Canal Holidays Guide to the Four Counties Ring
This popular cruise through rural scenery and open countryside includes some small towns and an interesting section through the heart of the Potteries district.
A feature is the 3000 yard long Harecastle Tunnel, a wonder of the canals.
Distance, Time, and Locks
110 miles, about 55 hours cruising, 94 locks
Usually covered in a week, the Ring includes some energetic sections. Out-and-back trips and short breaks are available from all bases. For a leisurely week try the picturesque Caldon Canal from Stoke-on-Trent through the Churnet Valley towards the Peak District.
Cruising the Ring
Starting at Stoke-on-Trent with its superb waterside leisure complex, travel past the Wedgwood Pottery Visitor Centre to Great Haywood junction and Shrugborough Hall.
Continue on the very rural canal to join the Shropshire Union Canal. One of the last canals to be built, better engineering techniques created deep cuttings and dramatic embankments, with few locks and splendid architecture.
The 'Shroppie' crosses rolling countryside, passing through delightful towns such as Market Drayton, Audlem and Nantwich, before turning east towards Middlewich, once famous for its salt workings.
Shortly after Middlewich the canal climbs 'Heartbreak Hill' to its summit at Kidsgrove. The canal water soon turns red, as a result of local iron workings before reaching the famous Harecastle tunnel. Boats go in one-way convoys through the almost 3000 yard long tunnel before reaching daylight and a short run to Stoke-on-Trent.
Places of Interest
Stoke-on-Trent: former National Garden Festival leisure area, bus service to Pottery factories and museums, Etruria Industrial Museum, moor at Wedgwood Visitor Centre
Stone market town
Shrugbrough Hall: interior, grounds, rare breeds farm
Gailey Round House
Market Drayton: historic town, ancient Wednesday market
Nantwich: half-timbered buildings
Harecastle Tunnel: built 1827 to replace the original 1777 tunnel which had no towpath - boatmen had to 'leg it' by lying on the boat roof and 'walking' the boat through - horses walked over the top.
The Four Counties Ring makes a good one week holiday, although strenuous at times. Alternatively, an out-and-back holiday can be taken from any of the bases.
Mid-week and weekend breaks are available from all Canal Holidays bases on the Four Counties Ring. Historic Chester may be reached on a short break from Base 18.
In a two week trip the Four Counties Ring can be combined with the Llangollen Canal or adjacent Rings, or can be extended with a visit to Chester, famous for its city walls and historic Rows.
Narrowboat bases on the Four Counties Ring
Click on a boat base below for more information and possible routes from that base.
Base 25 near Stoke
Base 26 near Stafford
Base 28 near Cannock