Spotlight on the Canals – The Stratford Canal
Shakespeare, barrel roof lock cottages, iron aqueducts and gourmet pubs
The 25-mile long narrow and mostly rural Stratford-upon-Avon Canal links Shakespeare’s Stratford and the River Avon in the south, with the Worcester & Birmingham Canal close to Birmingham in the north, passing through the Forest of Arden along the way.
The southern section of the canal, running from Bancroft Basin in the centre of Stratford-upon-Avon up to Lapworth, is characterised by barrel roofed lock cottages and a series of split bridges with gaps for the tow ropes of boat horses.
The northern section has 19 locks running up from Lapworth, and then a 10-mile lock-free level stretch to the canal’s guillotine-gated stop-lock at Kings Norton Junction.
Completed in 1816 at a cost of £297,000, the canal has 54 locks, a 322-metre long tunnel, three high embankments, a reservoir, a large single span brick aqueduct and three cast iron trough aqueducts, all unusually with towpaths at the level of the bottom of the canal.
Best for beginners
From our base at Wootton Wawen, a pretty hamlet set within a conservation area, it’s a six-hour, 16-lock journey through the beautiful Warwickshire countryside to Shakespeare’s Stratford – perfect for a short break.
Canal boat holiday-makers head south, first crossing the Grade II* listed Wootton Wawen aqueduct over the A3400 and a few miles later the longer 105-metre long Edstone Aqueduct – which crosses a minor road, the Birmingham and North Warwickshire railway and the track bed of the former Alcester Railway and provides boaters with excellent views of the surrounding countryside.
Next the canal passes the picturesque village of Wilmcote. Canal boat holiday-makers can moor-up above Wilmcote Top Lock and walk into the village to explore Mary Arden’s Farm, the childhood home of Shakespeare’s mother to experience the sights, smells and sounds of a working Tudor farm. Wilmcote also has two pubs – the gourmet Mary Arden Inn which dates back to the 1700s, and The Masons Arms, a traditional pub with flagstone floors and real fires.
Continuing south, boaters next negotiate the Wilmcote Flight of 11 locks, taking the canal down the hill into Stratford. Expect “gongoozlers” as you pass through the last two locks and arrive at Bancroft Basin, the perfect place to moor up and enjoy the delights of Stratford-upon-Avon.
Just some of the highlights of this world-famous home of the Bard include the Royal Shakespeare Company’s magnificent Royal Shakespeare Theatre with over 1,000 seats. In 2017 performances of Anthony & Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Titus Andronicus are scheduled.
There are regular markets, plenty of eateries including Carluccio’s and the Giggling Squid, and a number of museums, including the bizarre MAD Museum of Mechanical Art & Design (described as a mixture of Wallis & Gromit, Heath Robinson and Scrapheap Challenge) and Shakespeare’s Birthplace.
Best for experienced boaters
The mighty Warwickshire Ring is perfect for more experienced boaters on a 10-day or two-week break. From Wootton Wawen, the journey time is 59 hours, travelling through 128 locks.
First head north up the Stratford Canal, passing through two locks at Preston Bagot, with a barrel roof cottage at lock number 37.
Next the canal passes close to the tiny hamlet of Yarningdale Common, with another barrel roof cottage at lock 34 and the Grade II* listed Yarningdale Aqueduct.
At the village of Lowsonford, the canalside Fleur de Lys pub is well worth a visit, renowned for its home-made pies.
Several locks, barrel roofed cottages and miles later, the canal passes beneath the noisy M40 motorway. After another five locks, and boaters reach Lapworth junction where they can take the Lapworth link to connect onto the broad Grand Union Canal at Kingswood Junction.
To travel clockwise around the ring, boaters turn left and head north. The Heart of England Way meets the canal here at Kingswood Bridge, and it’s just over a miles walk to the National Trust’s Baddesley Clinton stunning moated manor house in the heart of the Forest of Arden from here.
Soon after, the canal passes the Black Boy and King’s Arms pubs at Heronfield, and then reaches the Knowle flight of five wide locks, which raise the canal by 12.5 metres. The town of Knowle is a short walk away, with a supermarket and choice of pubs.
Soon after, the canal passes beneath the M42 motorway, and continues north past the Boat Inn at Catherine de Barnes, before entering the urban outskirts of Birmingham at Solihull.
Six miles later, boaters reach the six locks at Camp Hill and then Bordesley Junction. From here it’s just half a mile to moorings at Typhoo Basin, close to Warwick Bar in the centre of Birmingham.
There’s so much to do in Birmingham – theatres, art galleries, museums, concert halls, restaurants and shops, but the City’s award-winning Thinktank Science Museum, with its exciting Spitfire and Marine Worlds galleries, is close by.
Next turn back to Bordesley Junction and head up the Birmingham & Warwick Junction Canal, which connects with the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal at Salford Junction. From there begin heading east, still in a very urban environment for another four miles until the Hare & Hounds pub at the bottom of the Minworth flight of three locks.
