Short Break Route Suggestions (3 & 4 nights):
Relaxed route: Congleton and Return - 22 miles, 2 locks, 10 hours total
Cruise north through the extraordinary Harecastle Tunnel (1.5 miles in length) which is ventilated by a giant fan. Then at Hardings Wood Junction you leave the Trent & Mersey Canal, crossing the Poole Aqueduct then the Red Bull Aqueduct, leading on to the Macclesfield Canal. Continue north-east through a ‘stop lock’, soon entering lovely open countryside with hillside views. Pass by traditional canalside cottages, enjoying the greenery of nearby farmland and lush woodland. History buffs should stop at bridge 86, following the footpath to visit the splendid black & white timbered house ‘Little Moreton Hall’ (c. 1560). Soon you reach the market town of Congleton where there are pubs and shops within walking distance, plus some interesting historic sites such as Little Street. Pop into the ‘Beartown Tap’ pub to try some of the locally brewed beer or visit The Lion and Swan, an old 16th Century coaching inn situated in the heart of the town. Turn around just before Bridge 72 and return to the boatyard.
Relaxed route: Caldon Canal to Flint Mill and Return - 23 miles, 24 locks, 15 hours total
An opportunity to take a leisurely cruise. Travel south for under a mile to the junction with the Caldon Canal. You pass a statue of James Brindley, builder of the Trent & Mersey Canal, then go through 2 staircase locks. After another 6 locks, spread over 9 miles, the canal splits towards Leek and Froghall. Take the Froghall branch and lock down the attractive Hazelhurst Flight of 3 locks, which takes the line under the Leek branch at Denford. The dog friendly Hollybush Inn is canalside here. Continue for about 2 miles to Cheddleton Flint Mill where there is a winding place and turn around for the return journey. Before starting off, take time to visit the lovely restored mill and its 2 water wheels.
Intermediate route: Macclesfield and Return - 42 miles, 26 locks, 21 hours total
Cruise north through the long Harecastle Tunnel (1.5 miles in length) which is ventilated by a giant fan. At Hardings Wood Junction you leave the Trent & Mersey Canal, crossing the Poole Aqueduct then the Red Bull Aqueduct, on to the Macclesfield Canal. Continue north-east through a ‘stop lock’ to the market town of Congleton where there are pubs and shops within walking distance. Just a little further ahead are the 12 narrow Bosley Locks which raise the canal by 118ft in just one mile - there is a pub close to Royal Oak swing-bridge, north of the locks, if you require refreshment. The waterway then meanders along through lush countryside and woodland, with excellent views of the distant hills. Soon you cross over the Gurnett Aqueduct and cruise into Macclesfield, passing the famous Hovis Mill, now converted, with its disused archway entrance. Macclesfield was once the biggest producer of finished silk in the world (in 1832 there were 71 silk mills) – so be sure to visit the Silk Museum at Paradise Mill. There are plenty of nearby shops, cafés, pubs and restaurants. Turn after bridge 37 and return to the boatyard.
Intermediate route: Froghall and Return - 34 miles, 34 locks, 22 hours total
As above but continue past the Mill through the Cheddleton Locks toward Basford Bridge, home of the Churnet Valley Railway. There is a waterside pub at Basford Bridge. At Oak Meadow Ford Lock the canal joins the River Churnet for about a mile until it reaches Consall Forge where there is a pottery and the fine, old fashioned 'Black Lion' pub, which has a garden where you can sit and watch the steam trains go by. After a couple more miles you reach the end of the branch and will need to turn at the winding point before Froghall tunnel (there are moorings just before the tunnel and winding hole) as passage through the tunnel is not possible. Beyond the tunnel, the canal terminus in Froghall has a fine wharf house and stables and the Victorian style tea rooms at Kingsley & Froghall station are worth visiting (the southern terminus of the Churnet Valley Railway).
Active route: Middlewich and Return - 36 miles, 62 locks, 26 hours total
From the marina head north and pass through the Harecastle tunnel (2926 yds). Call the marina on the morning of your holiday to confirm that passage is possible on the first day. At Hardings Wood Junction (with the Macclesfield Canal) there are a couple of waterside pubs. The canal passes down a flight of 11 locks, sometimes known as Heartbreak Hill, or the Cheshire Locks. Stop at Rode Heath for local shops close to bridge 140 and nearby pubs. The canal drops down 13 more locks to the village of Wheelock on the outskirts of Sandbach, with 2 popular pubs, Post Office, stores, fish and chips. If you have time, Middleport Pottery is worth a visit on the return journey.
