The Stratford-upon-Avon Canal
The Stratford-Upon-Avon Canal runs for just 25 miles from the Birmingham suburbs to the River Avon in Stratford on Avon but there are 54 locks so two or three days are needed.
Although the canal is fairly short it goes through some enchanting countryside in the very Heart of England, cutting through the Forest of Arden with its ancient oaks, and falling gently across quiet rolling countryside and watermeadows to the Avon and Stratford. The area has numerous Shakespearean links. Although the canal initially prospered it suffered badly from railway competition.
The lower section from Lapworth to Stratford became virtually disused early in the 20th century and was almost closed in the 1950's. However there was a campaign to restore it for pleasure boating and it was taken over in 1960 by the National Trust. It was reopened after restoration work, much of it by volunteer labour, in 1964. This success gave impetus to many other restoration schemes and greatly increased interest in the use of canals for pleasure cruising.
Once it leaves the Birmingham suburbs the canal passes through nothing other than small villages until it reaches Stratford. The delightfully named neighbouring Warwickshire villages of Preston Baggot, Wootton Wawen and Wilmcote are all attractive with old houses, churches, inns and Halls or Manors. The cottage of Mary Arden, Shakespeare's mother, is at Wilmcote and the other two have Norman or Saxon churches.
Lapworth is an interesting canal junction where a short spur connects to the Grand Union Canal which runs parallel close by. The final descent through the Stratford suburbs is uninspiring until you pass under a low bridge and come out amongst hordes of visitors in Stratford Basin, alongside the River Avon and the recently rebuilt Shakespeare Memorial Theatre.
The canal has one tunnel at Brandwood near King's Norton Junction where it leaves the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. It has three interesting aqueducts with cast iron troughs, the largest at Bearley (or Edstone) near Wootton Wawen (above right). The towpath on the aqueduct is at the level of the canal bottom, so you look up at boats as they pass you by. There are unusual barrel-roofed lock cottages along the canal.