Now back in the countryside, the route passes the White Horse at Cudworth, where the Cudworth flight of 11 locks starts. The Dog & Doublet pub is next to Lock 9 of the flight and there are moorings soon after, with access to Kingsbury Water Park, offering 600 acres of country park to explore.
The Heart of England Way follows the line of the canal here for several miles and passes the RSPB’s Middleton Lakes Nature Reserve, great for a spot of birdwatching.
Fazeley is next with its choice of pubs – the Plough and Three Tuns, plus a short bus or taxi ride to Drayton Manor Theme Park if you fancy a change of pace!
The Coventry Canal meets the Birmingham & Fazeley Canal here, taking boaters travelling the Warwickshire Ring east through Tamworth to Alvecote with its Samuel Barlow pub, the ruins of Alvecote Benedictine Priory and the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Alvecote Pools nature reserve.
Now heading south, the canal passes beneath the M42 and past the Pooley Visitor & Heritage Centre, displaying mining memorabilia and offering waymarked paths around woodland and spoil heaps.
Then it’s on through the village of Polesworth, a good place to stop and re-stock with shops, and Bulls Head, Red Lion and Royal Oak pubs.
The canal becomes very rural for a while, passing Hoo Hill obelisk which marks the site of the Chapel of Leonard at Hoo, demolished in 1538 by Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries.
Atherstone is the next town, with a flight of six locks, choice of shops and pubs, including the Kings Head.
The canal continues south, lock-free for the next 11 miles. The Anchor at Hartsmill is the next canalside pub on route and soon after the canal becomes more urban again as it winds its way through Nuneaton, before meeting its junction with the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal at Bedworth.
Two miles later, the Coventry Canal meets the North Oxford Canal at Hawkesbury Junction, where Warwickshire Ring travellers being heading south down the Oxford Canal. The route soon passes under the M69 motorway and through the pretty village of Ansty, with its Rose & Castle pub.
Three miles later, it’s worth stopping at Brinklow to visit the remains of Brinklow Castle, a Norman earthwork motte and bailey fortress, and Brinklow Arches to the south of the village, a canal aqueduct built during the Imperial Period. There are also a number of pubs in the village, including The Raven and White Lion.
The canal then passes through the 186-metre long Newbold Tunnel, past the Barley Mow and Boat pubs, becoming more urban again as it travels through the town of Rugby. Boaters soon reach the Bell & Barge pub and Tesco store at Brownsover, and then the village of Hillmorton, with its flight of three locks, plus Old Royal Oak and Stag & Pheasant pubs.
After Hillmorton, the canal cuts through open countryside again, and is lock-free to the Braunston Turn, where the Oxford Canal merges with the Grand Union Canal. The historic village of Braunston, in the heart of the canal network, is a great place to stop with a marina, boatyard, fish and chip shop, and plenty of pubs including the Wheatsheaf and Old Plough
Eleven miles and nine locks later, the canal reaches Napton Junction where the Oxford Canal splits off and heads south.
The Warwick Ring continues along the Grand Union Canal towards Birmingham, soon reaching the three locks at Calcutt. The next two miles are on one level until the route reaches Stockton Top Lock, the peak of a flight of 13 locks taking the canal to the village of Long Itchington, who’s six pubs host a popular annual beer festival.
The next four miles remain rural and just before Leamington Spa is reached, the canal passes by the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust’s Lea Valley Nature Reserve, with family-friendly activity trails.
There are plenty of visitor moorings in Royal Leamington Spa, giving boaters the chance to enjoy some of this historic spa town’s attractions, including its impressive Georgian and Edwardian architecture, Royal Pump Rooms Museum, Loft Theatre, Welches Meadow Nature Reserve, and excellent choice of shops and restaurants.
Next it’s the beautiful country town of Warwick, with its jaw-dropping medieval castle on the banks of the River Avon, dating back to William the Conqueror. Warwick Castle offers a fantastic day out with ramparts to climb, birds of prey and trebuchet firing displays, Horrible Histories Maze, landscaped gardens, Castle Dungeon and daily history team tours.
Warwick itself has a vibrant market place hosting a variety of shops, pubs and cafes and a thriving Saturday market, as well as a popular racecourse, Yeomanry Museum, Lord Leycester Hospital Museum, Queen’s Own Hussars Museum & Master’s Garden, St John’s House Museum and Warwickshire Museum.
Heading out of Warwick, boaters soon encounter Hatton Bottom Lock and the start of the epic Hatton Flight of 21 locks, traditionally known as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’, which raises boats up by nearly 45 metres along a two mile stretch of the canal. Just below the Top lock, boaters will find the Hatton Locks Café for welcome refreshment!
It’s another four miles back to Lapworth from Hatton, passing through the Shrewley and Rowington tunnels, before heading back down the Stratford Canal to Wootton Wawen.