This bypass to the Black Country is deservedly one of the busiest canals in Britain. Conceived as part of the ’Cross’ to link England’s four greatest rivers – Trent, Mersey, Severn and Thames – its owners made a profit up until the day the canals were nationalised. A whole town, Stourport, was founded at its junction with the Severn. And though it threads its way gingerly past Wolverhampton, Stourbridge et al, it remains almost entirely rural.
Many are the high points, from the elegant, very first bridge at Great Haywood to the complex system of locks that descend to the river at Stourport. Curiosities include Tixall Wide, where canal met ornamental lake in an attempt to appease the wealthy landowner, and Bratch Locks, a rare arrangement where the locks run up against each other without quite becoming a true staircase. A lock-keeper is often on hand here to prevent mistakes!
The villages along the way include bustling Penkridge and picturesque Kinver, the latter taking pride of place in the canal’s central section. Between the junctions of Aldersley and Stourton, the Staffs & Worcs enjoys its finest hour. Its sandstone cliffs, tree-lined reaches and traditional cottages have much more in common with the unspoilt countryside to the west than the conurbation just a few miles to the east.
Most boaters will cruise parts of the Staffs & Worcs on one ring or another, but it really is worth boating in its entirety to appreciate it fully.