The Grantham Canal Walk (5): Redmile to Woolsthorpe
The walk resumes today from The Peacock pub at Redmile and on to sleepy Woolsthorpe in the shadow of Belvoir Castle. the canal reveals another interesting historical story today about a horse-drawn tramway and manifests the waterway’s industrial past in the ‘Woolsthorpe Flight…
The Fifth Dimension.
Once again we had a quartet of canal walkers padding the towpath today. Barbara, Mel, Stu and Gino Dog. To re-trace our steps we met by The Chequers Inn in the dreamy village of Woolsthorpe, dominated by the imposing presence of Belvoir Castle standing high on Blackberry Hill, residence of the Duke and Duchess of Rutland.
Leaving a car we drove back to The Peacock at Redmile, starting our walk at 11.40am. Our penultimate section today would be of six miles duration, leaving a similar distance for the finale into Grantham next week.
Debating whether I’d be welcome at The Peacock after some forthright views last week we headed over Redmile Town Bridge, down the steps and back onto the canal. The day was one of sunny intervals and it was an interesting comparison to make with the first days of the Grantham Canal walk in what was almost long-forgotten sweltering heat of summer.
The area of the canal from Redmile is an extremely lush one with an unsurfaced grassy path. Almost immediately we came across an, as usual overgrown, winding hole (turning place) for the old canal boats which would have served Redmile village. The undergrowth and vegetation around the area was unusually lush, belying the baking hot summer days in our recent memory.
Before long the towering Belvoir Castle came back into our view to the right over the far bank of the canal. This part of the country seems almost completely dominated by the castle or alternatively ‘The Lady of the Vale’, St. Mary’s Church at Bottesford.
At a point which not coincidentally was the closest to the castle, we approached Muston (pronounced ‘Musson’) Gorse Bridge. The bridge to the uneducated eye appears of little interest or note, that is unless one knows the story behind it. It was here that eighteen years after the canal was built in 1815 that the Duke of Rutland had a horse-drawn tramway constructed from the canal to Belvoir Castle. The Duke’s original intention had been to build a branch canal from the Grantham Canal but he was dissuaded from this due to the impractical need for the many locks to take a waterway up the steep gradient to the castle.
Barbara and Gino take a break
The tramway was very modern in its day being made from metal rails in a ‘fish belly’ shape in which the centre of the rail was thicker. The tramway served the castle for over a hundred years carrying coal and other general supplies until it ceased to operate in 1918. With a little imagination it is possible to envisage the unmade track as it now is with the tramway running up Blackberry Hill to Belvoir Castle.
A little further on from Muston Gorse Bridge we noted the ‘Knipton Feeder’. This is a small stream which runs from the nearby Knipton Reservoir beyond Belvoir Castle and offers a supply of water to the canal. Shortly afterwards came another milestone, that of the county boundary between Leicestershire and Lincolnshire – the final of the three counties that our canal walk takes us through. The boundary stone which we almost walked by without noticing lay partially obscured in a hedgerow and was comically spelt County ‘Boundry’!
For me personally this area of the walk offered some the prettiest scenery of the whole canal. Some of the wider stretches curving gracefully lined by weeping willows were very worth a longer stay to admire the views.As we approached the end of the ‘Twenty Mile Pound’ of single gradient the first of the seven locks of the ‘Woolshorpe Flight’ came into view. It was not difficult to imagine the canal boats of old and their crews negotiating the locks even though in most cases they now lie broken down and awaiting restoration if the canal is to ever be navigable once more.
Beyond Stenwith Bridge lay a mile-long straight along the grassy towpath and on to Woolshorpe. The Viking Way, an ancient 141 mile trading and droving route which runs from the banks of the River Humber to it’s destination at Rutland Water near Oakham in Leicestershire coincides here with the canal towpath for a few miles.
We continued walking through an avenue of trees by the water until reaching the ‘Dirty Duck’ pub which stands adjacent the canal. The pub’s actual name is ‘The Rutland Arms’ and was used by the original canal boat men. Years ago it had a second name – ‘The Brown Duck’ which is why it’s now known by its present name.
Before climbing the pleasant bridge by the pub we noted the old ‘Carpenter’s Shop’ building just before the pub. Although the red brick building is not particularly notable to the eye, it was here that the many tradesmen such as blacksmiths and carpenters who serviced the canal worked.
The Dirty Duck pub was still announcing ‘Merry Christmas’ on a sign on its exterior wall. Thankfully here on the 22nd of August the proprietors had thoughtfully not switched the illuminated sign on. The pub owns a small caravan site to the rear and at this time of year it is quite active with families and children playing in the area behind the pub. One cannot help but think the Dirty Duck’s magnificent setting right by the Grantham Canal and Woolsthorpe Wharf is somewhat wasted. The row of seats sitting by the canal is at the edge of car park which detracts from the beautiful view with a glance over the motley collection of Fords and Rovers. Inside the Dirty Duck there are two rooms with a bar that serves both. It appears to be a pub that really can’t decide what it wants to be – an eatery or a bar serving people who want a pint by the canal. In the end it does neither particularly well though it should be said that this pub is only one of two that are directly situated by the canal – the other being The Plough at Hickling – and is most welcome for all that.
Approaching The Dirty Duck at Woolsthorpe
After a cooling drink sitting by the waterside we left the stark brick walls of the Dirty Duck behind us and set off down to Woolsthorpe village where our car lay. Woolsthorpe has an interesting history which was based on ironstone mining which took place up the hill from the village at Brewers Grave. The ironstone in those days was brought by rail down the ill to the village and onwards to its various destinations. The original village was an Anglo-Saxon settlement and was also situated further up the hill before it moved down into its present location by the banks of the River Devon.
Woolsthorpe boasts a pleasant, well-run pub-restaurant The Chequers Inn which as an idyllic situation secreted up a small crescent of the man street. To the rear is a somewhat unlikely looking cricket pitch with several gradients but just the ticket for a pint in the sun watching the flannelled fools.
So the end of walk five then and one more to come. It seems a suitable time to take stock and look back at the summer on the canal and think of the many pleasant and interesting sites along the towpath. The walk began back at Lady Bay in Nottingham in searing heat a month previously and has developed into a local history lesson through the sun, showers and fun along the way. Next week the final section of the walk is from the Dirty Duck at Woolsthorpe and into Grantham itself, the town that’s most well-known natives were Sir Isaac Newton and Margaret Thatcher.
I’m sure that the sixth and final section will fully live up to the five we have now completed.