Canal Holiday Cruising Notes from Whixall Marina
(See also CRUISNG WEST)
This journey will take 3 and a half hours, so you must decide after you have finished your training whether you have enough time to get to the town of Whitchurch before dusk. If not, consider staying in or near the marina overnight, or if you like to be remote, cruise instead to suitable mooring on the edge of the Moss. There is a pub at Platt Lane which does food, if you want to foreshorten your first cruise.
Leave Whixall and head toward the mainline which is exactly a mile distant. There are two lift bridges in this section, one a well restored Grade One listed structure. At the junction, turn to starboard (right) to the east.
This part of the route takes you through wet and marginal farm land at the edge of the Moss, an upland bog left over from the ice age (see cruising west). It has a bleak beauty all of its own, and for solitude, few canal locations can match its unique charm. But if you like more civilisation that Whixall Moss can offer head onto Platt Lane where a short walk to the right will bring you to The Waggoner Inn, a basic country local. Hereabouts, the villages have a frontier feel, such as at Welsh End, to which you can walk from Platt Lane and which has a Methodist chapel although no store and no pub.
If you have time, press on through the lift bridge at Tilstock Park, and then beneath the Cambrian Railway Bridge which once took the railway line from Whitchurch to Oswestry, through Ellesmere over the canal. At Sparks Bridge a little further on, The Shropshire Way crosses the canal and to the east of this bridge is the Motte & Bailey of Pan Castle. From here, on elevated ground, fine views of Whitchurch can be had, over formerly marshy terrain.
Two more lift bridges need to be dealt with on the approach to Whitchurch and there are moorings on the town arm, from which a half mile walk will get you into the town centre where there are many fine pubs and interesting town trails. Whitchurch, not Shrewsbury as is often supposed, is the County town of Shropshire.
Within a days cruising east of Whixall Destination Marbury or Wrenbury
These two destinations offer two distinct and very different locations, a day out of Whixall and assuming you have not ventured out at all the first night. The first, Marbury, is reached after seven and a half hours of pleasant cruising, the second is for those who are prepared to motor on a little longer and will take 9 and a half hours.
The stretch to Whitchurch has been described in the half day cruising section. And from Whitchurch, the first obstacle is the lift bridge at New Mills. Just beyond the town arm. Shortly after, there is more exercise with the six Grindley Brook locks, three in a staircase and three separated and all descending. At the bottom lock there is a pub, the Horse & Jockey, which like many in the area is said to have a resident ghost. Meals are available lunch times and evenings. There is also a lock-side store selling farm bacon, cheese pasties and other produce
A number of maintained walkways converge here below the locks; the Bishop Bennett Way, the Maelor Way, the South Cheshire Way and the Marches Way, and beyond these, the railway bridge which once took the Whitchurch to Chester line north to that great Roman city.
Heading north, the canal passes through pleasant farm land, rolling hills and small copses, nestled among which to the west are the Hall, Manor and Farm of the scattered community of Hinton. Beyond this is Povey’s Lock, to the west of which is a waterfowl sanctuary and a little further still is the remote Willey Moor lock at which there is, implausibly a pub and restaurant, once the lock keepers cottage. If you are heading out from Whitchurch, rather than Whixall that day, the Willey Moor would make a great place to stop for lunch, it being only 2 and a half hours out from the county town. Alternatively if you have come from Whixall, you will get here after six hours, which might be enough, with the lift bridges and the Grindley Brook locks. Either way, it’s a pleasant and unexpected location on the edge of the ice age landscape that is Willey Moor
The two meres at Quoisley nestle between small hills, just as the Ellesmere ones do there, but here the countryside is far more open and very sparsely populated. Once through Quoisley lock, the next at Marbury, is our suggested stop for the short day. This is because Marbury village, a short walk from the canal down School lane, is a true delight, centred around a farm with mostly old buildings, many of them half timbered. The friendly and cosy pub, The Swan, looks out onto the green where the Marbury Merry Days were once held, involving Dancing Bears and general shenanigans with pigs and puddings.
Most folk miss Marbury, gravitating to the more accessible honey pots, so it’s a village well worth exploring.
If you are determined to press on, then Wrenbury awaits. There are no more locks and just the one lift bridge on this section, so its easy comfortable cruising along mainly straight canal, so you can really enjoy the countryside in the late afternoon sun. Again, there are few farms and no villages as such – it’s sparsely populated and allows you to truly unwind.
Wrenbury Wharf was once a transhipment point and at that time had a warehouse and a mill, now a really enjoyable pub and boatyard respectively. There is another pub also all nestled together around the canal and a short walk from the village itself which has a post office, railway station and church. It’s a stretch to get here from Whixall in a day, but from Whitchurch, if you have done a half day cruise to there on the day you took on the boat , it’s only a little over five hours which will give you time to relax even more.
If you have had a short day, cruising from Whitchurch, and next day you are thinking of heading for Middlewich, you might want to press on a bit further, to reduce your cruising time the following day. If so, think about stopping at Greenfield Bridge or Halls End Bridge, both of which enable the nearby village of Ravensmoor to be reached in 10 minutes walking. There is a pub, The Farmer’s Arms, a good general store and a Methodist chapel. Doing this will save an hour next day. If you decide to also get the two Swanley locks under your belt, and moor opposite Swanley Hall, it will save you two hours, bringing the next day’s journey down to an easier 7 and a half hours cruising.
