The broad and gently winding River Soar meanders through rural scenery, passing quiet river meadows and pretty villages. It is a much-loved route for boats of all kinds, with narrowboats, river cruisers, canoes and dinghies all taking to the water.
There are lots of attractions along the river where it passes through north Leicester. The National Space Centre is a futuristic tower made of semi-transparent material, which reveals two rockets inside.
The historic Abbey Park stretches out on both sides of the river. It contains the ruins of a twelfth-century abbey and a seventeenth-century mansion, as well as lakes, formal gardens, a Chinese garden and model railway. Further along, there is more green space where the gardens of Belgrave Hall Museum also reach down to the river.
The River Soar is full of wildlife, including large numbers of water birds and coarse fish. It is also home to healthy populations of the endangered white-clawed crayfish, a protected species which is under threat from invasive American varieties.
After years of failed attempts the Soar was eventually made navigable from the Trent to Loughborough by the Loughborough Navigation Company in 1778. When the potential of the nearby Erewash Canal was realised the navigational artefacts along the Soar were improved two years later to increase efficiency and for a time the Loughborough Navigation was the most profitable waterway in Britain. Extension of navigation beyond Loughborough increased profitability until the advent of railway competition led to decline, although commercial traffic continued for some years due to the proximity of the River Trent.
Chain Bridge marks the start of the former Leicester Navigation and takes its name from an older bridge underneath which a chain would be locked at night to prevent boats avoiding tolls.
The Soar is subject to flooding particularly after heavy rainfall and indicators on the bridge by the last lock at Red Hill dating from 1955 and 1960 eloquently indicate the need for flood protection precautions.
Legend once suggested the body of Richard III was in the Soar. Half a century after his death at Bosworth in 1485 his remains were said to have been ripped from his tomb and hurled into the river by a mob. However, this has now been proved wrong.