The Ashby Canal was completed in 1804 to serve the coalfield of South Derbyshire and North West Leicestershire. It ran from Bedworth, on the Coventry Canal to Moira, near Ashby de la Zouch, a distance of about 30 miles. The canal was moderately successful in the early years, being taken over by the Midland Railway in 1846. It suffered from mining subsidence during the first half of the 20th century, the northernmost section being closed in 1944. It was further closed to a point north of Snarestone by 1966, leaving the southern 22 miles fully navigable, managed by the Canal and River Trust. It is popular with boaters, is lock free, and is almost entirely rural, in contrast to its industrial origins.
A major restoration programme is currently being led by Leicestershire County Council, and approximately 500 metres of canal at Snarestone have been restored. This includes rebuilding Bridge 62, restoring a winding hole, and adding a new one, creating an offline nature reserve, adding a swing bridge and a new slipway. Further funding is being sought to enable this phase of the works to continue to Ilott Wharf, some 3/4 mile distant.
A significant length of the Ashby Canal was restored by 2000, at the Moira Furnace, now within the National Forest. This site forms the ideal location for the annual Moira Canal Festival, which was initiated by the Ashby Canal Trust in 2000. The money raised at the festival is donated to the Ashby Canal Trust for maintenance of the Moira section of the Ashby Canal, and towards the restoration works at Snarestone.
Ashby Canal Trust was formed to promote the restoration of the Ashby Canal from Snarestone to Moira, bringing together the various authorities and organisations with an interest in the canal. It comprises a Board of Directors with associated administrative assistance, and supports work parties, contributes to the ongoing restoration of the Snarestone to Measham length, and promotes the Moira Canal Festival.
The restoration project is also supported by the Ashby Canal Association and it's band of enthusiastic volunteers. They can regularly be found raising funds and taking part in work parties to help maintain the isolated section of the Ashby Canal between Donisthorpe and Moira, and undertaking preparation for the next part of the extension at Snarestone Wharf. The Ashby Canal Association continues to run a 'Buy-a-Brick' campaign to help raise £500,000 for the aquaduct which must be built over Gilwiskaw Brook.