Leicester canal and river walk
This 3.3km walk takes you on a circular route along the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line and the tranquil River Soar.
Old rival trade routes, the canal and the railway, now harmoniously treat the walker to a great leisure trail. Each step takes you further away from Leicester’s urbanscape as you follow the tree-lined waters of the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line and the River Soar south to Blue Bank Lock. Throughout your amble, wildlife and greenery line the way. Your return treads the route of the canal’s rival, the former Great Central Railway, now the Great Central Way travelled only by walkers, cyclists and passing horses.
Canal: Grand Union Canal Leicester Line / River Soar
Start and finish: Packhorse Bridge 105 OS Grid ref: SK568009 Postcode: LE2 8LT
Distance: 3.3km / 2 miles
Start: Your walk starts where the Grand Union Canal Leicester Line runs very close to the River Soar.
1. By the small car park, cross over the canal via the red-brick Packhorse Bridge, so-called due to the proximity of the ancient packhorse bridge over the River Soar and its surrounding meadows. The Old Bridge, which has 11 arches in total, predates the canal bridge by some 600 years and is now Grade II*-listed. It crosses the water meadows of the River Soar to the west. Turn left to follow the towpath southwards with the river meadows to your right and the canal to your left.
2. You are immediately in leafy surroundings as the towpath is lined with lush hedgerows and, depending on the season, hawthorn blossom. There are glimpses through to the river meadows, and boats moored along the towpath edge. This stretch is also very popular with canoeists.
3. Another red-brick bridge, Kings Lock Bridge, announces your arrival at Kings Lock. The bridge is known as an ‘accommodation bridge’ – these were built at the time that the canal was being built to allow farmers to access their fields on both sides of the canal.
4. The canalside cottage, built in 1796 and once housing the lockkeeper, is the last remaining lock cottage on the canal through Leicester. The longest-serving lockkeeper was George King, who worked here for forty years from 1852 to 1892 and, in recognition of his long service, the lock was named after him. The cottage has been a tearoom since 2004 so provides an attractive stop-off and a great place to spot wildlife in the meadows, or at least somewhere to pick up an ice cream for your walk.
5. Heading away from Kings Lock, the Soar Valley’s water meadows stretch to the west behind the intermittent hedgerow. Across the water you might see horses grazing in the fields up to the water’s edge. Despite the occasional pylon providing electricity to Leicester, it feels like glorious open countryside here.
6. The A563, also known as the Soar Valley Way, is a brief noisy intrusion on your walk as it crosses over the water on two long low bridges. Keep your eyes peeled for birds and waterfowl attracted by the leafy surroundings and the proximity of the River Soar. The river swirls towards the canal then away again before running alongside the canal as you round the bend to approach Blue Bank Lock. The wide lock has steps up both sides of the lock to help boaters work through it.
7. Cross over the canal via the historic red-brick Blue Bank Bridge and follow the path through the trees north east to join the Great Central Way. Just to the east and south of you are the Glen Parva and Glen Hills Local Nature Reserves, so listen out for birds and wildlife.
8. Turning left to head northwards, the path you are now following is the very straight bed of the original Great Central Railway. It used to be a main line connection between Manchester and London. You’ll see one of Sustrans’ cast-iron Millennium Mileposts, over 1,000 of which were installed in 2000 along the National Cycle Network. The tree-lined Way is part of Sustrans National Cycle Network Route 6, so your space will be shared with cyclists using the trail. It’s even popular with horse riders too!
9. The Way dips down to head under the A563 again before coming back up the other side.
End: Come down the steps, or the new wider access ramp, from the Great Central Way to Marsden Lane and the canal where you began. You could now choose to walk back along the towpath to Kings Lock for a canalside cuppa, or explore the canal further in either direction.