In the seond part of our guide, we fol­low the gen­tle de­scent of the eastern lengths to reach the Trent

In the se­cond part of our two-part guide, the steep lock flights and the in­dus­trial Stafford­shire Pot­ter­ies are left be­hind as the canal fol­lows a gen­tler ru­ral route down the Trent Valley to Shard­low

Canal Boat - - Editor's Letter - WORDS AND PIC­TURES MARTIN LUDGATE

We ended part one of this guide to the Trent & Mersey Canal just south east of Stone, at the ex­act mid-point of fa­mous canal en­gi­neer James Brind­ley’s great 92-mile trunk route across the coun­try. But as well as be­ing pre­cisely halfway be­tween the Pre­ston Brook and Shard­low (two villages both of great im­por­tance to the canals but equally lit­tle­known away from them), it also marks a change in the canal’s char­ac­ter.

While the first part of the de­scent from the canal’s sum­mit in the Stafford­shire Pot­ter­ies has been char­ac­terised by flights of locks – five at Etruria, four at Meaford, four more at Stone – the gra­di­ent now eases off as the canal fol­lows the gen­tle fall of the broad­en­ing Trent Valley. There’s an odd lock at As­ton, an­other at San­don, a third at We­ston, a fourth at Hoo Mill, each with two or three miles of gen­tly me­an­der­ing ru­ral canal be­tween them, some­times ac­com­pa­nied by the London to Manch­ester rail­way line. The small village of Salt is no­table for a cu­ri­ously or­nate bridge with mul­ti­ple rings of brick­work ra­di­at­ing up­wards and out­wards from the arch (per­haps re­lat­ing to it hav­ing been raised to match the later rail­way bridge along­side).

Great Hay­wood is an­other of those places that few non-canal folk will of heard of, but has been a key point on the canal sys­tem since the 1770s, be­cause this is where the Trent & Mersey met an­other of the arms of Brind­ley’s ‘Grand Cross’ of wa­ter­ways link­ing the coun­try’s great

rivers. A fine tow­path bridge (note how the para­pet slopes right down to the ground on ei­ther side, pre­vent­ing horse tow-ropes from snag­ging) spans the en­trance to the Stafford­shire & Worces­ter­shire Canal, whose 46 miles lead to the River Sev­ern at Stour­port.

As well as a use­ful canal­side village with shops and pubs, Great Hay­wood is a canal boat­ing cen­tre to­day, with a boat­yard at the junc­tion and a ma­rina a lit­tle way north. From Hay­wood Lock take the foot­path east for the village, or west for the an­cient pack­horse bridge lead­ing to Shug­bor­ough Park (see in­set). At Lit­tle Hay­wood the canal is over­shad­owed by a busy main line rail­way junc­tion, but there is an­other shop in the village, plus two pubs.

The canal’s grad­ual de­scent has slowed even

more, with no locks at all for al­most ten miles. How­ever a cou­ple of nav­i­ga­tion fea­tures keep up the in­ter­est as the canal con­tin­ues to fol­low the Trent. A sharp right turn leads to the solidly-built Brind­ley Bank Aque­duct over the Trent, fol­low­ing which a sign marks the for­mer site of The Bloody Steps. These took their name from the bru­tal 1839 mur­der by boat­men of Christina Collins, whose body was then car­ried up the steps to the Tal­bot Inn – his­tor­i­cal events on which the In­spec­tor Morse novel The Wench is Dead was based.

Ruge­ley is a use­ful town for sup­plies, with the town cen­tre a short walk west of Bridge 67 (look out for the ru­ins of the an­cient church on your way there), then the town is grad­u­ally left be­hind as the canal re­turns to coun­try­side. Note the con­crete and steel canal banks, in­di­cat­ing that they have had to be re­built (putting the canal on a slight em­bank­ment) fol­low­ing sub­si­dence when this was a coal-min­ing area, and note also a standard Canal & River Trust tun­nel sign – but no ac­tual tun­nel…

In­stead there is a nar­row, rocky cut­ting (too nar­row to pass in, so watch out for boats ap­proach­ing) which un­til the same min­ing sub­si­dence brought about its

re­moval in 1971 was Ar­mitage Tun­nel. In­ci­den­tally this put the T&M in equal first place with the Worces­ter & Birm­ing­ham Canal for hav­ing the most tun­nels on a sin­gle main line canal, with five each. (Note for nit­pick­ers: I don’t count later amal­ga­ma­tions like the Grand Union sys­tem as a ‘sin­gle main line canal’!)

