Full steam ahead!

Here's a few of the best places on the waterways to spot steam trains.

Caldon Canal at Consall with steam train Caldon Canal at Consall with steam train

On a visit to a canal you may have noticed that there is inevitably a railway close to hand. This newer form of transport followed the older, as the routes for both needed as few changes in level as possible to avoid the expensive construction of tunnels, bridges and aqueducts or viaducts.

The important work of surveying suitable routes had already been completed by the canal companies, and the canals themselves aided the construction of the railways.

Around the waterways there are many places where trains speed past slower moving canal boats. But in some places a rail and canal enthusiast can spot something more exciting than a Northampton to Euston commuter train.

Here's a few of the best places on the waterways to spot steam trains.

Consall Forge

In the potteries district of Staffordshire, the Caldon Canal is one location where you can be pretty much guaranteed to spot a steam train or even a vintage diesel. The Churnet Valley Railway runs adjacent to the canal for quite a distance. Moor up at the idyllic setting of Consall Forge and wait for that perfect photo opportunity.

Narrowboat and steam train at Consall forge Narrowboat and steam train at Consall forge

Crofton

On the Kennet & Avon Canal at Crofton in Wiltshire, try and moor your boat on the Engine Pound between Locks 60 & 61. If you are lucky (or have previously researched the timetable) you may see a steam train on the Great Western Railway.

You can also take a walk along to Bridge 99, which not only has a fascinating history but is also a great viewing point to watch the trains.

If no trains are running, why not go and see a static steam engine instead? The mighty steam pumps at Crofton supply the summit pound, raising the water up 40 feet to the canal.

Steam train from Bridge 99 courtesy Tony Bartlett Steam train from Bridge 99 courtesy Tony Bartlett

Falling Sands

Just south of Kidderminster on the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal is Falling Sands lock. The Severn Valley Railway crosses over the canal on a dramatic viaduct. This is an ideal spot for that special canal memories photo.

A narrowboat on the Staffs & Worcester canal with a steam train passing behind on the viaduct Falling Sands Staffs & Worcester Steam Train

The River Weaver

In Cheshire the River Weaver flows west from Winsford to Runcorn. There's a couple of places where you might spot a steam train from the river.

The Dutton viaduct carries the West Coast Main Line as it curves across the river from Crewe towards Warrington. Occasionally, if you have researched the timetable, you may be lucky enough to see a steam train.

A bit further down the river at Sutton Weaver is the home mooring of the steam ship the Daniel Adamson, known as 'the Danny' to her friends. Again, if you are lucky or well prepared, you will see a steam train cross the bridge and get a steam ship into your photo at the same time. You can watch a short video clip of the Danny.

Steam ship Daniel Adamson and a steam train Steam ship Daniel Adamson and a steam train

Marple

On the Peak Forest Canal the Marple flight of locks takes the canal down towards Romiley. The railway is clearly visible from the Marple aqueduct at the bottom of the lock flight.

This is another great location for a bit of train-spotting on the Hope Valley line, whilst soaking up the beautiful scenery and fascinating history at this Green Flag site.

Occasionally you will see a steam train instead of a more usual Class 150 DMU (Diesel Multiple Unit).

Narrowboat Silver Fox at Marple aqueduct with steam train on the nearby viaduct Narrowboat Silver Fox at Marple aqueduct

Some more locations to try

There's plenty of places around the country where you might catch a glimpse of a steam train from the canal. Anything running on one of the main railway lines will be a special service, and that requires some advance planning with the relevant timetables.

The Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal by Aqueduct Marina at Church Minshull is one good place recommended by boater Dave.

On the Llangollen Canal you may very occasionally see a steam train on the Chester to Shrewsbury line, as you cross the aqueduct at Chirk in the Dee Valley World Heritage area.

The West Coast Main Line runs adjacent to the Grand Union Canal in many places through Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. It also runs adjacent to the Trent & Mersey Canal south of Stoke on Trent at Meaford.

Keep your eye on the Southport to Wigan trainline in case there are steam trains running. To the east of Burscough Bridge and near Apperley Bridge Lock on the Leeds & Liverpool Canal are two good vantage points with rail bridges over the canal. Even if you don't see a steam train, you might spot a Class 37 Diesel train at Burscough.

Away from our network, on the River Great Ouse just north of Ely you might be lucky enough to spot the famous Flying Scotsman train as it travels along the East Coast Main Line.

On the River Nene, at Wansford near Peterborough, is another great place to spot trains on the Nene Valley Heritage Railway says Narrowboat Firefly.

Even where steam trains can’t be seen, that doesn’t stop some waterway-based artists using their imagination. On Bridge 133 on the Lancaster Canal, the railway now only exists in the imagination of artist and local Lancashire historian Brian Hughes, aka 'The Mouse Boat'.

Bridge 133 Lancaster Canal with added fantasy mice by Brian Hughes Bridge 133 Lancaster Canal by Brian Hughes

Find out more

Find out more about the history of the canals and the arrival of the railways.

If you want to learn about the history of transport networks in Britain, then explore The Railway and Canal Historical Society website.

Many thanks to all the @CRTBoating Twitter followers who contributed to this feature.

Last date edited: 3 June 2020