The Derby Canal Walk

After a friendishly complicated car shuffle brilliantly organised by Mark and Ruth we all gathered at Megalaughton Lane, Spondon for the start of our walk to Sandiacre. David, Derek and Duncan from the Derby Canal Trust kindly accompanied us for the whole day providing information about the history and restoration of the canal.

The canal was opened in 1796, (although first advocated by James Brindley in 1771 because of flooding and delays on the Rivers Derwent and Trent). The Derby was a broad canal, leaving the Trent and Mersey at Swarkstone and joining the Erewash at Sandiacre, with an arm into Derby.

Exemption from toll was granted on various items for use along the line of the canal including pit props and clogs for use underground in the collieries along the line. In these instances passage through locks was granted only when water flowed over the waste weir.

The Canal was due to close at the start of the second world war but got a stay of execution until the end of the war, a toll of £1 being charged during this time. Closed to traffic in 1946 the canal was abandoned in 1964, with the building of the M1 motorway. Luckily in 1964 when the bed was filled in, the councils concerned decided that nothing would be built on the line where it still existed, just in case it was ever restored. The line is protected in the various local plans and an outline planning application made and permission has been granted.

In 1993 a farmer in Breaston, Paul Turner, had the idea that if he restored the canal at the bottom of his farm, it would act as a moat and when he approached the local council they said yes, but the whole canal should be restored! He is member No1 in the Society.

When restored the Derby Canal will form a 25 mile cruising ring with 18 or 19 locks and provide a link to the Erewash Canal avoiding the River Trent, giving all year round access. The arm into Derby cannot be reinstated as too much of it has been built over, however an exciting ‘trebuchet’ boat lift has been designed by a canal society member which would move boats from the canal to the River Derwent allowing access for boats into Derby. Like the Falkirk Wheel this could also be a great visitor attraction for the city.

Setting off down a footpath we soon reached a recognisable section of canal— a winding hole where two wooden boats are buried and should be exposed when the winding hole is fully excavated.

From here the line of canal was obvious, the next landmark being Ullicker’s Bridge. Grade II listed, it is owned by Derbyshire County Council, they didn’t have the funds to maintain it so this became the second restoration that the Canal Society undertook at a time when they were well on with the restoration of Swarkestone Junction Bridge. The rebuilding, done partly by volunteers, was partly funded by a grant of £13,000 from a charitable trust. It involved installing a reinforced concrete capping over the bridge arch and the complete dismantling of both parapets. Rebuilding included the use of 200 year old reclaimed bricks.

The position of Borrowash top lock is marked by posts but the chamber of Borrowash Bottom lock is still complete and volunteers have been working on this for several years, the lock chambers have been rebuilt but gates can’t be installed until the canal is in water.

From here the canal crosses ploughed fields until it reaches the A6005, here a long drainage ditch has been dug on a section of the canal by network rail to provide drainage for the nearby railway line as it had been regularly flooding but it was realised this had never happened when the canal had been in existence. This gives the society a good start, having a bridge under the road and a decent section to finish excavating.

Next was lunch at the Navigation Inn in Breaston where we were able to read the society’s information panels while enjoying a pint and eating a large and most delicious lunch. Happily repleat we left Breaston and headed to Sandiacre, our first obstacle was crossing a field of very inquisitive horses, the canal’s is the M1.

The M1 cuts through the line of the canal but just to the side is a wide road bridge, we were told that there is a possibility that the line could be moved slightly and this bridge could accommodate the canal as well as the road.

After the motorway bridge the contour of the land has been built up and now has a slight rise in it which will cause an extra problem for the restoration. The next, Art Deco, concrete bridge is intact but the two locks, which drop the Derby down to the junction with the Erewash Canal still need restoring.

Round the corner is Sandiacre lock and the lock cottage, here the Erewash Canal Preservation & Development Assocation kindly provided tea and biscuits and gave us the opportunity to look round the restored lock cottage—a fantastic end to an enjoyable and interesting walk.

Our thanks go to David, Derek and Duncan for their guidance and information, the ECPDA and of course Mark and Ruth for, as always, their excellent organisation of the day.