Britain is networked
by a canal system which is now largely used for recreational purposes. Originally they
were a cheap way to carry the new industrial goods but were gradually superceded by the
railways in the 19th century. Where pubs sit alongside a canal, we award the ships wheel
Canals are artificial waterways constructed for drainage, irrigation, or navigation.
Irrigation canals carry water for irrigation from rivers, reservoirs, or wells, and are
designed to maintain an even flow of water over the whole length. Navigation and ship
canals are constructed at one level between locks, and frequently link with rivers or sea inlets to form a waterway system.
The first major British canal was the Bridgewater
Canal 1759-61, constructed for the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater to carry coal from
his collieries to Manchester. The engineer, James Brindley,
overcame great difficulties in the route. By 1761 it had opened as far as Stretford, and
was extended to the Cornbrook wharf in Manchester by 1763. The canal, which was sold to
the Manchester Ship Canal Company in 1887, continued to be used for goods traffic until
The traditional form of transport on British canals is the narrowboat. Narrowboats are
long and flat bottomed and would usually consist of mainly cargo space with just a small
cabin for the crew. Originally pulled by horses walking along the Towpath, most were later
converted by installing engines, formerly steam powered and latterly diesel.
Narrowboat cabins were usually very small, owners tried to make them as comfortable as
possible. Both interior and exterior surfaces were very colourfully painted and the
tradition remains so today.
1805, Britains canal network extended some 3,000 miles linking many of the country's
natural river system. Today, many of Britain's canals form part of an interconnecting
system of waterways some 4,000 km / 2,500 miles long. Many that have become disused
commercially have been restored for recreation and the use of pleasure craft. Inns line
the route of many canals and sitting outside in the summer at a canalside inn watching the
world go by can be a delight. One inn in Netherton near Dudley in the Midlands, has
actually installed an old canal barge inside the building and uses it as the serving bar.
The Dry Dock is also filled with lots of highly
decortated canal related furniture and is located just below the junction of three canals.
The Midlands was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and
therefore also the birthplace of Britain's canal network. The
Grand Union, Shropshire Union, Trent & Mersey,
Staffordshire & Worcester,
Worcester & Birmingham and Macclesfield canals
all bisect the Midlands area linking the River Trent near
Nottingham with the River Severn at Worcester and the
River Nene near Northampton.
There are many companies which now offer Narrowboat hire with boats that
can sleep anything from 2 to 12 people. A typical narrowboat layout such as the one
above would accommodate 6/8 people.
many canal systems around the UK where level changes have resulted in a series of locks.
Installed to allow boats or ships to travel from one level to another, the lock has gates
at each end. Boats enter through one gate when the levels are the same both outside and
inside. Water is then allowed in (or out of) the lock until the level rises (or falls) to
the new level outside the other gate. The lock gates close in a V
shape so that the weight of water does not force the gate open when the water levels are
different on each side.
The first canal aqueduct in Britain, across the River Irwell at Barton,
was opened in 1761. The longest navigable aqueduct in Britain is the Pontcysyllte
in Clwyd, Wales, opened 1805.
It is 307 m / 1,007 ft long, with 19 arches up to 36 m / 121 ft high.
The Ashby Canal is a perfect location for first-time boaters, holidaymakers looking for a truly relaxing break, or walkers seeking a gentle introduction to
Leicestershire's rural landscape.
Steeped in history, this beautiful, tranquil canal passes by the historic scene of the Battle of Bosworth. It meanders through a very level, rural environment - therefore no locks were ever needed.
The 22-mile long canal commences at Marston Junction and drifts gently through countryside barely touching a village - let alone Ashby-de-la-Zouch, the town which gave the canal its name. Hedgerows and reeds give an air of timelessness whilst offering ideal habitats for many species of wildlife.
The Birmingham Canal links the City of Birmingham to the
Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and
the start of the Shropshire Union Canal at
Aldersley, just north of Wolverhampton. The canal passes through Smethwick and under the
M5 at Oldbury. There are two branches off the canal at Dudley, where the famous Dudley
tunnels pass under the town. The Dudley tunnel starts from the basin at the fabulous Black
Country Museum and surfaces at Parkhead Locks. The Netherton tunnel starts at Dudley Port
and surfaces at Bumble Hole where Cobbs Engine house can be found along with the excellent
Dry Dock Pub. Both tunnels are more than a mile in
The canal continues through the Black Country industrial areas of Tipton and Coseley
before reaching the city of Wolverhampton. It passes by Wolverhampton's racecourse,
Dunstall Park before meeting the Staffordshire
& Worcestershire Canal.
The Birmingham Canal Network can currently be accessed from five directions. From the
north the link with the Staffs & Worcs
Canal climbs the 21 Wolverhampton locks to join the 'new main line' built by Thomas Telford in the 1820's to straighten James Brindley's twisting contour route. He made use of
deep cuttings and embankments and the wide canal had a towpath on either side.
From the south comes the Worcester & Birmingham,
and from the south east the Grand Union Canal. The
Birmingham & Fazeley Canal comes in from the east, forming a network through the
centre of the city of Birmingham.
The Dudley Tunnel, closed to powered craft, gave access from the west. Boats now use the
wide Netherton Tunnel with towpaths either side and gas lighting built to overcome the
bottleneck caused by the old narrow tunnel.
There were also links in the north east area to the Staffs & Worcs at Hatherton and to the
Coventry Canal at Huddleston. The two large loops of canals in the
North Eastern area served coalfields, especially those around Cannock which were the last
to close in the 1960's. Subsidence has always been a major problem because of mining
activities. Lappal Tunnel (11,385 yards) which gave a faster link to the Worcester &
Birmingham was closed in 1917 due to subsidence, though even it now has a society planning
to reopen it.
The Birmingham & Fazeley soon leaves urban Birmingham behind for the green, peaceful and rural Midlands.
The canal starts right in the heart of central Birmingham, dropping through 13 locks in less than a mile at Farmer's Bridge by the Post Office Tower. But its urban origins are soon forgotten as it travels north-eastwards for 15 miles through Minworth and
Nicknamed 'The Bottom Road', the canal is now devoid of much of the industry for which it was built. Salford Junction, the waterway interchange in the bowels of Spaghetti Junction, is starkly impressive. At Drayton Bassett, once the home of Sir Robert Peel, the canal is crossed by a curious Gothic footbridge.
The canal runs alongside Kingsbury Water Park where the popular Dog
& Doublet is frequented by both boaters and people from the Birmingham
The Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal travels through an industrial landscape which recalls the bygone era of the working canals.
Boaters exploring the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal can spot clues to the past in canalside factories, old arches and the nearby railway line. This 2 mile canal was built in 1844 to ease congestion into Birmingham and hosted a steady stream of working boats making their way from Camp Hill to Salford Bridge.
Today, the canal passes close by Birmingham City Football ground and ‘Star City’ – a large modern entertainment centre. New housing developments overlooking the canal emphasise the dawn of a new canal age. Yet in quiet reaches by the old factories of ‘Brumagen’ you can easily imagine the sights, sounds and smells of working boats and bustling wharves in days gone by.
Birmingham Canal Main Line,
designed by Thomas Telford, the 'New Main Line' runs through massive cuttings and bold embankments through the heart of the Black Country.
The 19th century equivalent of a motorway, the Main Line runs straight as an arrow from Birmingham to Tipton before heading off to Wolverhampton. Thomas Telford's improvements shortened the route between Birmingham and Wolverhampton by around seven miles whilst also using fewer locks.
Birmingham Canal Old Main Line
- Much of the old Birmingham Canal is still open to boaters and walkers - and the sense of history is almost overpowering.
