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TOTAL LOCKS: 10
CRUISING TIME PER DAY: 6 HOURS (15 TOTAL)
Maps & Guides for this route: N3, P1, L12 | Click here buy maps
This route skips through sheep-filled countryside with idyllic locks and striking red-brick bridges. Secret stories lie in this landscape of outstanding beauty, where you’ll learn new tiller skills, meet wildlife and discover the story of a posh rebel who insisted a canal be shaped for his pleasure.
If time allows before your trip, the city of Lichfield 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.
When you are ready to start your boating holiday, turn right out of the marina and follow the lock-free few miles along the Coventry Canal to Fradley Junction. The canal ends where it meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. Fradley is a hotspot with an award-winning nature reserve, a pub (the Swan, known as the ‘Mucky Duck’) and teashops to tempt you to stay a while. It is 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.
After 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 with panache that you can't ignore. 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! Essex Bridge and the bridge at Great Haywood Junction are both Scheduled Ancient Monuments, and the gardens and landscape around Shugborough Hall are Grade I listed. Great Haywood, Tixall and Shugborough are also all designated Conservation Areas.
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.
Any modern man, in his right mind, 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 the canal builders widen the water where it could be seen from his home. So as you pass through a short tree-lined stretch, don't be surprised when the canal bursts open into the full drama of the lake-like widening, known as 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. If you’re lucky, you might spot a 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 steep in the ambiance before you set off on your return journey to King’s Orchard Marina.
Max: 4 People
Max: 6 People
Length: 66ft (63ft from Falkirk)
Max: 8 People