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Four Counties Ring
Featured Routes

Four Counties Ring from Wrenbury Mill

Duration: 14 Nights
TOTAL LOCKS: 132
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (69 HOURS IN TOTAL)

Maps & Guides for this route: P3, P5, N4, L8, E1 | Click here buy maps

A varied route taking in the Shropshire Union Canal, the Middlewich Branch and parts of the Llangollen Canal, the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal and the Trent & Mersey Canal. The route from Wrenbury Mill includes two tunnels, over 20 aqueducts, and 112 locks in total - can be done in 7 nights or a more relaxing 14 nights.

This journey is a narrowboating adventure for those with a bug for travel – an unforgettable cruise through the four counties of Shropshire, West Midlands, Staffordshire and Cheshire. Your tranquil route explores uplifting landscapes that unravel some of the nation's grandest stories of pottery, salt, engineering marvels and the awesome legacy of unsung navvies who built canals with mere spades and pickaxes no matter what obstacle England's landscape threw at them.
 
Opposite a canalside former corn mill (now a pub), the base at Wrenbury Mill is just a short walk from the thatched cottages and church ranged around the quintessentially English village green of Wrenbury. Setting off on your journey east, the Llangollen Canal rolls onwards through lazy green scenery, passing under lift bridges synonymous with this canal, until you reach the locks at Hurleston Junction which lead down to the Shropshire Union Canal.
 
Turning south, you soon reach the stunning Grade II*-listed cast-iron aqueduct, designed by Thomas Telford in 1826, just outside the historic market town of Nantwich. First established in Roman times, the town 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.
 
Sweeping countryside beyond carries you to 15 locks through the award-winning village of Audlem, where there’s a fascinating canal shop and craft hub housed in the former canalside mill. And above Adderley’s five locks, the town of Market Drayton offers a chance to explore its black and white timber frame architecture and decide if you accept the town's noble claim to be the home of gingerbread. After you've nibbled the last crumb of your gingerbread man, you’ll be ready to cruise up the five Tyrley Locks.
 
The route puts its feet up for a while with a 17-mile lock-free stretch as far as Wheaton Aston. Cuttings, embankments and the short Cowley Tunnel (81yds/74m long) spice the route and wide-stretching views make a fresh and uplifting journey. From water level, many bridges over the canal seem extraordinarily high since the canal cuttings created a dramatic landscape. The countryside remains blissfully uninterrupted, with villages scattered here and there for interest. Just north of the ancient village of Brewood, Stretton Aqueduct takes the canal over the old Roman Road, now the A5. Your lock-free eight-mile pound ends with the lock at Autherley Junction which marks the end of the Shropshire Union Canal where it meets the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal.
 
As you steer left you leave the fearlessly straight course of Telford's canal and join the charismatic winding route of Brindley's Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. The canal tests your tiller skills again as it squeezes through a narrow cutting called Pendeford Rockin’ before reaching the lock and unusual toll-keeper’s watchtower at Gailey Wharf. Travel onwards under the former Roman Road Watling Street, now the A5, and another few locks to the bustling town of Penkridge.  After Deptmore Lock, there's a four-mile stretch without locks for your crew to get the kettle on and relax. Between bridges 98 and 99, you could hop on a bus along the A34, to visit the county town of Stafford.
 
Near Great Haywood, there's a twist in the tale of this canal. 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. So don't be surprised after Tixall Lock when the canal bursts open into the full drama of Tixall Wide. The meadow alongside the water is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of nesting birds.
 
Narrow normality resumes as the canal crosses the River Trent on a small aqueduct and arrives at Great Haywood Junction. Here the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal ends where its water meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. Shugborough Hall peeps over the canal, the mansion dates back to 1693 and within its walls history lurks under every frill and doily. Shugborough Hall is now a National Trust property, but the estate was once ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield. The 5th Earl of Lichfield, Patrick Lichield, the photographer, was perhaps the most well-known.
 
