Saturday began with rain; as it turned out this was the only wet day, and fortunately it was mostly over by mid-morning. But, at least it meant Steve hadn’t carried his waterproofs around for no reason!
Beginning in Middlewich, the first part of the journey was back to the junction with the Shropshire Union (Middlewich Branch). Strictly speaking the first 100 yards or so was built and owned by the same company who ran the Trent & Mersey, and this part was the Wardle Canal. This wasn’t uncommon in the days when water was an important resource, and charges were levied for passage at junctions.
For all practical purposes though, Steve was heading westwards along the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union canal. The canal takes a meandering course through otherwise quite hilly countryside, giving some great views at points when the canal is higher than the surrounding areas. There are some lovely spots with barbecue frames and picnic benches which have been placed by the Shropshire Union Canal Society, and which make for a great facility for boaters, and probably others too. Along this stretch are the first glances of the River Weaver, which the Shropshire Union has as a close companion for quite some time on this route. After crossing the river on the aptly named Weaver Aquaduct, there were a couple of locks at Minshull and Cholmondeston, before reaching Barbridge Junction, where the Middlewich branch ends (or starts if you prefer) at the main Shropshire Union canal.
There has for many years been a somewhat ramshackle roadside pub here, and it was sad to see it closed, probably for good. The Jolly Tar was never a picturesque canalside tavern, but it was a friendly and convenient stop, and it is sad to see it join the lengthening list of closed pubs.
From Barbridge it’s possible to travel north to Chester, but that was for another day for Steve, who took a left turn southwards. About a mile later another junction, Hurleston, is where the Llangollen Canal starts; together these two junctions are amongst the busiest on the canal network, and even this late in the season, with the school term restarted, there were queues of boats waiting to go through the first of the Hurleston locks onto the Llangollen Canal.
Continuing south the canal passes through another well known canal town, Nantwich. Nantwich had a great fire in 1583, and was alrgely destroyed. Despite receiving a thousand pounds from Queen Elizabeth towards the rebuilding effort some sixty years later Nantwich would become the only Cheshire town to side with the Parliamentarians during the civil war, leading to a six week seige by Royalists in 1644. This even is still commemorated in the town, but Steve was a bit early for that – it takes place on or around 25 January each year.
The canal rides high over Nantwich, and it’s quite odd walking level with attic windows just tens of yards away from the towpath on the descending hillside to the town; this strange situation is largely a result of the refusal of the owner of Dorfold Hall to allow the canal to pass through his land, forcing the building of the embankment.
Another interesting point on the canal is a little further south. Just east of the canal at Hack Green is the site of a nuclear bunker, which is now a tourist attraction after years of hidden secrecy. Time didn’t allow a detour to that during the walk, but it will hopefully be somewhere for a visit on another day.
A very welcome lunchtime stop (all the more welcome with a missed breakfast) was made at the excellent Shroppie Fly at Audlem – a spot which is a perfect picture postcard point on the route; popular and deservedly so. It sits in the midst of a string of locks which collectively make for some hard work for the boaters! Not so much so for the walkers.
The final part of day three’s walk was down to Market Drayton, to Tyrley Locks; a short distance from here the Four Alls, a well known venue for Rotary (Market Drayton meet here) was the choice for the final overnight stay of the walk. Another 27 miles covered, and just one day left to go.