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Our guide to the waterways of the UK in detail.

The Trent & Mersey Canal.


This was the first true canal to be built in the UK. Previously rivers had been made navigable, then the Bridgewater canal was built as the first water route which did not follow the course of a river. The Trent & Mersey had locks, a summit and a tunnel to enable it to travel from the watershed of the Mersey over to the watershed of the Trent this was an important innovation.

It is ninety-five miles long from Derwent mouth to the Bridgewater canal at the north end of Preston Brook tunnel. In has seventy-six locks four great tunnels. Eight other navigations join it so sections of it are included in many of our cruises. .


Shardlow to Fradley.

Although the canal starts at Derwent mouth lock on the River Trent. Its real terminus is one mile upstream of the lock at Shardlow. Here a canal port developed when the Trent and Mersey canal arrived.

For the first twenty-one miles from Shardlow up to Burton the canal runs parallel to the River Trent. All the five locks on this section are broad, fourteen feet wide. They were built to take the broad barges which used the River Trent up to Burton. It is a rural canal, both the main road and the railway follow the same route but do not stay close to the canal.

Burton provides four miles of suburban canal, with the strong smell of hops from the brewing industry, and the first narrow lock.

The main feature of the last seven miles to Fradley Junction with the Coventry canal apart from the ten locks is the crossing of the River Trent on the level which when the water level is high can either provide some stimulating navigation or even close the canal for a while.


Fradley to Great Haywood.

Twelve miles mainly rural, just the town of Rugeley on the route, take the canal to Great Haywood Junction. This stretch of canal apart from locks at either end is one long lock free pound.

The junction at Great Haywood is approach past the estate of Shrugborough Hall to the West. Here the the Staff and Worcs canal joins the Trent and Mersey under an often photographed towpath bridge.


Great Haywood to Eturia.

After Great Haywood the first nine miles continue the gradual climb with just four well spread out locks. The canal then arrives at the small market town of Stone, where the construction of the canal started and its eventual Head Quarters. Here in the course of two miles in the adjacent lock flights of Stone, and Meaford with a total of eight locks the canal climbs over 70 foot.

The canal is now a mixture of rural and outlying suburbs for the next five miles it resumes its leisurely approach to stoke with only one solitary lock on the way.

Finally the canal reaches Stoke-on-Trent entering the city between the council rubbish incinerator, a huge supermarket distribution warehouse and the new ground for Stoke Football club. Former industry and the main railway station soon appear. Then come the last five locks as the Stoke flight takes the canal up to its summit level. Here at Eturia within half a mile are the main BW work yards, an industrial museum, a marina and the junction of the Caldon canal all presided over by a statue of Brindley the engineer for the Trent & Mersey canal.


Eturia to Hardings Wood.

The summit is just six miles long. The first four miles are through Stoke on Trent. The huge steel works which till recently dominated the area are now being totally cleared away. There are still traces of the pottery industry which was the first industry here, one of the major reasons for the creation of this canal. A few areas are now being well restored to show what was once so common. Today there is still some industry but there is also parkland and Westport Lake alongside the canal.

The last two miles are underground. Two canal tunnels have been cut through the hill. The original is now closed, due to subsidence created by coal mining. The replacement, designed to speed up traffic at this bottleneck is itself very very low in the middle, we have to take all flowers and fittings off the roof of the boats to get through. It also has huge fans to keep the air clear. At 2,926 yards it is one of the longest tunnels on the canals of the UK as well as being one of the lowest.

As we emerge from the North end the water of the canal in this area is stained bright orange by the ironstone still to be found in the tunnel. At the north end we come to Hardings Wood Junction where the Macclesfield canal joins on the south and immediately crosses over the Trent & Mersey on an aqueduct to go off to the North.


Hardings Wood to Middlewich.

Immediately the canal starts down the great flight of locks known as the Cheshire locks, or heartbreak hill. In seven miles there are twenty-seven locks to lower the canal back down to Wheellock on the edge of the Cheshire plain. It is a very pleasant run through country or on the outskirts of villages and small towns. They were all original paired to help speed up the huge numbers of working boats which used this canal at its peak in the early 19th century. Today just over half are still paired which, if other traffic permits, the chance to show how the working motor and butty pairs used both locks at once.

The last six mils to Middlewich sees a further four locks continue the descent. Industry intrudes again. Have you ever seen a Salt hill!! Middlewich, as the "wich" element in the name is in the area of Cheshire famous for mining salt. The industry is based on it and hence if you keep a look out you will see a salt hill.

At Middlewich the canal drops down Kings Lock, the link to the Shropshire Union Main line goes off to the left, but the canal continues to descend through Middlewich.


Middlewich to Preston Book.

At Middlewich the canal drops down the last three narrow locks built on a steep bend and with a dry dock half way down. You then enter what was conceived as a broad canal. The last lock being broad, built in the hope that barge traffic may come off the Bridgewater right up to Middlewich. However this never materialised, narrow tunnels causing problems right at the start. More recently other sections of canal have been narrowed.

No more locks now on the last 20 miles of the canal, immediately after Middlewich the canal is out in the country again with several wides created by subsidence due to salt extraction. Industry is passed through in the outskirts of Northwich, then more country until at Anderton is passed the famous lift which allows boats to be lowered down 60 foot to join the River Weaver. For many years the lift was closed, but happily it is once again in working order. Some trips we go down it, but if not we always stop at the top to let guests see this wonder of the canal system.

The next stretch of canal proved very difficult to construct along the side of the Weaver valley and eventually tunnels were dug at Barnton, 572 yards, and Saltersford, 203 yards to get over this problem. The Trent & Mersey Canal officially finishes after a few more country miles at Dutton Stop lock, but it immediately goes into Preston Brook tunnel, 1,239 yards, one way only before coming to Preston brook junction where the Bridgewater canal goes towards Manchester or Runcorn. There was another canal port here like Shadlow, but all trace of it has now gone.


Unfortunately we will not be on this canal in 2012 during our cruises.

However we are cruising on other canals and rivers in 2012, details of these cruises can be found at

routes for 2012.


Some pictures of this canal?

Preston Brook to Middlewich / Middlewich to Hardings Wood Junction / Hardings Wood Junction to Eturia

Eturia to Great Haywood / Fradley to Shardlow


More information from Reed Boats about this canal.

A history of this canal.


Find our information about other canals and rivers on the canal index page.


If you have any questions then do ring us on 07977 229103
or email us at

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