the Trent barges used to carry cargo.

The Hickling Basin is the only Basin/turning point along the 33-mile length of the Grantham canal. It is also the legendary location for the whale which, children were told, swam the canal at night and turned in the only space which was large enough – Hickling Basin.

Unfortunately, we don’t have any photographs of the Wharf Building during the working years of the canal (or the whale!); if you can help, please contact us.

The Navigation Inn – mooring wharf & stabling

The Navigation Inn was built in 1804 following the construction of the canal (completed in 1797) to accommodate the canal traffic and was sited to the west of the road bridge – it closed for business in 1912. In 1920 it was bought by Mrs Cart and converted into a house which was then named Bridge View.

It formed a second Wharf in Hickling and it was here that boats moored up for the night and accommodation for the boatmen (or ‘navvies’) was found either here or at the Plough Inn further up the road. The Navigation Inn would also have had extensive stabling for the horses which drew the barges.

(see article, below: Beauties of the Grantham Canal, written in 1935 and published in the Nottingham Guardian (author unknown).)

W1307a Canal, Basin & Bridge (dates?)
W1307a Canal, Basin & Bridge (post-1920?)

Trent Barges:

Rather than narrowboats, Trent Barges were the most usual type of vessel found on the Grantham Canal; although we have no photographs of one on the Hickling section there are a couple of great images of this type of barge at the Wharf in Cropwell Bishop. They were very functional, low-profile cargo vessels with either a small shelter or no cabin at all and were named after the vessels commonly used on the River Trent.

  • Trent Barges operated as an off-shoot of the main commercial business of the River Trent – transporting gravel and coal to Hull, for example. Their use on the Grantham Canal included transporting coal and for transporting Nottingham’s night soil out of the city to be used on the fields along the canal. The Basin in Hickling acted as a point to off-load and to turn the boats.
  • The Wharf Building was the location for a coal merchants well into the 1900s and there was a second Wharf alongside what was then called the Navigation Inn (now Bridge View) where the barges moored up overnight if necessary.         

“Lurking in a spoil heap on the Grantham Canal are the final remains of one of the last ‘Upper Trent Boats’. These wide beam dumb craft were horsedrawn and carried ‘night soil’ from Nottingham until the canal’s closure in the 1940s. In the 1970s, with some friends, we found the stem post and quickly realised what a unique opportunity for an archaeological dig this would be. So far I have found no takers so I am keeping the location secret. Only half the width of the boat is there and it has rotted to little more than a line in the soil so great care is needed if its details are ever to be recorded.” (Historic Inland Working Boats – website)

cropwell bishop wharf 1920s -
Cropwell Bishop wharf 1920s –
cropwell bishop wharf 1930s -
Cropwell Bishop wharf 1930s –

Night Soil (and clay pipes):

One of the most common cargoes travelling the Grantham Canal was night soil; in other words, the contents of the privies of Nottingham. This was brought from Nottingham on Trent Barges and spread on the fields along the canal – as the main turning point mid-way along the canal, Hickling Basin would have been a regular recipient of Nottingham’s beneficence and the fields would certainly have prospered as a result.

Night Soil - GCS post (10/21); clay pipes
Night Soil – GCS post (10/21); clay pipes

(GCS October 2021): an article written by the Grantham Canal Society notes that there were often other bits’n’pieces mixed in with the night soil which survive today and are frequently found in those fields which were spread with night soil; including broken pottery and clay pipes. “We’re grateful to Peter Hammond who has documented the clay pipes he’s found along the canal corridor (see image). Clay pipes were made in Nottingham and Grantham and some of these feature in the list – but many are far from home. On the list are several finds manufactured by the Starr family in Grantham. The Starr family, pipe makers of Grantham, operated during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It all started with Richard Starr of Newark in Nottinghamshire who died in 1840. Although not a pipe maker himself, his sons all became pipe makers as they lived in close proximity to two of Newark’s pipe makers, William Edmunds and John Lyne Simnett.”