The Old Main Line plays a prominent part in many modern developments, such as the houses at Tividale Quays. These focus on the waterspace, a trend unimaginable only a generation ago when housing shied away from the 'grimy' canals.
Superseded by Telford's straight New Main Line, the seven-mile stretch of
James Brindley's Old Main Line from Smethwick Junction to Factory Junction sees fewer boats than Telford's newer and shorter route.
Other parts of the original line survive in curious 'loops', some navigable, some lost. Like manmade oxbow lakes, these demonstrate how the first Birmingham Canal - which followed the contours of the land - was superseded by a straighter, shorter route through the Black Country.
Considered the inspiration for 'Canal Mania', the 28 miles of Bridgewater Canal is more noteworthy for its innovation than its scenery.
The coal mines at Worsley which prompted its construction can still be seen, and the impressive Barton Swing Aqueduct is quite unique.
Also known as 'The Duke's Cut', the Bridgewater Canal is now an integral part of the Cheshire Cruising Ring. One of the original cruising rings of the modern canal era, it encompasses rolling Cheshire countryside and the rugged Pennines.
Could this beautiful canal through Staffordshire be England's most scenic waterway?
Built as a branch of the cross-country Trent & Mersey, this picturesque waterway from Stoke-on-Trent to the heart of Staffordshire has assumed the status of a canal in its own right. Its final miles run through an area known as 'Little Switzerland', with only a preserved steam railway to disturb the peace.
The Caldon runs for 18 miles from Stoke to Froghall, with a three-mile branch to Leek. On leaving the industrial environs of the Potteries, the canal becomes increasingly picturesque as it follows the Churnet Valley,
passing the Boat Inn at Cheddleton - even sharing the river's course for a while.
At the heart of Scotland's Great Glen, the 'Caley' is one of the great waterways of the world, offering visitors spectacular scenery and amazing wildlife - including the Loch Ness Monster!
The Caledonian Canal links the Atlantic and the North Sea. Situated between the Moray
Firth and Loch Linnhe, the canal was constructed as a transport route to save the long
sail around Scotland. It is one of Scotland's largest marina facilities. Thomas Telford began construction
of the canal in 1803 and it was completed by 1822.
The mountain scenery of the Scottish Highlands may be a surprising setting for a canal, but the Great Glen - through which the Caledonian Canal runs almost directly from South West to North East - has for centuries been the region's natural line of communication.
Stretching from Fort William to Inverness, the Caledonian Canal is 60 miles long. 22 miles are man-made: the rest are natural lochs, namely Loch Lochy, Loch Oich, the famous Loch Ness and Loch Dochfour.
Widely considered a masterpiece of canal engineering, the Caledonian is on a scale incomparable with almost anything else in Britain. It has survived in part due to its continuing importance in the Highland economy, and partly because it is quite simply spectacular.
Once bustling with narrowboats carrying coal, this surprising rural canal now passes quietly by spoil heaps that are today swathed in greenery.
Rural throughout much of its length, the Coventry Canal runs for 38 miles linking Coventry with the Trent & Mersey
Canal at Fradley Junction.
Coventry's most famous landmark is its cathedral - a stunning modern building standing next to the shell of the original cathedral, bombed in World War II. This is just a short walk from the attractive terminus basin, which is now lined with shops and bars. Informative signs and artworks adorn the towpath between Hawkesbury Junction and the city, and the line has undergone much general improvement.
There is a pleasant flight of 11 locks at Atherstone. They are partly in town and partly
in countryside. Atherstone holds a football match on Shrove Tuesday which follows 12th
Revelling in the title of 'Britain's most beautiful shortcut', the Crinan cuts across Mid Argyll between Loch Fyne and the Sound of Jura.
