Four Counties Ring alternatives

We were all shocked by the scale of the damage to the Middlewich Branch of the Shroppie in 2018. The closure meant the popular Four Counties Ring was not available which put many potential cruisers off. But despite the huge task for the Canal and River Trust not only to repair the breach but in raising the funds in the first place, the branch was reopened in December of that year.

Now with the Trust in the midst of a funding crisis – you can follow the Inland Waterways Association campaign here – and the aging system under further strain by increasing severe weather events, finding alternative routes to enjoy the waterways is a key part of planning a canal boat holiday.

Four Counties Ring compromised by breach on Middlewich Branch.
Likely a result of vandalism at nearby locks, the Middlewich Arm of the Shropshire Union Canal was breached overnight March 15th 2018, at the point it passes over the River Wheelock.

More Cruising Options

However, there are many alternative out-and-back routes to the heavily trafficked Four Counties Ring which can be cruised within a similar length holiday, especially from Gailey Wharf as we’re so well located on the network:

  • there’s the Potteries and Caldon Canal, both on the Trent and Mersey in Staffordshire – a leisurely 2 weeks will give you plenty of time to visit the Wedgwood fine china factory – a founding canal-building institution – and the quaint Churnet Valley Steam Railway ; there’s a useful Trip Advisor write-up here.
  • or turn right from the Staffs and Worcester at Great Hayward and go south on the Trent and Mersey to Fradley Junction – home to the ‘Mucky Duck’, the Swan at Fradley, the most visited pub in England! Then on to the pretty village of Alrewas where it’s a 20 minute walk from the canal to the National Arboretum, well worth a visit especially as recently we celebrated the RAF’s 100th birthday and 100 years since the end of WW1. You will still have time to visit Wedgwood on the way back, or stop off at Little Hayward just before the Staffs and Worcester junction at Great Haywood and the country seat of Lord Lichfield, Shugborough Hall, is a 10 minute walk from the canal.
  • Otherwise just cruise lock-free from Gailey to the Shropshire Union canal like we did in late September 2019, and potter around the Staffordshire and Cheshire villages that share this timeless backwater. This is a great floating pub crawl and there’s no need to struggle with the Audlem flight of locks, you’re on holiday!
  • If you’re still up for a ‘working’ holiday with plenty of locks and want a blend of industrial heritage, countryside pubs and a visit to the heart of Birmingham, England’s second city, then the Black Country Ring is a 7-day alternative ring cruise.

So it need not be all about Rings; the canal builders provided for turning or Winding points (‘wind’ pronounced the same way as the meteorological ‘movement of air’) at regular intervals to accommodate the traditional out-and-back routes taken by barge dwellers moving raw materials and finished goods around Industrial Revolution England. Turning a boat is easy and all part of the fun!

Please don’t let us put you off the Four Counties Ring as it’s popular for a reason; and it’s been up and running since late 2018. We just want to introduce you to less hectic – but certainly no less feature-full – alternatives.

Middlewich Branch back in water following the breach restoration. Photo

If this has whetted your appetite for a cruise of your own, you can find all the Booking Details here.  You can find more tips on our Home Page and FAQs. Our blog posts about our own extended Four Counties Ring experiences start here, or sit back and relax with our YouTube channel.