Weekly Route Suggestions:
Relaxed route: Caldon Canal, Leek, Froghall and return – 37 miles, 34 locks, 23 hours total
An opportunity to take a leisurely cruise, allowing enough time to visit Alton Towers theme park too, if you wish. Travel south to the junction with the Caldon Canal, passing a statue of James Brindley - builder of the Trent & Mersey Canal. Go through 2 staircase locks, then after another 6 spread-out locks the canal splits towards Leek and Froghall – take the Leek branch to visit the market town there which has an abundance of pubs and restaurants. Turn around and backtrack to the junction, then take the other fork onto the Froghall branch where you go through the attractive Hazelhurst Flight of 3 locks, taking the canal under the Leek branch at Denford where there is a dog friendly canalside inn. Continue for about 2 miles to the historic Cheddleton Flint Mill then through Cheddleton Locks toward Basford Bridge, home of the Churnet Valley Railway (waterside pub). Soon the canal joins the River Churnet for about a mile until it reaches Consall Forge where there's a pottery and the old fashioned 'Black Lion' pub - where you can sit and watch the steam trains go by. After a few more miles you reach the end of the branch where you turn before Froghall tunnel (there are moorings just before the tunnel and winding hole) as passage through the tunnel is not possible. Beyond the tunnel, the canal terminus in Froghall has a fine wharf house and stables. The Victorian style tea rooms at Kingsley & Froghall station are also worth visiting. Alton Towers theme park is just 12 minutes away by taxi: https://www.altontowers.com/
Intermediate Route: Penkridge and Return - 58 miles, 48 locks, 32 hours total
About 5 hours' cruising a day. Cruise south less than half a mile to Etruria Junction (junction with the Caldon Canal). Good first evening moorings here for the The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery. Cruise down 5 Stoke Locks towards Stone. At the bottom lock of the Stone flight are good moorings near a pub, with shops close by. Continue to the picturesque village of Sandon with good moorings below the lock near bridge 83. Further on is the village of Weston-upon-Trent, where there are some pubs within a short walk. The canal continues towards Great Haywood, where you can stop for provisions if necessary. You should also moor up at Great Haywood if you wish to visit stately home Shugborough Hall, owned by the National Trust. Turn left at the Junction, onto the pretty Staffordshire & Worcester Canal, past Tixall Wide (a lake-like part of the canal). Shortly after, stop at Radford Bridge (No. 98) to walk into the county town of Stafford and take refreshments at the nearby pub. Continue west past Acton Trussel village and through a couple of locks before arriving at the market town of Penkridge which has shops, pubs and restaurants within easy walking distance. Turn just after Penkridge Lock (No. 38) and return to the boatyard.
Intermediate route: Whaley Bridge and Return - 78 miles, 26 locks, 37 hours total
About 6 hours' cruising a day. Begin by travelling north through the 1.75 mile (2.65 km) long Harecastle Tunnel, the fourth largest canal tunnel in the UK, to join the Macclesfield Canal at Hardings Wood. The Macclesfield Canal crosses over the Trent & Mersey Canal on Poole Aqueduct and shortly after, Red Bull Aqueduct. This is a busy area with plenty of pubs. The canal skirts the small towns of Congleton, Macclesfield and Marple through attractive open countryside. The Cloud, near Congleton, is a hill on the border of Cheshire and Staffordshire that allows excellent views of the stunning Cheshire Plain. The plain is a lovely area with several different walking routes, with each offering a new perspective of this vast area. Macclesfield is also strewn with historical attractions. St Michael’s Church has overlooked the town centre since the 13th century and the Georgian Town Hall takes pride of place. If you’re interested in a pleasant walk, head to the Roman Lakes leisure complex in Marple. The town will also be of interest for ghoul lovers, as it contains two of the most haunted places in Cheshire: Goyt Mill and Marple Hall. Then turn on to the Peak Forest Canal to Whaley Bridge. The Peak Forest Canal links the Ashton Canal with the tramways famous for collecting limestone from local quarries and contains Marple Aqueduct, which carries the canal around 100 feet above the river Goyt. Whaley Bridge is a small town situated on the river, with prehistoric attractions including preserved burial sites and the remains of an ancient stone circle. Return for home.
Intermediate route: Huddlesford and Return - 70 miles, 46 locks, 38 hours total
About 6 hours' cruising a day. An excellent route for anyone interested in our industrial heritage and the chance to experience the heart of our British canal system. This route is a mixture of countryside and historic sites, taking you just beyond Fradley Junction and back. Head south from the boatyard through ‘The Potteries' at Stoke-on-Trent to see what remains of the world famous ceramics factories, their interesting bottle kilns, visitor centres and museums (Spode, Wedgwood, Royal Doulton). Leaving Stoke-on-Trent you pass through a handful of locks before arriving at the attractive canal town of Stone, which has a variety of pubs, shops and restaurants. After Stone, continue south through the quiet and scenic Trent Valley to Great Haywood, which has a farm shop, pub and nature reserve close to the canal. Historic Shugborough Hall (built 1693 – 1760) and its estate can be accessed by walking west from Haywood Lock (No. 22). After Little Haywood Lock there is a relaxing lock-free stretch of waterway as you cruise past Rugeley, Armitage and Handsacre; with easy access to pubs and shops from the canalside. Between these villages / towns you'll also find Spode House, once home to Josiah Spode and his family. After King's Bromley Aqueduct and Wharf there are just a few more locks before you arrive at Fradley Junction. Once at the very centre of canal life, you'll find The Swan pub at the junction - known affectionately as the ‘Mucky Duck'. Turn left here onto the Coventry Canal which meanders its way under numerous bridges to Huddlesford Junction and the canalside pub there. Turn here and return to the boatyard.
