(Shropshire Union, Staffs & Worcester, Trent & Mersey and Middlewich Branch Canals)
(120 miles, 106 locks on circular route)
This is a hardworking circular route for 1 week, with little time for visiting places, or a leisurely 2 weeks with plenty of time for excursions off the canal.
On this cruise you travel southwards along the Shropshire Canal over high embankments and through deep cuttings. The main flights of locks are at Audlem and Market Drayton, all are easy to operate and in beautiful surroundings. The canal strides boldly across country in a direct line reaching Autherley Junction, near Wolverhampton, where you turn left onto the Staffs & Worcester Canal.
What a contrast to the ‘Shroppie’. The canal twists and turns, in one place travelling 3 miles to cross a half mile valley. After a 7 mile summit, the locks start again at Gailey and are spaced out all the way to Stafford. At Penkridge there is a large open air market. Then you cruise through open country past Stafford to the picturesque Tixall Wide (a large lake to please the local landowner) and Great Haywood Junction. Alongside is Shugborough Hall, home of the Earl of Lichfield, with the Staffs county museum housed in the stables, well worth a visit.
Here you join the Trent and Mersey Canal, and the heavier locks begin. The canal climbs slowly to it’s summit at Etruria passing through the busy town of Stone and past the Wedgewood Pottery (also well worth a visit).
At Etruria (Stoke on Trent) the Caldon Canal branches off into the Staffordshire Moorlands to Leek and Froghall. After an industrial, although impressive, start this canal is exquisite! If you have 2 weeks don’t miss it! It will take you 4 days to fully cruise, and worth every moment.
On the main line your route continues past Etruria’s shopping parks (and Waterworld) to Harecastle Tunnel where boats are shepherded into the 2926 yard tunnel by resident keepers. Soon after, at Hardingswood Junction, the Macclesfield Canal branches away.
You now travel (work) your way down ‘heartbreak hill’, so called by the old boatmen because of the large number of locks (26 to Wheelock) before there is a break. The remaining 5 locks dropping the canal to Middlewich are well spaced. At Middlewich Wardle Junction turn left onto the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union to return to Barbridge and on to our boatyard at Beeston.
Cruising times from Beeston: