Choosing your hotelboat cruise
There is so much to see and so many possible routes on the inland waterways, it can be difficult to decide which particular hotelboat cruise you think you would enjoy the most. Here we have tried to outline the character of each route, giving its highlights and points of interest. If you have any queries regarding any aspect of the hotelboat holidays, please do not hesitate to get in touch.
To help you in your choice of cruise, we have marked the descriptions with these symbols:
- Good Walking
- Museum Visits
- Lock Wheelers Paradise
- Industrial Heritage
- Historic Towns
- Glorious Countryside
- Fantastic Cityscapes
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51 miles, 91 locks and 6 tunnels
Hatton Locks, Lapworth flight, the North Stratford Canal, King's Norton Junction, Edgbaston, Gas Street Basin, Farmers Bridge Locks, Camp hill, Knowle Locks.
A mix of broad and narrow canals, beautiful countryside and urban splendour.
Our first obstacle on leaving Warwick is the flight of twenty-one locks at Hatton, but we are rewarded with views over the castle and city of Warwick from the top, after a swift ascent through its wide locks.
Arriving at Kingswood Junction, we join the Stratford Canal and immediately find the perfect bow hauling locks at Lapworth, where the top of one lock is only yards from the bottom of the next. The final twelve miles of the Stratford Canal are lock free, rural at first before entering the residential outskirts of Birmingham. Passing through the unique guillotine stop lock that marks the end of the Stratford canal we approach King’s Norton junction where we turn towards the centre of Birmingham.
Rail and canal share this route into the city, passing through the centre of the Bournville chocolate factory. We enjoy fine views from the Edgbaston embankment of Birmingham University and the residential splendour of this suburb. The railway now makes it way to New Street station, whilst we make a sharp left to pass through Worcester Bar and Gas Street Basin.
We have a lock heavy day ahead of us. Farmers Bridge and then Ashted flights take us down of the Birmingham plateau, then Camp Hill takes us up again to the start of the Grand Union.
Miles of level cruising brings us to the windswept locks at Knowle. Finally we come to Hatton once more to, complete our descent into Warwick and return to our mooring on the Saltisford Arm.
53 miles, 48 locks and 3 tunnels
Warwick, Bascote Staircase Lock, Stockton Locks, Braunston, Braunston Tunnel, Watford Staircase Locks, Crick Tunnel, Welford Arm, Husbands Bosworth Tunnel, Foxton Staircase Locks, Market Harborough
Feats of engineering galore in this lovely rural cruise. Staircase locks and tunnels are standout features but there is some beautiful, gentle cruising in between to contrast all that excitement.
Leaving our mooring in the Saltisford Arm we make our way through the twin town of Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa. Intermittent locks interrupt our passage through lush countryside until we reach the flights at Bascote and Stockton. A few more miles of cruising on this wide and fast canal brings us to the final short flight at Calcutt. At Napton Junction we turn on to the Oxford canal and make our way to Braunstone, one of the spiritual homes of canal boating.
Making our way through Braunstone wide locks, we come to the 2042 yard long Braunstone tunnel. Due to subsidence during construction, the tunnel is not quite straight making passage trickier than usual. Leaving the tunnel a mile or so of lock free cruising brings us to Norton Junction where we turn north on to the Leicester brach of the Grand Union. Here we, along with the roads and rail, head for Watford Gap where a triple staircase lock takes us up to Crick tunnel and the 15 mile summit pound.
The summit winds its way through open fields and wooded hillsides, the only interruption Husbands Bosworth tunnel, on its way to the top of Foxton locks. Using a combination of two sets of five locks built as staircases, they climb 75ft in just a few hundred yards, with views over Leicestershire stretching out in front of us. Whilst here there is time to look around the museum and the site of the old inclined-plane boat lift that used to be an alternative to the time consuming bottleneck of the staircase locks. There are plans to restored this to working order, but there has been little progress thus far due to difficulties in funding.
Finally, five miles of lock free cruising brings us to our final destination, Market Harborough Wharf.
59 miles, 45 locks and 1 tunnel
Market Harborough Arm, Foxton Locks, Grand Union Leicester Arm, Leicester, River Soar, River Trent, Nottingham
Two very contrasting rivers. The Trent is much wider and imposing than the scenic meandering course of the River Soar and its manual locks.
