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 to cruise. Although the canal is fairly short it goes through enchanting countryside in the ‘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, an area filled with Shakespearean links.

Bearley aqueduct high above the fields.

Bearley aqueduct above the fields.

Once it leaves the leafy south west Birmingham suburbs the canal passes through tree lined green fields and nothing other than small villages until it reaches Stratford. At Lapworth is the interesting Kingswood Junction where a short spur connects to the Grand Union Canal which runs parallel for a while close by.

The delightfully named neighbouring Warwickshire villages of Preston Baggot, Wootton Wawen and Wilmcote are all attractive with old houses, churches, inns and halls. The cottage belonging to Mary Arden, Shakespeare’s mother, is at Wilmcote and the other two villages have Norman or Saxon churches.

The canal has one tunnel at Brandwood near King’s Norton Junctionwhere it leaves the Worcester & Birmingham Canal. There’s an redundant guillotine lock to keep the waters of the 2 canals separate.

The Stratford Canal has three interesting aqueducts with cast iron troughs, the largest at Bearley (or Edstone) near Wootton Wawen. 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.

The final descent through the Stratford suburbs is fairly uninspiring until you pass under a low bridge and come out amongst hordes of visitors in Bancroft Basin, close to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre on the banks of the River Avon. A wide lock leads down onto the River Avon which requires a separate Avon Navigation Trust licence available from the Upper Avon Trust.

Canal Ring

The Avon Ring also includes the River Severn, Worcester & Birmingham Canal and Birmingham Canal Navigations, 1 or 2 weeks to cruise.

See our Avon Ring Cruising Guide.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre on the River Avon

Reopening came in 1964 after restoration work, much of it by volunteer and prison labour. The canal had initially prospered but 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. This successful high profile restoration gave impetus to many other restoration schemes and increased interest in the use of canals for pleasure cruising.

Key Facts

Narrow Canal: 25 miles, 53 locks, 3 days to cruise.

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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