The Staffordshire and Worcester Canal from Stourport on the River Severn to the Trent and Mersey Canal
Researched and written by Jeannette Briggs
This fascinating and very pretty canal was orginally constructed in 1772 by James Brindley to link the docks at Bristol and the towns of Gloucester and Worcester with the Potteries region in Stoke on Trent and the Birmingham conurbation, via the Trent and Mersey Canal to which it links at Great Hayward junction. The china factories in the Stoke on Trent region were churning out their wares, which were being shipped out all over the world from Bristol and a canal connection was the quickest way of transporting heavy bulky raw materials from the docks at Bristol to the factories, and the finished articles from the Potteries region and the Midlands down to the ships at Gloucester and Bristol.
The route of the canal for the most part runs due north from Stourport, and was linked also to the rest of the canal system in the Midlands via the Stourbridge Canal, the Birmingham Canal Navigation, and the Trent and Mersea Canal. Less than 30 years after it was built however, the canal faced new strong competition from the Worcester and Birmingham canal which opened in 1815 and was a more direct connection between the Birmingham conurbation and the River Severn and the Bristol docks. The Staffs and Worcester canal fell into decline and it was not until the 1960ies with the increasing popularity of pleasure boating that it became well used once again. It is very pretty along its entire length and is much visited by boaters, fishermen and walkers. For most of its length it lies in close proximity to the vast urban sprawl of Birmingham and the outlying cities, and it thus provides a linear oasis of green beauty for people to enjoy
The canal starts at Stourport where it leaves the River Severn and strikes northwards. The River Severn was easily navigable in the 18th century - it has badly silted up in places since the time that the Staffs and Worcester canal was constructed. Stourport grew up as a result of the trade by canal - it is the world's first inland "port" - like Europort at Rotterdam, but in the centre of England! The locks and basins at Stourport are fascinating, with an eclectic mix of architectural styles and the famous clock tower clearly to be seen over everything. It was here that the cargoes that were brought down from the Potteries were transferred into boats called Severn Trows for shipment down to Gloucester and Bristol. Stourport's buildings around the basin were allowed to fall into disrepair, but recently they are beginning to be converted for new use, such as restaurants and gift shops, and there are good temporary moorings. There are several pubs nearby such as the The Angel and The Bird in Hand. Boatyards here include Severn Valley Cruisers near York St lock, and Stroudwater Cruisers in Engine Lane, and BWB maintain the usual facilities like water, puump out and rubbish disposal.
To leave the Stourport basin you need to navigate your canal boat to the eastern corner of what is known as the Upper Basin, and enter the very deep lock at York Street which needs careful handling by both canal boat veterans and first timers to canal boat hire alike. There are some good moorings here. From here the canal continues out of the town, and follows the west side of a valley. You cannot fail to smell the odours from the adjacent sewage works, but just beyond this the scenery changes dramatically as the hillside to the west of the canal (on your left if you are navigating north up the canal) begins to close in and becomes a dramatic cliff of red rock.
This cliff seems to rise straight up out of the canal bed. This is the southern end of the Kinver Edge - a geographical feature which stretches alongside the canal for nearly 17 miles towards Wombourn. More of this later as the canal runs alongside the Edge. There are two old locks here called Falling Sands lock and Caldwell Lock, each with the unusual feature called a split-iron bridge over the locks which you might have seen on the Stratford on Avon Canal. This feature made it easier for boatmen to pass their towropes over bridges on the canal when entering locks. You will see the town of Kidderminster. In the distance you may also catch a glimpse of the Severn Valley Railway.
Kidderminster experienced a huge surge of growth in the 18th century when carpet manufacturing was set up here. The canal was once unloved and neglected and backed by the huge carpet making mills, but improvements have been made, and the canal now is included in several new developments. It passes the wonderful old church of St Mary - see photo. However, the canal is also near to traffic all around - especially at Kidderminster Lock, and the moorings provided there. It has several supermarkets nearby which are a boon to boaters. The statue of Rowland Hill, the founder of the first postal service in the world, stands in front of the big Head Post Office building - he was born in Kidderminster in 1793. The service was known as the Penny Post and it was copied all around the world. For pubs you could try The Watermill and the Castle Inn.
As you leave Kidderminster you pass through rural scenery once again until you are approaching Wolverley. This is a fascinating village on the west side of the valley of the River Stour, dominated by the church situated on a steep hill overlooking the canal. The village was once the centre of the nail making industry, believe it or not. There are remains of smithy's shops and forges. The Lock is a fine canalside pub which has been here since before the canal was actually constructed. There are moorings, good food and real ale here and it makes a welcome stop.
Further along as you travel north you see the village of Cookley which is set on the hill up above the canal. It has some nice pubs and a fish and chip shop. Just beyond the village is a short tunnel out of the local sandstone. On both sides of the canal are pretty cottages and gardens, with moored boats and tall steep hills rising to over 250 ft. This valley can be a bit damp, and you will leave the section as the canal bends around to Kinver Lock. This is the nearest point at which you can reach the little village of Kinver, which is justly regarded as being one of the prettiest villages around here. For a village that is so close to the centre of such major cities like Birmingham it is situated in a valley surrounded by hills.
You can visit Kinver Edge which is immediately west of the village and is owned by the National Trust - it is covered in gorse and heather and gives you tremendous views over to the Cotswolds and the Malvern Hills. The is a nice old pub called The Vine, by Kinver lock, and a short walk from the canal will bring you to another great eating place - Basil's. I can heartily recommend both of these! There are overnight moorings at Kinver Lock.
Usually we only mention canalside pubs, but here another exception is made for the delightful Whittington Inn which is 300 yards east of the bridge no. 28 along a little footpath. If you decide to moor near Bridge 28 and venture out to the pub you will be well rewarded. It dates from 1310 and it was the home of Lady Jane Grey, the "Nine Days' Queen", who was beheaded by Queen Mary Tudor. It has priests' holes (where catholic priests were hidden during the Reformation in Tudor times) and tunnels to Whittington Hall - AND it serves great food and beers.
The next lock is Hyde lock which is exceptionally pretty, and afterwards the canal takes a route past the edge of some woods and passes through Dunsley Tunnel - again carved out of the red sandstone which stretches in a long ridge from Kidderminster to Wombourne.You then come across the quaintly named Stewponey Lock which has an unusual octagonal toll cottage. Opposite the wharf here is Stourton Castle - it was the birthplace of Cardinal Pole who was a friend of Queen Mary in the 16th century. The castle is privately owned and not open to the public. By the way, you pronounce these two names as "Stew Pony" and "Sturton"....Just beyond here is a junction where the Stourbridge canal branches off towards Birmingham at Stourton Bridge.
The canal continues northwards through lovely countryside, with gentle hills and open fields, and not much sign of habitation. The canal passes Prestwood, and the Devil's Den, Gothersley Bridge and a large new private marina at Ashwood. This consists of largely long term moorings, but Orion Narrowboats are also located here and they provide gas and water and other services. Beyond Ashton Marina you reach the pretty Greensforge Lock with a canalside pub called The Navigation Inn. This was built in 1767 and has log fires and home made food, but it gets very crowded at weekends. Greensforge lock has an interesting circular weir - see photo.
After Greensforge you pass Hinksford Lock . This is very close to a klarge pub called The Old Bush and there are moorings here. The canal bends round towards the village of Swindon, where the canal is backed by some modern houses. Swinton has a shop and a fish and chip shop and another pub called the Green Man. Botterham Lock beyond here is a short flight of two locks in a staircase, and once beyond here you begin to see the town of Wombourn which has large new housing estates surrounding it. There is a canalside pub here called The Waggon and Horses at Bridge 43.
Just beyond here you will reach the strangely named locks at The Bratch. They have an octagonal toll office and are a set of three locks which raise the canal by over 30' in a short length. They appear to have an impossibly short pound between the bottom gates of one lock and the top gates of the next lock. You should study the helpful operating instructions provided by BWB here before you attempt to use the locks. There is also a resident lock keeper here and you can seek assistance before commencing the work of opening and closing the paddles. BWB state that you MUST close the gates and paddles of each lock before proceeding to the next one. The locks attract a lot of weekend walkers and they like to carefully watch you as you try to navigate through the locks. They are hoping that a mistake will be made......so be on your guard!
From The Bratch the canal continues north and wanders in open farmland until it reaches Awbridge Lock. From here onwards the countryside is less interesting and you begin to approach the large conurbation of Wolverhampton. ~
You come to Wightwick (pronounced Whittick!"), a pleasant place, and then Compton which is busy but has a large shopping centre and a pub next to the bridge, called Alex's. There is also a Spar grocery shop here, and a large pub called The Oddfellows. The lock here was the first one built by James Brindley on the Staffs and Worcester canal. Lime Kiln Narrowboats have their base here with all the usual facilities. From Compton Lock all the way to Gailey is lock free, so you can now rest on your laurels and enjoy the scenery.
