South Midlands Canals (Shakespeare’s Country)
Trip details below the map
Leaving Birmingham, the canal emerges into suburban West Midlands countryside, where many National Trust properties testify to the period heritage of the area. You can push on through medieval Warwick, and thence to Royal Leamington Spa to discover the gracious architecture of the Regency age.
The countryside takes over as you climb out of the Avon valley towards Rugby. Here a rural landscape of shallow valleys and modest hills is exposed, and it’s onward along the Oxford canal, where many of the bends were cut out in the 19th century to speed the progress of the boats as a response to competition from the railways.
Elegant cast-iron bridges carry the tow-path over long abandoned loops of the original route. At Hawkesbury Junction, the Oxford Canal becomes the Coventry Canal, an important and hectic spot in the days of working boats, but now peaceful and tranquil – although you can still make a night of it in the local pub!
Warwick Castle; one of the finest castles in the country, where history is interpreted by means of waxwork tableaux courtesy of Madame Tussauds.
Bosworth Fields, Leicestershire; where the War Of The Roses reached its climax, with the defeat of Richard III at the hands of Henry Tudor.
Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton, Warwickshire; two wonderfully evocative National Trust properties in close proximity to each other and to the canal.
Grand Ring (Two weeks)
Formed by the River Thames and Oxford and Grand Union canals, this is the ultimate canal trip. It can be covered in a fortnight, but three weeks are preferable in order to savour to the full the contrasting characters of its canals and river sections.
The Oxford canal is widely acknowledged as one of the prettiest inland waterways. From time to time you see another boat on what you take to be another parallel canal, only to discover that it’s the same canal winding back on itself. The Oxford canal is characterised by simple lift bridges and single bottom lock gates, while the villages are blessed with stone built pubs – just the place to unwind after a hot day’s boating.
Approaching Oxford there is a choice of links with the Thames, whose towns and villages would be high up in any gazetteer of charm, but the river is not without its quiet places, hauntingly scenic places like the one above Shillingford where the Sinodun Hills spill down to the water from Wittenham clumps.
Past Runnymede and Hampton Court you approach the capital, then rejoin the orderly world of canals opposite the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew, threading your way through suburbs of West London and completing your journey on the Grand Union, perhaps our most famous canal.
Not To Be Missed
London; moor in Little Venice or Regent’s Park to explore the capital.
Stoke Bruerne Waterways Museum, Northampton; a converted corn mill in this archetypal canal village, the museum here was developed from the personal collection of the local lock-keeper.
Oxford; take the open-topped bus tour and view the dreaming spire and quadrangles of this University City, where time seems to stand still.
East Midlands Ring (Two weeks)
The East Midlands Ring is a most delightful two week circuit through the counties of the East Midlands. The entry into Leicester, passing under ornamental iron bridges and tree lined parkland, is probably the finest stretch of urban canal in the country, and you might moor at the Castle gardens and explore the delights of this modern cosmopolitan city. It is hard to believe that the Soar Navigation was one of the busiest and most profitable canal schemes, for nowadays there is little to disturb the serenity of this attractive waterway, heading upstream on the River Trent soon to reach Shardlow – one of the country’s finest Georgian canal villages.
Trent Mill will delight you, with its graceful central arch which permitted boats to enter into the building for loading and unloading, whilst stunning views across the Trent Valley draw the boater on towards Burton, the home of British Brewing.
Passing the village of Branston (home of the famous pickle!), the circuit is completed following the Coventry canal. Don’t miss the opportunity for a detour along the lock free Ashby canal to Bosworth Field where the War Of The Roses reached its climax with Richard III’s defeat at the hands of Henry Tudor.
Not To Be Missed
Foxton Locks, Leicestershire; a stunning staircase of ten locks draws many visitors.
Rugby; a market town inextricably linked, as one would expect, with the famous school of the same name, and the game. Museums for both are well worth a visit.
Leicester; the multi-million pound ‘Waterside Challenge’ has regenerated the canal through Leicester, and a mooring at the castle gardens is recommended.