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Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 58
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 7.5 HOURS (49 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P6 | Click here buy maps
A route with tales of medieval times and reeds, special water used by monks to change a town’s fortunes and a vital inland port with links to pottery, the Industrial Revolution and ‘canal mania’. This journey is rural and even remote at times, yet trips in and out of bustling hubs that tell stories of canal-life to the passing traveller.
Turn northwards from the marina along the Coventry Canal. Atherstone was once a thriving centre for hat making and the attractive 11 Atherstone Locks (the majority of the locks on the entire Coventry Canal) take the canal down to open farmland. The railway and the River Anker shadow the canal and, passing the remnants of an unusual iron swing bridge, the canal ambles through Polesworth and past Pooley Country Park before ducking under the noisy M42.
A nature reserve has been created from the pools left by the mining industry at Alvecote. The canal passes the outskirts of Tamworth and descends another two locks at Glascote. The canal crosses the River Tame on the beautiful Grade II-listed Tame Aqueduct, before reaching Fazeley Junction, where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal heads off south towards Birmingham. Children aboard may want a quick visit to Drayton Manor Theme Park, just south of the junction.
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 – though the Company later managed to buy the section from Whittington through to Fradley Junction, now a stranded portion of the Coventry Canal! (A stone by bridge 78 at Whittington marks where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal changes back to the Coventry Canal).
No mooring is allowed by the wooded hillside at Hopwas as this is the Whittington Firing Ranges (look out for the danger flags!) At Huddlesford Junction, the remains of what is now called the Lichfield Canal are used for moorings. If you have time, the city of Lichfield, two miles along the A38, 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.
The Coventry Canal ends at Fradley Junction where it meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. Steer carefully as this junction is very popular with gongoozlers who will watch as you negotiate the sharp right bend from the Coventry Canal straight into Junction Lock. This is a busy hotspot with an award-winning nature reserve, and a pub and teashops to tempt you too.
Continue east through the locks along the Trent & Mersey Canal towards Alrewas. This pretty village sits close to the River Trent and was once famous for basket weaving from the trees which grew in the river’s floodplain. It is now known as the location of the National Memorial Arboretum, just under two miles from the canal. Below Alrewas Lock, the canal actually joins the river for a short way, so keep well away from the signposted weir.
From Wychnor Lock, the canal runs straight and parallel to the A38, formerly the old Roman road of Ryknield Street. At Barton-under-Needwood, the large marina makes an interesting stop-off as it is a mini shopping village with plenty of places to eat – there’s even an estate agency based on a boat! After descending Barton Turn Lock, the A38 parts company with the canal near bridge 36, so peace resumes. Branston Water Park, a Local Nature Reserve in a former gravel pit, offers walk trails and a café. It has one of the largest reed beds in Staffordshire so is home to varied species of plants and animals. Just beyond the park, the village of Branston is home of the famous pickle, first created here by Crosse & Blackwell in 1922.
The canal now reaches Burton-on-Trent where a visit to a pub is mandatory to soak up the town's famous brewing heritage. And if you have time, visit the National Brewery Centre. Brewing in Burton dates back to the Middle Ages when monks used to brew beer for their own consumption as well as for visitors. The town’s water created excellent beer, and the advent of the Trent & Mersey Canal enabled hops and barley to be easily transported in, and Burton’s beer to be transported out to much of the country. At its height, Burton had over 30 breweries producing hundreds of thousands of barrels of ale each year.
Meandering onward with bridges and aqueducts to keep you entertained, the canal passes the village of Willington where the railway shadows the canal, before reaching Stenson Lock, the first of a series of wide locks down to the canal’s start. In Shardlow, former warehouses stand with pride along the water's edge, reflecting the importance this historic inland port once held. Cargoes of the Industrial Revolution used to arrive on wide boats from the river and were unloaded into warehouses here before being reloaded onto narrowboats to be transported along the canal. There are over 50 listed buildings, and the Salt Warehouse, the oldest canal warehouse in the village, fittingly houses Shardlow Heritage Centre. The 18th-century Trent Mill, with its boat entrance below, is now a pub.
Derwent Mouth Lock, just to the east of the village, marks the start (or end!) of a 93-mile canal that once carried the fortunes of Josiah Wedgwood and his pots, and made James Brindley the most applauded canal engineer in the era of ‘canal mania’. The area known as the Potteries was one of the main reasons the Trent & Mersey Canal was built. Josiah Wedgwood (the world-renowned pottery manufacturer) was in the business of producing delicate products and, in his era of the 1700s, bumpy packhorse transportation was slow and precarious over existing rugged tracks. Wedgwood needed a better way to transport his finished products to buyers and also a more commercially efficient mode of getting the raw materials of coal, china clay and flint he needed for his factories. With Wedgwood as one of the main benefactors, the great engineer James Brindley was employed and, after an 11-year build, the Trent & Mersey Canal was opened in 1777. The Potteries then exploded into mass production and exported to the world, starting their journey by canal boat.
Once you’ve finished exploring Shardlow and its canal heritage, it’s time to retrace your journey back to Springwood Haven Marina.
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People