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Canal walk - Whitchurch and the Shropshire Union Canal

PUBLISHED: 08:37 20 September 2016 | UPDATED: 16:07 17 February 2018

 A boater awaits his turn for the Grindley Brook staircase locks

A boater awaits his turn for the Grindley Brook staircase locks

not Archant

Take Howard Bradbury’s route south of the border this month, for a walk from Whitchurch, along the Shropshire Union Canal

Boaters negotiate a bridge on the Shropshire Union Boaters negotiate a bridge on the Shropshire Union

Follow the A49 to the bottom left hand corner of Cheshire, cross over into Shropshire and there you are in lovely Whitchurch.

It is, the civic boast goes, the oldest continuously inhabited town in Shropshire. And you can see why people would want to live here. There is an attractive High Street leading up to a very striking church, St Alkmund’s - a grade 1 listed 300-year-old sandstone pile dedicated to a Saxon saint who met a sticky end. There are some intriguing-looking old pubs such as the Tudor-style Black Bear, beside the church, which has been slaking weary travellers’ thirsts since 1667.

There is also a very well-kept public space, Jubilee Park, which even boasts a bandstand, plus new housing which has been sensitively designed in a neo-Edwardian style.

If you want to know more about the history of Whitchurch, check out the town’s Heritage Centre. That history goes back to Roman times, More recent claims to fame include the Chester-born artist Randolph Caldecott, who worked in Whitchurch, composer Sir Edward German, who was born in the town, and the Whitchurch firm JB Joyce, which, from 1790 to recent times, produced tower clocks.

Crossing fields towards the canal Crossing fields towards the canal

And, of course, Whitchurch has a canal - the Llangollen branch of the Shropshire Union, which is one of the most popular canal stretches in the UK and therefore a great place for gongoozling. If you don’t know what that is then please read on.

1. Our walk begins from Whitchurch Hertiage Centre, 12 St Mary’s Street, SY13 1QY. It’s open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, entry is free and you’ll get to know a little about the town before sallying forth. Head back up St Mary’s Street towards St Alkmund’s Church, turning left into Church Street and, at the church, right then immediately left along Yardington, passing The Cock and Greyhound - ‘Purveyors of Good Times’ goes the legend over the door.

To the left here, you will see a reminder of Whitchurch’s ancient history: a sandstone wall which follows the line of the town wall built in the 2nd century AD. Excavations also found evidence here of Roman settlements dating back to the 1st century AD, when Mediolanum, as it was then called, stood on a major road between Chester and Wroxeter.

The Lockside Cafe at Grindley Brook The Lockside Cafe at Grindley Brook

At the next roundabout, turn right into Sherrymill Hill and on reaching Waterside Close bear right down a footpath.

2. Follow the yellow markers for the Sandstone Trail, crossing over the end of a cul-de-sac and into another footpath beside newly-built houses. When you reach a Tarmac footpath, bear right, folowing a sign for Danson’s Farm. Cross over a road and then turn left, through a metal kissing gate, following a sign marked The Stockton Walk no 2. Go diagonally right, uphill through the field to another kissing gate in the top corner, then cross the next field to the right corner. Go through the gate and head left towards the next gate, which is about a quarter of the way up the field from the left hand corner. Go towards the top right corner of the next field, through the next gate and bear right uphill to a gate. Bear left towards the next gate, cross a small field and find a gate which leads to a path down to the A41.

St Alkmund's Church, Whitchurch St Alkmund's Church, Whitchurch

3. Cross with care and bear left up into Danson’s Wood. Follow the fence for a short distance and then bear left down to the canal. Cross the canal at Danson’s Bridge (bridge no 30) and turn right up the towpath. It’s a few minutes walk from here to the Grindley Brook staircase locks, so called because the top gate of one lock is the bottom gate of the next. With three locks together, it is literally like going up or down stairs in a boat. On a sunny day, it’s a hive of activity. Since the Lockside Cafe @29 is right beside the lock, this is an ideal place to stop for refreshment and do that most pleasurable of things: watch other people working up a sweat. Canal folk have a word - ‘gongoozling’ - for the pastime of hanging around locks watching boaters wrestling with their windlasses.

4. Had enough gongoozling? Head back down the canal all the way to bridge 31, a black and white lift bridge. Cross here and go straight ahead following the towpath through the moorings. Go under a bridge, along a path through open land, cross a road and continue on the path which soon brings you to the path on which you set out. Retrace your steps to the town centre.

The Black Bear in Whitchurch town centre offers refreshing food and drink The Black Bear in Whitchurch town centre offers refreshing food and drink

Compass points.

Area of Walk: Whithurch

Distance: 4½ miles

Time to allow: 2 hours

Map: OS Explorer 257

Refreshments: Lockside Cafe @29, Grindley Brook, Whitchurch SY13 4QH; The Black Bear, High Street, Whitchurch SY13 1AZ; The Cock and Greyhound, 20 Bargates, Whitchurch SY13 1LL.

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