Great Haywood circular walk
Great Haywood is the T-junction where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal, and this Staffordshire walk is as intriguing as it is scenic, with stories of wildlife, nature, and aristocratic history at every turn.
Great Haywood, Tixall and Shugborough are all designated Conservation Areas so the whole route is a haven for wildlife. Great Haywood is a popular spot for geese, so you may be lucky enough to witness the hullabaloo of mass landing or take off and an arrow-shaped flight of geese flapping and honking in the sky.
Start and finish: Great Haywood Junction OS Grid ref: SJ995229 Postcode: ST18 0RJ
Distance: 7.5km / 4.5 miles
Start: Great Haywood Junction is where the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal meets the Trent & Mersey Canal. It is rumoured that the junction’s beautiful cobbled bridge, now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, is the most photographed on the entire canal network.
1. Follow the towpath under the bridge along the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal opposite Anglo Welsh’s hireboat base. As you cross the small aqueduct over the River Trent, look out for heron fishing on its banks or even the blue flash of a kingfisher.
2. Residential boats are moored on the opposite side of the canal and from here to Swivel Bridge is also a popular mooring for visiting boats.
3. As you arrive at Tixall Wide, the canal takes on the appearance of a reed-lined lake. In the 18th century Clifford Thomas occupied Tixall Hall, and when canal builders first arrived to dig an ugly water-motorway of his era, he was unimpressed. To avoid spoiling his view, he insisted that the canal builders widened the water like a small lake. Although it seems odd to walkers today that our idyllic narrow canals were once perceived as ugly, the disguise at Tixall Wide is a treat. The meadow alongside the water is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to a variety of nesting birds. This waterscape, still as a millpond in winter, transforms in the summer as boaters hog the idyllic moorings with plenty of canal life for the walker to soak up.
4. The canal narrows again as it heads towards picturesque Tixall Lock, with its lock cottage. There are views across fields towards the castellated entrance to Shugborough Railway Tunnel.
5. After a few hundred yards, walk under Tixall Bridge 106 then turn immediately left up steps to the road. Be wary of traffic here.
6. Follow the road over the railway until you reach Milford Common. The main entrance gate to the Grade I-listed Shugborough Estate is on your left. The estate, dating back to 1693 and now a National Trust property, was once the ancestral home of the Earls of Lichfield. Patrick, the photographer and 5th Earl of Lichfield, was its most famous guardian, until his death in 2005. His ancestor Admiral George Anson circumnavigated the globe in the 1740s.
7. Walk along the footpath on the A513 until you see a sign-posted trail to your left. Follow the trail uphill to a clearing in the trees, keeping your eyes peeled for deer, then downhill following a wide grassy path with the covered reservoir to your left. The track crosses through the trees to 'Cold Man's Slade' parking area.
8. Re-join the path along the A513 for about 300 metres before entering the gate into Shugborough Estate.
9. Follow the driveway over the railway bridge and continue straight on (this is part of the Staffordshire Way). You will walk past Shugbororough Hall on your left. Just beyond is Essex Bridge, a famed packhorse bridge with low parapets, which crosses the River Trent leading back towards the canal. Now a Scheduled Ancient Monument, legend has it that the ladies of Shugborough Hall in the 18th century didn’t relish the uncouth idea of riding their own horses across Essex Bridge, so a new wider bridge was built to carry them in carriages, in all their finery, over the river to church in the village – only yards away.
10. Cross the bridge and follow the road a few yards before turning right through a gateway towards the canal. Turn left on the towpath, walking under the bridge up to Haywood Lock.
End: Follow the towpath past the busy moorings before reaching the junction again.