Back in those sunny, carefree and mostly lockdown-free days in September, I decided to take a walk up to Willington, a village halfway between Burton on Trent and Derby. I had walked up there before and caught the train back, and also got the train up there and walked back, but I had never gone up there via the Trent & Mersey Canal towpath before.
Since I first moved to Burton in 2004, I had walked up part of the canal several times, but never really followed it further north than where it meets Princess Way. It would be uncharted territory for me, but that’s what travelling is all about.
The entrance to the canal isn’t far from where I live, so I walked over to Shobnall Street, where an alleyway next to Halcyon Way takes you to the canal towpath. In years gone by, there was a nice mural there depicting the local area, with the canal, streets and the swans and other birds which congregate by the canal pictured. Unfortunately, it succumbed to vandalism and was removed, to be replaced by a plain fence.
There are two paths at this section of the canal, running parallel to each other. One is the towpath by the canal, and the other, a hard-surfaced path, is actually a former brewery railway line which used to run next to the canal from the present day Princess Way down to where it met the main Derby – Birmingham line just south of the railway station. I carried on up to Princess Way, and proceeded under the bridge. There were a few people out and about, walking dogs, jogging and cruising on the canal on their boat. As per these social distancing times, I had to move out of the way to let them past, as the towpath is quite narrow.
The towpath goes underneath the junction of Derby Road and the A38 road which leads to Derby. The first major landmark to be seen there is Monk’s Bridge.
A bridge has existed at this site since the 13th century, although the present structure dates from the 15th century. It links Stretton to Egginton, although it has no longer been in use for traffic since 2014. It can be fleetingly glimpsed from the nearby A38, but can only really be properly seen from the canal aqueduct, making it a bit of a hidden gem in the area.
I carried on heading north, stopping to take a couple of photos along the way. The sun was beating down, but it wasn’t too hot.
About half a mile from Monk’s Bridge, the canal veers away from the A38, and the sound of lorries thundering up and down the road fades away and is replaced by the sounds of birds chirping, and the occasional canal boat motor. There are a few bridges similar to the one pictured above, and they are all a bit tricky to walk under. One false move, and I would be seeing more of the canal than I would have wanted to.
I knew I was getting closer to Willington when I could see trains speeding up and down the railway line nearby. I exited the canal towpath at The Castle Way, the main road into the village from the west. I had a bit of time to spare before the train down to Burton, and I had my face covering with me, so I donned my mask, hit up the local Co-op and made off with a sandwich.
Willington is mostly made up of modern housing estates, its location on the Derby to Birmingham main railway line and easy access to the A38 road making it an attractive commuter village. The centre of the village boasts two pubs, the Green Man and the Rising Sun, both of which serve food, as does the Dragon, located near the canal. The village’s skyline is dominated by the vast cooling towers of the former Willington Power Station, a coal-fired power station which was decommissioned in 1999.
I took a seat in the small garden in front of the railway station before I made my way up to the platform. I have eaten lunch in worse places than this.
After disposing of my sandwich box in a bin, I had a walk up to the platform at Willington station for a long wait for my train back to Burton. I was joined on the platform by a train enthusiast, who took some video of passing freight trains on his phone. There were frequent announcements on the tannoy of high speed trains which were passing, which were my cue to dive into the shelter and hold on tight while they thundered past. In between trains, I took a few photos of the station, including the murals painted by local children.
My train eventually arrived (a few minutes late), and I boarded for the five minute trip back to Burton, from where I alighted and walked back home. There’s a lot more to be seen in Willington, so I may make a return trip next year, if this Covid thing is all over by then. Thanks for reading.