The rain of Saturday had passed, and Sunday proved to be a mild and dry day to complete the Four Counties Ring walk. That was certainly not a disappointment!
The first part of the day’s route was one of the more difficult sections. The canal cuts through rock at Woodseaves, a cutting which is 100′ deep in places, and as a result is dark and steep sided. The towpath is wet and muddy, and in places not terribly well maintained, so mud was aplenty, and the walking tricky in places!
The converse of that of course is that this is a hugely interesting section of the canal, with some deliberately ornate and remarkably high bridgework (for the appeasement of the local gentry) and a fantastic atmosphere. The boats in this section are requested to slow to 2mph, and there are often problems with rockfall. It’s well worth a visit!
At the end of the cutting, looking eastwards it’s possible to see the Wrekin, a landmark of the county from which the waterway takes its name. Pleasant views abound, and it’s mostly rural with just small towns like Knighton and Shebdon close by.
An iconic pub on this section was passed too early for a visit, but is still worthy of a mention. The Anchor Inn is next to the canal, and beer is fetched in jugs from the cellar. It’s a great place, and well worth visiting – by bridge 42 if you’re wanting to visit it!
After the Anchor, the canal enters another cutting, similar but not quite as deep as the previous one. The Grub Street cutting runs for over a mile, and has a very unusual double arched bridge (carrying the A519 over the canal) which has a tiny telegraph pole on it. At one time the telegraph wires were carried alongside this route, and this little pole remains as a reminder of that.
Breakfast was taken at the café at Norbury Junction, another popular canal spot, but no longer a junction at all, since the Newport branch was abandoned in the 1940’s. It would, were it still here, allow travel eastwards to Shrewsbury, and would no doubt have been another popular route. A bridge over the branch still exists, and what remains is now a boatyard/dock.
Continuing from Norbury, the great views which might be apparent at the Shelmore Embankment are hidden by trees. This section of the canal was one of the most difficult to build, and Thomas Telford died before it was opened in 1835.
The mile markers on this section of the route gave the distance to Autherley Junction, and as such provided a countdown of the distance left on the challenge. The route after Shelmore is a mixture of scattered towns and countryside, with Gnossall, then Wheaton Aston, then Brewood all passed on the remaining route.
Each has canalside pubs, but the canal is lockless southbound until Wheaton Aston where a solitary lock has the Hartley Arms to the east. It’s the first lock in 19 miles (southbound) so almost a strange sight by the time it arrives.
From Wheaton Aston another cutting (Lapley Wood) follows, and the canal once again joins forces with the Staffordshire Way for a period as it makes its way to Brewood.
Brewood, just five miles from the end, made a welcome lunchtime stop, and Steve was joined by Steve, Maz, Robbie, Helen & Chloe for Sunday lunch. A fundraising event was taking place at the pub, the Bridge Inn, at the time, and there were some very impressive motorbikes and cars parked in the car-park.
The two Steves completed the final section together, walking part of the Monarch’s way, another long distance footpath that shares the towpath, on the way. The boatmen’s club at Oxley Marina kindly offered to let us all in for a celebratory drink at the end of the journey, an offer that was happily accepted!
And so, 115 miles after leaving on Thursday morning, the trip was complete.