Running for nine miles between Ardrishaig and Crinan, the canal, completed in
1801 was built to save sailing boats from the difficult passage around the Mull of Kintyre. The Crinan Canal is a very popular route passing through wonderful Scottish scenery that is especially beautiful around Crinan Basin. The canal is only 7 m / 23 ft wide, too narrow and
shallow for heavy commercial traffic today, but yachts, pleasure cruisers, and a few
fishing boats continue to navigate its waters.
There is a towpath throughout. Large sea-going vessels may be encountered, and navigators should beware of strong winds and a significant current.
Forth & Clyde Canal
After lying derelict for many years, the Forth & Clyde Canal once again strides the country from east to west. The canal was completed in 1791 and closed to
navigation in 1963.
Running from Bowling and the Clyde, through Glasgow to Grangemouth and the Forth, it was triumphantly reopened in 2001 as part of the £78m Millennium Link project - the largest canal restoration ever in Britain. Its 35 miles and 39 locks cross the Scottish Lowlands, passing the 115ft (35m) high
Falkirk Wheel en route.
The world's first rotating boat lift, the Wheel was opened in May 2002 by the Queen. Situated in a natural amphitheatre outside Falkirk, the remarkable lift is a piece of working art and a monument to the future. The only structure of its kind in the world, the Wheel is the height of eight double decker buses and is capable of lifting loads equivalent to the weight of 100 African elephants!
Day visitors can experience the thrill of the Wheel from special trip-boats at the site, while the Visitor Centre provides the most sensational land vantage point from which to view the wheel in action.
Grand Union Canal
The trunk route of Britain's canal network, the picturesque Grand Union links London through the Chilterns with Birmingham via the longest single canal in Britain.
The Grand Union is a 1920s marriage of historic waterways that even now impresses with the scale of its vision. The Grand Union Canal leaves
the River Thames at Brentford and climbs over fifty locks up into the Chiltern hills.
The attractive 137-mile main line has many branches to towns along the way. The longest of these, the Leicester Line, runs to Leicester, from where the River Soar continues to Nottingham.
As the main line from London to the Midlands, the Grand Union Canal was once one of the busiest in the country. There are long tunnels at
Blisworth and Braunston. Today, its charm lies in its diversity: from the centre of London through the Chiltern Hills, rural Northamptonshire and Warwickshire, and into the suburbs of Birmingham, it offers a wide variety of landscapes, wildlife, architecture, historic craft and buildings. The canal section before Leicester is very rural at times and has two tunnels at
Crick and Husband's Bosworth and staircase locks at Watford and Foxton. Foxton is the site
of a steam powered Inclined Plane which replaced ten locks and lifted narrowboats 75 feet.
It was opened in 1900 but suffered from mechanical and structural problems and the locks
were reopened in 1908. For the last twenty miles or so the route is along the River
Soar which is a tributary of the Trent.
Kennet & Avon Canal
The Kennet & Avon Canal weaves through spectacular scenery between the River Thames and the Severn Estuary near Bristol
covering a distance of 90 miles with more than
100 locks, as natural rolling landscapes give way to the World Heritage Site of Bath.
England's most southerly cross-country broad-beam canal links London and the Bristol Channel. The route of the Kennet & Avon takes it through some of the nation's best loved landscapes, including West Berkshire - an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty - and the southern tip of the rolling Cotswolds.
Designed by Scottish engineer John Rennie, the canal was
built 1810, closed in the 1950s, and reopened in 1990.Its breathtaking architecture is in perfect harmony with surroundings that provide a habitat for a diverse range of flora and fauna. And with an excellently maintained towpath, it's ideal for exploration by bike or on foot, as well as by boat.
Reopened as recently as 1990 by the Queen, this canal is fast becoming one of Britain's favourite waterways.
One of the most scenic canals now on the network, this gentle waterway offers wonderful views of the Silverdale coast, Forest of Bowland and rolling countryside of Wyre.
