the Coventry Canal
Coventry Canal Narrow Boat Holiday Hire
The Coventry Canal from the Canal Basin to Fradley Junction and back - 32 hours - 16 locks each way - 0 tunnels
(This description follows the canal from Fradley Junction to Coventry)
The Coventry Canal was started in 1768, with the famous engineer James Brindley being commissioned to oversee its construction. Mr Brindley, a bit of a perfectionist, caused the canal company to run out of money in 1769, when the canal was only half completed. The disgruntled company replaced Brindley with Thomas Yeoman but the canal remained unfinished for another seventeen years.
It was finally completed and opened in 1790 with some help from the Birmingham and Fazely and the Trent and Mersey Canal Companies. Evidence of this remains, in that the bridges between Fazeley and Whittington have evocative names such as Tamhorn Park Bridge and Balls Bridge, (see picture courtesy Up The Cut) a la Birmingham and Fazeley, rather than the uninspiring numbers routinely used on the rest of the Coventry Canal. The canal was, for many years, of great importance especially for transporting coal and other minerals from Nuneaton, Bedworth and Coventry to the rest of the midlands and the south. It was taken over by British Waterways in 1948 and in 1957 the Coventry Canal Society was established to support its maintenance, redevelopment and protection.
With little evidence of its industrial roots, the Coventry Canal runs from its junction with the Trent and Mersey Canal at Fradley, all the way to Coventry. Historic Fradley is a picture postcard example of an unspoiled canal community. It was constructed with houses and cottages for the company workers, warehouses and a maintenance yard. Today the later houses British Waterways‘ offices, a canalside cafe, shop and information centre. Central to the community is The Swan Inn pub which offers a warm welcome and great food, but can become very busy in the summer months. The proliferation of colourful boats is rivaled only by the abundant Wildfowl. To the west, Fradley Pool offers a picturesque testimony to the rivalry between the Trent and Mersey Canal Company and that of the Coventry Canal. Unwilling to share their water, the Trent and Mersey‘s surplus was siphoned off at an overflow weir and secretly channeled beneath the Swan Inn and behind the neighbouring cottages, before returning to the Trent & Mersey Canal to the east of the junction. The excess water was stored in a purpose built reservoir which now forms the central feature of the award winning Fradley Pool Nature Reserve.
The stretch between Fradley and Fazeley is, arguably, the Coventry Canal at its most beautiful. A disused aerodrome and farmland lead you to Streethay Wharf, a fine example of one of the many new marinas on this canal. The next point of note is Huddlesford Junction where the Plough Inn provides a hearty meal. This delightful location was once the intersection between the Coventry and the Wyreley and Essington Canal. Much of this is derelict but it is being restored and is to be renamed the Lichfield Canal. This, along with the Hatherton Canal, also under restoration, is destined to provide a new link to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal. Interestingly the M6 toll road, built in 2003, has an empty, unconnected aqueduct constructed over it in readiness for the canal‘s intersection. Whittington follows and then, over the next couple of miles, farmland gives way to increasingly dense and beautiful woodland with the River Tame making an appearance to the left of the canal. Here the MOD is inclined to practice manoeuvres, but kindly indicate this with red ‘keep out‘ flags. As you enter the lovely village of Hopwas the pubs either side of the canal by Lichfield Road Bridge, compete for your custom. We like the cleverly named Tame Otter, but feel free to do your own research!
The canal indulges in a few more miles of rural tranquility before finding itself at Fazeley, the junction with the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Where Fradley is historic and charming, Fazeley is modern, built up and functional. Peel‘s Wharf houses the local British Waterways offices and offers good moorings with full facilities and access to a large number of shops. Turn left here to remain on the Coventry. On the outskirts of Tamworth an attractive aqueduct takes you across the River Tame. The canal sticks to the outside of the town, but a walk from bridge 73 will take you into the town centre where you will find a Norman castle reinstated as a museum, an indoor ski slope, (the only one in Europe with real snow), and lots of places to eat including a bistro, Italian restaurant, Indian restaurant and several pubs. Between bridges 74 and 73 you will find the first of Coventry‘s Locks. These two at Glascote are, like most on the Coventry, slow to fill and quick to empty, but, despite its suburban location, this is a pretty setting and lingering here is no hardship. Amington follows, which also offers a range of eating and shopping facilities. Just beyond, the canal passes close enough to a golf course for you to wave at the golfers and for their balls to threaten your windows!