Take a peak at tomorrow’s notes to see what this will entail
Within two days cruising of Whixall – Destination Audlem or Middlewich
Leaving Marbury, the two hours to Wrenbury has been covered in the notes for yesterday. If you have stayed at Marbury overnight, then Audlem is your obvious choice of destination for today, because this is by far the shorter of the two cruises. If you have stayed at Wrenbury, Ravensmoor or Swanley then you might consider the longer journey to Middlewich.
This part of the cruise takes the canal through the fertile Cheshire plain and the countryside is soft and pretty. There are a number of lift bridges, and these are often left open allowing the uninterrupted passage of boats. At Wrenbury Heath, the canal turns sharply northwards. It passes a number of farms on either side before reaching the three Baddiley Locks, beyond which are the Greenfield and Halls Lane Bridges, from which Ravensmoor can be accessed. Further still, are the two Swanley locks, the bottom one of which sits opposite Swanley Hall, and will have been the mooring point last night for those who, from Whitchurch, wanted to make the most distance.
We are on the last mile or so of the Llangollen canal, and soon Bridge No1 is reached, the Hurleston Bridge, just before the busy A51. Beyond this is the lock cottage and during the main season, there is a 'lockie' to advise and help boaters through the Hurleston flight of five locks which drops the canal 34 feet down to the Shropshire Union. Getting to and through this bottom lock will take an hour and a half from Swanley, two and half hours from Greenfield Bridge (Ravensmoor), three and a half hours from Wrenbury and five and a half hours from Marbury.
At Hurleston Junction, you have reached the end (or is it the beginning?) of the Llangollen Canal, and here you need to make your choice. Choose either north to Middlewich or south to either Nantwich or Audlem. Each has its charm and maybe time will be the decider
For those heading north toward Middlewich, the canal skirts the banks of the massive Hurleston Reservoir and then Stoke Manor appears on the port side. Bremilow’s Bridge is Grade 1 listed, and there is a small Methodist chapel, still active by that, Barbridge itself has two pubs, one right on the junction, The Jolly Tar.
At Barbridge Junction, you will need to turn right beneath the bridge and head up the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union. There is a chandlery at Barbridge Junction and one a little further on at Venetian Marina. After a while, the canal passes beneath the main line to Crewe after which the countryside returns to quiet and remote peace.
There are few settlements but one that is close to the canal side is Church Minshull, ‘an old and mellow’ village as eulogised by the Nicholson Guide, to which we are indebted for the perfect description. If you have been travelling from Marbury, this is as far as you are realistically going to get in a day, being 2 and three quarter hours from Hurleston and about eight and a half from Marbury. There are certainly worse places to stop than this and if you do stop here you will be sharing a part of canal history, for the famous LTC Rolt, the godfather of the waterways rested here and enjoyed a pleasant sojourn in the Badger Inn. Rolts trip on the ex-working boat Cressy and the subsequent description in his book Narrowboat inarguably began the interest in the restoration of the canals the benefits of which we all enjoy today. Real Ale can still be enjoyed in the Badger too!
If you have set out from Wrenbury this morning, reaching Middlewich will take over 10 hours. That’s a long day, so you may well want to tarry at Church Minshull too, a trip that will take you six and a half hours. For those who began the day at Swanley, the trip to Middlewich is eight and a half hours, which is quite achievable.
For these eager souls, they can expect, if setting off at eight thirty, to be in Church Minshull by lunchtime, so still an opportunity to explore this historic spot. After lunch the canal heads north following the wooded valley of the river Weaver and its tributaries. On the eastern side, the main line to Liverpool accompanies the canal for a number of miles until crossing the navigation just north of Lea Hall. This is a countryside of farms and pleasant fields, a perfect approach to the town of Middlewich, a canal centre of some distinction where there is so much to see
Swanley crews can expect to get to Middlewich from Church Minshull in a little over three hours, so don’t tarry too long in the Badger! Those staying overnight at Church Minshull can reach Middlewich by late morning the next day and it’s as well to wind above Kings Lock and then find a mooring before going off to explore this unique Cheshire town.
Opposite Kings Lock is a great pub, of the same name, which is annually at the centre of the town’s Boat and Folk festival. This normally happens in the middle of June. This is an incredible week of music dance and boat craft which appears to tumble out of every corner. It is well worth planning to visit if you can.
Middlewich is from Roman times and remains still, the largest source of mined salt in Great Britain. The modern workings are outside of the town, alongside the Trent and Mersey canal to the south
The canals are narrow and pretty and there are plenty of opportunities to sit and watch the world go by. Also there is a good chandlery at Kings Lock and a Boatyard too.
Allow three days to get back to Whixall, cruising nine and half hours per day.
End of CRUISING EAST.
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(See also CRUISING WEST)
All distances and times are approximate. The timings do not take account of cruising conditions which are variable and be aware delays can and will occur. It is your responsibility to return your holiday narrowboat before or at the time specified in your agreement(s) with the Company.