The Wreake Navigation — October 2016
The Melton Mowbray Navigation was formed when the River Wreake was made navigable upstream from it’s junction with the River Soar and the Leicester Navigation near Syston to Melton Mowbray. Opening in 1797. It was 15 miles long and had 12 broad locks many of which were built at sites where it was necessary to maintain the water levels for an adjacent mill.
With railway competition, and the closure of the Oakham Canal, to which it was connected, decline was rapid, and the canal closed in 1877. Two hundred years after it was opened, the Melton & Oakham Waterways Society was formed, with the aim of returning the Navigation to a navigable waterway once more. As the Navigation is river-fed, and all bar one of the lock chambers are still extant, the probability is that by using Transport and Works Orders (as used on the Ashby Canal restoration), all could be restored.
We started Saturday’s walk at Cossington. At Cossington lock the River Wreake forms a small sec on of the River Soar Navigation as the owner of Wanlip Hall had been unwilling to see the Soar navigable across his land. We walked past Junction lock to Three Way bridge. Built in 2013 the 18-metre bridge cost £174,000 to build. It is the final piece of major work to be carried out as part of the five-year Sustrans’ Connect 2 Project. The name Three way bridge was chosen because it connects three places together — Syston, Thurmaston and Cossington, it carries the towpath over the River Wreake where it joins the Soar Navigation.
Here we left the Soar Navigation and started to follow the Wreake towards Melton Mowbray. We immediately encountered what looked like large n shacks but this is apparently the site of a world war 1 isolation hospital. Soon after was the first of the substantial two arch bridges which are a feature of this waterway.
The canal winds through pleasant farmland with the occasional lock. The condition of some of the locks appeared good, considering the length of me from closure, but will no doubt have suffered frost damage. Some of the top cills have been raised with curved brickwork to maintain river levels.
Lunch was at the very attractive village of Thrussington, conveniently providing village green with seats, pub and a tea shop with a delicious selection of cakes giving walkers good options for lunch in very pleasant surroundings. Returning to the River Wreake we were soon at Thrussington Mill lock where it was pleasing to see one of the mills in the process of restoration by it’s very enthusiastic owner who was proposing to install an electrical generator powered by a new waterwheel. One wall of the adjacent lock was blown up by the army as an exercise.
Saturday’s walk finished at Brooksby with an inspection of Ron’s very unusual accommodation constructed in the grounds of an old railway station and fronting onto the river.
After a rest and cup of tea we all met up again at the Blue Bell in Hoby for dinner, a great choice of pub. Serving real ales and delicious food a good me was had by all.
On Sunday morning we started at the pretty village of Rotherby. Following a circular walk down to the river then back to the village we saw the Wreake at it’s best under clear blue skies, here the river snakes through beautiful countryside and although currently only suitable for swans and cows it was easy to see what a wonderful Navigation it could be again.
The only remaining original building is on this section of waterway. This is thought to be the canal manager’s house, and although substantially extended the old part of the house can be seen facing the Navigation. The owner pointed out a wooden post in the water straight in front of the house and told us this was a gauging post to work out the toll to be paid to the manager. Leaving Rotherby we drove to Frisby to view Frisby Mill Lock then to the Flying Chllders for an good lunch before headed to Sysonby Acres for the final part of the walk into Melton Mowbray.
Skirting the golf course, the Navigation runs between fields and back gardens then alongside Egerton Park and into Wilton Park in Melton Mowbray. Here there was a ‘crossroads’ where the Navigation used to cross the River Eye, but currently just joins the Eye as the remaining section of the Wreake is in filled.
A feature has been made in the park with ‘lock gates’ being placed on the line of the canal (there was never a lock here) leading to the site of the basin—which is now a car park. The canal from this point is covered in roads and buildings where originally had been a larger basin and the start of the Oakham Canal. This section was already in filled and built on by 1888.
There are no major obstacles in the way of this restoration and it would be wonderful to see this very attractive navigation back in use again. Many thanks to Dave and Izzie for their great organisation of this interesting weekend thoroughly enjoyed by all.