As well as an ex-tun­nel, any­one who has paid any at­ten­tion to the writ­ing on the china while us­ing the san­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties will be aware of Ar­mitage’s other claim to fame – and Ar­mitage Shanks’ rather fine toi­let works forms an im­pres­sive canal­side struc­ture.

Ar­mitage merges into Hand­sacre with its canal­side pub, and then the canal re­turns to quiet open coun­try­side lead­ing past a large ma­rina to the end of the long pound at Wood End Lock. But don’t be mis­led by the word ‘quiet’ – firstly, this is a busy part of the canal sys­tem to­day, with queues for the lock not un­known in sum­mer (so give your­self plenty of time); but sec­ondly the peace looks set to be well and truly shat­tered in a few years’ time when the HS2 rail­way comes through. De­spite ef­forts by the In­land Wa­ter­ways As­so­ci­a­tion and the Canal & River Trust which have greatly re­duced its im­pact (four orig­i­nally planned viaducts cross­ing the canal have been re­duced to just one), it will still make it­self felt.

A sharp left bend marks the south­ern­most point on the canal, as begins its jour­ney north east­wards to­wards Shard­low and the junc­tion with the Trent. Fradley brings a flurry of locks (also of­ten busy, but with vol­un­teer keep­ers help­ing to keep things mov­ing) as well as an­other im­por­tant junc­tion (and once again, at a village whose name prob­a­bly means noth­ing to most peo­ple not in­volved in canals). Here, op­po­site the fa­mous Swan pub, the Coven­try Canal begins the long jour­ney via Hawkes­bury Junc­tion and the Ox­ford Canal to the Thames, mak­ing the fourth arm of Brind­ley’s Grand Cross.

The five Fradley Locks are fol­lowed by three more as the canal winds its way through Al­re­was village to join the River Trent – but not for long. River and canal com­bine for a hun­dred yards or so, and then sep­a­rate as the canal moves to the north side of the Trent, where it re­mains for the rest of the jour­ney. A long series of tow­path bridges and a series of side-weirs in­di­cate that at times the river can be swollen by flood wa­ters – don’t at­tempt this length un­less the gauges at the locks on ei­ther side show that it is safe.

An un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally straight length fol­lows a rather older trans­port route – the Ro­man Ryknild Street, now the busy A38 trunk road – for a cou­ple of miles, punc­tu­ated by the pub and ma­rina at Bar­ton-un­der-Need­wood, then they sep­a­rate again. A series of shal­low and well spaced out locks brings the canal into Bur­ton-upon-Trent.

In case any boaters aren’t al­ready aware

of what Bur­ton is fa­mous for, the town’s brew­eries have done their best to keep them in­formed, with their pipe bridges car­ry­ing ad­verts for Marston’s ales and for the Bass Mu­seum of Brew­ing (see in­set), and to be hon­est, the smell from the brew­eries is prob­a­bly enough of a clue.

Shob­nall Fields (scene of past IWA fes­ti­vals) ac­com­pany the route through Bur­ton, with the town’s shops a short walk away. A boat­yard oc­cu­pies what was once an arm of the canal lead­ing to the Trent, which had his­tor­i­cally been nav­i­ga­ble up to this point – but whose up­per reaches were by­passed by the new canal.

