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TOTAL LOCKS: 79
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7.5 HOURS (47 IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P6, L12 | Click here buy maps
A route with a mix of rural and urban, taking in parts of the Coventry Canal, Trent & Mersey Canal, Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, Birmingham Canal Navigations and Birmingham & Fazeley Canal. This Ring includes three tunnels, several aqueducts, and 79 locks - can be done in 7 nights or a more relaxing 14 nights.
Your route swings from lock-free relaxation to energetic lock flights, from rural to urban, and contrasts the winding and straight routes by two of the greatest canal engineers. This is a journey of junctions – Fradley, Great Haywood, Aldersley, Salford, Fazeley - from the sprawling green territory of Cannock Chase to the historic canal basin in Birmingham city centre.
Cruising away from the marina, follow the Coventry Canal north through open countryside to Fradley Junction where the canal ends as it meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. This is a bustling hotspot with pub, teashops and an award-winning nature reserve. Head west along the Trent & Mersey Canal as it climbs past woodland.
The canal winds its way slowly through glorious countryside, with a lock-free nine miles after Wood End Lock. The River Trent comes close as the canal passes through Handsacre and Armitage (best known for Armitage Shanks bathrooms), but also with links to the pottery family made famous by Josiah Spode the Elder. Just outside Armitage, watch out for oncoming boats as the canal narrows to one boat width where there was once a tunnel.
The chimneys of Rugeley’s power station can be seen as you pass the town, then the canal crosses the River Trent over an aqueduct and the river stays close for the next few miles. The huge expanse of Cannock Chase can be seen to the south. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) covers 26 square miles and was once a Norman hunting ground. A herd of fallow deer are descended from generations of deer who grazed here.
Passing through Colwich Lock, one of this journey’s highlights, Shugborough Hall, peeps over the canal and calls you to visit. The estate, dating back to 1693 and now a National Trust property, was once the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield of which the 5th Earl, Patrick Lichfield the photographer, was perhaps the most well-known.
Above Haywood Lock, you reach Great Haywood Junction where the Trent & Mersey Canal carries on northwards while you take a sharp turn under the historic bridge to follow the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. The canal crosses the River Trent on a small aqueduct and after a short tree-lined stretch arrives at Tixall Wide. In the 18th century Clifford Thomas occupied Tixall Hall, and when canal builders first arrived to dig an ugly water-motorway of his era, he was ferociously unimpressed. To avoid spoiling his view from his window, he insisted that the canal builders widened the water to disguise it as a little sweet lake. The meadow alongside the water is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of nesting birds, so it's a good mooring spot to linger.
The quintessentially pretty lock cottage at Tixall Lock has views across fields towards the castellated entrance to Shugborough Railway Tunnel beyond. A four-mile stretch without locks follows the River Sow for much of the way, until just beyond bridge 106 where the canal crosses the river on the aqueduct built by James Brindley. Between bridges 98 and 99, you could take a bus along the A34, to visit the county town of Stafford.
A series of locks gradually lift the canal to Penkridge, a small town with a locally renowned weekly market, and a history that spans coaching inns, racehorses, canals and railways. Further locks lead the canal southwards under the former Roman Road Watling Street, now the A5, to Gailey Wharf. The tower-shaped building next to Gailey Top Lock was once the old lock keeper's cottage, and today houses a small gift shop. Continuing southwards, duck under pipe bridges past a chemical works. The canal wiggles along past the entrance to the former Hatherton Branch until the route straightens out just beyond the M54 motorway.
The very narrow rock cutting called Pendeford Rockin' will keep anyone at the tiller alert - if you meet a boat, you’ll need to use one of the special passing places. Carry straight on at Autherley Junction, where the Shropshire Union Canal heads off to your right. At Aldersley Junction, turn off onto the Birmingham Main Line, part of the Birmingham Canal Navigations (BCN). You’re immediately thrust into the Wolverhampton Flight of 21 locks so your crew will need to be ready!
Leaving Wolverhampton, the canal heads south towards Coseley and the short Coseley Tunnel (360yds/329m long), its winding route the original route chosen by the canal engineer James Brindley. At Factory Junction, a short detour right towards the Dudley Tunnel offers the opportunity to tie up next to the 26-acre Black Country Living Museum for a special encounter with the region’s past. The region’s historic buildings were saved from demolition and rebuilt brick by brick at the museum site creating an urban canalside village, where staff dress in costume, craftsmen demonstrate Black Country skills and heritage boats are moored.
If time allows, you could take a boat trip run by the Dudley Canal & Tunnel Trust into the Dudley Tunnels and network of limestone caverns. The ‘Dudley Tunnel’ was begun in 1775. It took 9 million bricks to line the tunnel and, almost unbelievably, each brick was handmade by women and children. A labyrinth of caverns and branches connect with the main tunnel and are separated on three levels, by only ten precarious feet of rock and history. When you’ve finished exploring, your route then takes the Birmingham Level via Factory Locks for Telford’s straight route via Galton Bridge and Galton Tunnel (122yds/112m long), into the heart of Birmingham.
Boats cruise into Birmingham through the backdoor of the city, yet arrive at its thriving heart. The bronze bull of the Bullring, the markets, Antony Gormley's sculpture, designer shopping, multi-cultural panache and a spectacular controversial library - that's Birmingham. Yet first impressions don't give away the city's biggest secret. It is at the heart of Britain's canal network and spaghettis more miles of water than Venice (over 100 navigable miles of it!).The historic waterside hub is alive with bars and restaurants. Symphony Hall, ICC, Barclaycard Arena and Brindleyplace spoil visitors with choice and beg you to stay as long as you can. Birmingham’s famous markets are only a short walk from the canal, and there are also art galleries, museums, theatres and dizzy opportunities for shopping too.
After taking time to explore, you now leave the city along the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal via a quick succession of locks - the 13 Farmer’s Bridge Locks followed quickly by the 11 Aston Locks, taking you down to Salford (or Spaghetti) Junction and a right turn past the city’s trailing outskirts. Back in the countryside and through the diminutive Curdworth Tunnel (57yds/52m long), the 11 Curdworth Locks take the canal down to Fazeley.
At Bodymoor Heath, Kingsbury Water Park lies to the right of the canal. The park was created from industrial gravel and sand extraction pits, and the resulting 600-acre park has around 30 pools and lakes. A Visitor Centre sets out the history of the park, and as many as 230 different species of bird have been spotted here so a must for any twitchers on board. And just before the junction, you may want to moor up for children aboard who want a quick detour to Drayton Manor Family Theme Park.
Turn left at Fazeley Junction to head northwards through open countryside. Although the Coventry Canal heads northeast at the junction, the Birmingham & Fazeley carries on for a couple of miles to the northwest, as the Coventry Canal Company ran out of money at Fazeley – though they later managed to buy the section from Whittington through to Fradley Junction, now a stranded part of the Coventry!
There is no mooring allowed by the wooded hillside at Hopwas as this is the Whittington Firing Ranges (look out for the danger flags!) A stone by bridge 78 at Whittington marks where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal changes to the Coventry Canal, and just beyond Huddlesford Junction (the Lichfield Canal) you arrive back at the marina.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People