Canal boat holidays—Staffs & Worcs Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Staffs & Worcs Canal—North

THE Staffs & Worcs Canal is a waterway of two parts—above and below Autherley Junction where it meets the Shropshire Union Canal, so gives a choice for canal boat hire holidays.

It is a narrow canal, with its Northern part from Haywood Junction being part of the Four Counties Ring, and can be somewhat busy at peak times, with hire boaters attempting the 'ring' in a limited time. The many twists and turns of this early built waterway, especially against bridges, can provide difficulties for beginners with long boats.

The canal is very rural, passing mostly through open agricultural land, and even skirting Stafford, so little of it is seen, which means  there are no supermarkets near at hand, though there are smaller shops along the route.

It has the attraction of a wide water at its northernmost end (shown in the picture) and a very narrow cutting at its southernmost end, the two attractions of the waterway.

To those interested in the construction of this Brindley canal, there are some most interesting engineering aspects, from its unusual locks to its bywashes, such as the bywash pictured.

On this particular stretch  is a very active youngster's canoe centre, so look out on the bends for them, though they always pull in as a narrowboat passes, and acknowledge if you do the correct thing and slow down.

The locks, though at times quite deep, are fairly easy to operate, with often handy bridges to enable easy access to both sides, but these locks are well known for their 'pull' when filling. This is why many boats have two fenders on their bows, to enable them to stay flush up to the front of the lock when filling, thus enabling the paddles to be fully opened quickly, as the 'pull' keeps the boat securely at the front of the lock.

For those using the normal method at staying at the back of the lock, it is often necessary to keep the engine in reverse to prevent a sudden surge forward, if the lock is to be filled at a decent rate.

There is a lack of boat yards and marinas on this Northern section, and consequently any boating facilities, though there is the original Midland Chandlers at Penkridge, that few boaters can pass! Though gifts and souvenirs can be obtained from the unusual round house by Gailey Lock.

Mooring along the waterway is no problem, with the open vistas giving no problems for those wanting television.

The wide water at the Northern end is Tixall Wide, a favourite stopping place for many boaters, with its view of open water, though it is not wise to stray far from the line of the canal, as much of it is very shallow.

At the Southern end is a long narrow cutting in rock, that will only allow passage of one boat, though there are passing places.  It is advisable to have a look-out go forward to make sure no other boat is coming, otherwise it could result in a long reverse manœuvre.

This section is fine for new holiday boat hirers and those wanting a short break as the locks are fairly easy and there are plenty of eateries along the way, though shopping could be a problem. The only real difficulty could be the many blind corners when meeting a boat coming the opposite way.

This section of the canal is 20 miles long with 12 locks,  no tunnels,  lift or swing bridges.

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The more stars the better.

Staffs & Worcs Canal—South

From Autherley Junction the canal takes on a different aspect, through a cutting slicing through Wolverhampton, though it simply does not encroach on the waterway. Compton Lock, is the first that Brindley built on the canal way back in the 1760's.

Many find this section of the canal so attractive as it passes for mile after mile through pleasant wooded areas that are most picturesque, though they present problems when wanting  to obtain a television signal!

Once again the locks are fairly easy to operate, and it is the locks that give the waterway an attraction, first with Bratch Locks that seem like a steep staircase, but are not, with three separate locks jammed close together, operated together with side ponds, and luckily for beginners, a resident lock keeper.

After this comes the actual staircase of the Botterham Lock, but this time no lock keeper, but very detailed instructions on how to operate.  And as beginners tend to flood the bottom chamber, there is a a handy overflow to prevent any damage.

A great attraction of this waterway is its  sandstone cliffs, and even a stable cut out of sandstone at a particular lock.

Unlike its Northern counterpart, this section has boatyards and marinas, so there are plenty of facilities, with mooring all along the waterway, some with rings.

Shopping too is no problem, for in addition to the smaller shops in the villages there are canalside supermarkets, with two in Kidderminster.

A warning about Kidderminster, as it is not a recommended town to moor overnight owing to reported vandalism and drug use by the side of the canal, though it is an exceptional town for shopping.

The waterway ends at Stourport with its many basins and its locks down on to the Severn, a vastly different waterway.

This section is okay for beginners, the locks are fairly easy and there are plenty of villages and eateries along the way, and shopping is no problem, though again, the locks can be quite fierce.

The two tunnels are very short, and it is easy to see if a boat is coming the other way, so presenting no problem. The only problem being for television addicts, unable to obtain a television signal in the thickly wooded areas of the waterway.

This section of the canal is 25 miles long with 26 locks,  two very short tunnels, but no lift or swing bridges.

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The more black stars the better.