Those that read our recent post will know that we spent a few days being cultured in Stratford-Upon-Avon recently. While we were there we couldn’t resist working a canal walk into our busy itinerary.
This pretty walk took us from the small West Midlands village of Hockley Heath to the historic town of Stratford-upon-Avon along the canal. Completed in 1816, this waterway actually stretches 25 miles in total and finishes at Kings Norton Junction in the suburbs of the city of Birmingham where it becomes the Worcester and Birmingham canal (we will cover this stretch in a later post – see our first stretch of the Worcester & Birmingham Canal here). We decided however to tackle a more manageable chunk of around 16 miles, by taking the bus from Stratford to Hockley Heath, and then walking back to Shakespeare’s town along the canal.
After getting off the bus we joined the canal at the Wharf Tavern, which, being around half past 9 in the morning, (unfortunately) was not yet open for business. We passed under a red-brick arch bridge; the first of many of a very distinctive style along this waterway.
One thing that struck us about this particular canal was its various different styles of bridge, including beam, cantilever and split bridges and the engineering involved in each. The first part of the walk was through a woody area where we saw the odd boat or barge moored at the banks. It wasn’t long before we reached the first manually operated lift bridge.
Shortly after this we passed the Swallow Cruises marina and chandlery, a stretch of residential moorings and some beautiful (and I imagine, very expensive) properties on the banks of the canal as we followed the towpath toward Lapworth and Kingswood.
Before too long, we approached the first locks of our journey as depicted above. These were in fact the first of the Lapworth Locks, a set of 26 narrow locks of which the first 18 would lead us down to Kingswood Junction. A particular highlight of this section is the steep descent of 7 locks between the “Lapworth Turnover” bridges; at the top is a beautiful red-brick cottage which overlooks this fascinating and impressive feature of this canal. As you approach the bottom of the hill, a flotilla of narrowboats can be seen lined up in one of the lock reservoirs.
There is a small independent canal-side shop here. You will also see a footbridge giving the option of taking a pathway off to the right on the opposite side tot the towpath which takes you to The Boot Inn, a very nice establishment run by The Lovely Pub Company and one of the best places we have enjoyed a drink.
Naturally we took this option and after having quenched our thirst and enjoyed the sunny beer garden we set off once more and shortly arrived at Kingswood Junction.
Kingswood Junction is one of the highlights of this route. Constructed at the turn of the nineteenth century to link the Grand Union Canal (Birmingham to London) with the then partially completed Stratford-upon-Avon Canal, it was reopened in 1964 after a restoration project undertaken by the National Trust. Kingswood Junction feels quiet and secluded despite being relatively close to normal civilisation. Visitors will find a reservoir for narrowboat mooring, distinctive red-brick ‘split’ bridges along with locks and a few canal-side buildings.
Having left the junction we carried on along the towpath, passing under more bridges in the same style as before. The split bridges are interesting in their design; they are constructed in two halves leaving gap at the apex which is just wide enough for a length of rope to pass through. The reason for this dates back to when boats and barges were pulled by horses. When the boat came to a regular bridge without towpath underneath, the horse would need to be untied before the bridge and re-attached afterwards. The gap in these bridges meant that the towrope could simply be passed through the structure without the need to untie the horse. We also saw an example of a “barrel-roofed” lock-keeper’s cottage; a very unusual design but prevalent along this stretch of canal. You can tell that this canal was constructed a lot more recently than others; the locks and bridges on the Kennet & Avon and the Brecon & Monmouthshire Canal by comparison look much older.
Before long we walked under the M40 motorway bridge, where we continued through pleasant scenery with waterbirds swimming alongside us until we reached the small village of Lowsonford. A small detour off the canal took us to the Fleur de Lis, a delightful canal-side pub. You do not have to double back on yourself after taking refreshment here; you can simply leave the canal on one bridge to reach the pub, and then continue the very short distance to re-join the canal at the next one.
Our walk continues on the next page;