Back in the countryside you are soon passing by Alvecote Marina. The simple beauty of the remains of a twelfth century priory can be glimpsed on the right, whilst there is a nature reserve on the left. Hill top monuments can be spotted in the distance and the imposing Pooley Hall lords over the canal from its bank elevation. Polesworth, a small town huddled around the Anker River, is not without charm. It has a fifteenth century abbey and a large Norman church. In more recent history it was the home of the Messrs Lees and Atkins boatyard, famed for its distinctive ‘Roses and Castles‘ boat decoration (see pictures right) and much in demand for the building and maintenance of ‘Number Ones‘, the prestigious owner/operators of working canal boats. Shops, pubs and takeaways are on offer.
Rural landscapes return on the approach to Atherstone Locks. Allow two to three hours to ascend this (loosely speaking) flight of eleven locks, which are spread out over nearly two miles. The first few of the locks allow you to enjoy the beauty of the Trent Valley and views of the Anker River. Soon woodland begins to vie with warehouses. If you wish to visit the town, walk along the path by bridge 43 or 41. Once of note for its hat making, it now enjoys a reputation for second hand book shops and its 800 year old Shrove Tuesday ‘Ball Game‘ in which hundreds of locals try to take possession of a giant ball for a couple of hours. There is a choice of supermarkets and, apparently, the most pubs on any high street in Britain. Atherstone town centre in the evening is, therefore, what you might expect from somewhere that has “the most pubs on any high street in Britain”. The Red Lion Hotel is agreeably decorated, family friendly and serves food. Canal side by bridge 41 the Barge and Bridge specialises in steaks. Atherstone top lock has a traditional lock keeper‘s cottage that still houses a traditional lock keeper, with an attractive basin beyond.
Mancetter follows, originally a Roman settlement and thought of by many to be the scene of Boadicea‘s defeat by the Romans way back in AD60. Hartshill is next, seen at its best canal side, with Hartshill Yard boasting an arched dock crowned by an iconic clock tower and a British Waterways heritage site. Shortly after, by bridge 29, you will find the canal side Anchor Inn. The food here is plentiful, inexpensive and tasty and the welcome always warm. Along this stretch of canal evidence of the area‘s mining history is to be seen. Quarries abound and strange pyramid shaped spoil tip mounds are silhouetted against the horizon. Our nearest one is known affectionately as Mount Jud after the Judkins Granite Quarry from which it was extracted; our largest local landmark, it can be seen from miles away.
You will soon find yourself nudging the outskirts of Nuneaton with its canal side properties, allotments and football ground. Its most famous ‘son‘ is the famous author George Eliot whose statue takes pride of place in the town square. Many of her novels feature places from the local area and walks demonstrating this are available for aficionados. She also plays a central role in the town‘s Museum and Art Gallery. Nuneaton‘s traffic free centre is a good walk from the canal via bridge 21 and has all the shopping and eating facilities associated with a sizable town. There is a market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, one of the largest in the country. Chivers Cotton Craft Centre is accessible from bridge 19.
The scenery again becomes more rural as you approach the remote Marston, junction with the Ashby Canal. The canal spends much of the next mile skirting the town of Bedworth. This also has a lovely market on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday and offers the family friendly Navigation pub by bridge 14. You will soon arrive at Hawkesbury Junction, from where the Oxford Canal is accessed. Attractive and bustling today, it was a favourite meeting place for boat folk of old and is home to the well known Greyhound Inn (its wise to book for meals and, sadly, children are not permitted after 7pm).
