The Grantham Canal Walk (4): Harby to Redmile

Stage four of the Grantham Canal Walk begins at Harby and follows the ancient waterway to the picturesque and popular village of Redmile.

Four go ‘fourth’ – that’s the fourth section of the Grantham Canal Walk on a stroll which almost didn’t happen due to wet weather. After a series of phone calls discussing various problems including a lack of the two cars necessary on the day to carry out our linear walking routine, we finally awoke in the morning to pouring rain. A quick rain check confirmed that we should postpone today’s walk. An hour later the show was back on as the heavens cleared enough for us to go for the Harby to Redmile section.

Four walkers today then, Mel, Barbara, Stu and Gino Dog! Gino came along to protect us from any killer rabbits along the canal. Gino enjoyed himself immensely sniffing, exploring and even in the early stages taking a dip in the canal – from which he had to be pulled out of!
We began today’s walk at Harby Mill Bridge, the point we had left the canal the previous week. The afternoon was now a surprisingly warm one with clear skies and the foliage around us drying in the sunshine. The early stages were characterised by little in the way of views due to the high hedgerow on one side and the very tall reeds clogging the canal. At times the canal could not be seen at all.

Gino Dog admiring the view over the Vale

One of the early points of interest were the ancient ridge and furrow fields in sight of the canal, these dating back to medieval times. Before long we approached Stathern Bridge with its wide turning place for the canal barges. Many of these old turning places are partially overgrown and hidden by colonies of reeds and Stathern was no exception. Certainly though with a little imagination the turning spots evoke previous times when the Grantham Canal was a hive of activity.

Canal turning point

An unusual sighting took us by surprise shortly on. A sizable gold coloured Koi carp languished in the water, followed by two other black Koi. We could only speculate as to the reason for the presence of these expensive creatures out here on the waterway.

The day grew duller again and the skies darkened as we approached Plungar village which lay a five minute walk south of the canal. Two rail bridges emained which carried services from the LNWR and GNR railways from Melton to Bingham. What remains of the trackbread with its cuttings and embankments serves as a wildlife habitat.

Passing the Old Wharf, now a pleasant and peaceful holiday home, we turned right and up the lane to Plungar village. We were aware of our slight lack of time and this prevented us from visiting the local church, St. Helens in order to view the story of ‘Reynard the Fox’ inscribed on the west wall of the building. No matter, we had seen our prey in the Anchor, a perfectly agreeable spot for a sit down and a pint in the back garden. Apparently as suggested by its name, the pub had originally been intended to have been built by the canal but ended up in the village in the form of a conversion of four local cottages. The Anchor is another Vale of Belvoir pub with an interesting and diverse past. It once served as the local courtroom! A few years ago, to a storm of protest, it had an uninspiring name change to The Belvoir Inn when it became rather run down. Thankfully the pub enjoys a larger and more satisfied clientèle these days.

Approaching Plungar

Happy days: Barbara and Gino at the Anchor, Plungar

A photo call and a quick inspection of the skies saw us back down the lane and setting off down the canal towpath again. Rain threatened us as we noted the presence of another small local village in the form of Barkestone-le-Vale. Far from the ‘Brigadoon’ imagined by us, Barkestone-le-vale showed us its tall church spire very soon after Plungar though sadly there was not enough time for an exploration on today’s walk.

Back on the towpath at Plungar: Mel and Gino inspect the route ahead

Barkstone still offered a slightly mysterious air with the sighting of what looked like a high barbed-wire encircled compound peeping out over the brow of a hill. Nor less the treatment plant situated adjacent the canal which one of our party was heard to proclaim as a modern subterranean ecological dwelling. I’m sticking with the treatment plant explanation though.

We had been fortunate with the rain holding off for most of the walk but were not spared ultimately. Jackets on in some cases, we pressed on through the now persistent drizzle which had been expected at some point, and on to our destination, the village of Redmile. A slight tremor of confusion, fear and disappointment ran through us as we approached Redmile Mill Bridge when we realised the towpath was cordoned off, barring our progress! Of course the whole point of our Grantham Canal wall is to walk all of it – would this ruin our chances of doing just that? We clambered through the fence onto the continuing towpath wondering just what we would find ahead. So near to Redmile yet so far. The answer came shortly with a couple of large crevices in the towpath, evidence of shifting land, one of which I almost appeared to drop into.

Not to be defeated, we tramped the last few hundred yards to Redmile and the welcoming Peacock Inn in the heavier and heavier rain, finally alighting the canal at the pretty Redmile Town Bridge. Stopping only for a quick photo call outside the Peacock, we stepped into dry surroundings and took a well deserved drink.

Almost there. Through the rain to the approaching Redmile Town Bridge

Redmile has a couple of claims to fame of a sort. Fairly recently the remodelled version of soap opera ‘Crossroads’ was partially filmed on location there as was Auf Weiderersehen Pet. Far more impressive to my ears though was to hear that Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy actually owned a home in the village many years ago. Stan’s sister, Olga ran The Black Bull Inn at nearby Bottesford, this being the famous comic’s link with the area.

The various mature four by four driving locals in The Peacock looked at our slightly wet and bedraggled appearance somewhat askance. If only Geno had been wetter – I’d have insisted on him shaking himself dry amongst them. I often think to myself what a shame that wonderful old villages such as Redmile are now often only the preserve of the more prosperous amongst us. Redmile is very typical of so many villages these days, no tradesmen, no shops, only expensive cottages with tell-tale larger windows where local people used to sell bread or the butcher might have traded. The streets lined bumper to bumper with one huge four-wheel drive vehicle after another and a pub which would enjoy taking sixty pounds per head for the opportunity to eat there. A pub resigned to a good portion of its snot-nosed clientele being no doubt prepared to pay that amount too.

Mel, Barbara and Geno at The Peacock. Mel’s cheerful demeanour is entirely unforced
Stu and Barbara in a thinly veiled attempt to avoid paying for the first round at the Peacock

It would be a pity to end this week’s Grantham Canal story on a sour note for truly I do like Redmile and its two pubs, The Peacock and The Windmill very much. I hope to spend some time there again in the future, after our visit next week to begin the next stage of the walk. I do wonder how some of the old-timers and former villagers from the past would view the area now though. Let the attractive village of Redmile not take the blame for this state of affairs though.

Next week takes us from Redmile to Woolsthorpe in our penultimate section of the Grantham Canal walk. What a pleasure and how educational this project has been so far. I await the final one-third of the journey with eager anticipation.

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