Canal boat holidays—Shropshire Union Canal

Published: Wednesday, 19 January 2011

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THE Shropshire Union Canal is particularly popular with those canal boat hirers and get-away holiday boaters not wanting too active a cruise, as it has miles without locks, and others in easy flights, and is mainly a narrow canal.

It comprises long straight stretches, being one of the later waterways built by Telford, so it has most impressive cuttings and embankments, as he cut the waterway through hills and over valleys through the undulating countryside.

Cheshire plain

The waterway, though interesting in itself, passes through the Cheshire Plain,  that holds little interest.

It is part of the Four Counties Ring, and though popular from its junction with the Staffs & Worcs Canal to its Middlewich Branch, after that it has less traffic, and even less after Chester to its end at Ellesmere Port, which boasts one of the major waterway museums in the country, and is very well worth a visit.

Shopping facilities on the waterway are rather scarce, with the exception of the towns of Market Drayton with its supermarket, and Nantwich, and to a lesser degree villages such as Audlem which offer some facilities.


Chester of course offers everything in the way of shopping, being famous for its two tier shops. The ancient city is very much a tourist attraction with its Roman walls and King Charles' Tower overlooking the canal, and provides a great deal that is of interest to its visitors. Moorings are provided, and the waterway passes right through the city, so everything is handy.

Though rural, there is still much of interest along this waterway, with the ruins of the 13th century Beeston Castle, that can be seen for miles from the waterway, which boasts of being able to see eight counties from its highest point—if you can manage the climb after the long walk from the canal. The nearest point of access is from just above Wharton's Lock.

On the waterway itself, towards Chester is the unusual iron lock, that was so constructed as it was built on sand, thus allowing the whole lock to move.

The many cuttings mean that there are a large number of attractive and unusual bridges over them, and there are different  broad locks into Chester.

Secret bunker

But by far the greatest attraction on the waterway is the communications bunker at Hack Green, a vast underground complex, that remained secret for 50 years, but is now open for visitors. It shows how people worked and lived in the 35,000sq ft underground bunker, part of a vast secret radar network during the 'cold' war'. Mooring by Bridge 85 at Hack Green.

Canal society

The Shropshire Union Canal has the great advantage of having a very active society, the Shropshire Union Canal Society, that is responsible for a host of mooring and picnic sites along the waterway, so moorings on this particular waterway are very good indeed, a fact that is appreciated by many holiday boaters.

There are a few hire bases, and new marinas have been constructed recently, so boating facilities are much improved, though there is mile upon mile of deserted waterway, with nothing but perhaps just a single lock to break the monotony.

The main flight is at Audlem, comprising of 15 narrow locks, which are in no way difficult, each within walking distance, with good paddle gear. There are two smaller flights at each side of Market Drayton, at Adderley and Tyrley, both of five locks each.

The waterway can be quite busy during holiday periods where it comprises part of the Four Counties Ring, especially with beginners at the lock flights. Congestion can be exacerbated by hirers from around Nantwich and Middlewich heading for, or returning from, the Llangollen Canal where it joins the Shropshire Union.


After the the junction with the Middlewich Branch, the canal becomes broad, with a two locks staircase and a further three locks staircase in Chester, dropping the waterway that was once the lock free Chester Canal to Ellesmere Port.

This waterway is recommended for new hirers, being ideal for a relaxing holiday, as it is by no means strenuous, with many miles of lock free boating. One difficulty in mooring is that for many miles it has a protruding ledge below the water level that prevents getting the boat right into the side. Also is has mile upon mile of moored boats, as seen in the picture, that can affect cruising times.

The canal is 66 miles long, has 47 locks, a single tunnel, embankments and cuttings but no lift or swing bridges.

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