A Canal Boat Holiday On The Staffs & Worcester Canal
Cruisable on a canal boat holiday from our Festival Park Marina narrowboat hire base in Etruria, Staffordshire
The Staffs & Worcester Canal is one of James Brindley’s famous “contour canals”, the simplest principal in 1772 (at the time the Canal was built) being to follow the contours of the land to avoid the costly and often dangerous building of aqueducts, tunnels and locks. Having said that the Staffs & Worcester Canal boasts the first lock ever built on the canal system, this being at Crompton, although several reconstructions have been made over the years.
There are many interesting features on this mainly rural canal, especially on its southern section. At the beginning of the Staffs & Worcester Canal, at Tixall the canal engineers were forced by the local lord of the manor to widen the waterway to resemble an artificial lake as it passed through his Estate. The lord and his manor have long since gone but “Tixall Wide” still remains with its great variety of bird life and is always a popular narrow boat mooring spot when on a canal boat holiday. After crossing the River Stour on a stone aqueduct the canal follows the course of the river down the valley, hemmed in on its other side by the busy railway line to London until it parts company near Stafford. The M6 also makes its own intrusion into the peace and quiet of the canal, albeit briefly, but the beautiful sight of the attractive moated hotel at Acton Trussell is far more enticing to hungry and thirsty passing canal narrow boaters. The Cross Keys at Penkridge is another great canalside hostelry and was immortalised by Tom Rolt in his iconic work Narrow Boat when he passed by in 1939.
Amongst many of the unique features of the Staffs & Worcester Canal is the Round House at Gailey. It was occupied by the former toll keeper but is now a very interesting canal shop. The Staffs & Worcester Canal continues to meander south past Hatherton Junction where a short 3 ½ mile canal branch once connected the Staffs & Worcester Canal to the Coventry Canal but this was closed in 1960. The Staffs & Worcester Canal becomes more urban as it approaches Autherley Junction passing through Coven Heath and the tempting Anchor Inn as it does so. Those on a canal boat holiday cruising the 4 Counties Ring leave the Staffs & Worcester Canal at this point to pass under the Bridge and through the stop lock onto the Shropshire Union Canal heading North to Ellesmere Port and the River Mersey.
Meanwhile the Staffs & Worcester Canal continues past Aldersley Junction where a flight of 21 locks will lift the more adventurous canal narrow boat hirers up to Wolverhampton and on to the Birmingham Canal Nanvigations and Birmingham. Beyond the historic Compton Lock is Whitewick Mill Lock and Whitewick Lock and these set the scene for the much prettier and winding southern section with its wonderful evocative names like Dimmingsdale, Ebstree and Awbridge. However, a real treat is still in store for southern bound canal boat hirers as you approach another of the wonders of the inland waterways at the Bratch Locks. Here you will negotiate a flight of three separate locks almost joined together but not quite. Fortunately there is always a lock keeper on hand to help all canal narrow boats pass through these unique locks. The setting is simply stunning with all the old buildings and “lock furniture” still in place after over 200 years. Make sure you have your camera at the ready to take a few souvenir photographs. A genuine “staircase” lock follows at Botterham but, curiously, this has nowhere near the appeal of the compelling Bratch Locks.
Back to urbanity the Staffs & Worcester Canal passes through Swindon where shops and pubs abound before heading back out into the country. At Stourton Junction we are once again reminded of the importance of the canal to the trade from the Black Country as the Stourbridge Canal joins the Staffs & Worcester Canal and offers another through route to Birmingham for those canal narrow boat hirers with time on their hands. Just beyond is the strangely named Stewponey Lock next to a busy road junction. The canal boat hirer is glad to leave this behind on the way to one of the most picturesque towns on the Staffs & Worcester Canal at Kinver. It is here that the famous “rock houses” are carved out of the soft sandstone of the area and the town has a quiet “olde worlde” feeling.
The Staffs & Worcester Canal closes in around your narrow boat at this point as you approach one of the most memorable features at Austcliffe where the sandstone rock overhangs the canal although the major part of the overhang was removed in 1990. This is a section where there is only a single passageway and a member of the narrow boat crew should ensure there are no oncoming narrow boats before proceeding.
The only tunnel of the whole Staffs & Worcester Canal is at Cookley. It is just 65 yards long but presents another photo opportunity with its houses perched high above as your narrow boat passes through this tunnel carved out of the very stone of the hillside.
It is not long before the major town on your Staffs & Worcester Canal boat holiday, Kidderminster, is reached. The town, once famous for the manufacture of Axminster carpets, has turned its old mills into smart offices, apartments and shopping centres and canal boat mooring is plentiful for shopping as you pass through. The picturesque Kidderminster lock has appeared on many postcards, paintings and plates with its attractive Church high above you. Near the canal is the statue of Sir Roland Hill, a local man who introduced the penny postage in 1840.
Not far beyond your narrow boat passes under the imposing viaduct of the Severn Valley railway one of the best preserved steam railway lines in the country. The final descent to the River Severn at Stourport is soon upon you and, after passing though the attractive Caldwall and Falling Sands Locks, set in the local red sand stone, it is only a short distance to the town that owes its existence to the canal that Brindley built to link yet another river to the Inland Waterways system. There are canal boat moorings both above and below York Street Lock and, in any event, you must pass into the basin below to be able to turn your narrow boat around before going back up this beautiful canal. Take time out to walk around the historic complex of basins and to walk along the River Severn beyond before continuing your canal boat holiday, whether it be from whence you came or to enter the river that will take you to Worcester.
More Informative Canal Guides, Route Maps and DVD's can be purchased from the Waterway Routes website.