Have you heard of Gong Farmers? A bit of a search for information on night soil led us to ‘The Worst Jobs in History’ TV programme & book; a gong farmer was a Tudor job title for the men whose job it was to remove a city’s waste at night. They were only allowed to work between the hours of 9pm and 5am and they had to live together in a separate part of town – they were relatively well paid, though. The word ‘gong’ derives from the Old English, ‘to go’ and/or the French for ‘cart away’ which may explain one of our modern euphemisms or it may just refer to the need to get rid of the poo!

Tony Robinson’s book includes some rather gruesome details of the daily lives of these men and the punishments inflicted if they didn’t follow the rules … Although sanitary arrangements had improved by the mid-1800s, working these barges of night soil would not have been a pleasant job for any of those involved.

night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (1)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (3)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (2)
night soil - Worst Job in the World extracts
night soil – Worst Job in the World extracts (4)

Would you like to know more about Night Soil?

A local group of field walkers called The Field Detectives are working on the archaeology and history of night soil; they can be contacted by email –

Field Detectives collection - night soil items
Field Detectives collection – night soil items
Field Detectives collection - night soil
Field Detectives collection – night soil
Field Detectives collection - night soil items
Field Detectives collection – night soil items
Stories from the Night Soil (Field Detectives)
Stories from the Night Soil (Field Detectives)

Canal Weighing Office/Building (Wharf)

W0748a Canal bridge along Main St (pre-1921)
W0748a Canal bridge along Main St (pre-1921)

(Wadkin Archive – labelling W0758 photograph from the canal bridge towards the Weigh Building) “Looking from the Canal Bridge: note the Navigation Inn sign on the right. On the left trees surround the Wharf House where Mr William Collishaw lived, also seen is the weighing office where Mr Collishaw sat and manipulated the weighing machine after vehicles had filled with coal, gravel, sand etc brought in barges on the canal and paid a fee on each load. The man seen on the left could be Mr Joseph Spencer, if so he lived at Bridge Farm, also conveyed corn, coal etc in his horse drawn barges on the canal via Nottingham and Grantham. Joseph Spencer died in March 1921 aged 77.”

At present, we don’t know exactly when it was built but it clearly links into the business interests of the Wharf Building. In July 1999 the Weighing Office was restored by the Faulks family; the windows were repaired, the chimney was rebuilt and the roof replaced.

Unlike other features of the Grantham Canal, the Weighing Office isn’t listed with English Heritage but it is a defining feature of this part of the village; latterly it has acquired an unofficial status as a village noticeboard.


Waymarker 220921
Waymarker 22/09/21

In the Grantham Canal Act of 1793 requirements are laid down for waymarkers along the route; these still exist although they are in various states of disrepair. Four of the Hickling posts are listed by English Heritage; those at 13miles from the Trent, 13¼, 13¾, and 14¾:

For example: “HICKLING GRANTHAM CANAL SK62NE 6/61 13¼ miles post approx. – 150 metres east of Main Street, Hickling – II Canal milepost. Late C18. Cast-iron post with rounded top and moulded edge. Raised letters read: “13¼ MILES FROM THE TRENT”. The figure 13¼ is painted on. The canal was authorised in 1793 and this section was built by James Green, Surveyor, employed by Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall. C Cove-Smith. The Grantham Canal Today, 1974.” (English Heritage – listings for Hickling)

The Grantham Canal Act 1793 (page 78):

“The Canal and Collateral Cut to be measured and Stones set up to ascertain the Rates.

“And be in further enacted, That the said intended Canal and Collateral Cut shall be measured, and Stones or Posts erected on the Sides thereof respectively, at a Quarter of a Mile Distance from each other, and that all Goods, Wares, and Merchandise which are made liable to the several Rates and Duties hereby imposed, that shall be navigated, carried, or conveyed upon the said intended Canal and Collateral Cut, up to or part any of the Stones or Posts to be erected, shall be charged with and pay the said Rates and Duties for One Quarter of a Mile for every Stone they shall pass by, in proportion to the Rates hereinbefore granted.” (Grantham Canal Act 1793 p.78)

As we pass these markers along the towpath now, they are casual reminders of how far we have walked but their original purpose was to determine the distance travelled by canal users and how much they owed in ‘Rates and Duties’ – the canal was in private ownership with shareholders to satisfy and, like the railways, every journey had a price.

