Cutting through the North and East Midlands, the Trent & Mersey Canal offers the best of both worlds: a rich industrial heritage with more than a smattering of beautiful countryside. Originally known as the Grand Trunk Canal, it represented the first long distance canal in the country. Packed into its 93.5-mile length are impressive features such as the Anderton Boat Lift, the mile and a half long Harecastle tunnel and the sweat inducing ‘Heartbreak Hill’ – a series of 26 locks that drop the canal from Stoke-on-Trent to the Cheshire Plain.
To begin your walk, park in Great Haywood and head down Mill Lane to join the canal at the junction of the Trent & Mersey Canal with the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal. Famed canal engineer James Brindley was involved in the construction of both.
A few hundred metres north of the junction, stop for picnic ingredients at the Canalside Farm Shop and Café, which sells produce from the family farm as well as stocking a huge array of goodies sourced in the surrounding area. Highlights include homemade scones and award-winning cheese and Scotch eggs.
Head back to the towpath and set off north for another mile or two. You’ll soon pass by a lock and bridge at Hoo Mill – an important site for the nearby flint grinding mill (you might be able to glimpse the old mill from the towpath) – before continuing to wind through water meadows and open countryside until you reach the salt marsh at Pasturefields. This is one of only a handful of natural inland salt marshes in the country. Two old brine wells feed the area with salt water and it’s bursting with unusual plants and wildlife, including sea plantain and waders such as snipe, lapwing and golden plovers. Stop for a picnic alongside the salt marsh, binoculars at the ready, then retrace your steps back to Great Haywood.
Read more about the Trent & Mersey Canal on the Canal & River Trust website.
Charles D P Miller