Spotlight on the Canals – the Shropshire Union Canal
Stunning views of the rolling Cheshire landscape, sleepy villages, atmospheric cuttings & an abundance of wildlife.
Stretching from Autherley Junction near Wolverhampton in the South, to Ellesmere Port in the North, the charmingly rural Shropshire Union Canal, affectionately referred to as “The Shroppie”, covers 77 miles, including its 10-mile Middlewich Branch and quarter-of-a-mile long River Dee Branch.
There are 47 locks along the main line, four along the Middlewich Branch and three on the River Dee Branch. With long stretches with no towns for miles, the Shropshire Union Canal is great for getting close to nature.
The northern section is a wide waterway, running through the gently rolling Cheshire landscape, while the arrow-straight southern section features long embankments, cuttings and grand bridges, and fewer locks.
These deep mossy cuttings are atmospheric and full of wildlife, giving keen-eyed boaters the chance to spot the flashing blue of a kingfisher in flight, and other waterway wildlife.
Best for beginners
On a short break from our canal boat hire base at Bunbury near Tarporley in Cheshire, narrowboat holiday-makers can head north along the Shropshire Union to the historic City of Chester. The 12-mile journey through the rolling Cheshire countryside takes seven hours, passing through 18 locks.
After leaving the base and going through Tilstone Lock, and two more locks at Beeston (Beeston Stone & Beeston Iron), boaters can moor-up just below Wharton’s Lock and walk half-a-mile to English Heritage’s Beeston Castle & Woodland Park, one of the most dramatic ruins in the English landscape.
Continuing along, soon after Wharton’s Lock, boaters come across the canalside Shady Oak pub and two miles later, the Famous Cheshire Ice Cream Farm at Tattenhall is a short walk from the canal.
Soon after the canal becomes less rural, passing through Waverton, and the site of the Battle of Rowton Moor (one of the last major battles of the English Civil War), and then into Christleton with its Cheshire Cat canalside pub and the Ring ‘o’ Bells pub in the village.
Climbing up five more locks along the way (Christleton, Greenfield, Tarvin, Chemistry, and Hoole Lane), the canal passes the Lead Shot Tower site, where during the Napoleonic Wars musket shot was produced by dropping molten lead balls from height, which formed spheres as they fell into a vat of water at the bottom.
Now in the ancient City of Chester, there’s so much to explore, including the City’s Roman Amphitheatre, Museum, City walls, River Dee, Chester Rows, Shops, Chester Cathedral built in 1541, St Johns’, Chester Castle, and racecourse.
For canal boat holiday-makers heading back to Bunbury, there’s a winding hole close to Chester Cathedral at Cow Lane Bridge 123E.
Boaters on a four-night or week-long break can continue down the staircase locks and into Telford’s Basin, then on lock-free for a further eight miles to the end of the Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere Port, where the canal meets the Manchester Ship Canal. Alternatively, at the four-mile marker there’s the option to moor-up at Caughall Bridge, and walk half a mile to the award-winning Chester Zoo, with 15,000 animals living in 125 acres of gardens.
At the canal’s terminus, boaters can visit the National Waterways Museum, with its historic boat collection, docks, warehouses, forge, stables and workers cottages, recreates homes from the 1830s, 1900s, 1930s and 1950s and brings the past vividly to life with costumed characters and guided tours.
Best for experienced boaters
On a week, 10-day or two-week break from Bunbury, boaters can tackle the Four Counties Ring, travelling through Cheshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the West Midlands, covering 114 miles and 96 locks, and taking around 58 cruising hours.
After travelling south two miles to Barbridge Junction, with its marina and Olde Barbridge Inn, to travel anti-clockwise around the Ring, boaters should continue to head south down the Shropshire Union Canal to its junction with the Staffs & Worcs Canal at Autherley.
Along the way, the route passes over the Nantwich Aqueduct on the outskirts of Nantwich, home to the stunning timber framed Elizabethan mansion house, Churche’s Mansion.
Two rural miles later, there are two locks at Hack Green, close to the Secret Hack Green Nuclear Bunker, once one of the nation’s most secret defence sites, and now a fascinating museum.
Three miles on at Audlem, boaters pass the Shroppie Fly pub and Audlem Mill, selling canal gifts, crafts and the locally made Snugbury’s Jersey Ice Cream.
Then the Audlem flight of 15 locks takes boaters 93ft downhill to a lock-free mile, and then another flight of five locks at Adderley.
Boaters next travel through Betton Cutting, passing by Brownills Wood before reaching the historic market town of Market Drayton, home of the gingerbread man.
Next there are five locks at Tyrley, then the canal is lock free for 17 miles, passing through a series of cuttings, embankments and villages with excellent pubs.
Places of note along this 17-mile level stretch include Goldstone Wharf with its Wharf Tavern pub, Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s Loynton Moss Nature Reserve at Grub Street, the Old Wharf Tearoom at Norbury Junction, the Royal Oak at Gnosnall, and the Hartley Arms and Mottey Meadows Nature Reserve at Wheaton Ashton.
There’s just one lock at Wheaton, then the route is lock-free again for eight miles, passing the Bridge pub at Brewood, going under the M54 motorway and running close to Pendeford Mill Nature Reserve, before meeting Autherley Junction Stop Lock and the southern end of the Shroppie.
To continue the Four Counties Ring, boaters then travel north up the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal to Great Haywood, before transferring onto the Trent & Mersey Canal.
Places of interest along this section include the National Trust’s Shugborough Estate with beautiful riverside gardens, the 2,675-metre long Harecastle Tunnel and the Wedgewood Museum at Stoke on Trent.
At Middlewich, the ring route leaves the Trent & Mersey Canal to head west back to Barbridge, travelling along the Middlewich Branch of the Shropshire Union Canal.
This quiet waterway, which travels peacefully through the Cheshire countryside, has just four locks along its 10-mile length. For refreshments, as well as a choice of canalside pubs at the historic market town of Middlewich, the Badger Inn at Church Minshull, just a short walk from the canal, it’s a popular place to stop.
To make a booking or to get friendly advice on canal holidays, please call our Booking Office on 0117 304 1122.