Waymarker 220921
Waymarker 22/09/21
Waymarker 17022021
Waymarker 17/02/2021
Waymarkers Grantham Canal Act 1793 unbound - copyright Notts Arch
Waymarkers: Grantham Canal Act 1793 (copyright Notts Archives)

Original waymarker found in a garden (GCS September 2022):

(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker
(GCS) example of an original waymarker

Grantham Canal: Aqueduct over the River Smite (listed monument)

“SK72NW SK715295 7/64: HICKLING, GRANTHAM CANAL, Aquaduct over River Smite approx. 800 metres south-west of Long Clawson Bridge

“Canal aqueduct. Late C18. Brick. Single-span basket arch with three courses of brick voussoirs. Deep swept sides acting as buttresses. The arch is partly collapsed. The canal was authorised in 1793 and opened in 1797, this section was built by James Green, Surveyor, employed by Lord Middleton of Wollaton Hall. The aqueduct is also in the parish of Clawson, Hose and Harby, in Leicestershire. C Cove-Smith. The Grantham Canal Today, 1974.

“Listing NGR: SK7150529434” (The River Smite forms the boundary between Nottinghamshire (Hickling Parish) and Leicestershire (Clawson, Hose & Harby Parish; hence, this listing appears across both parishes.)

Smite-Canal Aqueduct - Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct – Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct - Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021
Smite-Canal Aqueduct – Eng Heritage image 1 Alan Murray-Rust Oct 2021

A Black Cat called Min & Hickling Fishermen (1939)

In 1939 the Nottingham Evening Post published the odd story of a cat who had learnt to steal fish from local anglers; some were amused, some were not … Min had to learn to swim quite quickly.

WWI: The Machine Gun Corps, the Belton Estate & the Grantham Canal

Research is very much ongoing and we would like to hear from anyone who has any information or photographs to help with this story.

Local resident, Mr Simon Lane, is looking into his grandfather’s history during WWI; he came from North Notts and was one of the first recruits to join the newly formed Machine Gun Corps. He understands that the establishment of this new Company brought about a brief revival in activity on the Grantham Canal when it was used to transport equipment and soldiers from Nottingham through to the Belton Estate near Grantham.

The Machine Gun Corps, which led to such great changes in strategy on the Front in Europe, had its training camp at Belton House in Lincolnshire (near Grantham) and the foundations of the buildings can still be seen just below the famous Folly:

Tommy Watchorn – Crutchy

Tommy Watchorn is one of those village characters whose name crops up regularly; as the commercial life of the canal declined, recreational trips in skulling craft became more common – Tommy Watchorn is the name most associated with these:

Winnie and Dora Collyer in front of Bridge House (c.1914-18)
Winnie and Dora Collyer in front of Bridge House (c.1914-18)
Wnews7 1968to1972 (136)
Wnews7 1968to1972 (136)

Scrapbook of Hickling:

  • (p.24) In 1854 the canal was bought by Ambergate Railway then to L.N.E. R., later to British Waterways Board in 1936 . The last commercial boat travelled in 1922 and was owned by a Mr.’Iky’ Slater. During the 1920 ‘s Tom Watchorn (“Crutchy”) would take parties of six or seven in a rowing boat, the favourite place being Devils Elbow between Kinoulton and Owthorpe . In the other direction the trip would be as far as Harby.
  • (p.31 – label) Tommy Watchorn (Crutchy) Donnie Simpson (?) Frank Dickman, Mr. Widdowson (Publican). Original photograph crumpled as it was sent to Tom Munks in France during the 1st World War.
  • (p.46) Mr.Tom Watchorn – known as ‘ Crutchy ‘ – was at one time a cobbler in the village. He worked and lived in what is now a shed but was a black hut inside the gate of ‘Bridge View ‘ when it was the ‘Navigation’ Public House.