Active route: The Four Counties Ring - 111 miles, 94 locks, 60 hours total
This is a very active week which will require about 9 hours' cruising a day. Head south from the base along the Trent & Mersey Canal to the junction at Great Haywood. From here, join the pretty Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Once you’ve reached Autherley Junction cruise north up the green and woody Shropshire Union Canal, past Market Drayton (home of gingerbread - worth a stop if time permits) and up to Hurleston Junction where you continue past the junction with the Llangollen Canal to Barbridge Junction with the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union. Continue along the Middlewich Branch and back onto the Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich Turn south here, tackling the Cheshire Locks before entering the Harecastle Tunnel (remember to book your passage). Cruise on through to the marina at Festival Park. Best suited to a 10 or 11 night break to allow more time to stop and look around.
Fortnight Route Suggestions:
Relaxed route: The Four Counties Ring - 111 miles, 94 locks, 60 hours total
Around 5 hours a day, the same route can be done in an active week (see above), but 2 weeks allows for much more time to stop and explore such places as Nantwich, Brewood, Market Drayton, the Potteries at Stoke-on-Trent, the market town of Stone and maybe Shugborough Hall (near Great Haywood).
Intermediate route: The Four Counties and the Black Country Ring - 166 miles, 172 locks, 94 hours total
This route combines 2 rings, the Four Counties Ring and the Black Country Ring, taking in some of the interesting canals around central Birmingham.
Head south to Great Haywood as per the 'active week' route above and continue on the Trent and Mersey Canal as far as Fradley Junction where you join the Coventry Canal. 10 miles later you'll arrive at Fazeley Junction with the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal, where you turn on to the Birmingham Canal Navigations (the BCN). Head to Gas Street Basin for Birmingham city centre overnight moorings. You can choose to either continue on the Birmingham Mainline towards Wolverhampton, with the flight of 21 locks en route to Autherley Junction; or divert south at Dudley Port Junction, through the Netherton tunnel on the Dudley No 2 Canal, to Park Head Junction with the Dudley No 1 canal. The canal drops down through Dudley and Brierley Hill via the 8 Delph Locks to join the Stourbridge Canal at Leys Junction. Head north up the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal towards Autherley Junction where you turn on to the Shropshire Union Canal. Cruise past Brewood, Market Drayton, Audlem, Nantwich and the junction for the Llangollen Canal at Hurleston, then turn left onto the Middlewich Branch at Barbridge Junction. At Middlewich turn south on the Trent and Mersey Canal, homewards towards Festival Park Marina. Places of interest and useful stopping places include: the canalside farm, tearooms and shop with public moorings at Great Haywood, moor near Haywood Lock 22 for access for Shugborough Hall; Brindley Bank Aqueduct over the River Trent; historic market town of Rugeley, Fradley junction with its teashop, pub and nature reserve; Birmingham city centre; the Netherton tunnel (9,081 feet or 2,768 m); the traditional Shropshire market town of Market Drayton (the home of gingerbread) with a mix of half-timbered, Georgian and Victorian buildings.
Active route: The Four Counties Ring, Llangollen and Return - 199 miles, 136 locks, 106 hours total
This is an active two-week route which requires between 7 and 8 hours cruising each day, incorporating a ring route and a trip down the Llangollen Canal in North Wales. Head south from the base to the junction at Great Haywood. From the junction at Great Haywood, go onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Once you’ve reached Autherley Junction take the branch for the Shropshire Union Canal, past Market Drayton (home of gingerbread- worth a stop if time permits) to Hurleston Junction where you turn onto the Llangollen Canal. The Llangollen Canal is firm favourite with narrowboaters and it's easy to see why, with stunning scenery, a steam railway, Chirk Castle and the magnificent Pontcysyllte Aqueduct - it's really not to be missed. To travel the entire length and back takes around 44 hours so ensure you have enough time. One back at Hurleston Junction, continue down the Middlewich Branch and back onto the Trent & Mersey Canal where you'll tackle the Cheshire Locks before entering the Harecastle Tunnel (remember to book your passage). Cruise on through The Potteries (Stoke on Trent) and back down to the base at Festival Park.