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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.

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.

Gailey Roundhouse - houses an excellent shop and chandlery
Drayton Bridges
Routes in a Google Map
Four Counties Location

Distance, Time, and Locks

about 55
  • Usually covered in a week, the Ring includes some energetic sections.
  • Out-and-back trips and short breaks are available from all bases.

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.

Possible Holidays

One Week

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.

For a leisurely week try the picturesque Caldon Canal from Stoke-on-Trent through the Churnet Valley towards the Peak District.

Short Breaks

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.

Longer Holidays

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.

Harecastle Tunnel

Customer Comments

Read what some of our previous clients say about the Four Counties Ring.

"We were very pleased with the excellent facilities within the canal boat, and its clean and tidy condition. The staff were all very friendly, and were understanding when we managed to block the toilet by putting kitchen towel down it! We were also given a good crash course in how to handle the boat."

"We followed the Caldon Canal down both its arms, and then spent our last day going up to the Harecastle tunnel. We enjoyed all the route, but particularly Consall Forge, Froghall and the Harecastle tunnel."

"The Four Counties Ring offered a nice variety of beautiful English countryside, and we enjoyed it very much."
AK, Norway

"Followed the Four Counties ring travelling Northwards first. Found Stone the best small town for replenishing supplies. Canal very handy for shops, banks etc. We appreciated the speed of communication with you. Booking was very simple and straightforward. We had not used E-mail to book a holiday before."

"We have been very impressed by the way to enjoy holidays in narrow boats. We would like to visit England again to travel the cannals with a narrowboat when our kids grow big."
TE, Japan

"Great Heywood to Trevor - it was a good choice, since there was enough time to learn the basics of handling the boat before hitting the day with 25 locks to be done. It was great having the major aqueducts and tunnels at the end, when the boat handling had become somewhat second nature, as well as having Llangollen to visit after turning the boat back."