top of page
Osgathorpe Canal.jpg

The Canal

Map Of Canal Route_edited.jpg

The 7.5 mile long Charnwood Forest Canal was opened in 1794 to carry coal from the mines in Swannington and Coleorton and limestone from Barrow Hill quarry to the River Soar in Loughborough, Leicester and beyond. A contour canal, it followed the winding lie of the land to avoid the need for locks through Grace Dieu and Shepshed to Nanpantan. Horse drawn tramways were used at both ends to get the cargo to the canal and down to the river Soar in Loughborough

Tolls were collected at the Junction House (seen here), where the canal arms from Barrow Hill and Thringstone met. The ruins of the Junction House can still be seen to the east of Meadow Lane and was occupied until the 1950’s. The canal cost £96,000 to build (equivalent to £15million today) but records show only about £15 in tolls were taken—the time and cost of transhipment from wagons to boat and boat back to wagons at either end made it commercially unviable

Junction House.jpg
Blackbrook Resevoir Flooding.jpg

Blackbrook Reservoir was built as a source of water for the canal and, in 1799 following a bad winter with heavy snow, a sudden thaw lead to rapidly rising water levels. The dam suddenly collapsed at 11:00 on February 20th with a noise like a ‘clap of thunder’ and emptied an estimated 500 million gallons of water in 11 minutes, flooding through Shepshed and down into Loughborough clearing houses, farms, animals and haystacks in its path.

Compensation was paid to people who suffered losses when the dam burst and, by 1801, it was safely rebuilt but the canal never carried another cargo. By 1808, the Canal Company were trying to close the canal but lacked the funds to do so. Eventually, by 1849, the necessary funds were found and ownership of the canal passed to various landowners. Almost 200 years later it is remarkable that evidence of its existence is still visible as can be seen in the photo of the canal bed south of Ashby Road

Canal Bed.jpg

There’s the ghost of a long-forgotten canal haunting the village of Osgathorpe. This apparition shows itself every now and then through a dent in a field, an unexplained hollow through a copse, or perhaps a water-filled ditch in a garden. Make a careful study of Google maps and the shadow of the canal can still be seen in places, particularly the section which runs to the left of Meadow Lane. This shadow from over two hundred years ago matches the direction of the lane before snaking left across a field by the back gardens of 45, 47 and 49 Main Street and then disappearing into the garden of what is now No. 51. The route then skirts around No. 52 and crosses Main Street itself, just below the grounds of Osgathorpe House, on its journey towards Barrow Hill. The ghost’s most visible incarnation is the remains of the crumbling old Junction House on the high ground beyond Meadow Lane. Once, not so long ago, this pile of bricks was a magnificent building dominating the landscape, created to accommodate an under-employed toll-keeper, complete with a stable for working horses. People lived there, and today you can just see the outline of a fireplace and chimney. But as for the rest of the ghost canal….well, you might never know it was there. For the most part, nature, building or farming necessity has reclaimed the land. Completed in 1794 as part of the Charnwood Forest Canal network, the Osgathorpe waterway was little used from the start and was abandoned by 1819. One reason for its failure was an extraordinary disaster on the morning of February 20,1799, when the Blackbrook Reservoir, built to supply the canal with water, burst its banks with a noise ‘like a clap of thunder’ and flooded a wide area. An ice-bound winter followed by an unexpected thaw brought on the catastrophe and the reservoir drained in just eleven minutes. Crops and livestock were devastated across thousands of acres and trees, hedges and homes washed away. Loughborough and Shepshed were flooded but there is no record of any people being drowned – although the driver of the local Telegraph coach saw the deluge approaching, turned his team of horses around, and raced for his life. An eye witness saw ‘people up to their necks in water saving sheep of which vast numbers were drowned. Mr Chester’s hay and corn stacks and outbuildings were all carried away. The man himself and all his children had only two minutes to escape as the water rose to above the ridge tiles on his roof. We saw cheeses, bread, beds, tables, doors and windows all brought down in the torrent. All the fields were like the sands of the seashore with not a blade of grass to be seen.’ Although much of the canal’s physical evidence has been lost to history, the good news is you can see some of it for yourself, because one section of the old canal on the outskirts of the village has a public footpath beside it – the former towpath. There’s a suggested route for you here….