The Lancaster Canal is unique. Being a contour canal (built along the natural lie of the land), it has 41 miles without locks. This is the longest stretch in the country, and in fact the only locks on the main length are derelict! These are at Tewitfield, the southernmost point of the Northern Reaches, and as such are part of the £50 million restoration scheme to reopen the 14 miles of canal to Kendal.
Though the canal was once busy with cargoes from Kendal, Preston and Lancaster, it has only just been connected to the national waterway network by the Millennium Ribble Link.
section became part of the busy Leeds & Liverpool Canal
but the isolated northern section became a backwater.
A waterbus now runs on the canal in the summer months, resurrecting a 200-year old tradition. Enjoy one of a variety of cruises on offer, including Lancaster to Carnforth, Carnforth to Tewitfield, Lancaster country cruises and Lune Aqueduct Cruises with Lancaster Canal Packet Boats.
The canal was engineered by John Rennie , and the bridges
and aqueducts are built on his usual massive classical scale. The five arched Lune
Aqueduct is 660ft long and commonly accepted as one of the wonders of the canal world.
Leeds & Liverpool Canal
This is the longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway - yet one of the least busy.
One of three trans-Pennine waterways, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal is 127 miles long and, via its connection with the Aire & Calder at Leeds, offers a coast-to-coast route across the north of England.
Fascinating towns and attractions abound, from the big city appeal of Leeds to the peace of villages on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. Waterway landmarks include the famous Five-Rise flight of locks at Bingley, the impressive Burnley Embankment, and Foulridge Tunnel, through which a cow once swam.
The summit level goes through some fine moorland
scenery over the 'backbone of England' , plunging through the mile long Foulridge tunnel.
It then begins to descend amidst remote and beautiful countryside through the market town
of Skipton into the Yorkshire Dales and on towards the bustling city of Leeds and the
heart of the West Riding of Yorkshire.
The canal has good connections at either end but keeps itself to itself across the Pennines. Consequently, it has its own vocabulary (lock
paddles are known as 'cloughs') and has retained a distinctive character. After Leeds, the Aire & Calder Navigation opens up a fascinating range of Yorkshire
waterways, some once industrial, some very rural. The Yorkshire Ouse takes you to the ancient cities of York and Ripon.
The South Yorkshire Navigation leads to the restored basin at the heart of the city of
Sheffield.The Leeds & Liverpool is a barge canal, built with locks 60 feet long and 14
feet wide, reaching a height of 487½ feet above sea level on the summit at Foulridge. The
locks between Liverpool and Wigan are longer at 72 feet, as are the 2 on the branch to
Leigh, where the junction with the Bridgewater Canal
allows boats to reach the narrow canals of central and southern England. A second branch
links the canal at Burscough with the River Ribble via the small port of Tarleton.
One of the most popular waterways in Europe, the Llangollen Canal boasts scenic beauty and breathtaking engineering in equal measure.
The magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct across the River Dee is worth the journey alone and is simply a must-see.
This 46-mile canal leaves the Shropshire Union Canal just north of Nantwich in rural
Cheshire and climbs through deserted Shropshire farmlands to cross the border into Wales
near Chirk. It then cuts through increasingly hilly countryside to finish alongside the
River Dee tumbling out of Snowdonia, just above Llangollen. It is beautiful throughout and is understandably very busy in the high season. Understated rural countryside, including the market towns of Whitchurch and Ellesmere, gives way to the majesty of the Chirk and Pontcysyllte Aqueducts - two of Britain's greatest waterway
landmarks, built by the engineers Thomas Telford and William Jessup and were among the first to use
cast iron troughs to contain the canal.
The final few miles of canal hug the side of the River Dee valley on their approach to Llangollen. The canal beyond the moorings at Llangollen, continuing to the water feeder at Horseshoe Falls, is a particularly attractive spot for a walk.
Manchester Ship Canal
From the tidal River Mersey at Eastham to Salford in Manchester, the Manchester Ship Canal, nicknamed 'The Big Ditch', runs for 36 miles. Britain's biggest waterway, its size, construction methods and operations make it incomparable with any other inland waterway in the country.
