Melton Mowbray Navigation & Oakham Canal
The 16-mile-long Melton Navigation operated for 80 years from 1897, following the course of rivers from the Leicester Line of the Grand Union Canal at Syston near Leicester to Melton Mowbray.
The navigation had 12 locks and, despite nearly 150 years having passed since the closure, ten still exist, many in remarkably good condition. The Melton & Oakham Waterways Society is focused on reopening this waterway to boat traffic.
The year 2022 was a busy one for the society. Work continued on maintaining the mile-long Melton Ring (a loop formed by the River Eye and an old Navigation cut) to ensure it is kept navigable and free of rubbish. Assisted by a grant from the Borough Council, a weedcutter is now being fitted to one of the society’s workboats.
The society also bought seven rowing boats which had seen long service on a lake in the Brecon Beacons and these have now been restored. They will be hired out to introduce more people to one of the town’s neglected assets as well as to bring a new income stream. Planning is now underway for a landing stage and, when this is completed, it is hoped to begin a trip-boat service.
Also aimed at heightening public awareness, the society produced a 40-page book of walks along the rivers which trace the route of the entire length of the old navigation. It sold so well that a reprint was needed only weeks after launch.
Work has continued at several locations along the navigation but now there is a concentration on clearing scrub and uncovering Eye Kettleby Lock, the nearest lock to Melton Mowbray, with the aim of making it a local destination for walkers and cyclists, again to raise awareness locally about the navigation and its potential to enhance local leisure facilities.
The Oakham Canal Green Corridor Project was established in October 2020 and has quickly become a well-supported and popular local cause. The initial aim is to improve the environment and access to the canal as it heads north from the Springfield area of Oakham, creating a 5-mile linear green corridor for the enjoyment of the local community and to nurture important wildlife habitats. The project’s first year saw permissive rights gained over pathways to the west of the canal banks, and work with Rutland County Council to make pathway improvements on the area around Ashwell Road. New signage, gates and fences make this area much more attractive and inviting than previously. The hard work was made easier by a committed team of volunteers.
Several other positive moves have occurred in the second year. The project’s Facebook page has more than 1,000 followers and its mailing list over 180 people. Local MP Alicia Kearns has continued her commitment to supporting the work. The walking routes have also appeared in a well-known local guide, Will’s Walks, which has attracted additional footfall. Several local companies have contributed support with free services, from digging new pathways to supplying hardcore, wood chippings and plant equipment. Recently, a new information board has been sited at the start of the canal paths.
The coming year will see continued improvements in access and pathways, as well as a focus on biodiversity and environment. The project has regular engagement with local conservation groups, benefitting from the knowledge gained through surveys, and an annual ‘Bioblitz’ now takes place, identifying as many species of flora and fauna as possible, with rare finds among them. By the end of 2023, the project will have restored and improved access to all of the existing footpaths, so will be undertaking a review of their strategic objectives and whether it can extend the footpaths further along the route of the canal towards Melton, across what is now private land.