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Duration: 7 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 50
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (29 HOURS IN TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: P7, N4, L8, E4, E6 | Click here buy maps
This fascinating route will take you back in time to the Romans, and will also uncover stories of bishops and monks, bickering aristocracy, speeding canal boats and government secrets – and the generosity of a Queen. From Shropshire to Cheshire and back, you’ll be treated to lock staircases and lift bridges, historic aqueducts, and glorious sweeping landscapes.
Setting off from the marina, head along the Llangollen Canal eastwards past the short Whitchurch Arm. The pretty town of Whitchurch dates back to Roman times and is recorded in the Domesday Book. The town also has some claim to canal fame, as a former rector of the Grade I-listed St Alkmund’s Church was Francis Henry Egerton, from the lineage of the 3rd Duke of Bridgewater who instructed canal engineer James Brindley to build the Bridgewater Canal, hence launching a canal revolution!
Your first major canal challenge comes at Grindley Brook as the first three of Grindley Brook’s six locks are joined together in a staircase – but don’t worry, there is a lock keeper to help during the busy summer season. The canal then drops slowly down through another three isolated locks and then ambles its way through rural surroundings towards Wrenbury.
At Willeymoor Lock, the Sandstone Trail and Bishop Bennet Way meet the canal. Both trails are 34 miles long, and the latter was originally designed as a horse trail named after William Bennet (1745- 1820), Bishop of Cork and Ross then later Bishop of Cloyne, who carried out detailed surveys of Roman roads including those between Chester (Deva) and Whitchurch (Mediolanum).
There’s a sudden burst of activity at Wrenbury as you pass through several of the lift bridges which are synonymous with the Llangollen Canal. There’s also a busy boatyard here, a couple of handy pubs (including one in a former corn mill) and, a short walk from the canal, thatched cottages and a church ranged around the quintessentially English village green. St. Margaret’s Church sits on the site of the original sister chapel which was established in the 1100s by the Cistercian monks of nearby Combermere Abbey. Much of the church now dates from the 17th and 18th centuries and has many reminders of two important local families, the Cottons of Combermere and the Starkeys of Wrenbury Hall. The two families were bitter rivals over both land and pews in the church, and the dispute was finally settled in 1748 with each family being allocated a specific side of the church in which to sit. There’s also an unusual pew for the ‘dog whipper’, reputedly in charge of controlling both dogs and snoozing parishioners!
The canal now descends a couple of flights of locks in mainly remote countryside before reaching the four locks which take the canal down to Hurleston Junction, where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal. The Shropshire Union Canal, also known as the 'Shroppie', was built by the great engineer, Thomas Telford. His aim was to speed up transportation of cargo between the Midlands and the North West, so he decided on the shortest possible route - rather than taking a 'contour' route like many other canals, he built embankments, deep long cuttings through hills, and flights of locks in short bursts like at Audlem. The embankments caused many problems which delayed the build so much that Telford died before the canal was complete.
Heading south, your route soon crosses the stunning Grade II*-listed cast-iron aqueduct, designed by Thomas Telford in 1826, just outside Nantwich. It’s worth taking the time to moor up and explore this historic market town, a short walk east of the aqueduct. Nantwich was first established in Roman times, but was mostly rebuilt after a brewer accidentally started the ‘great fire of Nantwich’ in 1583, which destroyed over 150 buildings. Such was the uproar that Queen Elizabeth I and her privy council ordered a national fundraising appeal and even donated £1,000 herself (approximately £150,000 today) to help rebuild the town, resulting in the many beautiful black and white beamed Elizabethan buildings throughout the town. The Queen’s generosity is marked by a plaque on a building now called ‘Queen’s Aid House’ in Nantwich Square.
A couple of miles south of Nantwich, after climbing through the two Hack Green Locks, a secret awaits you. If you take the short walk from bridge 86, the unusual Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker will transport you back to the Cold War. This 35,000 square feet underground bunker was built in case of nuclear war and was where the regional government would have been based. Rebuilt at huge cost, it offers a rather unusual insight into what was a terrifying time for many, and now even has a shop and café.
The sweeping countryside beyond carries you to the award-winning village of Audlem, where there’s a fascinating canal shop and craft hub housed in the former canalside mill. To avoid boating up Audlem’s famous 15 locks, it is best to turn your boat just beyond Audlem Marina and Moss Hall Aqueduct below the first of the lock flight and then walk into the village.
At Audlem Wharf, the canalside pub ‘Shroppie Fly’, hints at the heritage of the Shropshire Union Canal. Boats on the Shropshire Canal carried cheeses from Cheshire and Shropshire to markets in Manchester and around the North West, Midlands and Wales, and the most notorious of the boats was the Shroppie Fly. Shroppie flyboats were the floating Ferraris of their time. Other boaters would move aside, giving priority to these high speed bullets that were admired for their fine design and skilled crews bulging with success. Shroppie fly boatmen were regarded as elite, as they worked to precision timing in four-man teams and a relay of horses around the clock. (The dawn to dusk cruising rule was only introduced later when holiday boats became popular on the waterways). The business of the Shroppie fly was to carry perishable goods such as cheese and boats were expected to race to deliver on impossible schedules. If you’re lucky, your visit might coincide with a boat festival when it would be possible to see Saturn, the last horse-drawn Shropshire Union flyboat in the world.
If you have time, it is a lovely walk up the flight and the views from the top are glorious. Audlem claims to be the first village of the ‘North’ as the village sits in Cheshire, yet the top of the flight is in Shropshire. There are several ‘hovels’ up the flight – these tiny huts were where canal lock-keepers or lengthsmen could keep tools, shelter from the weather and even cook breakfast. Once you have soaked up the delights of Audlem, it’s time retrace your journey to Hurleston Junction then back onto the Llangollen Canal to return to the marina at Whitchurch.
Max: 4 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 5 People
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 6 People
Max: 8 People
Max: 10 People
Max: 10 People