Opened by Queen Victoria in May 1894 the MSC brought deep-sea shipping to Manchester and led to the creation of Trafford Park, the world's first industrial estate. Although its role has diminished, it still carries significant amounts of cargo. Notable works include the Barton Swing Aqueduct, which carries the historic Bridgewater Canal over the newer waterway.
It has five locks and transformed Lancashire's economy by making Manchester accessible to ocean-going
craft. In particular, it led to the development of the cotton industry as raw cotton was
transported east along the canal to Manchester and the finished textile products were
shipped west to the Merseyside ports.
The picturesque Oxford Canal meanders slowly through 77 miles of classic scenery, much of which has barely changed in centuries.
At one time it was the main transport route from the
midlands to the south of England and it is now one of the most beautiful and popular
The Oxford Canal is one of England's most peaceful waterways, running lazily through the countryside from Oxford to Coventry. It was briefly the principal waterway from London to the Midlands, but was superseded soon after construction by the more direct Grand Junction Canal - now the Grand Union.
Consequently, the Oxford Canal has escaped large-scale development and few towns have sprung up on its banks. The southern section is particularly charming and remains largely unaltered.
The canal heads north through pleasant pastures, through the old canal village
of Thrupp and passing close to the magnificent Blenheim palace, Winston Churchill's
birthplace. The countryside becomes more isolated with rolling hills around the old
village of Lower Heyford, neighbouring Upper Heyford had a large USAF base. The section up past Rugby was straightened
in the nineteenth century, almost halving the length of the original winding route. You
can still see the remains of some of the straightened out loops and the entrance to the
old Newbold Tunnel is near the churchyard. The "new" tunnel is at right angles
to the old one and is of fairly generous dimensions, having a towpath on both sides. It
joins the Coventry Canal at Hawkesbury Junction.
The Rochdale Canal is one of three trans-Pennine routes, with its high summit level meaning lots of locks - but splendid views.
The Rochdale Canal strides boldly for 33 miles from the heart of Manchester to its junction with the Calder & Hebble at Sowerby Bridge, rolling through some of the most rugged and beautiful scenery in the country.
The culmination of over 25 years' volunteer work, the canal finally reopened to boats on 1st July 2002 after more than 50 years without through navigation. The restorers overcame obstructions including a supermarket built on the line, two motorways, countless road blockages, and a misguided 1970s scheme to infill the channel with concrete. It is once again a glorious route across the Pennines that appeals equally to boaters and walkers.
Opened in 1804 and running from Sowerby Bridge in West Yorkshire, England, to the
Bridgewater Canal in Manchester.
Shropshire Union Canal
Arrow-straight for much of its length, this charming rural waterway strides across the landscape.
The 66-mile Shropshire Union Canal is a canal of two halves. In total, it runs from the
edge of urban Wolverhampton through some of the most underpopulated areas of England to
the River Mersey at Ellesmere Port. The North section of the canal - built originally as the Chester Canal - is a wide waterway following the gentle rolling landscape of western Cheshire
from Nantwich to Ellesmere Port. The old docks at Ellesmere Port now house The Boat Museum which has a unique
collection of ex working boats and waterways exhibitions.
But the southern half of the canal - built in the twilight of the canal age - is an astonishing feat of engineering.
It has long embankments and deep cuttings, a number of which were reputed by the old boat people to be
haunted. These were
massive undertakings, Shelmore embankment took six years to build and Woodseaves cutting
is 100 feet deep. Nearly all the locks are bunched together in "flights". This
made for quicker working by the boat people because locks could be easily prepared in
advance of the boats. The Shropshire Union was formed by the "union" of a number
of canals, that from Nantwich to Chester was built to broad barge standards, and many
miles of little used branches through Shropshire were abandoned early in the 20th Century. frequently dominate the scenery. In contrast to the winding contours of early canals, the Shroppie kept the same course across valley and through hills, speeding cargoes on their way from the North-West to Wolverhampton and the Midlands. Concrete 'pill boxes' are an artefact from later times, a reminder of how the line was defended in wartime.
Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
The Staffs & Worcs Canal, as it is commonly known, was built as one of the trunk routes of the canal age - but is now justifiably popular with pleasure boats. Leaving the
Mersey canal at Great Haywood, and rising over the Compton Summit before dropping to meet the
River Severn at Stourport, it runs for 46 miles through almost entirely rural surroundings.
Cutting through mostly soft undulating landscape fashioned by geological events of over 400 million years
ago and twisting around river valleys and then through some remarkable sandstone scenery around
Kinver. It skirts the edge of suburban Wolverhampton and then crosses the wide open
farmland of Cannock Chase before joining the near the beautiful Tixall Wide.
The Staffs & Worcs is an essential link between major waterways as well as being an enjoyable cruise in its own right. Once full of coal boats, it now forms part of two separate cruising rings. The canal skirts the Birmingham and Black Country conurbation without ever becoming truly urban, making a delightful route through scarce West Midlands countryside.
Stourport is a fascinating inland port, much of the port area little changed from the
eighteenth century. There are four interlinked basins, clock tower and the old Tontine
hotel, built by the Canal Company in 1788, overlooking the Severn. Kidderminster was a
centre for carpet production and is now the terminus of the Severn Valley Steam Railway.
Kinver village and the surrounding sandstone hills get many visitors, as does the Vine pub
which sits right alongside the lock at Kinver.
The canal has two sets of unusual locks, at Bratch and Botterham. The two locks at
Botterham are a staircase, locks placed close together which share gates. The Bratch locks
are not a staircase but there is only a few feet between them. Both sets of locks can be
confusing to work through for the first time but there are instructions posted about how
to work the locks and Bratch normally has a lock-keeper on hand to help during the summer.
Just north of the junction with the Shropshire Union
Canal near Wolverhampton there is a narrow cutting just over half a mile long through
rock, which is not wide enough for boats to pass. There are passing places.
Saved from dereliction by the efforts of waterway pioneers, the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal runs from Birmingham's suburbia to Shakespeare's Stratford in 25 picturesque miles.
The canal is usually considered as a northern and a southern section: the northern section runs from Kings Norton to Kingswood Junction, and the especially attractive southern half continues to meet
the River Avon at Stratford. This consistently delightful waterway is now part of the Avon Cruising Ring.
During warm spells at Bancroft Basin in Stratford, resting actors can be seen giving impromptu Shakespearean performances with the famous theatre as their backdrop.
Although the canal is fairly short, there are 54 locks and it goes
through some enchanting countryside in the very Heart of England. Once it leaves the Birmingham suburbs the canal passes through nothing other than small
villages until it reaches Stratford. The delightfully named neighbouring Warwickshire
villages of Preston Baggot, Wootton Wawen and Wilmcote are all attractive with old houses,
churches, inns and Halls or Manors. Lapworth is an interesting canal junction where a
short spur connects to the Grand Union Canal which runs
parallel close by. The final descent through the Stratford suburbs is uninspiring until
you pass under a low bridge and come out amongst hordes of visitors in Stratford Basin,
alongside the River Avon and the Shakespeare Memorial
The canal has one tunnel at Brandwood near King's Norton Junction where it leaves the
Worcester & Birmingham Canal. It has three
interesting aqueducts with cast iron troughs, the largest at Bearley (or Edstone) near
Wootton Wawen. There are unusual barrel-roofed lock cottages along the canal. Stratford
Basin is right in the visitor heart of Stratford Upon Avon.
Thames & Severn Canal
This beautiful canal through the Cotswolds once linked the River Thames to the River Severn. Now under restoration as part of the 'Cotswold Canals' route, the reopened canal will enable boats to navigate between England's two greatest rivers once again.
