So here we are bar the shouting. The sixth and final stage of the Grantham Canal Walk. The day’s walking began late as we waited upon the passing of a hugely stormy sky and torrential rain. We finally alighted from the car at The Dirty Duck at Woolsthorpe and set on our way to the final destination of Grantham. All good things come to an end as they say but we look forward to walking the Grantham Canal again one day…
The final stage…
It was with a little sadness that we contemplated the final stage of our Grantham Canal walk before we set out today. The walk has been so enjoyable and interesting and perhaps there was a small feeling that we didn’t want it to end. The five previous walks seem to have flashed past and yet the first day we set foot on the canal from near Lady Bay Bridge in Nottingham in the sunshine seems some time ago now.
Three walkers were present today, Barbara, Mel and Stu. The plan was to meet later than the customary morning rendezvous, at 4pm at Grantham Train Station, deposit a car and drive back to The Dirty Duck by Woolsthorpe. Upon arriving in Grantham town centre we were greeted by an inky black sky complete with lightning and heavy rain threatening.
As we arrived at The Dirty Duck and prepared for the walk with our jackets donned ready for the expected rainfall, the heavens opened and we dashed back for the shelter of the car. Perhaps if we took cover for a few moments we could enjoy at least a dry beginning to our final walk?
After fifteen or twenty minutes of waiting where potential glumness was defeated by a hearty spirit and a joke or two, we inspected the skies and strode off down the canal. Carefully we trod underneath Woolsthorpe Bridge by the wharf in order not to miss any part of the towpath route.
The final walk begins: Woolsthorpe Bridge
Woolsthorpe has a series of three locks that have been restored into full working order by the loving work of the Grantham Canal Partnership, a body of people committed to breathing life back into the ancient waterway. The work at Woolsthorpe on the locks now provides a decent, navigable and particularly attractive stretch of water for potential boaters. To offer an insight into how exacting this work is, the initial lock that was restored began by volunteers shovelling out fully five feet of mud that had gathered on the canal bed before any other work could be carried out!
Barbara and Mel navigating
Just after the canal takes a sharp swing to the left, the towpath parts company with The Viking Way at Longmoor Bridge. The latter heads uphill towards Cliff Wood and Brewers Grave. It appears that the original construction of the canal would have re-routed the more ancient pathway back in the late 18th Century.
Fluffy white clouds and a handsome path to tread
From around this area the landscape from the canal became distinctly hillier as we approached the elegant Bridle Bridge. The bridge has in recent years been rebuilt in an aesthetically pleasing Venetian style in order to permit the navigation of boats underneath it. Certainly it is one of the more appealing man made sights along the whole canal. There was good comparison to make with the following crossing, Casthorpe Bridge constructed in a utilitarian manner out of cold and bland concrete. At least it had been purposely re- built at a sufficient height to allow the passing of boats underneath, having one eye on the potential future of the waterway.
The Venetian style, Bridle Bridge
By now the three of us had our coats off as the late afternoon sun shone on the canal and warmed us. Our patient wait for the rain to abate at the beginning had been worthwhile as we enjoyed the soft light afforded the vegetation in the water.
Water hyacinths lay grouped in the canal with their shallow water-borne roots and pockets of air keeping these curious little plants afloat. It’s good to occasionally take a little time and study the nature by the canal for like anywhere there are pockets of surprising natural interest. One of the most common sights of the summer had been the proliferation of colourful dragonflies busily dipping the water and reeds of the canal and we were treated to a close up view of one nestling upon a hawthorn hedgerow. Its colours of beaded white pearls topped by a dot of almost electric blue.
Presently we approached Denton Wharf sitting on the far bank. More evidence of some excellent work is to be viewed here with a new slipway for the boats and a small picnic area sitting by the original red brick Denton Bridge with its name hand painted underneath. Shortly afterwards the further influence of the lovely village of Denton was noted with the spotting of the Denton Feeder. This is a small stream which snakes down the hill from the secluded tree lined Denton Reservoir which was built specifically as a water supply for the canal.
Passing another winding hole with a dappled sun filtering through the trees by the canal, we were afforded the splendid view of a pair of swans followed in single file by their now customary seven cygnets. The cygnets are almost grown now and it almost seems like we have come to know them personally as we have watched them grow through the summer. A rare camera opportunity and one of those timeless moments that one remembers we considered.
We entered the area of the canal known as the Harlaxton cut which I understand to be a feat of engineering allowing the continuation of the waterway for a half mile via a dug out cutting. It was increasingly difficult in this beautiful environment to not want the walk to end and it was personally with a somewhat heavy heart that we strode on, inevitably towards the end of the Grantham Canal, bathed in the early evening sunshine.
Harlaxton Bridge is situated in the very atmospheric cutting. From the bridge the small lane heads up the Harlaxton Drift to Harlaxton Manor, now owned by a US University, sitting above an admirable main village. In the opposite direction lay the village of Barrowby. We spotted the manor looking majestic and stately on the horizon. A detailed signpost at the bridge informed us of the nearest amenities in both villages, pubs, shops et al, all measured in yards!