THE WALK: In rambling terms, this short walk is unadventurous. But it’s great for even small children, with the opportunity to avoid roads, lanes or dangerous sections and plenty to discover and discuss along the way. It’s the best and most publicly accessible way to view the physical remains of Osgathorpe’s ghost canal. It can be enjoyed as a short out-and-back walk if you wish to avoid the lanes, but can also be turned into a loop. Start at the first footpath sign and low stile pointing into a field at the village end of Snarrows Road. The footpath is marked on Ordnance Survey Explorer map 245 but is easily followed on several online sources. For a short distance you walk beside the field, with a hedge to your right. The canal, long disappeared of course, would have been to your left before crossing the Snarrows and then snaking away to the right, following the contours of the land towards Grace Dieu. Look ahead along the footpath and you quickly see a tree-lined hollow guarded by a direction arrow and another stile. This is your way ahead. 


Immediately after the stile you will clearly see the dip of the old canal to your left. It is mostly dry now, but remains a haven for wildlife and flowers. Experts have written of a rare cowslip specimen (primula veris) growing here. If there are young children in your group, you might hunt for the cowslip or spark a discussion as to how the canal is so obviously visible here but disappears completely in other places.

The walk along here, through an ancient tunnel of foliage, is delightful, but beware the many exposed tree roots underfoot, which have to be carefully negotiated, particularly by little feet. If the weather has been wet, there will be several very muddy sections. Through the trees, there are open views to the fields both left and right but try to ignore the sewage works on the hill! When you reach an earth mound, take the dipping path to the left and soon you arrive at the remains of the old Junction House, built at the point where the canal looped off in two directions. One section of the canal followed the line you have just walked, the other flowed down to meet Meadow Lane and into the village, crossing Main Street on its way to Barrow Hill. From the footpath, particularly if you have access to Google or Ordnance Survey, you can match what you see on the map to the physical clues before your eyes. It might be interesting for children to compare the sad ruins of the Junction House to the illustration included with this article which shows the building in its prime, when it remained a family home long after the canal was forgotten.


Just after the ruins, be sure to look to the dip ahead to your left, because there you will find a useful waymark post showing the next section of the public footpath. Following the direction of the arrow, this route takes you to another stile where you see the open fields before you. Here you have a choice – reverse your route back to Snarrows Road or continue the looped walk which takes-in a return via Meadow Lane. If you take the second option, once over the style you drop down across the field to the right to pick-up the footpath which runs just to the left of the brook. Continue by the brook, with the Cinder Hill farm buildings to your left. Here, by the farmyard, is the muddiest and most challenging section if the weather has been wet. At the road, turn right to carefully negotiate the bridge and a few metres of the A 512 Ashby Road. Then it’s a right into Stordon Lane and next right into Meadow Lane. If you chose this route then it’s an opportunity to see the point at which the lost canal would have crossed Meadow Lane. With the Junction House ruins on the rising ground to your right, you can pick-out the hollow of the tree-lined canal route, and there is a noticeable dip in the lane at the point where the canal must have crossed (with the aid of a hump-back bridge).


The vanished canal then matched the direction of the lane on its way to the village before snaking left in the last field and crossing Main Street, heading towards Barrow Hill. If you look closely through a gap in the hedge to your left, shortly before you reach the Storey Arms, you can pick out the ‘dent’ in the field which probably marks the bend of the old canal route. 

Further reading available online:


Note: Copyright of the Google image used in the video section of this project is acknowledged on the image itself. The modern Ordnance Survey images are subject to OS data © Crown copyright 2023.

bottom of page