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Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 36
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 5 HOURS (37 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P4, P6, L10, L13 | Click here buy maps
This is a journey which takes you through landscapes of outstanding beauty. With stories of canal companies, pottery makers, and aristocrats who shaped their surroundings for their pleasure, you’ll meet wildlife and learn about language and perhaps new tiller skills!
Turn north from the marina along the Coventry Canal. A burst of energy is needed when you reach Atherstone, once a thriving centre for hat making, for the attractive 11 Atherstone Locks, the majority of the locks on the entire Coventry Canal. The locks 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 at Alvecote, from the pools left by the mining industry. The canal passes through the outskirts of Tamworth and descends another two locks at Glascote. The beautiful Grade II-listed Tame Aqueduct carries the canal across the River Tame before you reach Fazeley Junction, where the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal heads off south towards Birmingham. Just south of the junction, Drayton Manor Theme Park may tempt any children aboard to ask for a quick detour.
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).
There is no mooring 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 now used for moorings. If you have time in your itinerary, 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. The junction is a bustling hotspot with an award-winning nature reserve, a pub and teashops to tempt you to stop. It is also a popular spot for ‘gongoozlers’ (people who watch boating activity) so make sure your tiller skills are up to scratch as you turn sharply to head west along the Trent & Mersey Canal as it climbs through woodland.
Beyond Wood End Lock, almost nine lock-free miles wind the canal slowly through delicious English countryside. Lady Godiva, of Coventry fame, is said to have lived in King’s Bromley, a short walk north of bridge 54, and a cross in the churchyard is known as Godiva’s Cross.
The River Trent comes close to the canal as it passes through Handsacre and Armitage (best known for Armitage Shanks bathrooms). Josiah Spode, of the pottery family made famous by Josiah Spode the Elder, used to be organist at the local church and in 1861 bought an organ that was originally built in 1790 for Lichfield Cathedral. Josiah also gifted the church a stained glass window in 1868 in memory of his wife. Just outside Armitage, watch out for oncoming boats as the canal narrows where there was once a tunnel. The Hawkesyard Estate also has a connection to the Spode family who lived here in the 1800s when the Hall was known as Spode House.
Passing the outskirts of Rugeley, the chimneys of its power station clearly visible, an aqueduct carries the canal over the River Trent 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.
There’s a popular mooring spot just below Haywood Lock to explore one of the highlights of your cruise. Shugborough Hall, dating back to 1693 and now a National Trust property, peeps over the canal as you approach the lock and calls you to visit. The estate was once the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield, of which the 5th, Patrick Lichfield the photographer, was perhaps the most well-known. Legend has it that the ladies of Shugborough Hall in the 18th century didn’t relish the uncouth idea of riding their own horses across Essex Bridge, a narrow packhorse bridge over the River Trent. So a new wider bridge was built to carry them in carriages, in all their finery, over the river to church in the village – only yards away!
The Trent & Mersey Canal carries on northwards at Great Haywood Junction, while you take a sharp turn under the bridge to join the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. It’s rumoured that the junction’s beautiful cobbled bridge is the most photographed on the entire canal network.
Most modern people would see this stretch of canal as gloriously scenic, but in the 18th century one powerful local man wouldn't have agreed. Clifford Thomas occupied the once nearby Tixall Hall, and when canal builders first arrived to bring one of the ugly water-motorways of the era, he was unimpressed. To disguise the sweaty haulage route, he insisted they widen the water where it could be seen from his home. So after passing through a short tree-lined stretch, don't be surprised when the canal bursts open into the full drama of the lake-like widening, Tixall Wide.
Although it seems odd to us today that our idyllic narrow canals were once perceived as ugly, the disguise at Tixall Wide is still a treat. The meadow alongside the water is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of nesting birds, including heron, swans or even the blue flash of a kingfisher. Great Haywood is a popular daytime spot for geese, so there’s a chance to witness the hullabaloo of mass landing or take off and an arrow-shaped flight of geese flapping and honking in the sky. If you catch the air display here around dawn and dusk, you’ll understand how goose bumps got their name. Linger here as long as time allows and don't miss out on Great Haywood’s Canalside Farm, Shop & Café or a visit to the pub before you turn and set off on your return journey 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