A unique and vital piece of Victorian engineering at Foxton Locks has been seriously damaged by vandals.
The culprits have been targeting the Inclined Plane at the hugely-popular tourist attraction, which stretches back over 200 years, near Market Harborough.
The vandals have been ripping out bricks from the historic waterway feature and hurling them down the hill at the locks.
The Inclined Plane, which has been fenced off in a bid to protect it from attack since 2020, will now be shut until September before being re-opened to the public.
A spokesman for the Canal & River Trust, which owns and runs the locks, said: “Unfortunately, it’s been found that a small minority of people have been vandalising the Inclined Plane, dislodging bricks and throwing them down the hill.
“The Inclined Plane is a Scheduled Ancient Monument and a unique and important piece of Leicestershire’s industrial heritage and so the Canal & River Trust requested permission from Historic England to temporarily fence it off to prevent any further damage.
“Whilst closed the Trust has been taking the opportunity to improve the overall condition of the Inclined Plane,” he added.
“Works have included removing trees and other vegetation which were damaging the structure and preventing people from seeing it. “The Trust has also worked with young people completing their Gold DofE (Duke of Edinburgh) Award to carry out further works to the Scheduled Ancient Monument, including uncovering the tracks within the slope and clearing brickwork remains of overgrowth.
“All of the works are carefully planned by the Canal & River Trust who work closely with Historic England to ensure all due care and processes are correctly followed.
“There are still some remaining works to ensure that the Inclined Plane is safe before it can be re-opened for the public to enjoy and we hope everything will be completed by September,” said the spokesman.
“We are also working on a longer term conservation plan for the Inclined Plane so that it can be enjoyed by future generations.”
Foxton Locks was built in a monumental feat of brilliant engineering and many years of hard labour by hundreds of navvies between 1814 and 1900.
As well as the Inclined Plane the spectacular site also boasts the longest and steepest staircase locks in the UK.
More than 4,000 boats normally travel through the spellbinding flight of locks every year.
And about 300,000 visitors flock to enjoy this unique canal landmark at the heart of Harborough district.