Abandoned for 70 years, the Thames & Severn Canal is now under restoration.
Slicing through the glorious rolling Cotswold countryside for 36 miles between Saul Junction on the Gloucester & Sharpness Canal and the Thames at Inglesham, the Stroudwater Canal and Thames & Severn Canal are now collectively known as the Cotswold Canals.
When fully restored the Cotswold Canals will reinstate the link between the Rivers Severn and Thames and, together with other lines, will form part of the Wessex Cruising Ring.
Sapperton Tunnel on the Thames & Severn is amongst the longest in the country.
Trent & Mersey Canal
This cross-country canal through the North Midlands offers excellent views over the Cheshire Plain and impressive engineering feats - including Harecastle Tunnel, the first of its kind.
The Trent & Mersey Canal was the most ambitious part of canal pioneer James Brindley's plan to connect the principal rivers of
within a few miles of the River Mersey, near Runcorn and finishing in a junction with the River Trent in Derbyshire.. Its importance was recognised by its early name of the 'Grand Trunk' Canal.
through the industry of the Staffordshire Potteries
out into rural Staffordshire and then Derbyshire.
The canal was promoted by pottery producers such as Josiah
Wedgwood, eager to abandon the rutted roads of the area for this new, smooth form of transport. Consequently, it runs through the heart of the Potteries, but also offers rural cruising through Derbyshire, Staffordshire and Cheshire.
The canal has recently achieved fame through the Inspector Morse story, The Wench is Dead, reputedly based on the true story of a murder committed by 19th century boatmen working out of Preston Brook.
Shardlow, near the River Trent, is one of England's best preserved canal towns. Josiah Wedgwood was involved in getting the canal built and
the Wedgwood factory and museum are canalside just south of Stoke on Trent. The canal is
known for its tunnels, at Harecastle, Barnton, Saltersford and Preston Brook. Saltersford
has a kink because tunneling started at different points and didn't quite meet in the
middle! Preston Brook has a large central chamber where a collapse was repaired, and
cruising through the pitch dark confines of Harecastle tunnel is an experience nobody
forgets! Anderton lift carried narrowboats down to the River Weaver near
The Anderton Boat
lift near the village of Anderton in Cheshire, provides a 50 feet (15.2 m) vertical link between two navigable waterways: the River Weaver and the Trent and Mersey Canal.
Built in 1875, the boat lift was in use for over 100 years until it was closed due to corrosion in 1983. Restoration started in 2001 and the boat lift was re-opened in 2002. The lift and associated visitor centre and exhibition are operated by British Waterways. It is one of only two working boat lifts in the United Kingdom; the other is Falkirk Wheel in Scotland.
Worcester & Birmingham Canal
Although the Worcester & Birmingham Canal is one of the most heavily locked in the country, the hard work in navigating it is more than compensated by long stretches of idyllic scenery as the line descends the 30 miles between Birmingham and Worcester.
It links the two cities, built to connect the River Severn in
Worcester to the Birmingham Canal System via a quicker route than the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.
Leaving Birmingham, the canal manages to remain on the same level for 15 miles, diving through tunnels when necessary. Then the locks begin - and how. The Tardebigge Flight has 30 locks in just over two miles, making it one of Britain's steepest.
Though largely rural, the line is steeped in history and its five tunnels contribute an aura of mystique.
At Bournville is the Cadbury's Chocolate Factory which has tours and exhibitions.
Cadbury's had a fleet of immaculately painted narrowboats which carried their raw
materials to the factory. There is also the village built by the firm for its workers and
two half timbered houses which were moved here from other parts of Birmingham.
The canal has four tunnels, the longest at Kings Norton near the junction with the
Stratford Canal is just under two miles long. Steam tugs
were used from the 1870's to haul strings of narrowboats through the four tunnels.