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TOTAL LOCKS: 34
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 8.5 HOURS (30 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P6 | Click here buy maps
This journey is rural and even remote at times, yet trips in and out of colourful hubs that tell gripping stories of canal-life to the passing boater.
There are tales of medieval times and the English language, special water which changed a town’s fortunes and a vital inland port with links to pottery, the Industrial Revolution and ‘canal mania’.
Before heading north from the marina, you may be tempted to take time to explore the city of Lichfield. Lichfield Cathedral is the only three-spired medieval Cathedral in the UK and is world renowned. One of its treasures 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. The writer often referred to as Dr Johnson, Samuel Johnson, was born here in 1709, his birthplace now a museum. His most famous work ‘A Dictionary of the English Language’ was published in 1755 and, according to the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Johnson is the second most quoted Englishman.
When you leave the marina, head northwards and follow the Coventry Canal through open countryside to Fradley Junction where the canal ends just beyond a swing bridge as 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 straight into Junction Lock. This is a hotspot with an award-winning nature reserve, and a pub and teashop 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.
Travelling through 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. The canal curves to head out of the village before passing through flood control gates by the entrance to Shardlow Marina, and then reaching Derwent Mouth Lock.
This unassuming spot 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.
Leaving the Trent & Mersey Canal below the lock, cruise briefly along the River Trent under the huge M1 bridge, keeping well away from the weir, and through Flood Lock (usually kept open) to enter Sawley Cut, the calm home of the large Sawley Marina and its boats.
Moor in Sawley Cut, and take the opportunity to walk the mile or so past Sawley Locks and along the River Trent’s towpath to the busy hub of Trent Lock, where the River Trent meets the Erewash Canal and River Soar. Trent Lock (built by John Varley in 1779) sits on the borders of three counties (Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) and at the crossroads where the history of three rivers and four canals join. The landscape is dominated by Ratcliffe Power Station's chimneys.
Once you’ve finished exploring your surroundings, turn in the marina to retrace your journey slowly back to Lichfield.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People