At Aldersley Junction the Birmingham canal shoots off to the east, and you are still in a fairly rural setting even though you are practically surrounded by Wolverhampton. Just after this you reach Autherley Junction, where the Shropshire Union Canal branches off to the north west. This is a major canal junction with lots of boating facilities, and boatyards such as Napton Marine, Water Travel and Oxley Marine. All supplies can be obtained here,.
Leaving Autherley Junction you travel north past the village of Cross Green with a canalside pub called the Fox and Anchor. This serves good food all day and there are overnight moorings nearby.
The only village of note near here is Coven - but this is a short walk away from the canal, and you will have to cross the A449 road to get there. As you will have to navigate as far as Gailey before seeing shops again, it is suggested that you might like to ensure that you have lots of supplies. The canal runs through a very narrow cutting here called Pendleford Rockin' - and you will find it prudent to keep a sharp lookout for oncoming boats as only one boat can pass at a time in certain sections of the canal (rather like a single track road with passing places in the highlands of Scotland). If you do see an oncoming narrowboat check out with them who is going first, so to speak! Also the bridges here are rather low, so more care needs to be taken. Traffic noise from the nearby M6 and M54 is apparent, but you are surrounded by open countryside for several miles as there are hardly any houses or settlements of population here. James Brindley famously drew the lines of his canals around countours, so they are often very "bendy" - you encounter a typical stretch of Brindley canal next as it twists and turns past Hatherton Junction. It reminded me of a similar stretch of the Oxford Canal near Napton....There is a marina here with the usual facilities and a small shop.
Beyond Hatherton you pass a chemical works, before you reach the canal settlement of Gailey. This is a unique round toll keeper's cottage and watchtower, which now is a small shop. Gailey Marine is also here with all the facilities you might require. Gailey is on the A5 trunk road and has parking adjacent to the canal. A short walk from the canal will bring you to a large pub called The Spread Eagle, which does good food all day. After leaving Gailey you descend through five locks wich are isolated but very pretty, until you reach the village of Penkridge.
There is a canal side pub here by Filance Bridge called The Cross Keys, which has been modernised since the growth of Penkridge as a large village with lots of new housing. The pub is well sited for thirsty boaters after descending the locks, and - again - Penkridge has lots of shops for bread, milk etc. The Boat by Penkridge Lock is another canalside pub here that is well worth visiting.
Once you leave Penkridge the only thing that disturbs you and can intrude on your enjoyment is the ever present noise from the nearby M6 - even at night you area aware of thundering traffic, and you might like to take a careful look at the maps to choose a suitable over night stay on this stretch of the canal. Just north of Penkridge you will pass Teddesley where there is a boat hire company at Park Gate Lock and a chandlery. You do not leave the M6 until after the village of Acton Trussell, another village that has seen the huge growth of modern housing. Beyond here the canal continues in a -basically - northern direction, passing the town of Stafford to the west of the canal, and Weeping Cross - another large modern development - to the east of the canal. Stafford is well worth visiting although the centre lies about 1 mile to the west of the canal. The town contains many outstanding buildings of all architectural periods and even some thatched cottages - in the middle of this large town!
After Weeping Cross you reach a small aqueduct at Milford, constructed by James Brindley with an iron trough on small brick built arches. This also has an old pub called the Barley Mow on the common, but it is difficult to reach as the main railway line to the northwest is situated between the canal and the village. The best way to access the village is at Tixall bridge. Just beyond the bridge is Tixall Lock, with views towards the Shrugborough railway tunnel, which is built to look like a castellated gate house.
You are not far from Great Haywood and the junction with the mighty River Trent.The canal widens suddenly and enters the stretch known as Tixall Wide - after the very narrow stretches of the canal further south you will feel you have entered somehting equivalent to a Norfolk Broad at this point. If you look up the hill you can see Tixall gatehouse and the entrance to Shugborough Hall which is now owned by the National Trust but was once the home of the Anson family of whom Patrick Lichfield the photographer was best known. The NT have now leased the house and grounds to Staffordshire County Council who now manage the whole estate.
Great Hayward is once again a canal village that owes its entire existence to its location. Anglo Welsh Holidays have a base here. You have reached the end of your journey along the Stafforshire and Worcester Canal and have to make a decision whether to turn left up the Trent and Mersey canal towards the northwest and Red Bull Junction, or to go south east and join up with the main River Trent.
Great Haywood Marina- www.greathaywoodmarina.co.uk
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