From the Shropshire Union Canal through the rolling Cheshire Plains to the Trent & Mersey Canal, the Staffordshire & Worcester Canal and back via the Shropshire Union the Four Counties Ring is one of the more rural Cruising Rings and is best savoured slowly.
At Barbridge Junction the Middlewich Branch of the ‘Shroppie’ diverts from the main line through pretty countryside towards Wardle Lock. A small section of canal, the Wardle Branch, completes the connection to the Trent & Mersey at Middlewich. The locks here can be busy in summer, although the big lock can take two boats side by side. Middlewich evolved as a result of the Romans discovering salt here, they called the town Salinea.
Turning right at Middlewich the Trent & Mersey continues the rural theme but soon the long climb up ‘Heartbreak Hill’ requires some spirited lock wheeling before reaching Harecastle Tunnel. Passage is only permitted under instructions of the tunnel keeper. The brown water denotes the presence of leached minerals as the canal heads through the heart of The Potteries. At Etruria the Ski Centre, China Gardens and Waterworld immediately precede Festival Park Marina, site of the 1986 Stoke Garden Festival, shortly after which the Caldon Canal branches off towards Froghall and its famously low tunnel. Stoke City Football Club, perhaps forever associated with Sir Stanley Mathews, is to the left and Trentham Gardens merit the detour of about a mile to the right.
Great Haywood Junction takes the Staffs & Worcs Canal through Tixall Wide, an expanse of water created to mitigate objections of the resident at Tixall Hall who did not want his view spoilt. Past Shugborough Hall and the scenery remains tranquil as the canal wends its way lazily through old settlements and the occasional lock. Approaching Autherley Junction the canal narrows for about half a mile, with room for one boat only. At Autherley Junction the Shropshire Union negotiates a stop lock and then continues to a solitary lock at Wheaton Aston before a series of locks including flights of 5 at Tyrley, 5 at Adderley and 15 at Audlem drop the line back down towards the Cheshire Plain. At Hurlston junction to the left the Llangollen wends its way towards the Welsh hills, ahead on the right lies Barbridge Junction.
Last date edited: 29 July 2015