The Four Counties Ring

The Four Counties Ring is probably the most popular circular canal route, particularly for hire boat holidays because it can be covered in one, fairly busy, week. And there’s so much else to see just off the 4 Counties Ring by taking a few detours.

Audlem locks and the Shroppie Fly pub

Audlem locks and the Shroppie Fly pub

  • The Trent & Mersey Canal starting from the old canal town of Middlewich lifts you off the Cheshire Plain up the 31 locks boaters call ‘Heartbreak Hill’ into Staffordshire. Then comes Harecastle Tunnel, a long, dark and wet experience not to be missed, before emerging into the daylight of the Staffordshire Potteries. Then downhill through pleasant countryside to turn off at Great Heywood.
  • The Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal soon enters Tixall Wide, a pleasant the lake-like place to moor before the canal crosses the wide open heathlands of Cannock Chase, filled with wildlife but also the roar of the M6 traffic. On the outskirts of Wolverhampton there’s a tricky narrow section with passing places just before reaching Autherly Junction.
  • The Shropshire Union Canal heads north into some of the least populated areas of England, along long straight stretches of canal in deep cuttings and upon high embankments, on its way back towards the Cheshire plain. From Barbridge the Middlewich Branch completes the circular route.
  • Leave the Ring and find lots more to see. For instance explore the fascinating Caldon Canal and Churnet Valley for a few days, continue up to Chester and the National Waterways Museum, take the Anderton Lift down to enjoy a cruise along the River Weaver or head into the Welsh Hills up the stunning Llangollen Canal.
the Four Counties Ring Map
the Four Counties Ring Map

The Four Counties Ring – Junctions, locks and lengths

bullet  Trent & Mersey Canal at Middlewich, 49 locks, 36 miles to …

bullet  Staffs & Worcs Canal at Great Heywood, 12 locks, 21 miles to …

bullet  Shropshire Union Canal at Autherley, 29 locks, 42 miles to …

bullet  Middlewich Branch (‘New Cut’) at Barbridge Junction, 4 locks, 10 miles to Middlewich.

Trip boat entering the bottom of Anderton Lift
Trip boat entering the bottom of Anderton Lift

Boat Hire from family firms on or around The Four Counties Ring

Canal Cruising Company

is located in the canal town of Stone. We are ideally placed for a number of out and back routes and circular routes.
Our boats are 2 to 8 berths, all are ETC graded.

Chas Hardern Boats

Family run for over 40 years offering a fleet of excellent value, well equipped 2 to 6 berth boats for all year cruising. Ideal for the Shropshire Union Canal, the Llangollen Canal & adjoining canals.

Cheshire Cat Narrowboats

Ideal for the Llangollen Canal & Four Counties Ring. Clean, comfortable, well-equipped boats, individual attention, sensible prices, no hidden extras. A warm, friendly welcome guaranteed.

Floating Holidays

Located along the Macclesfield Canal, Floating Holidays have lovely traditional and modern boats, large and small for all parties. For couples breaks through to a boat that will comfortably accommodate 10 people.

Jacaranda Narrowboat Holidays

Offer 'a different view everyday'. Privately owned narrowboat ideally based in beautiful rural Cheshire for cruising the Shropshire Union & Llangollen canal, and Four Counties and Cheshire Rings.

Napton Narrowboats

From our new base at Autherley Junction, Napton Narrowboats family-run fleet now gives you the widest choice of boats and cruising routes.

Norbury Wharf

Luxury narrow boats at the heart of the beautiful Shropshire Union canal, ideally situated for the Llangollen canal, Four counties ring & much more, Short & long term hire available. Diesel & Gas included.

The Blue Riband Club

Comprises two owner operated companies who guarantee to give you the highest standards of both comfort and service. All boats are Tourist Board annually inspected.


At M6 J12 we are centrally located for easy scenic cruises on the picturesque 'Shroppie', Trent and Mersey canal for the Potteries and the Birmingham canals for the industrial history buffs.

Venetian Hire Boats

Luxury holidays from the heart of Cheshire (on the 4 counties ring).King sized beds, TV in bed, fully equipped including towels, welcome pack and Chocolate Fairy. No Surcharges!

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