The Four Counties Ring (One week)
The popular 109 mile Four Counties Ring encompasses the industrial heritage of the Potteries, the rolling countryside of Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Cheshire Plains, plus a wide variety of handsome market towns such as Nantwich.
Cheshire is a county of big pastures, rolling countryside and wide skies, and passing though Roman Chester and the market town of Nantwich will bring you to Middlewich, dominated by its musket scarred church where Cavaliers sought refuge during the Civil War.
The Potteries come next, reached by burrowing under Harecastle Hill for over 1.5 miles through Harecastle Tunnel. You emerge to a changed landscape, for open fields have given way to Staffordshire industry, and here are the homes of Wedgwood, Spode, Minton and other renowned porcelain and pottery manufacturers.
At Great Heywood, cruising beneath the slender arch of the junction roving bridge, you turn off the Trent and Mersey canal onto the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal. Soon, the canal flows into the Tixall Wide lagoon before skirting Cannock Chase, where you can walk in woods inhabited by deer, and then slip almost secretly through the suburbs of the county town of Stafford. Climbing through locks to Gailey Wharf, you will find the distinctive circular toll-keeper’s house which has been opened as a craft shop.
The final lap is on the Shropshire Union Canal, an extraordinary landscape of rolling countryside and big farms. One typical ‘Shroppie’ cutting brings you to Tyrley Wharf with its picturesque Tudor-style cottages, at one of which you can buy mouth-watering home cooking and produce from the garden.
The locks at Adderley are as beautiful as any in Britain. To prove this they regularly win the ‘Best Kept Lock’ prize from British Waterways. Bright flowerbeds border each chamber, and there is a rumour that the studious lock-keeper washes the gravelled towpath each morning before the rest of us are up!
Not to be missed
Wedgwood Visitor Centre, Staffordshire; just a few yards from the canal, and a haven for fine china lovers.
Etruria Industrial Museum, Etruria; a restored potter’s mill and bone mill, right on the canal, with blacksmith’s workshop and working steam-powered machinery.
Stoke City Museum, & Art Gallery; an excellent museum ranking with the best in the country, with a world class ceramic collection.
Tixall Wide, Staffordshire; the canal passes through this broad lake, home to kingfishers and abundant wildfowl, reputedly the place where Izaak Walton learnt to fish.
Boating Holidays in Britain