The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal
The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal, often called the Staffs and Worcs (pronounced "Wusts"), leaves the wide River Severn at Stourport and potters along twisting river valleys and then through some remarkable sandstone scenery around Kinver. It skirts the edge of suburban Wolverhampton and then crosses the wide open farmland of Cannock Chase before joining the Trent & Mersey canal near the beautiful Tixall Wide. It is 46 miles long with 45 locks so allow 4 or 5 days.
The ‘Staffs and Worcs.’ was an early ‘contour’ canal, opened in 1772, part of Brindley’s intention to create a ‘Grand Cross’ of canals connecting the rivers Severn and Trent, and the Mersey and Thames. The canal was still making a profit when it was nationalized in 1948, still run from the same Wolverhampton offices for over 170 years!
Stourport is a fascinating inland port, much of the port area little changed from the eighteenth century. There are four interlinked basins, warehouses, clock tower and the (currently closed) Tontine hotel, built by the Canal Company in 1788, overlooking the Severn.
Multimillion pound developments are underway to restore the area, including reopening the infilled Mart Lane basin. There is a famous clock tower atop one of the many fine old buildings which surround the basins. The clock has a pleasant chime on the quarter hour, although it can get a little wearing for moorers who are light sleepers.
Kidderminster (right) was a centre for carpet production and is now the terminus of the Severn Valley Steam Railway. Kinver village and the surrounding sandstone hills get many visitors, as does the Vine pub which sits right alongside the lock at Kinver. Towards the northern end of the canal is Stafford which has many fine old buildings and is worth a visit and also Tixall Wide where the canal opens out to become more like a tree lined lake with views of Tixall Gatehouse.
The canal has two sets of unusual locks, at Bratch and Botterham. The two locks at Botterham are a staircase, locks placed close together which share gates. The Bratch locks are not a staircase but there is only a few feet between them. There are side ponds which take the water which empties from the upper lock. There is an interesting octagonal toll house where the lock keeper is based. Both sets of locks can be confusing to work through for the first time but there are instructions posted and Bratch normally has a lock-keeper on hand to help during the summer.
Just north of the junction with the Shropshire Union Canal near Wolverhampton there is a narrow cutting just over half a mile long through rock, which is not wide enough for boats to pass. There are passing places.
The short Cookley tunnel between Kinver and Kidderminster is unusual because part of the village sits right on top of the tunnel. There is a towpath through the tunnel.