Starting our narrowboat hire at Bunbury on the Shropshire Union Canal, we decided to cruise to Chester on our 3 night weekend break.
Parking up at the boatyard, we checked in at 2.30pm on Friday, had our buoyancy aids fitted and popped our luggage on the boat before getting our boat handling tuition from Robert, which took about 45 minutes. We then set off gently up the canal.
We were instantly struck by how calming it was to be cruising along at 3mph, surrounded by lush green countryside and woodland; just the chug of the engine and nature to keep us company. It was really lovely to be able to relax and unwind as we threaded our way through the charming stone bridges that were dotted along the canal at regular intervals.
After just 10 minutes, overlooked by some very pretty cottages, we came to our first lock at Tilstone which we negotiated pretty easily; then about 15 minutes further ahead we came to Beeston ‘Stone’ Lock (which has stone walls) followed by Beeston ‘Iron’ Lock (which has metal walls). Tilstone Lock has a small round brick building nearby that we looked up in our guide book to find out it’s a ‘lengthsman’s hut’ which would once have been used as a toll house.
The hamlet of Beeston Brook sits next to the ‘Iron Lock’ and from there, high on a hilltop, we were able to see the ruins of Beeston Castle. In fact, we got an even better view as we progressed along the canal, all the way to Bates Mill Bridge (109) where we stopped for the evening at the canalside Shady Oak pub, which was very pleasant. The journey from Bunbury to here had taken just 2 hours, perfect for our first afternoon.
On Saturday morning, having enjoyed a cooked breakfast care of our splendid little galley kitchen, we set off again through the open green landscape of the Cheshire Plain. It’s wonderful to be able to see so many birds along the canal too – we’re sure we saw the turquoise flash of a kingfisher once or twice too, which was quite thrilling. At Tattenhall Marina we noticed there was a café but didn’t stop as we were still full. However, just after the marina we moored up next to Crow’s Nest Bridge (113) and from there we walked into Tattenhall village, which took about 25 minutes. It’s a well-kept village and the centre is particularly attractive. There are two local pubs, a little supermarket, a coffee shop, an Indian restaurant and a fish & chip shop, just in case you’re hungry.
Continuing north from our stop at Tattenhall we had a very leisurely lock-free cruise towards the village of Christleton. After an hour and a half of happy cruising we arrived at Rowton Bridge (120) where we stopped for some lunch at The Cheshire Cat, a large pub overlooking the canal. We thoroughly enjoyed our meal there; the food was delicious and the service was excellent. There are actually 4 pubs in Christleton, so it’s a good place to stop. Again, Christleton is picturesque – particularly at its centre – with some lovely features including historic architecture, an old pump house complete with water pump, some pretty cottages and a variety of local shops.
Leaving Christleton and heading for the outskirts of Chester we came across a flight of 5 nicely spread out locks taking us downwards, under numerous bridges, into the City centre. At Chemistry Lock we really began to see a change in our surroundings, becoming more built up as we progressed. There are some interesting buildings alongside the canal including converted mills and warehouses, old chimney stacks and bridges.
Just before Cow Lane Bridge (123E) there is a winding-hole (turning place) where we were able to turn our boat around. Having done that, we moored up and walked over Cow Lane Bridge which gave us really easy access by foot to the most historic parts of Chester including the Roman City Walls, the Amphitheatre and Chester Castle.
Cruising between Beeston Brook and Cow Lane Bridge only took us 4 hours and 6 minutes, so it left us plenty of time to ‘discover’ the City of Chester. We had a fascinating walk around Chester Rows with its attractive black and white timbered shop fronts, then visited the famous Eastgate Clock and had a wander around the Roman Gardens. There were loads of restaurants and bars to choose from on Northgate Street and we opted for a tapas at Blue Bell (amazing) followed by cocktails at the Palm Cocktail Bar & Eatery, amongst other places.
On Sunday morning we prepared sausage sandwiches for breakfast and began our return to Bunbury. We very much enjoyed retracing our steps too; remembering specific places along the route and spotting lots of things that we didn’t even notice before. Setting off at 9.30am, our 6 hour return journey still allowed us time for a decent lunch stop and we moored up just before 5.40pm right next to the boatyard.
That evening we hopped into our car (which was parked at the boatyard) and drove to the Dysart Arms, just 5 minutes down the road, where we had a delicious roast dinner before driving back and settling down with a large glass of wine and a DVD – our last evening on the boat before returning the keys the next morning. What a truly enjoyable weekend it had been all round.
Bunbury to Bates Mill Bridge (109): 2 hours
Bates Mill Bridge to Crow’s Nest Bridge (113): 44 minutes
Crow’s Nest Bridge to Rowton Bridge (120): 1 hour 22 mins
Rowton Bridge to Cow Lane Bridge (123E): 2 hours
Cow Lane Bridge to Bunbury: 6 hours