Canal boat holidays—Trent & Mersey Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Trent & Mersey Canal—Derwent Mouth to Haywood Junction

This Eastern part of the Trent & Mersey Canal, is the home of many hire boat companies, together with many large marinas and therefore seem exceptionally busy for the canal boat hirer.

With so many hire bases, there is a great deal of choice for both an extensive boating holiday or a short break. It is a pleasant canal to cruise and is mostly rural, with two exceptions, the sprawl through Burton-on-Trent, and that through Armitage and Rugeley, the latter being somewhat tricky with its many bridges on bends, as shown above.

However the section from the Trent is very difficult, due to the exceptionally heavy and awkward lock gates of the six broad locks. The bulk of these gates are very badly hung, needing a great deal of strength to both open and particularly to close. The picture clearly shows how the infamous Aston Lock gate is incorrectly hung, needing two men to close it.

An added difficulty is that when taking a boat up through the locks and closing the gates, unless water is allowed into the lock very quickly indeed, the bottom gate(s) will swing open, so will not allow the lock to be filled.

Another problem is that mooring below some of the broad locks is very restricted, only being able to accommodate one or two narrowboats, which is not helped by fierce bywashes, being fed by the Trent at Alrewas. The picture shows how an unused ramp that was built below one lock deprives boaters of half the mooring space. Mooring above the locks though is usually quite extensive.  At the locks there are often bridges over the waterway, giving easy access to both sides.

This part of the canal passes through agricultural land with  attractive wooded sections, and in the first part being a broad canal the bridges are wide, allowing easy passage, but be prepared to meet wide beam boats.

After Willington the canal becomes much easier for boaters as the awkward broad locks are left behind, replaced by narrow locks, the first at Burton thus being a delight. But with the narrow locks come the queues, for though the locks both empty and fill quickly, many newcomers insist upon tying the boat before the lock then even in the lock, Canaltime boaters being the worst offenders being taught to use three ropes!


All facilities

Moorings are plentiful along the waterway, with marinas the like of Stenson, Jannel, Barton Turns and Kings Bromley providing all services, and Barton Turns boasting many shopping outlets. With so many marinas and boatyards boating facilities are plentiful.

Though the narrow locks are somewhat easer to operate, alas, like the earlier broad locks, many have awkward gates, many being hard to move and some refusing to remain closed, with those at Fradley Junction amongst the worst. A further problem is that as it is a busy junction, passage at peak times can be very slow indeed, being notorious for long delays.

The canal has plenty of sections of Armco for mooring as well as dedicated mooring  facilities. Rugeley boasts a plethora of shops including a large supermarket, with moorings on rings very close to the waterway. The supermarket is the only one by the waterway on this section of the Trent & Mersey, but moorings can be hard to come by at busy times as can be seen from the above picture.

After this the canal passes over a Trent aqueduct along the attractive Trent Valley, through the awkward Colwich Lock, aptly named Cow Shit Lock by our Victor Swift, and you will see the reason why. Then it's a large garden centre a short walk from Wolseley Bridge. There is access to the impressive Shugborough Hall at Bridge 73. Then the waterway meets the Staffs & Worcs Canal at Haywood Junction.

The broad locks spoil the recommendation for an easy holiday hire, unless a strong crew, but even with the sometimes awkward narrow locks, it has many interesting features, including a roofless 'tunnel' at Armitage (pictured) and  a great many canalside eateries.

This section of the canal is 39 miles with 22 locks, with an attractive aqueduct over the Dove and a lesser spectacular one at Rugeley over the Trent.

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The more black stars the better.

Haywood Junction to Preston Brook

THE Western part of the Trent & Mersey Canal, which for this guide starts at Haywood Junction (pictured) is entirely different from its Eastern part, and though more heavily locked, being narrow with the exception of one broad lock, it seems better maintained thus the locks are fairly easy to operate, and an ideal holiday hire.

The section from Haywood Junction to Middlewich is part of the Four Counties Ring, and can be fairly busy, though nowhere near as busy as the Eastern section.

However something of a problem for beginners is the 29 locks Heartbreak Hill that drops the waterway from Harecastle Tunnel to Middlewich. It gleaned its name as many of the locks are awkwardly spaced — not close enough for a short walk to the next but not far enough apart to be able to settle down or perhaps make a hot drink. The locks however are fairly easy to operate, with some twinned, making progress easier.

There is plenty of interest on the waterway, with the one and a half miles long Harecastle Tunnel and its ochre water that comes out of its Western portal. Then the very attractive flashes beyond Middlewich.

Stoke-on-Trent, alas no longer the producer of so much pottery as in the past, still has a number of factory shops, with a few  by the waterside, with Middleport factory shop having its own moorings.

A great attraction for boaters and visitors is the famous Anderton Boat Lift, that moves boats between the Trent & Mersey and the Weaver, with an interesting visitors centre. Boaters are able to book to have their boats transported on the lift down to the Weaver for a cruise, or those not having the time can take the trip boat down the lift for a short trip on the river then back up again. The picture shows the reopening of the lift after its restoration.


Between Middlewich and the Anderton Boat lift are the many flashes—wide expanses of water caused by the sinking of the ground after the removal of salt—thought by many boat owners and holiday makers  alike to be the most attractive part of the waterway.

Though rings  are not provided, it is possible to moor by the side of them all, with plenty of depth of water by the towpaths.

These moorings are very popular, so at weekends and at the height of the season, the best ones are soon taken up.

From the broad Big Lock situated at Middlewich, the waterway is lock-free until its end at the shallow stop lock onto the Bridgewater Canal. Along this long pound are three fairly short tunnels, with one having a bend in its middle, meaning you are unable to see if a boat has entered the other end. It is here the canal follows the Weaver, with views of the valley containing the river.

With salt extraction a major industry in the area, it is only natural that there is a salt museum, which is by the canal, and most interesting in its telling of the work and the importance of the product. At this time this museum is closed being affected by salt!

There are plenty of opportunities for mooring along the entire waterway, with Armco piling and occasional rings. There are boat yards and hire firms along the waterway, so  facilities for boaters are no problem.

There is a supermarket at Middlewich within walking distance and two in Stone with an exceptional main street of shops. The shopping centre and a supermarket at Stoke are distant from the waterway, meaning there is very little in the way of canalside shopping after Middlewich. However the towns have many pubs and eateries by the waterside, most with handy moorings.

Notwithstanding the strenuous Heartbreak Hill, the canal is recommended for both holiday hirers and for a get-away crew, who are prepared to work locks, as it has plenty of interest along its way, opportunities for shopping in its towns and a plethora of tunnels—the inside of Harecastle shown in the picture.

Boaters coming off the Middlewich Branch heading West would only have four locks then around 15 miles lock free.

This section from Haywood Junction is 54 miles long, has 55 locks and four tunnels including the impressive Harecastle Tunnel.

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The more stars the better.