The Grantham Canal Walk continues with the second stage between Cotgrave and the pretty village of Kinoulton in The Vale of Belvoir. Today’s walk features the sad tale of Vimy Ridge Farm.
The second stage of the walk commenced today in much cooler conditions than the previous occasion’s steamy, sapping and summer’s day. Indeed the weather forecast had been less than auspicious.
Barbara and I began by driving out to the day’s walk destination, the pretty Nottinghamshire village of Kinoulton and leaving a car for our eventual arrival later in the day. We then drove together to the now familiar point in Cotgrave from where we had left off from our summer sojourn one week ago. Skipping smartly up Hollygate Lane after a quick sandwich buying pause, we quickly retraced our steps from the previous stage and headed off cheerfully down the canal towards Fosse Bridge.
The section today was to feature a dry area of around three miles and this was quickly evident in the late morning breeze as we viewed the original lock near the Fosse. With overgrown conditions choking the old canal bed, it was difficult, sadly, to imagine how a total refurbishment of the old waterway could be financially justified. This is a situation that is exacerbated by the preponderance of the building of culverts and other obstacles that have made the canal unnavigable for many decades.
Fosse Lock and a dry section of the canal that was typical of much of today’s walk. Another symptom of the now tinder dry canal bed was the apparent lack of wildlife surrounding this part of our journey, though not completely so as shall be observed later!
Strolling on, we soon approached Cropwell Town Bridge, on this occasion ignoring the village of Cropwell Bishop viewable to our left along the inviting lane as we pressed on. The crossing was once the site of a roving bridge. This type of bridge, of which there was only one along the Grantham Canal, was designed in order to allow the canal boat horses to switch to a towpath on the opposite bank without unhitching.
As we were passed by two young female cyclists – only our second or third encounter with other users of the canal today, the rain that had occasionally threatened finally broke through and sent Barbara I and scurrying for our waterproofs. On our left stood the old mill and large buildings which had apparently been used in the days of gypsum mining in the locality but we were in little mood for stopping and exploring as the heaven’s aperture widened.
We wandered along the atmospheric and enclosed area behind the hamlet of Blue Hill – the latter being named after the colour of the clay in the area which had been used to line the canal bed. The rain became heavier, more persistent and threatening. Alighting from the canal at Colston Bridge in the midst of a downpour we were soon both in a very wet and bedraggled state – our first minor challenge of resolve on the walk!
A pensive looking Barbara considers when she will ever see her loved ones and a pint of bitter shandy again.
As we sheltered under a tree, feeling fairly sorry for ourselves it has to be said, Barbara suggested curtailing the walk by taking a short-cut walk back to Cotgrave. Feeling inwardly slightly crushed at this eminently sensible suggestion, I offered that we might head up to the Limekiln pub in the distance up the lane and repair to dry off over a drink? Maybe we would feel better after that? It was one of those moments we experience in life when I wasn‘t exactly sure whether to laugh or cry and yes I did feel sorry for Barbara as she looked perfectly miserable momentarily!
Of course we took the only option that two walkers can in such circumstance – we went to the pub! A quick dry-off, a drink, and a smile about our fate soon had us fortified and ready to continue towards Kinoulton.
Whilst Stu, bloodied but unbowed, is suitably fortified by a pint of ‘Irish Reviving Fluid’.
A pretty spot in Fishpond Wood soon presented itself to us as a suitable spot for lunch. We sat by a rustic wooden sheep bridge on a carefully placed bench shrouded by trees, rested awhile and ate.
We were back actually by a canal with water in it by this stage and of course our old nemesis returned – a single killer swan! Luckily our foe was several feet below us in the watery puddle but as can be viewed from the following picture, Barbara still had some concerns as to its presence. She still had full use of both her arms ten miles into the canal walk and understandably wanted that to remain the case. Note the theatrical way in which my walking partner reacted to the swan. Make no mistake this photograph was not posed. Much.
The Killer Swan considers the situation calmly whilst Barbara recoils in terror.
