Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 18
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 5.5 HOURS PER DAY (35 TOTAL)
Perfect for beginners, this route through the Cheshire countryside passes through pretty towns and villages, a couple of aqueducts, a few tunnels, and the opportunity to visit the Anderton Boat Lift Visitor Centre where boats are lifted down to the River Weaver below.
Your boating adventure begins in the medieval town of Nantwich, but before you leave dry land for a while, you might like to visit the Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker. The Bunker is only about 10 minutes away by car and well worth seeing if you are interested in the activities of the RAF and the Government in WWII and the Cold War years. Initially built as a radar station, later the bunker was equipped as potential living quarters for key members of Government in the event of a nuclear attack.
Casting off from Nantwich Canal Centre, cruise north on what used to be the Chester Canal. Very soon you’ll find yourself on a lovely wide and lock-free stretch of water, before passing a junction on the left where the Llangollen Canal splits off. The Hurleston Reservoir is situated here and provides water for the surrounding area, fed by the slight current which runs along the Llangollen Canal all the way from the River Dee.
About 20 minutes later you’ll arrive in Barbridge where the Barbridge Inn is canalside near Bremilows Bridge No.100. If you aren’t catering aboard on your first night, you may choose to moor here and eat at the pub, as facilities are few and far between on the next stretch of your cruise.
Just after the pub, turn right onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. You’ve now got 10 miles of largely quiet and remote countryside, only interrupted by the odd lock and a couple of marinas. Just before the hamlet of Church Minshull you’ll pass over the River Weaver but it’s hardly noticeable so keep your eyes peeled!
On the approach into Middlewich, passing through Wardle Lock you are official entering the shortest canal in the UK at just 154ft. The canal was built in 1829 so that the navigation authority of the Trent & Mersey Canal could charge toll fees to allow boats to travel from the Trent & Mersey onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union. There is a metal plaque next to the lock commemorating the life of Maureen Shaw, who lived and worked on horse-drawn narrowboats and lived in the lock-keeper’s cottage until her death in 2012.
At the junction, turn left onto the Trent & Mersey Canal and pass through the 3 Middlewich Locks to reach the centre of Middlewich. If you want to go exploring, the Big Lock pub is canalside, there is a town trail charting the history of the town as a Roman saltworks settlement, and St Michael’s Church is an impressive medieval church used as a refuge for the Royalists during the Civil War.
Leaving Middlewich, Croxton Aqueduct carries you over the River Dane and onto a beautiful stretch of canal which clings to the side of a hill next to the picturesque River Dane valley. Take a rest from the locks as you cruise through the town of Northwich, perhaps stopping for refreshment at the Old Broken Cross pub by Bridge 184. The canal is surrounded for a short while by the huge Tata Chemical Works and the Lion Salt Works, before the scenery becomes rural again and you pass through Marbury Country Park which has visitor moorings and paths galore through the woodland.
The canal now meanders past Anderton Marina before reaching the Anderton Boat Lift. Built in 1875, the Lift is the only working boat lift in England and is nicknamed ‘The Cathedral of the Canals’ due to its huge structure. The Trent and Mersey Canal sits 50ft above the River Weaver, and the Lift was built to carry working boats both up and down for the transportation of goods. Nowadays you can take an hour-long cruise on the Edwin Clark trip boat to experience the Lift for yourself. Narrowboats are also permitted to use the Lift independently, but passage must be booked and paid for in advance. As well as an informative exhibition, the Visitor Centre has a gift shop, a café, and the Stanley Arms pub is just over the bridge.
It's tunnel time! The next 6 miles contains 3 tunnels, each one longer than the one before and all of them are one-way only so you may wish to plan your timings beforehand.
First up is the Barnton Tunnel. This one’s only 500 metres long and, although it’s only wide enough for one boat, you can see the end of the tunnel before you enter so can wait if you see anything coming.
Soon after the Barnton Tunnel comes the Saltersford Tunnel. This tunnel is in fact shorter than the Barnton, but it’s quite bendy so entrance is timed to prevent any collisions! Going west you are allowed to enter between the hour and 20 minutes past the hour. If you arrive outside of these times there are handy mooring bollards that you can use to tie up to while you wait.
Finally, and just after the Dutton Stop Lock, is the 1100-metre-long Preston Brook Tunnel. It takes about 20 minutes to travel through and because of this the timings are quite strict; you can only enter between the hour and 10 minutes past going north, and between the half hour and 20 minutes to the hour going south. There is no towpath inside, so before boats had engines, horses were led over the hill to the other end of the tunnel and the boat’s crew had to ‘leg’ the boat through the tunnel with their feet against the tunnel walls. Luckily you don’t have to do that…
You have now joined the historic Bridgewater Canal, constructed in the 18th century to transport coal from the Duke of Bridgewater’s mine at Worsley near Manchester to towns and cities close by. Being a ‘contour’ canal means it winds around the hills and valleys and therefore doesn’t have any locks for its entire 39-mile length. Your final destination is Lymm, but it would be shame not to linger for a while in the village of Grappenhall which is on the way. Moor near Grappenhall Bridge No. 17 and cross the bridge to walk along a cobbled street to St Wilfred’s Church where the village stocks still stand. There are a couple of most welcome pubs in this extremely pretty spot.
Return to your boat and cruise the last few miles to Lymm, where there are good moorings on both sides of the canal. Lymm is an attractive village with several restaurants and pubs to choose from in addition to some beautiful walks around the village. When you are ready to tear yourself away, there’s a winding hole soon after Lymm Bridge where you can turn your boat round ready to commence your cruise back to Nantwich.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People