The Shropshire Union Canal
The Shropshire Union Canal runs from the edge of urban Wolverhampton through some of the most underpopulated areas of England to the River Mersey at Ellesmere Port, about sixty miles in all and taking a fairly leisurely four days to cruise.
Along the Shroppie (as it is known by its many admirers) the scenery is often quite dramatic, with sweeping views across to the Welsh Marches and the strangely shaped ridge called "The Wrekin" from the long embankments and with the atmospheric heavily wooded deep cuttings, a number of which were reputed by the old boat people to be haunted. These days this is also UFO territory! Strange visions are also likely if you have had a few pints of "6X" in the Anchor Inn at High Offley, an old boatmans pub that has survived almost unchanged.
Market Drayton and Nantwich are medieval market towns which still have some of the old half-timbered black and white buildings. However the jewel in the Shropshire Union crown must be Chester, a Roman fortress and port which has many Roman ruins, as well as an almost complete set of medieval city walls which tower above the canal and the unique "rows", shops on two levels overlooking the street which date back to the middle ages. Chester has many visitors year round, with museums, fine cathedral, good hotels, town-crier and street theatre, but it still manages to feel friendly and small scale. The northern end of the canal is at Ellesmere Port which was a transhipment port from canal to sea-going ships. The old docks now house The National Waterways Museum which has a unique collection of ex working boats and waterways exhibitions.
The 'New Cut' is the boaters name for the Middlewich Arm which connects the Shropshire Union north of Nantwich to the Trent and Mersey Canal at Middlewich, an important link in the Four Counties Ring.
The canal was one of the last built and borrowed from the latest railway building methods, taking a direct line cross country, on embankments and through cuttings. These were massive undertakings, Shelmore embankment took six years to build and Woodseaves cutting is 100 feet deep.
The sides of the cuttings are so steep in places that landslips are common and sunlight rarely penetrates. Despite this plants and mosses cling to every available slope. Little wonder the boatpeople did not like to moor in these cuttings. Nearly all the locks are bunched together in "flights". This made for quicker working by the boat people because locks could be easily prepared in advance of the boats.
People and buildings seem very few and far between yet you are little more than twenty miles from the heavily populated cities of Wolverhampton and Birmingham. There are long vistas across open farmlands towards mid Wales and across to Cheshire and Staffordshire from the high canal embankments.