Swan at the Harlaxton Cut
Looking back at Harlaxton Bridge
Not only was this arguably as pretty as anywhere we had walked since our initial steps in Nottingham, the Harlaxton Cut showed us some history with yet another original crossing, Vincents Bridge built in the 1790s’. Stepping momentarily up on to the bridge from the towpath offered us stunning views east and west along the canal.
The view East from Vincent’s Bridge – bathed in early evening sunshine
Shortly the slightly dread sounds and sights of traffic began to invade our quiet rural haven – it was the drone of vehicles on the main A1 road which sits above the towpath. At this artificial end of the canal, approximately a mile short of the original terminus, the unassuming and unkempt looking patch of land holds a potential new story to tell. It’s this piece of unexceptional appearing land that has been earmarked for the site of a new marina if ever sufficient funding is found by the guardians of the canal’s future.
Stepping up on to the A607 trunk road and back into urbanity, we turned left for a quarter mile in the increasingly autumnal evening temperature. Another left turn towards the Marriott Hotel took us back on to the final stretch of the Grantham Canal. It was here that the whole mood of the waterway changed. This was not necessarily due to the light industrial units nestled behind large hedgerows on the far bank, nor due to the actual presence of housing to our left as we observed the towpath.
We sadly bemoaned the presence of increasing littering of the canal. The estate of houses sat beyond the grassy canal bank to our left sadly alluded to the lack of pride being show by the local residents, either in their homes or in their enviable situation adjacent a still attractive waterway. Rows of homes with badly overgrown gardens, cracked or boarded up windows and an air of desolation pervaded this last section of our walk.
As we walked this area, I imagined in my mind’s eye the same place being cared for, tended and loved. I ‘saw’ small children sitting and playing on the grass by the canal, studiously watched by gaggles of parents out chatting, arms folded, happy and laughing. What has happened to us? Why have we allowed this lack of pride in ourselves and our environment to fester and grow to such epidemic proportions?
Although the canal retains it’s natural beauty approaching the end point,
tell-tale signs of littering now appear
We crossed one more road and finally came to Hollis’ Bridge; also in the past know as ‘Skinyard Bridge’ due to a then nearby local tannery. We stood awhile on the bridge; our walk was effectively over in an entirely inappropriate place. Or was it? I reflected that the canal was just as its own story in the way that its former glory had come to an end in a rather insalubrious manner. We shuddered as we viewed the piles of rubbish that had been thrown down into the canal’s terminus. The once clear waters now offered the pungent smell of pollution.
Shortly a local chap came along and upon request took pictures of Barbara, Mel and I together to record the effective end of the Grantham Canal Walk. We turned away down the road and headed towards the train station where our car laid waiting.
‘Where’s the next canal then?’
Barbara, Mel and Stu on Hollis’ Bridge at the end of the Grantham Canal
Happily this rather sad scene was not the end of the day. We repaired with our bags to change into fresh clothes at the facilities along the railway platform. Upon opening my bag, I laughed when I spotted the ‘Fox’ mask which I had placed in there before setting out! Perhaps this will make no sense to some so may I humbly explain?
When working with Barbara at Derrymount School in Arnold, my long-held nickname by the children (and many of the staff!) had been ‘Foxy’. This name stuck as these things can – and still does. Barbara had appropriately presented me with the fox mask a little while ago and it now enjoys a regular outing!
I quickly changed and sat on the platform seat wearing the mask, hoping upon hope that no commuters came along the platform. Very soon an express train powered through the station past me as I sat there with the fox mask on, paws poised. Someone somewhere was to have a strange sighting to report later that evening!
Eventually Barbara appeared on the platform followed by Mel and were confronted by ‘The Fox’. Have you ever actually seen anyone physically ‘step back in amazement’? I have now. Of course at this point we had our photo call – Mel even managed to take a couple of me smiling!
‘The Honourable Company of Canal Walkers’
Stu and Barbara in celebratory mood
We were all hungry and ready for a drink and repaired to the splendid old original coaching inn, The Blue Pig on Vine Street in Grantham town centre. May I be the first to recommend a viewing of this pub to anyone reading this as the 16th Century building is very atmospheric and interesting, something of a jewel in fact. We had a pleasant meal and talked a little about our walks and experiences over the past few weeks, the mood was a happy one as we considered our options for another similar project.
The Blue Pig, Grantham
After another short photo call under the streetlights and The Blue Pig sign, we drove back along dark lanes to Woolsthorpe and The Dirty Duck to collect our other car. Not wanting to miss the opportunity for a final celebratory drink, we entered the pub to find just four customers sitting in this waterside necropolis. Upon requesting a cup of tea, Barbara was informed that this was impossible due to ‘the kitchen not being open’. Much hilarity ensued at the thought of this as we giggled like schoolgirls at the absurdity of a cup of tea requiring full kitchen facilities! Even funnier were the conspiratory glances flashed between the girl behind the bar and two of her four customers! The prospect of making a cup of tea obviously needing some higher consideration.
The gloom of The Dirty Duck could barely spoil our buoyant and celebratory mood. We left after a couple of drinks, saying our goodbyes to each other with hugs and kisses and drove back through the darkness to Radcliffe on Trent and to Redhill, a job well done.
The Grantham Canal Walk in the summer of 2006 then. Simply one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done.
Thank you to Barbara and Mel (and Geno!) for the company.
Happy days and good times.