The five mile cruise down the Market Harborough arm takes us to the bottom of Foxton locks, one of the steepest lock flights on the system, where we can spend some time exploring the locks and the remains of the inclined plane boat lift. Leaving the locks we wind our way through the hills on our way to Saddington tunnel (880 ysrds long). We dip in and out of the River Soar and pass through the occasional lock as we approach the ancient city of Leicester. The canal cuts through the center of this city with evidence of the Roman settlement just a stones throw from the towpath.
Leaving the city, we enjoy a pleasant cruise through Watermead Country Park with its high reed banks and park land. Loughborough is our next big town before we head back into rural seclusion, with just an occasional lock to break our journey. Charming villages, such as Normanton and Ratcliffe are visible in the distance over the willow lined banks of the river.
We leave the River Soar and join the River Trent, which winds its way through flat countryside past the picturesque Barton Island. Leaving the river we join the Beeston Cut and make our way through the vibrant city of Nottingham to our final mooring within sight of the castle.
89 miles and 69 locks
Nottingham, the Erewash Canal, River Trent, Shardlow, Fradley Junction, Cannock Chase, Stone, Etruria.
Experience narrow canals, broad canals and rivers on this lovely trip through the midlands.
From our mooring in Etruria we turn onto the mainline of the Trent and Mersey Canal and make our way down the few locks which take us out of the city. A section, broken by just one lock, brings us through to the four locks at Meaford, as we arrive onto the edge of Stone. Another four locks bring us down through the town, past this bustling canal centre and its famous Star Inn. Beyond here, the canal is very peaceful, although the addition of a large marina has added a few boats to the usual sparse traffic.
Intermittent locks bring us to Great Haywood and the junction of the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Continuing on the Trent and Mersey, we pass Shugborough Hall, home to Lord Lichfield, and cruise through a scenic wooded landscape with more intermittent locks. At Cannock Chase there is an ancient hunting ground, home to herds of fallow deer for many centuries. The skyline is marked by the not so attractive sight of Rugeley Power Station.
The River Trent is never far away and we travel through its quiet countryside until we reach Fradley Junction. The junction is always busy with boats and with people enjoying The Swann Inn, the most photographed pub on the network. We continue straight past the Coventry Canal junction, staying on the Trent and Mersey.
The pretty village of Alrewas with its Georgian brick houses, marks some very pretty sections of canal alongside open fields and meadows. The aroma of brewing, malt and hops, heralds our arrival at Burton-on-Trent, where you can sample a pint under the guise of an ‘educational tour’ of a brewery if you like.
We carry on along the Trent Valley past hamlets and villages before arriving at the canal side settlement of Shardlow, with its large scale canal architecture: wharves, an 18th century mill and a clock warehouse. One last lock brings us to the point where the canal merges with the River Derwent and the River Trent, a vast and exposed expanse of water, where a narrowboat can on occasion feel a little overwhelmed by strong winds and the width of the water here. We soon gain our bearings once more as we climb the locks on the Erewash Canal and spend some time navigating up and down this industrial waterway, before returning to the river, where we can really begin to enjoy the river scenery, a contrast to the previous canal surroundings. The River Trent meanders gently along its course and by going downstream we arrive in the heart of the city of Nottingham on the Beeston Cut.
49 Locks, 61 miles and 1 tunnel
Etruria, Trent and Mersey Canal, Harecastle Tunnel, Cheshire paired locks, Middlewich Branch, Shropshire Union Canal, Bunbury Staircase, Beeston, Ellesmere Port Canal Museum, Chester
From one industrial heartland to another! This cruise has lots for those passionate about the canals – a long tunnel, paired locks, a wide staircase lock and the Canal Museum. With lovely rural scenery to enjoy along the way what more could you ask for!
We begin this cruise in front of the statue of James Brindley in Etruria and make our way north along the Trent & Mersey through this industrial city and past the greenery of Festival Park. In a short space of time we arrive at the pleasant south portal of Harecastle Tunnel. At 3000yds, this is one of the longest tunnels on the network and in places has the lowest headroom too! After a 45min cruise through the darkness, we emerge at the north end.
The water here is bright orange from the high iron ore content of the local area. We quickly begin our descent into the Cheshire Locks. Twenty-six locks scattered over 6.5 miles, they take us over a day to complete. Originally all were paired. Many fell into misuse over the years, but those that were viable have now been restored and offer a lot of enjoyment, as both boats can navigate through the paired locks in a tandem dance. Beyond this, the canal meanders for a while before reaching Middlewich through several further intermittent locks. A sharp left turn and a lock bring us onto the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal, which winds its way through the outskirts of Middlewich before reaching open countryside in just a few miles.
We cross the River Weaver by aqueduct and have superb views of the river and Winsford Top Flash below. The countryside here rolls ahead of us and the canal follows the contours, making four rises through locks that are spaced out along the length of this canal. A busy route connecting the two north and south canals, the locks here often have short queues and there is no point in being in much of a hurry. At Barbridge Junction we join the Main Shropshire Union Canal and turn right to begin making our way north towards Chester.
Now a wide canal, the locks we encounter welcome both boats in one go and at Bunbury we descend the staircase and a further five intermittent locks beyond, which bring us through pretty wooded scenery. Where the farmland opens up there are long stretches of moored boats on the offside. Here, Beeston Castle is an imposing landmark on its rocky outcrop. Finally, we arrive on the outskirts of the city and take a series of locks down to the level of the city centre, where we pass alongside the Roman city walls. We descend the dramatic and deep staircase locks and for this cruise, continue all the way up to the Canal Museum at Ellesmere Port. There is time to explore and enjoy the museum, before we turn and head back towards our mooring just a short distance away from the old dry dock.
62 miles, 35 locks, 3 tunnels and 2 grand aqueducts
Chester, The Shropshire Union Canal, Chester and Bunbury Staircase Locks, the Llangollen Canal, Chirk Tunnel and Aqueduct, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Llangollen
Dramatic engineering and peaceful countryside on this journey from England to Wales.
From our mooring below the city we immediately rise up the imposing staircase locks and under the Roman city walls, cruising the short distance to the five locks beyond up out of the heart of this historic city. We emerge into Cheshire countryside with views of Beeston Castle ahead, unmissable on its rocky outcrop. There is such pretty scenery as we rise through a further five infrequent locks before Bunbury staircase. Our last stretch of wide canal past Barbridge Junction brings us to Hurleston and the junction with the Llangollen Canal, where we ascend the flight of four locks in heavy crosswinds.
We cruise through farmland, and infrequent locks and lift bridges to the flight at Grindley Brook and its steep three lock staircase, Here, the lock keepers ensure the smooth flow of traffic. We pass through gentle countryside, and wooden lift bridges, of a design more typical in Holland. We cruise alongside Wixhall Moss, Britain’s third largest upland bog, and have pleasant views out across Shropshire’s Lake District, before mooring in the adorable small town of Ellesmere.
Beyond, we cruise along sections of canal with views far out over farmland and pass the staircase lock at Frankton and the junction with the Montgomery Canal. North of here, we pass through the last locks at New Martin. The aqueduct at Chirk marks the beginning of some spectacular scenery and our last entry, of many, into Wales. Through the long Chirk Tunnel we eventually reach the climax of this cruise. The famous landmark of the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct stands 120ft and crosses the expanse of the Dee Valley. It leads us up the pretty, narrow and shallow stretch along the side of the valley to the tourist town of Llangollen itself. There is time to explore, maybe take a trip on the steam railway or sit and enjoy a drink looking out over the white waters of the Dee river.
The Llangollen certainly has the wow factor and is ideal for anyone’s first canal trip, or even to do again and again. It is an ideal choice for those wanting to walk or wander the towpath, as much as it is for those who like to stay on board.
Cruise 7: Llangollen to Nantwich (via the Montgomery canal) - 8 nights starting on Monday 28th June 2021
60 miles, 37 locks, 3 tunnels and 2 grand aqueducts
Llangollen Canal, Llangollen, Dee Valley, Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, Chirk Aqueduct, Chirk Tunnel, Montgomery Canal, meres at Ellesmere, Elizabethan Nantwich
Dramatic engineering and peaceful countryside on this journey from Wales to England, with a detour down the little travelled Montgomery Canal.
Our first morning is spent making our way along the sides of the Dee Valley, down the narrow and shallow upper stretch of this canal. We eventually arrive at Trevor Basin and turn to cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, 120ft above the valley floor. This is arguably Thomas Telford’s finest piece of engineering. We continue along the other side of the valley before crossing the watershed into the Cerriog Valley through Whitehouse Tunnel and then the long dark Chirk Tunnel.
Chirk aqueduct runs parallel to the arches of the viaduct and is our first crossing of the Welsh border into England. New Martin signals the first locks of this cruise and through the softer contours of England, we progress down to Frankton, where we join the peaceful surroundings of Montgomery Canal. There are strict limits on the number of boats allowed into this area to ensure the local array of flora and fauna are not disturbed. We can explore the newly opened section of this canal on foot, beyond Maesbury which takes us to within just a few hundred yards of the welsh border and the unrestored miles to Welshpool.
We work our way back up to the Llangollen main line and cruise to the small town of Ellesmere and past the Meres, formed in the ice age, which fringe the canals route. From here we pass through the upland bog of Whixall Moss, before passing through several lift bridges of a design more commonly seen in Holland.
Gentle, rolling countryside brings us to the triple staircase lock at Grindley Brook, with its canal side shop. From here we descend for the last part of the Llangollen Canal through flat Cheshire farmland to Hurleston junction. Here we turn right onto the wider course of the Shropshire Union and travel the short distance to Nantwich.
57 miles, 21 locks and a wonder of Victorian engineering
Nantwich, Shropshire Union Canal, Middlewich Branch, Trent and Mersey Canal, the Flashes, Anderton Lift, the River Weaver, Vale Royal Cut, Manchester Ship Canal views, Winsford, Northwich
A really lovely and relaxed cruise with few canal locks, stunning scenery, leading into one of the prettiest rivers we feature. Not perhaps ideal for walking, but not to be missed if you fancy a week of total R & R.
Setting off from the embankment that skirts the edge of this Elizabethan town we travel north on the Shropshire Union Canal, through rich Cheshire farmland. Past the junctions with the Llangollen at Hurleston, we turn on to the Middlewich branch at Barbridge. Four infrequent locks bring us through quiet and remote countryside on this much underrated link canal, to the Trent and Mersey.
The canal crosses the River Weaver by aqueduct and offers superb views over the river and of Winsford Top Flash. At Middlewich we negotiate a series of four narrow locks and one wide barge lock on the first section of the Trent & Mersey Canal and cruise north, following the delightful valley of the River Dane. We cruise through what used to be an industrial landscape and is now surprisingly scenic. Salt mining dominated this area for centuries and is the reason for the development of the canal and of Northwich town itself.
Open flashes are scattered along the canal at points and offer tranquil scenes of calm, with the odd part of a sunken narrowboat visible above the waterline, as many boats were sent here at the end of their useful lives. The flashes have become havens for wildlife and we travel through this pretty section until we arrive at the top of the Anderton Lift ready for our booked time to descend the 50ft to The River Weaver.
Known as the Cathedral of the Canals, this wrought iron feat of engineering was built in 1875 to connect the canal to the Weaver Navigation. It is a ‘must see’ for any canal enthusiast. Once on the Weaver we can fully appreciate the amazing structure and we have the remaining time of this cruise to explore this waterway all the way down to its junction with the Manchester Ship Canal. Here we may see large ferries or ships making their way inland.
As we turn and make our way back upstream all the way to the river’s highest navigable point at Winsford, there is some stunning scenery, beautifully contrasted with the industrial surroundings of its lower section. Steep, wooded valley sides provide for some beautiful scenes, particularly along the Vale Royal Cut and through The Belt, a wonderfully peaceful section where no roads or houses intrude on the secluded rural setting. Our final mooring is in view of Town Bridge at Northwich.
85 miles, 15 locks, 6 tunnels and a wonder of Victorian engineering!
The Anderton Boat Lift, the Trent and Mersey, Preston Brook and Dalton Tunnels, the Bridgewater Canal, Barton Swing Aqueduct, Worsley, the Leigh Branch, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Leeds and Liverpool Link, Liverpool Docks.
This cruise meanders its way through an industrial heartland featuring many architectural highlights. Some rural scenery to be had but this is all about big wow features, both old and new.
From Northwich we quickly arrive at the Anderton Boat Lift, The Cathedral of the Canals, a wrought iron feat of engineering. Built in 1875 to connect the canal to the Weaver Navigation, 50ft below, it is a ‘must see’ for any canal enthusiast. Once on the canal, we begin our journey north along the Trent & Mersey Canal, with views over the River Weaver below. We pass through three tunnels in quick succession, Preston Brook being the longest, before arriving on the Bridgewater Canal, which brings us swiftly into Manchester.
At Waters Meet we continue towards Worsley and soon pass across the Barton Swing Aqueduct, built to carry the canal over the Manchester Ship Canal, which cuts its way into the heart of England’s third city. Once a bustling waterway, the canal is much less used today, but still sees some commercial traffic, the ferries which offer trips up and down, and the odd adventurous narrowboat convoy.
Worsley marks the historic start of the English canal network and you can see the entrance for the Duke of Bridgewater’s underground mines. From here we head towards Leigh, where we seamlessly join the Leeds and Liverpool Canal. We head for Wigan, through a countryside restored from mined land onto an embankment built to counter subsidence. We pass through several locks while negotiating Wigan and its famous pier, before arriving in the more rural Douglas Valley.
From Burscough to the original terminus of the canal we have a lock free twenty-four miles through open countryside at first and then we enter Liverpool’s suburbs, past Aintree Race Course. We descend four locks down at Stanley Dock and make our way through a series of connected docks, tunnels and two more locks, which make up the newly opened Liverpool Link, before mooring in Salthouse Dock.
79 miles, 57 locks and 6 tunnels
Liverpool, Liverpool Canal Link, the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Leigh Branch, Worsley, the Bridgewater Canal, the Barton Swing Aqueduct, the Rochdale Canal, the Ashton Canal, Peak Forest Canal, Marple Flight, Bugsworth Basin, Whaley Bridge.
The grand northern cities of Liverpool and Manchester contrast with the stunning scenery of the Peak District.
Leaving Salthouse Dock, we travel through a series of connected docks and tunnels collectively called the Liverpool Canal Link. We cruise past the Royal Liver Building in view of the River Mersey on the left and may see a cruise liner at the central dock. At Stanley Dock we make our way up four locks to arrive onto the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which takes us out of this bustling city. After travelling through several suburbs and the famous Aintree Race Course and Beeches Brook we emerge into open countryside.
We have a long lock free section down the Douglas Valley and into Wigan, past the famous pier. We then negotiate several locks and cruise along an embankment designed to counter subsidence. We head for Leigh where the canal seamlessly becomes the Bridgewater Canal and takes us to Worsley. Here we see evidence of the earliest English canals, at the entrance to the Duke of Bridgewater’s underground mines. The Bridgewater canal takes us south and we cross over the Barton Swing Aqueduct, built to carry the canal over the Manchester Ship Canal, as it cut its way into the heart of the city. The bridge can swing out of the way to allow ships and other tall vessels through. At Waters Meet we turn and make our way further towards Manchester’s city centre, eventually arriving at Castlefield Basin, the historic hub of the canals in the city. We make our way from here up the Rochdale Nine locks and turn east onto the Ashton Canal.
At Portland Basin Canal museum we can see the wooden boat society, who raise fund to preserve and restore old wooden working boats. The Lower Peak Forest Canal takes us out of the city at last and into a more rural area.
At Marple we have sixteen locks to climb, with the locks getting less deep and the pounds closer together, until we reach the top on the other side of the town. The final part of our journey along the Upper Peak Forest is through rolling hills and countryside. We have time for a short exploration of Bugsworth Basin, the trans-shipment terminus, which has been carefully restored with its many alcoves and wharves, before we finally head into Whaley Bridge.
Cruise 11: Whaley Bridge to Stoke on Trent (Via the Caldon Canal) - 9 nights starting on Saturday 7th August 2021
74 miles, 49 locks and 3 tunnels
Bugsworth Basin, Upper Peak Forest Canal, Macclesfield Canal, Goyt Valley, Bosley Flight, Harecastle Tunnel, the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Caldon Canal, Consall Forge, Churnet Valley, the Leek Branch, Etruria
This cruise is perfect for keen walkers, wanderers and scenery lovers alike with frequent places to get on and off and the opportunity to spend some time enjoying the Peak District before or after.
Our first night on this cruise will be spent at the atmospheric Bugsworth Basin, the trans-shipment terminus which has been carefully restored with its many alcoves and wharves. We then make our way along the Goyt Valley with magnificent views of the Peak District around us, to Marple.
The turnover bridges on this waterway are a unique and attractive feature. At Bollington we cross the valley on a stone aqueduct and continue past the houses built in the local grey stone, towards Macclesfield, which we skirt. The scenery is secluded and peaceful, with wooded sections interchanging with open farmland just the other side of the hedgerows, which line the towpath. We reach the twelve locks at Bosley, the only flight of locks with split gates top and bottom. As we rise in the locks we are overlooked by the hill known as ‘The Cloud’ and beyond, the timber framed Moreton Hall and the folly of Mow Cop.
Each lock here has a cast iron bridge at the tail of the lock with grooves worn into the underside from the hauling lines of horse boats and butties over the years. Some stunning views can be seen from the Porters Farm Aqueduct near Congleton. A shallow stop lock, once the separation between different canal company waters, brings us to the junction with the Trent and Mersey, where we join the queue for Harecastle Tunnel.
We emerge into Stoke and make our way the short distance to Etruria, where we climb the staircase locks onto the Caldon Canal and begin making our way out of Stoke past old bottle kilns and new development. Beyond Milton we emerge into rolling countryside and climb the five locks of Stockton Brook, which bring us into lovely pleasant farmland.
At Hazelhurst junction the canal splits and we descend three locks here and cruise to Cheddleton and past the old flint mill. Two locks here and a further three attractive and isolated locks, bring us to the valley floor and we cruise alongside the River Churnet. W eventually join the river, where the scenery is stunning and unspoilt with thickly wooded valley sides reaching down to the canal. The Churnet Valley Steam Railway could be running as we travel, so our journey along this beautiful valley may be accompanied by the wonderful sound of the steam whistle.
We boat just beyond Consall Forge to Flint Lock, parallel with the railway, cruising underneath the platform at one point. We must turn in the last 70ft winding hole, just one mile shy of the terminus at Froghall. We rise back up the locks along this branch and at Hazelhurst Junction turn onto the Leek Branch, which offers another picturesque and secluded canal, and we see the Churnet Valley from higher up.
Cruise 12: Stoke on Trent to Stourbridge (via Birmingham Mainline) - 9 nights starting on Thursday 19th August 2021
62 mile, 79 locks and 3 tunnels
Etruria, Stone, Great Haywood, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, Autherley Narrows, Wolverhampton Flight, Birmingham Main Line, Netherton Tunnel, Stourbridge Canal, Stourbridge.
Two impressive cities bookend this cruise, with beautiful scenic cruising in between. For those with an interest in our industrial heritage we arrive in time for the Stourbridge Glass Festival!
We leave our Etruria mooring, at the start of the Caldon Canal, and turn south onto the Trent and Mersey, and begin working our way through a spread out flight of locks. By the time we reach the small flight at Meaford, we have definitely left Stoke on Trent behind and are travelling through gentle countryside.
The pleasant market town of Stone, which has become something of a spiritual home to many boater,s is our first. We pass three boatyards as we descend the flight of four locks on the edge of the town. There’s time for a quick pint at the famous Star public house as we go down the final lock. Following the route of the River Trent we make our way to Great Haywood junction, with just the odd lock to interrupt our cruising.
We now turn on to the Staff. and Worcs. canal, one of the busiest and most successful waterways on the system. Unlike many other canals, it was never sold on to a railway company and was still making money when it was nationalised in 1948. The start of this canal passes between the Shrugborough and Tixall estates, through Tixall Wide, home to many splendid water fowl. This is good walking country, with plenty of locks and bridges for embarking and disembarking. At the far end of this section we have the Autherly narrows, where the hard rock forced the canal builders to route the canal between ‘cliffs’. There’s no room for boats to pass here so we send a crew member ahead to scout the territory!
We leave the Staff. and Worcs. at Aldersley Junction and spend the day making our way up onto the Birmingham Canal Network, through the twenty-one locks of the Wolverhampton flight. We cruise east on the BCN Mainline. This canal is overwhelmingly industrial, but there are stretches where the water is crystal clear and teeming with fish. A sharp turn south at Dudley Port Junction takes us through Netherton tunnel, the last to be built on the canal system.
The two Dudley Canals follow the contours, with just two locks on their whole length. We make our winding way to Leys junction where we join the much straighter Stourbridge Canal. The fifteen Stourbridge locks take us through the towns famous Glass Quarter during the town’s biannual International Glass Festival. Finally, we turned down the Stourbridge Town arm, to reach our final mooring within sight of the Bonded Warehouse.
74 miles, 49 locks and 3 tunnels
Stourbridge, Dudley Canal No. 1, Delph Locks, Netherton Tunnel, The Birmingham Main Line, Gas Street Basin, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, King's Norton Junction, Wast Hill Tunnel, Tardebigge Flight, Droitwich Barge Canal, River Severn, Diglis Basin
Enough locks spread through several flights to keep crew and willing guests happy, but also nice long stretches of scenery and canal features which offer interest in between. The restored Droitwich Canals are an obvious highlight for keen canal goers.
We leave our mooring at the end of the town arm and join the main Stourbridge canal. Fifteen locks takes us through the Glass Quarter and brings us to Leys Junction. Here we navigate the older, winding, Dudley Canals which follow the contours of the land with only two locks along their entire length.
Netherton tunnel, the last to be built in the golden age of the canal system, brings us on to the Birmingham Canal Network mainline. We turn east here and make our way into the center of Birminham. Gas Street Basin and the Worcester Bar marks the start of the Worcester and Birmingham Canal and our journey through the suburbs of Edgbaston and Bournville. At King’s Norton Junction we carry straight on and immediately begin cruising a series of three tunnels. It takes us 40 minutes to cruise the 2726 yards back into daylight at Wasthills, but a little less for the others at Shortwood and Tardebigge.
Out of suburbia and into lovely open countryside, we arrive at the top of the Tardebigge flight. This wonderful collection of locks is the longest flight in the country with twenty-nine locks and will take us half a day to gradually descend over two miles, with stunning and far reaching views ahead of us. These locks are a favourite for many canal enthusiasts, and the regular rhythm of work at each lock is enjoyable and provides some good dinner table conversation.
A brief interlude at the Queen’s Head gives us an opportunity to quench our thirst, before continuing through yet more locks. We descend a total of 300 ft in just five miles over forty-one locks. Coppices, woodland and farmland surround us before we reach the junction with the Droitwich Canal at Hanbury. We turn and make our way along this restored canal which, having only re-opened in 2011, is the most recently restored canal on the network.
Seven narrow locks bring us into Droitwich town centre where we meet the Barge Canal and are finally welcomed into wide locks, where both boats can be accommodated side by side. The last stretch on this canal through eight barge locks and seven miles, is very pretty. We eventually reach the River Severn for the final few miles of this cruise, which bring us past the cathedral and finally up the locks at Diglis and into the shelter of the basin here.
50 miles, 109 locks, 1 aqueduct and 5 tunnels
Worcester, Worcester and Birmingham Canal, Tardebigge, Wasthills Tunnel, Guillotine Lock, Stratford Canal, Kingswood Junction, Lapworth Flight, Forest of Arden, Wilmcote Flight, Stratford
This cruise has lots of canal features for enthusiasts and enough locks to keep any lock lover happy. Scenery lovers will also be happy. Both canals are full of character, interest and picturesque scenery.
We leave our convenient mooring in Diglis Basin and a series of intermittent locks bring us through the city and towards its edge. We spend the first half of this cruise climbing to the higher ground that marks the Midlands. Beyond six locks at Offerton, we reach Dunhampstead Tunnel, the first of several tunnels on this cruise. We pass coppices, woods and farmland, passing the junction with the Droitwich Canal, which reopened in 2011.
After climbing the seven locks at Astwood and the six at Stoke, we have a short break before the twenty-nine locks of Tardebigge. We find ourselves 300 ft higher up in just five miles, with good views out over Worcestershire from the top. Tardebigge and Shortwood tunnels take us through open countryside beforewe reach the 2726 yd long tunnel at Wasthills.
At King’s Norton junction we take a right turn under the Guillotine Lock, no longer in use, but which used to mark the exchange of water from one canal company to another. A long, lock free cruising section winds its way through the suburbs of Birmingham, following the green corridor the canal provides for this urban area, before we emerge into lovely countryside.
The Lapworth flight begins slowly with intermittent locks before they begin to bunch closer, and eventually we descend the very short pounds which bring us to the lovely characterful Kingswood Junction, where we will have time to soak up the quaint local architecture. Beyond, we find a very pretty waterway, a delight with its unique split bridges, barrel roofed lock keepers cottages and the narrow cast iron aqueducts which take us over country lanes, streams and a railway line.
We cruise through the Forest of Arden into the land of Shakespeare, passing through wealthy Warwickshire villages. There are plenty of locks to keep us on our toes and plenty of walking opportunities. Our final destination will be the bustling heart of Stratford upon Avon at Bancroft Basin. Stratford is a wonderful town, full of energy, history and, of course, anything Shakespeare.
68 miles , 77 locks, 3 tunnels and a spectacular aqueduct
Stratford upon Avon and Shakespeare Country, Wilmcote, Forest of Arden, Lapworth Locks, Kingswood Junction, the Grand Union, Knowle Flight, Birmingham and Fazeley, Atherstone Flight, Anker Valley, Coventry Arm
A journey of contrasts, the rural beauty of the Stratford and Coventry canals against the inner city Birmingham canals.
Our first night is spent in Bancroft Basin in the heart of historic Stratford upon Avon, within sight of the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre and the River Avon. On leaving our mooring the next morning, we immediately find the first lock of the many that will take us out of the Avon Valley. Frequent locks and the flight at Wilmcote take us through the Forest of Arden. This canal stands out as being full of character with its cast iron aqueducts, barrel roofed cottages, split bridges and pretty scenery. Finally, the lower Lapworth Flight brings us to Kingwood Junction, where a few tricky turns see us heading north on the Grand Union.
The exposed flight of broad locks at Knowle take us up to the summit of this section of the Grand Union. A day’s cruising takes us to the outskirts of Birmingham where Camphill locks bring us to Bordesley Junction. Here we turn, to start our journey back out of the city. Salford Junction sees us onto the Birmingham and Fazeley canal, where we start our journey back into open countryside. Travelling through Minworth and Curdworth locks give us the chance to spot the varied wildlife which is attracted to the flooded gravel pits of Kingsbury and Drayton.
Fazeley Junction brings us to the Coventry Canal, through two locks at Glascote and so, onto a long lock free section, full of glorious farmland and pretty wooded areas. Atherstone flight, our last locks on this journey, raises us higher once more, . More cruising through beautiful countryside takes us to Hawkesbury Junction, where we start our journey into the center of Coventry.
Our course passes many works of art which have been installed along the towpath, making an art trail to add interest to the route, as we cruise from countryside to town, all the way to Coventry Basin. The canal here survived the bombing of Coventry during the Blitz and, when at risk of closure, was saved by volunteers who fought to keep it open. Our final mooring is in the enclosed basin just outside the city center.
56 miles, 26 locks and 2 tunnels.
Coventry Basin, Hawkesbury Junction, Hilmorton Paired Locks, Newbold Tunnel, Braunston, Napton Flight, Claydon Locks, Cropredy, Banbury.
A beautiful cruise through the autumn countryside. Contrast the improved North Oxford Canal with serpentine South Oxford.
We leave our mooring in Coventry Basin, now home to shops and art galleries, and make our way out of Coventry, passing many works of art on the tow path. At Hawkesbury Junction, with its fine pub and old engine house, we turn onto the North Oxford canal. The stop lock, which marks the junction, raises our boats a whole seven inches! The North Oxford is a lovely rural canal, although bridges under the M69 and M6 provide reminders of the busy world off the cut.
The Oxford is a contour canal which follows the land rather than cutting through it but, thanks to modernisation work in the 1820s, it’s not as windy as the South Oxford! Many of the abandoned arms on this stretch are graced with beautifully preserved Horseley Iron Works bridges. We also travel over a few small aqueducts which were designed by canal pioneer James Brindley. Just past Rugby, we see another of the innovations designed to speed boats on their way; the three sets of paired locks at Hillmorton. If the traffic is in our favour you’ll see our pair glide through these locks, separating at just the right moment to allow both boats to enter their own lock!
More lock free cruising, with a short detour into the historic canal side village of Braunston, brings us to the South Oxford canal. As this route to the Thames had already been superceded by the Grand Union in the early eighteen hundreds it was not straightened and still follows its original course. We make our way around Napton Hill, with its ever visible windmill, untill we reach the bottom of the Napton flight. Nine locks take us up to the seventeen mile long Oxford summit, one of the wrigglest on the system! It’s a lovely cruise with glorious views over the Oxfordshire countryside. At Claydon we descend again to pass through the pretty village of Cropredy, home to the Fairport Convention music festival. A few more locks takes us into Banbury and our final mooring.
33 miles and 28 locks
Banbury, South Oxford Canal, Cropredy, Claydon Locks, the Oxford Summit, Napton Flight, the Grand Union Canal, historic Braunston.
A short taster cruise through the autumnal Oxfordshire countryside.
We leave the market town of Banbury and dive straight into the Oxfordshire countryside. We pass through the pretty village of Cropredy before using the five locks at Claydon to rise up to the Oxford summit. The canal meanders now, following the contours of the land for many miles and providing us with long views across the landscape. After a tricky turn, we enter the first of the nine locks with Napton Hill and its windmill always visible on the horizon. We make our way around the hill and then, if we’ve made good time, take a left turn for a quick detour on to the Grand Union canal.
Here we can experience the motorway of the canal system. The cut is deep, wide and straight. The locks are all double and fill quickly. It was all designed to keep the boats moving as quickly as possible and make for the efficient distribution of vital goods moving throughout the country.
We turn and make our way back to the Oxford canal and enjoy a lock free cruise to our final mooring in the historic canal side village of Braunston.