That snip­pet of wa­ter­ways his­tory still makes it­self felt, as un­like the standard nar­row locks for boats of around 72ft by 7ft that we’ve en­coun­tered so far, the length of canal from Bur­ton on­wards was built to 14ft beam so that it could take the old up­per Trent barges. This means that be­yond Bur­ton all the locks and bridges are wide, and you’ll start to meet a few wide­beam craft. Owners of such boats should note, how­ever, that the old up­per Trent barges had very low air draft at the sides, so many of the bridges will be very tight on the non-tow­path side for some mod­ern wide­beams.

An­other typ­i­cally low and solid James Brind­ley aque­duct spans the River Dove on 11 spans (it seems that the river was ac­tu­ally widened out to make up for the re­stricted chan­nel through each arch), then Willing­ton village is fol­lowed by a large ma­rina village cre­ated from for­mer gravel work­ings. Sten­son Lock is the first of the wide-beam cham­bers, and at 12ft 4in deep it’s a real con­trast to the 3ft 6in fall of the last nar­row lock, back in Bur­ton.

Near Swarke­stone a nar­row­ing of the canal ac­com­pa­nied by an old hand-crane marks an­other for­mer connection: when the Derby Canal was first built, it made a stag­gered cross­ing of the T&M and con­tin­ued to meet the River Trent, this crane mark­ing the site of the toll house at the junc­tion. There is now lit­tle, if any­thing, to be seen of the link to the Trent, but a lit­tle fur­ther on the for­mer canal can be seen coming in from Derby on the north side, the first few yards used for moor­ings, and the Derby & San­di­acre Canal Trust hopes to one day re­open it to

Derby and on to meet the Ere­wash Canal at San­di­acre.

Just south of the canal is Swarke­stone Bridge over the Trent, and an­other his­toric land­mark: some 30 years be­fore the canal opened, this had marked the south­ern­most point reached by the ad­vance guard of Bon­nie Prince Char­lie’s Ja­co­bite forces.

The fi­nal cou­ple of miles of canal are typ­i­fied by quiet scenery, with no main roads nearby and the peace only dis­turbed by the oc­ca­sional freight train on a nearby non-pas­sen­ger line. We­ston Lock and As­ton Lock (yes, they share names with two locks we passed near Stone – a cause of some con­fu­sion, surely?) lead to Shard­low.

Old canal ware­houses, canal­side pubs, bridges and a lock all com­bine to make this a classic canal village, and a fit­ting end to our long jour­ney along one of our ear­li­est long-dis­tance canal trunk routes. But it isn’t quite the end. A fi­nal mile leads past a flood bar­rier (do not pass if the warn­ing light shows red) and then via Der­went Mouth Lock to meet the Trent at a four-way junc­tion: left is the un­nav­i­ga­ble Der­went; right for a back­wa­ter lead­ing to Shard­low Ma­rina; straight on for the Trent and the great wa­ter­way cross­roads of Trent Lock. Left for the Ere­wash; ahead for the Trent to Not­ting­ham and on down the tide­way to the north eastern wa­ter­way; right for the Soar, the Grand Union and the south east of Eng­land.

Pic­turesque sur­round­ings at Bag­nall Lock, Al­re­was

At Great Hay­wood, a boat takes the turn onto the Staffs & Worcs Canal, lead­ing to the Sev­ern

The unusual de­sign of Salt Bridge, raised when the ad­ja­cent rail­way was built

Al­re­was Tun­nel was opened out in 1971, leav­ing this nar­row, rocky cut­ting

An at­trac­tive ru­ral length of canal be­tween Lit­tle Hay­wood and Ruge­ley

Pass­ing Ar­mitage Shanks’ canal­side san­i­tary ware works

Fradley Junc­tion, where the Coven­try Canal branches off to the left

Just east of where the canal crosses the Trent - note tow­path bridges for flood­wa­ter

A typ­i­cal low, multi-arched James Brind­ley aque­duct crosses the River Dove

His­toric for­mer canal ware­house build­ing in Shard­low village

Sten­son Lock, the first of the broad locks on the eastern end of the canal

The eastern lengths near We­ston-on-Trent pass undis­trubed through quiet coun­try

Shard­low is a canal village with many old build­ings in­clud­ing the Malt Shovel Inn

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