Obviously the killer swan totally ignored the two immature in spirit walkers and we resumed out trek towards Spencer’s Bridge where the canal appeared fully in water again and further on to Irish Jack’s Bridge. As we reached the first crossing we remarked upon the lack of people in our environment. ‘We could be the only two people on earth’ stated Barbara as we fixed on the notion that the Grantham Canal sure is the place to get away from it all.
The isolation was broken by a young woman in the next field out taking a constitutional walking a lion cub. Ignoring the obvious danger, we pontificated upon the risk of death from the electricity pylons above our heads and just why could that sparrow sit up there without as much as a flinch? The young woman’s reigned pet was still the subject of some conversation – was it a lion, was it a ‘canal bat’, maybe even a Grantham Canal Snake – no – it was a Yorkshire Terrier which considering our early prognosis came as something of a relief to the pair.
Another critical situation appeared on our horizon with the approaching ‘Devil’s Elbow’ stretch of the water. Of course Barbara attempted to console me but my fear at negotiating the satanically-named section obviously convulsed me – in laughter! Yes, I still feel the undertones of evil…
Near Spencer’s Bridge…and all manner of danger!
A more poignant story followed our earlier spoken hysteria. The story of Vimy Ridge Farm is a somewhat sad one, but a tale that should be noted by any person finding them self in this quiet little part of the world. The former owner, Sir Jessie William Hinde, of Pasture Hill Farm as it was previously known planted a line of 184 Lombardy poplar trees to commemorate the death of his son, Lt. Francis Montague Hinde and his comrades who perished at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. One poplar representing each person who died on that fateful day. Some of the poplars remain along the old access to Vimy Ridge Farm whilst others have now perished just as those men did. Such is the way of the world and nature.
One can only speculate on the huge sadness of this father losing his son in his conspicuous showing of grief all those years ago. Perhaps any person passing along the romantic canal should pause awhile and consider how this man must have felt and of his enduring reminder of his son and his colleagues fate in that foreign land.
The plaintive, forlorn looking and derelict Vimy Ridge Farm stands as testament to its own sad story.
As we walked away from the sad story of Vimy Ridge Farm, we emerged from our day on the canal onto a country lane at Kinoulton. Another day of memories, sights, fun and companionship almost to be behind us. Shortly afterwards we found ourselves adjacent St. Luke’s Church, something of an unusual ecclesiastical construction in this part of the world being built of red brick, dating back to 1793. Never being ones to pass a churchyard and all the secrets and stories that such places hold, we passed through the old burial ground and viewed the familiar and repetitive local names on the silent stones. Curiously one grave was set completely alone in an isolated corner of the church yard well away from any other. We could only surmise why this would be but settled on Barbara’s notion of it being a ‘naughty boy’s’ corner!
Satisfied by this explanation we stepped down along the quiet lane back to our vehicle. Only during a last moment photo call at the exterior of The Nevile Arms pub did we decide upon a drink to celebrate another successful day’s walk. You see there was the reception for a local funeral being held in the public bar as we approached and well-one doesn’t like to intrude upon these affairs. Fortunately (?) we noticed the lounge was completely deserted and entered the somewhat garish and confused looking large room and attempted to obtain a little service. ‘Stage’ talking turned to stage shouting before attention was gained and a couple of pints procured.
The Nevile Arms, Kinoulton
The Italian psuedo-operatic strains of Dean Martin and the wails of Sammy junior rung out in the empty lounge as we settled down to plan the next stage and next week. Steadying ourselves against the giddy decor of carpet, wall covering and furniture, map wheel contacted map and a destination of Harby from our present location in Kinoulton was summarily agreed upon in good cheer and anticipation.
As I write this, my conversation with Barbara about last week’s walk comes very much to mind. We both agreed that whilst the walk itself is eminently satisfying and enjoyable, some of the real joy and warmth of the day also comes in the reflection for some days and perhaps much longer afterwards. This is very much how I feel today when I talk of yesterday’s walk from Cotgrave to Kinoulton. The summer holidays are still young and there are further adventures to come along the Grantham Canal, of that there can be no doubt. I can only look forward in eager anticipation of those happy days to come.