Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 26
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 32 HOURS (5 HOURS IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P6, L13 | Click here buy maps
Through Fazeley Junction, Atherstone, Hawkesbury Junction, Coventry and back – 7 nights – total locks 26 (13 x 2)
This cruise treads a rural route through nature reserves and pools left behind by industry. The canal winds gently through beautiful countryside, skirting the edges of nearby conurbations. You’ll hear stories of hard work and art work, mining and weaving, and a certain medieval legend.
If time allows before your trip, the city of Lichfield has much to explore. Lichfield Cathedral is world famous and is the only three-spired medieval Cathedral in the UK. One of its highlights is an 8th-century carved panel of the Archangel Gabriel which was discovered in 2003. The close around the Cathedral dates back to medieval times, and the city is also renowned for its Georgian architecture. Samuel Johnson was born here in 1709, his birthplace now a museum. The writer, often referred to as Dr Johnson, published his ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ in 1755, and according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations is one of England’s most quoted people.
When you are ready to start your boating break, head southwards past Huddlesford Junction (the Lichfield Canal) along the Coventry Canal through open countryside.
A stone by bridge 78 at Whittington marks where the Coventry Canal changes to the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal - the result of a peculiar situation. The Coventry Canal Company ran out of money at Fazeley so the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal carries on for a couple of miles to the northwest of Fazeley Junction while the Coventry Canal heads northeast beyond the junction – though the Company later managed to buy the section from Whittington through to Fradley Junction, now a stranded portion of the Coventry Canal!
There is no mooring allowed by the wooded hillside at Hopwas as this is the Whittington Firing Ranges (look out for the danger flags!) so carry on through open landscapes to Fazeley Junction, where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal heads off south towards Birmingham. You may want to moor up for any children aboard who want a quick detour to Drayton Manor Family Theme Park, just south of the junction.
Crossing the River Tame over the beautiful Grade II-listed Tame Aqueduct, your route now winds through delicious English countryside. Climbing through two locks at Glascote, the canal passes through the outskirts of Tamworth. At Alvecote, a nature reserve has been created from the pools left by the mining industry. Ducking under the noisy M42 and past Pooley Country Park, the canal ambles through Polesworth and under the railway which now shadows the canal.
Passing the remnants of an unusual iron swing bridge, you soon reach the 11 Atherstone Locks, the majority of the locks on the entire canal, so a burst of energy is needed. The locks lift the canal up to Atherstone, once a busy centre for hat making. The canal then heads back into open countryside, passing a series of nature reserves and landscape formed from the spoil heaps of former quarries, the most dramatic of which is known as Mount Judd. Skirting the edge of Nuneaton, you pass Marston Junction where, if time allows, the Ashby Canal heads off to the east.
The canal now carries you past the suburbs of Bedworth, before arriving at Hawkesbury Junction, a busy place filled with boats and a photogenic former engine house, which used to pump water up from a well to the canal. The original Newcomen steam engine, called rather appropriately ‘Lady Godiva’ and dating back to 1725, is now on display in Dartmouth Museum in Devon, birthplace of its engineer Thomas Newcomen. The Junction is also known as Sutton’s Stop, after Richard and Henry Sutton who were lock-keepers here between 1807 and 1876. The Junction is a designated Conservation Area, and most of the buildings and bridges are Grade II-listed. Overlooking the junction and built in 1825, the Greyhound Inn was first run by a local farmer, and used to provide food for the boatmen and stabling for their horses.
The cast-iron bridge over the unusual H-shaped junction spans 50ft and was built in 1837 at a cost of £630. It’s a difficult 90-degree turn to the Oxford Canal which heads off south from the junction under the bridge and through the shallow stop lock (the result of a 7-inch discrepancy between the levels of the two canals), but your route continues straight along the Coventry Canal past Exhall Basin. You will notice as you follow this stretch of the Coventry that artworks appear along the towpath (even over the water – look up as you cruise under Bridge 11a at ‘Wings over Water’, crafted from galvanised steel and representing local wildlife), as the Coventry Art Trail runs from to Hawkesbury Junction to Coventry Basin.
As the canal rounds a bend, the birds sing louder to compete with the inescapable volume of the M6 which crosses the canal here, but don’t worry, as you round the next bend it becomes a distant hum as birdsong takes over again. The canal widens as you approach Longford Bridge 10. This used to be the junction between the Coventry and Oxford Canals and, because the canal companies couldn’t decide amongst themselves how to charge tolls along this stretch, they built the canals side by side from here to Hawkesbury. Boats moored on the opposite bank are on the site of the first wharf built on the canal by the Coventry Canal Company.
The next couple of miles wind through the outskirts of Coventry, by the Coventry Canal. After the sharp bend beyond Prince William Henry Bridge 3, look out for a row of three-storey terraced houses, ‘Cash’s Hundred Houses’, on your right. The Quaker brothers John and Joseph Cash ran a silk weaving company which built the houses for its weavers in 1857 (though only 48 were ever built), creating a ‘cottage factory’ which could compete with other companies using custom-built factories. This was achieved by a shared driveshaft which ran through the upper floors of the houses, powered by a central steam engine, enabling home-based weavers to operate power looms. The remaining houses are now Grade II-listed.
James Brindley was involved in the planning and construction of almost 400 miles of Britain’s canals, including the Coventry Canal. The start (or end) of the Coventry Art Trail is the bronze statue in the middle of Coventry Canal Basin which captures Brindley in action, toiling over papers on his desk. The basin is surrounded by wooden warehouses which would have replaced earlier buildings from its heyday. In order to keep boats from staying in the basin overnight, bridge no.1 was built with a small aperture that could be closed easily with a wooden beam.
Mooring up and heading off to explore Coventry may now tempt you. Lady Godiva, who according to legend rode naked through the streets of Coventry, is said to have lived in King’s Bromley, a short distance from the end of the Coventry Canal at Fradley Junction. Coventry was first settled in 1043 with a Benedictine priory but was much destroyed during the infamous bombings of World War II. The ruins of the original cathedral are a stark voice on the skyline of Coventry's own 'ground zero' left from the horror of the war. In the 1960s a light of hope was built in the new cathedral. A bond between these two buildings that lean side by side is a powerful and emotional paradox.
Once you have explored the city, enjoy your return journey to King’s Orchard Marina from a different perspective.
Max: 5 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People