Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 58
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (38 HOURS IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: P1, N2, L16, E1
Between Gailey and Stourport-on-Severn lies a narrow, winding route roaring with red sandstone rocks and scattered canopies of the greenest trees. Wildlife huddles in the hedgerows, at the water's edge, on the water, and no-one could guess how close to urban reality this peaceful retreat is. This journey takes the traveller along one of James Brindley's most popular canals and visits the only town in Britain that was built solely for canals.
The journey along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal starts at Gailey Wharf on the A5 Watling Street, which was once an important Roman Road running east to west from Dover to Wroxeter. Heading southwards, the canal winds its way under pipe bridges past a chemical works before you reach the marina, boatyard and junction to the former Hatherton Branch of the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.
The canal continues to wind its way south, straightening out just after the M54 crosses the canal on the outskirts of Wolverhampton. There is an excitingly narrow cutting through the rock called Pendeford Rockin’ where even experienced boat crews need to be on the lookout for other boats as there are limited passing places.
At Autherley Junction the Shropshire Union Canal may try to lure you with its charms, but save that for next time! This route travels straight on, following the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to explore its treasures ahead. Your journey continues south past Aldersley Junction where the Birmingham Main Line Canal meets the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, and skirts the edges of Wolverhampton, through Compton, before plunging back into more rural surroundings.
Arriving at Bratch Locks, complex emotions lurch into the fore of a boater's mind. The glorious setting at the top of the hill announces the three giant steps down your boat is about to take. The old octagonal toll office wafts nostalgia over the setting that once took passage payments from working boats carrying heavy goods for the Industrial Revolution. The three locks are formed as a staircase flight and their navigation is an interesting challenge, dosed for some with trepid excitement. Luckily, during the holiday season there's usually a lock-keeper to show even a novice boater how simple it is!
The surroundings become increasingly rural and any woes of life are seamlessly abandoned as you approach Greensforge. The canal spirals to Stourton Junction, where the Stourbridge Canal heads off eastwards towards the heart of the Black Country. Your route continues southwards following the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, and the stretch that meanders from Stourton to Wolverley can rival anywhere along Britain’s canals for sheer appeal. Amongst boaters it’s famous for its narrow winding route and roaring red sandstone rocks that perilously overhang the water. So be prepared to steer well and soak up the idyllic waterscape of the miles ahead. Along with his contour-led method of building, Brindley’s canals are also distinctive for beautifully crafted brick bridges, many of which are now Grade II-listed.
Just beyond the very short Dunsley Tunnel (25yds/23m long), Hyde Lock is one of the Britain’s most idyllic canal locks, perched above the village of Kinver looking down from a green woodland oasis. It’s worth mooring in Kinver for the night to explore the village and the beautiful walks around Kinver Edge with its distinctive rock cave houses, now looked after by the National Trust. Cave houses were once dug into the soft red sandstone of the area and were lived in up to the 1960s. One of the houses has been restored to give visitors an insight into Victorian life as a cave dweller, while another tempts you to tea and - what else? - rock cake!
The quirks of this canal continue with a row of cottages precariously perched above the short Cookley Tunnel (65yds/59m long). Speak to any of the locals in this area and you're bound to hear a story about their canal. It's said by many that the intriguing small cave beside Debdale Lock was chiselled into the rock to provide overnight stabling for boat horses. But there are others who claim they've spotted Santa in there around Christmastime too!
The canal strolls onward, bending almost back on itself, curling under a mass of red sandstone before reaching Wolverley. Few boaters manage to pass through the lock here without stopping for a while at the Lock Inn. Then, cruising towards Kidderminster, a boater could sway into heretical thoughts as the old steam railway offers trips. When the steam train was first invented, it was a brutal rival that stole trade from the ‘slow’ canals. Two centuries later steam railways have become heritage attractions alongside many waterways. If time allows, you can take a trip on the Severn Valley Railway running from Kidderminster to historic Bridgnorth.
Back afloat, leaving the rival railway behind, you'll soon have the fabulously restored historic basins at Stourport-on-Severn in sight. Stourport is the only town in Britain built solely for the canals, and it was once the busiest inland port in the Midlands after Birmingham. In 1766, when James Brindley started building the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, his plan was to link the existing trade routes of the River Severn and the River Trent. In order to safely lift boats up from the River Severn to the canal he built a series of locks and basins. Georgian buildings and the charismatic 18th-century Clock Warehouse still line the basins today and there is a fascinating 'Discovery Trail' to follow. The riverside park serves ice creams and has family entertainment too. After exploring the town, your journey retraces back northwards to Gailey Wharf.
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People