Cruising northwards, the canal is heaving with stunning red brick bridges and fields of cows. At the canal town of Stone, the excitement of a canal born for pottery begins to build. Your next stop is the bottle-oven landscape of the region celebrated famously across the globe as 'The Potteries'. In the 1700s, when Josiah Wedgwood was creating his innovative pottery designs, much of his work was smashed or stolen on its clumsy packhorse route to market. To reach mass markets across the globe he needed canals to be built. With entrepreneurial vision he employed the great canal engineer James Brindley to build the Trent & Mersey Canal. And by 1777, his delicate pots could set off in a canal boat to safely, and swiftly, reach faraway places across the world. The Potteries exploded into mass production, and any boat cruising the Four Counties Ring today has to allow time to explore the living heritage in Stoke-on-Trent. As well as the World of Wedgwood, there's the Etruria Industrial Museum & Heritage Centre and the area is buzzing with contemporary potteries such as Emma Bridgewater's too.
 
The Caldon Canal slips quietly away eastwards from Etruria Junction and, if you have time, this detour is a gem for nature and heritage. The Ring continues north along the Trent & Mersey Canal and, putting thoughts of potter's clay behind, leads into new territory where people become intrigued by the sudden change in the colour of the canal water. Not unlike tomato soup, the rusty hue of the water is blamed on seepage of iron ore from the first tunnel at Harecastleengineered by Brindley in 1777. The second tunnel, sitting aside Brindley's, was built by Telford in 1827 and this is the route boaters still use today. Cruising through Harecastle Tunnel (2,926yds/2,675m long) is a marmite experience! Love it or hate it, it's an echoing adventure through almost 8000ft of dripping darkness! And to add to the excitement, or misery, it is said that the ghost of poor old Kit Crewbucket lurks somewhere within the tunnel. After being murdered, her headless corpse was dumped in the canal and 19th-century boatmen would prefer to make time-consuming detours rather than face their fears inside this haunted tunnel. Luckily there's always daylight at the other side and fresh thrills to pursue. Your crew will soon be preparing for the long scramble through ‘Heartbreak Hill’. The glorious views from the summit at Kidsgrove can heal any heart, but the hill lives up to its name with the workout required to wind through this heavy series of locks. 
 
The canal now descends to the Cheshire Plains towards Middlewich. The Romans discovered salt here and called the town Salinea. Then when canals were built, boats carried the salt industry into a new era. An interesting town trail explains more about the saltworks settlement dating back to 150-250 AD. If you have extra time, you can detour northwards from Middlewich to see the Anderton Boat Lift, one of the 7 Wonders of the Canals and
a masterpiece of engineering. If not, turn left through Wardle Lock onto the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canalwhich travels to Barbridge Junction. Here you may be tempted to moor and explore the historic village, or detour northwards along the canal to Chester if there is time in the itinerary. The route of the Ring turns left from Barbridge Junction onto the Shropshire Union Canal, heading southwards to Hurleston Junction. Welsh hills sing in the distance as you turn westwards along the Llangollen Canal to complete your Ring back to Wrenbury.

Featured Boats

Featured Boats from Wrenbury Mill, Welsh Borders

Two to Five berth Boats

Alvechurch Grebe

Max: 4 People

Length: 47ft

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Alvechurch Heron

Max: 5 People

Length: 58ft

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Alvechurch Bunting

Max: 5 People

Length: 47ft

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Alvechurch Wren

Max: 4 People

Length: 49ft

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couple learning how to drive a canal boat
Alvechurch Weaver

Max: 4 People

Length: 49ft

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Six to eight berth Boats

Alvechurch Eagle

Max: 7 People

Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Goose

Max: 8 People

Length: 69ft

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Alvechurch Gull

Max: 6 People

Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Lark

Max: 6 People

Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)

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Alvechurch Thrush

Max: 6 People

Length: 66ft

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Alvechurch Warbler

Max: 8 People

Length: 69ft

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Alvechurch Woodpecker

Max: 8 People

Length: 60ft

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Up to twelve berth Boats

Alvechurch Owl

Max: 10 People

Length: 70ft

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