Most of the traffic here bypasses the Coventry Arm and heads straight for the popular Oxford Canal, missing out on this interesting stretch of water, known locally as the "five 'n half", in reference to the mileage into the city centre. It is not, strictly speaking, an arm, but rather the end of the main line of the Coventry Canal. After passing through the suburb of Longford and crossing the River Sow you may spot the newly built Ricoh Arena, home to Coventry City Football Club. The canal is lined with multi-era testaments to its industrial heritage, including the 19th century cottages cum workplaces of Joseph Cash‘s weavers and the original site of the Daimler car works where in 1897 the first British production car was made. It is also the location for Britain's longest outdoor gallery. This five and a half mile award-winning art and heritage trail incorporates 39 artworks by professional and community artists working with local people. Look out for the ‘Snake in the Grass‘, The Coil‘ and ‘The Stone Sofa‘. In the basin its self there is a Mosaic and a three quarter sized bronze statue of non other than James Brindley. I suppose that makes up for getting the sack! (See pictures courtesy www.visitcoventryandwarwickshire.co.uk Brindley Statue) courtesy Peter Barton from The Coventry Pages)
The basin is accessed under the arch of bridge 1, towpath free for security reasons. Thanks to the efforts of the Coventry Canal Society the once derelict site has become a vibrant leisure resort, voted one of the top ten urban waterside walks in 2003. Located on high ground on the edge of the city centre the Y-shaped canal basin has fine examples of 200 year old canal architecture. Old warehouses sit side by side with newly built craft shops and artists‘ studios bearing the names of canal engineers. Continued redevelopment is planned.
Back at our hire base in the basin, a short walk will see into the heart of the City of Coventry. Traditionally believed to have been established in the year 1043 with the founding of a Benedictine Abbey by the Earl of Mercia and his wife, Lady Godiva, Coventry‘s history is intrinsically linked with this lady‘s celebrated exploits. The addition of a market caused the town to grow and, by the 14th century, Coventry had become an important centre of the cloth trade and was one of the largest and most important cities in England, being granted city status in 1345. In the late-19th century, Coventry became a major centre of bicycle manufacture, pioneered by Rover. By the early 20th century this evolved into motor production making Coventry a major centre of the British Motor Industry.
Coventry was targeted during World War II due to its high concentration of armaments, munitions and engine plants which contributed greatly to the British war effort. It suffered severe bomb damage which devastated most of the historic city centre and all but the outer walls and spire of Coventry's original Cathedral. (See picture) In the postwar years Coventry was largely rebuilt, gaining a new pedestrianised shopping precinct (the first of its kind in Europe on such a scale) and the much-celebrated new Saint Michael‘s Cathedral in 1962, incorporating the world's largest tapestry. Coventry has since enjoyed an international reputation as one of Europe's major cities of peace and reconciliation and holds an annual Peace Month. Coventry's motor industry boomed during the 1950s and 1960s, but during the 1970s the British motor industry underwent decline and Coventry suffered badly as a result.
In recent years newer industries have located in Coventry and major improvements continue to regenerate the city centre. At present these include the redevelopment of the Belgrade Theatre and the building of IKEA‘s first city centre multistorey store. Future projects include the deepening of Swanswell Pool which will be linked to Coventry Canal Basin, coupled with the creation of an urban marina and a wide Parisian-style boulevard. Tourists attractions include the free-to-enter Coventry Transport Museum, which has the largest collection of British-made road vehicles in the world and contains the world speed record-breaking cars, Thrust2 and ThrustSSC. There is also the Midland Air Museum and a police force museum located in the city‘s main police station, along with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, the reconstructed Roman Lunt Fort and Coventry City Farm.
why “sent to Coventry”? The 14th Century Saint John‘s (or Bablake) Church became a prison for hundreds of the Duke of Hamilton‘s troops during the Civil War of 1647. The Puritan people of Coventry, loyal to the parliamentary cause, shunned the prisoners and so it came to be that those “sent to Coventry” where, and still are, completely ignored‘.