North on Coventry Canal to Atherstone
2 or 3 Night Break
After a slightly suburban feel to the start of this route it quickly opens out into fine Leicestershire countryside and prosperous villages with only one very shallow lock at Hawkesbury. 31 ¾ miles, 1 lock each way, 22 hours cruising total.
The Oxford Canal was engineered by James Brindley and built as a “contour canal” which means that the line follows the contours of land with a minimum of earthworks. This created a very tortuous route and the northern section of the canal was modernised in the 1830’s, almost halving the distance from Coventry to Braunston, striding across the countryside with a series of impressive arrow straight cuttings and embankments interspersed with winding sections of the original canal.
The first part of your journey is along mostly “new” canal (only about 180 years old!) and after passing through some impressive cuttings and high above open farmland you reach Ansty in about 1 ½ hours.
The embankment just before Ansty was the site of a serious breach in November 1963 when a 30ft high embankment gave way and washed 10,000 tons of clay and sand onto adjoining land. Fortunately the problem was spotted by a farmer who, out for an early morning walk with his dog, noticed one of his fields was now under water. He raised the alarm and quick action by British Waterways staff prevented the breach becoming a serious catastrophe that could have closed the Oxford Canal for a long time. Repairs were completed quickly and the canal re-opened for traffic. The site of the repair is still visible (look for the concrete section of wall) and the location today make a good place to tie up and visit the pay-and-play golf course (with an excellent club house)you reach Ansty in about one hour. Here there is a pub, the Rose and Castle which has an excellent reputation for food.
After Ansty you approach the outskirts of Coventry, but the canal still manages to retain a rural character for much of the one and a half hour run into Hawkesbury Junction (also known as Sutton Stop). Hawkesbury Junction was designated a conservation area in 1976 and is something of an industrial archaeology haven despite much development around it.
There is an impressive cast iron bridge, an engine house that once housed a Newcomen Beam Engine (now saved for posterity and preserved at Newcomen Engine House, Dartmouth), a colourful pub (the Greyhound), and a 6 inch deep stop lock. Just down the road is another pub, the Boat. This area is rich in industrial history; you can discover the mysteries of the Newdigate Arm, Arbury Hall and the various quarries and coal mines that were the raison d’etre of the canal in the first place.
Go right round the junction (a 180 degree right turn to test the helmsman’s skill) and continue north along the Coventry Canal; the left turn takes you on a very urban journey into the basin in Coventry centre. Heading towards Marston Junction, you pass through a long wooded cutting before skirting Bedworth and passing the historic Charity Dock. Soon you come to Marston Junction where the Ashbu Canal branches off to your right. This is about one hour from Hawkesbury and about three and a half hours from the boatyard.
This area is rich in minerals and if you look carefully you can see many old wharves which provided much of the traffic for the Coventry Canal in its commercial heyday. Nowadays the land has been restored – but keep an eye out for “Judd’s Mount”, a former spoil tip that is something of a local landmark. The Anchor Inn at Hartshill has an extensive children’s play area and good food. The nearby maintenance yard has been attractively restored and the trip from here to Atherstone is very pleasant.
On a short break you need to turn in the winding hole just above the Atherstone lock flight. The historic market and hatting town of Atherstone has lots of restaurants and pubs.