Maggie’s Memories:

  • Mr.Tom Watchorn – known as ‘ Crutchy ‘ – was at one time a cobbler in the village. He worked and lived in what is now a shed but was a black hut inside the gate of ‘Bridge View ‘ when it was the ‘Navigation’ Public House.
  • (p.87) Mr Tommy Watchorn affectionately known as ‘Crutchie’ he was a cripple and as his nickname applies, used crutches. He lived in a wooden hut in what is now ‘Bridge View’ yard, he was the local cobbler (I have an article about Crutchie from a newspaper in one of my Scrapbooks). Tom owned a small boat which he kept on the Canal during the summer time, and would take parties out daily, there would be trips to Harby where tea would be taken at the village pub not far from the canal and to the ‘Devils Elbow’ which is a bend in the canal between Kinoulton and Owthorpe, and there was a little copse or spinney where a picnic tea was laid out on the grass. Tommy provided a small stove and kettle for boiling water, if the party was larger than the boat would carry Tom would hire a smaller one from the landlord of the Plough depending if one of the company could row, and sometimes one or two have cycled to Owthorpe canal bridge then along the bank of the water. There was always a large green cart umbrella under the seat in case of rain, and if a thunderstorm developed Tom would take his boat to the canal bank and have it securely fastened until the storm was over. I can remember being caught in a heavy storm, and we all huddled together under the large umbrella, naturally we children thought it most exciting, we also enjoyed swinging the wooden bridges to allow the boat through, there were many happy hours spent on that old boat on the Grantham Canal at Hickling. Tommy was also fond of fishing and during the season would often be seen sitting in his boat in the middle of the basin, and anglers would hire Tom and his boat for a day. During the winter months the only income Tommy had was from repairing boots and shoes. All Hickling residents admired Tommy Watchorn.

We hope to be able to work with The Grantham Canal Society to build a full history of the canal over time; in the meantime, the Society often shared some early photographs of the Grantham Canal in Hickling on their Facebook page:

Click on the book cover thumbnail to order a copy of the GCS guide to the Grantham Canal.

(GCS) My Holidays on Inland Waterways by P Bonthron (1916)

Written in 1916 there is a short section relating to the Hickling stretch. By this time the canal is largely disused and is difficult to navigate through weeds and low water. The travellers (who seem to be sculling) encounter just one barge during their two day journey and this is said to be carrying ‘one of the Railway Company chiefs making a tour of inspection’ – perhaps, a reference which dates the beginning of the process towards disuse in the 1920s and the formal remaindering of the waterway in 1936.

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.

Beauties of the Grantham Canal 1 Gamston Swing Bridge (GCS)
Beauties of the Grantham Canal 1 Gamston Swing Bridge (GCS)

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.

Good Fishing

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.

Beauties of the Grantham Canal 2 Hickling Bridge (GCS)
Beauties of the Grantham Canal 2 Hickling Bridge (GCS)

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 Valley

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.

Beauties of the Grantham Canal 3: Harby Mill (GCS)
Beauties of the Grantham Canal 3: Harby Mill (GCS)

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.

Beauties of the Grantham Canal 4 - Duke's Wharf & tramway leading to Belvoir Castle (GCS)
Beauties of the Grantham Canal 4 – Duke’s Wharf & tramway leading to Belvoir Castle (GCS)

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)


Hickling Wharf Building and Basin (highlights):

GCS: Boats launched 1977 & 1997:

As a remainder waterway boat usage is subject to licensing; at the time of writing (2022) the only boating license in place along the Grantham Canal is for the GCS trip boat which operates around Harlaxton.

Grantham Journal 8th Oct 1971 – Canal Rally:

From the Wadkin Archives:

Country fair Corn Dollies at the Wharf

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Grantham Canal – In the News (Wadkin Archives)

In the News – zoomed: