Canal Boat Holiday Hire On The Trent & Mersey Canal
Cruisable on a canal boat holiday from our Festival Park Marina narrow boat hire base in Etruria, Staffordshire
The canal that runs so conveniently past our Festival Park Marina narrow boat hire base, so called because it will ultimately take you to the River Trent in the south and the River Mersey in the north, was the most ambitious of all canal pioneer James Brindley’s plans to connect the principal rivers of England.
As your narrow boat passes under Festival Park Marina’s wooden lift bridge and onto the canal south bound narrow boat hirers will notice an almost insignificant round brick building on their right just before passing under the modern road bridge carrying traffic into Etruria and Hanley. The building is all that remains of Josiah Wedgwood’s Etruria pottery factory and it was old Josiah himself who was one of the canals chief promoters. The result, a smooth form of transport for his delicate pottery away from the unmade and rutted roads of the period, was a godsend for his and other pottery businesses. As you pass you may like to ponder on the fact that, when built back in the late 18th century, this building was level with the canal showing how subsidence due to mine workings etc has affected this area with the canal having to be “lifted” several times.
The Trent & Mersey Canal officially bursts into life at the South end of Preston Brook Tunnel, to the North of which Brindley’s other masterpiece, The Bridgewater Canal, will take your narrow boat deep into the heart of Manchester. It winds, as all Brindley’s canals do, along the valleys of the River Weaver and the River Dane through two further tunnels at Saltersford and Barnton and passes one of the undoubted wonders of the waterways, the Anderton boat lift, near Northwich. This remarkable structure was brought back to life in recent years after millions of pounds of grant money. It links the Trent & Mersey Canal with the River Weaver below and whether by narrow boat or car is a must visit site. If you have time you can even descend in your own narrow boat or alternatively take the trip canal boat.
After cruising your narrow boat through the rural countryside of the Dane valley and bypassing the Salt Flashes that became the final resting place of many of the old working narrow boat fleets the canal reaches the old salt town of Middlewich ascending through several locks to the Junction with the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal. The Trent & Mersey Canal then climbs steadily up a seemingly never ending flight of locks that the old boatmen knew only too well as “ Heartbreak Hill”. A respite for weary canal narrow boat hirers can be found at Wheelock, Hassall Green and Rode Heath. Many narrow boat hirers also stop at Church Lawton or Red Bull before passing through the Harecastle Tunnel. As you approach the Tunnel and pass out of the last lock you will notice the bridge that takes you onto the beautiful Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Junction. By now you will have noticed the strange orange colour of the canal water upon which your narrow boat travels. This is due to the seepage from the old mine workings of the area being tinted by minute particles of ironstone rock
The Harecastle Tunnel that is used today was built by Thomas Telford in 1827 to replace the earlier one built by James Brindley in 1777 and the passage through in your narrow boat can take up to 45 minutes. However there are tunnel keepers at each end to book your passage through . When entering the tunnel from the South portal it can be a bit unnerving when the metal doors clang shut behind you and the fume extractor fans begin to roar, you may be excused for thinking that the old narrow boaters ghost, the “Kidsgrove Boggart”, has ensnared you in its trap but it no more than the efficiency of British Waterways air purification system. As you pass through spare a thought for the old working narrow boaters who, for 50 years, had to leg their narrow boats through the tunnel lying on wooden boards to do so in virtual darkness. No wonder they thought the tunnel was haunted!
After another 45 minutes passing by old Potteries and the picturesque Westport Park with its attractive canal boat moorings you will reach our Festival Park Marina narrow boat hire base. The summit level of the Trent & Mersey Canal has now been reached and a short distance beyond the choice presents itself of cruising the magical Caldon Canal or carrying on along the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria Junction. The Stoke Five locks now face you and will take you past the historic Etruscan Bone Mill and museum beside the first lock and, further on, two of the last remaining pottery bottle kilns. After Trentham lock the next stretch of canal takes you past the Wedgwood factory at Barlaston where you can moor your narrow boat and visit the awarding winning museum and purchase a gift to take home with you from the Wedgwood shop.
The canal takes on a more rural aspect until, after passing through the 4 Meaford Locks, you reach the Canal town of Stone. This is a very popular mooring spot for narrow boats due, not only to its historic significance in the Canal’s history, but because of its many interesting shops, pubs and restaurants. The town’s Crown Hotel was the meeting place for the proposers of the Trent & Mersey Canal and a plaque on the wall outside the hotel commemorates this event. The Star Inn is unique in its position at the side of Star Lock and the pub’s name actually dates back to the 16th Century.
On your canal boat holiday you are now treated to open countryside and a pleasant 5 hours canal cruising passing through the valley of the River Trent as it faithfully follows the line of the river to Great Haywood. It is here that the picturesque stone bridge at Haywood Junction takes those cruising the Four Counties Ring on to the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal.
Dedicated Trent & Mersey Canal narrow boaters will pass by the Junction and will be rewarded on their right hand side with views of Shugborough Hall, the home of the late Lord Lichfield, the Queens cousin. After Colwich Lock, one of the prettiest on the Trent & Mersey Canal, your winding waterway takes you to Rugeley. Fans of the Inspector Morse novels and TV series will be interested to know that this is where the author Colin Dexter discovered the story of the Murder of Christine Collins that led to him writing The Wench is Dead. Rugeley is a good shopping stop before you carry on through the narrows of Armitage “Tunnel” and out again into the country beyond. Next stop is one of the Canal systems busiest Junctions at Fradley. This was the canal equivalent of the M5 and M6 Junction back in the 19th century and is still very busy today with canal narrow boats turning into and out of the Coventry Canal. Those narrow boats passing through will negotiate 5 Locks at Fradley and two beyond before reaching the very attractive canal town of Alrewas. It is here that the canal meets the River Trent and for a short distance they float along hand in hand to Wychnor Lock before parting ways again. On a hot, sunny summers day there is no more attractive stretch of water upon which to travel in your canal narrow boat.
The next stretch of the Trent & Mersey Canal is eminently forgettable as the intrusion of the busy A 38 brings the narrow boat hirer back to the reality of the 21st century and it is a relief to leave the road behind again before entering the old brewery town of Burton on Trent. There are pretty villages beyond at Stretton and Willington and this stretch is lock free until reaching Stenson with its large Marina and the surprise of a “double lock”. The remaining locks are all doubles down to Shardlow, a real “inland port” once known by the natives as “Rural Rotterdam”. The handsome clock warehouse is now a popular pub alongside Shardlow Lock and the end of your journey is now in sight as it is only a short cruise to the end of this fascinating and varied canal before Brindley’s hopes and aspirations are achieved when it finally reaches the River Trent.
More Informative Canal Guides, Route Maps and DVD's can be purchased from the Waterway Routes website.