Basfords Hill Tunnel

(Photos 1-4, 7 & 8 © Alan Jewell, photos 5 & 6 © John Simmonds)

Opened in 1804, the Ashby Canal formed a 31-mile connection between the Coventry Canal at Bedworth and the mining districts around Moira. Towards its northern end several tramways were constructed to serve local colleries, canal spurs deemed too expensive due to the cost of providing the necessary locks.

One of these routes, a product of renouned Derbyshire engineer Benjamin Outram, headed to Ticknall. Opened in 1802, it connected local brickyards and lime quarries with the canal at Willesley Basin, taking the form of a 4 feet 2 inch gauge plateway with angle iron rails set on stone sleepers. Many of these remain extant throughout its 12½-mile length. The wagons - which also carried coal and other goods - were hauled by horses.

Two tunnels helped to navigate the estate of Calke Abbey: Calke Park at 138 yards and a shorter bore of around 51 yards at Basfords Hill. The latter runs under a scrubby patch of ground between two fields. Built using 'cut and cover' techniques, it is very shallow with only 6-8 feet between the crown and ground level. Neatly lined throughout with blocks of dressed millstone grit, it measures 6 feet high and 6 feet wide.

The tramway was officially closed in September 1915 although it had last been used on 20th May 1913. Much of its route can still be traced today. Unsurprisingly, the tunnel fell into a state of disrepair, with the sidewalls giving way towards its northern end. However the structure has recently been fully refurbished and a footpath, which used to cross over the south portal, has been rerouted to pass through it.

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