Mostly rural, always characterful, occasionally beautiful, the Trent & Mersey is a distinguished canal well worthy of exploration. It runs from the Trent near Shardlow to the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook, and features broad locks as far as Burton-on-Trent, a compact town famous for its breweries – and, of course, as the home of Waterways World.
Fradley Junction, where the Coventry Canal heads off to the south, is as pretty as a picture, with its canalside cottages and popular pub. Remote woodlands accompany the canal through to Rugeley, a workaday town useful for shopping if nothing else.
The finest section of the T&M comes as it skirts Cannock Chase with wonderful views of this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. If you have the time, don your walking boots and go for a hike among the pine trees and heather-clad slopes. If you’re lucky, you may spot a deer or two in the distance. From Great Haywood, with its pretty junction with the Staffs & Worcs Canal, you can visit Shugborough Hall, access being by way of the 14-arched Essex Bridge over the Trent.
Passage through Stoke-on-Trent is not the fascinating experience it once was, when the canal cut straight through the giant Shelton Steelworks. This, along with much local industry, closed years ago, leaving the canal to thread its way somewhat forlornly through a strange kind of no-man’s-land: neither rural, nor overtly industrial.
Harecastle Tunnel – all 2,897 yards of it – leads on to ’Heartbreak Hill’ where the canal drops down through 32 locks, many of them duplicated, in the space of just 12 miles. Beyond Middlewich the T&M continues through exceptionally attractive countryside and on to the remarkable Anderton Boat Lift – one of the ’Seven Wonders of the Waterways’ – where you can if you so desire descend to the River Weaver. Two tunnels – Saltersford and Barnton – soon follow before the Trent & Mersey ends its 93-mile journey from Derwentmouth at Preston Brook, where it effects an end-on junction with the Bridgewater Canal.