Great Haywood

Featuring the junction of two major Midlands’ waterways




4.5 miles (7.2kms)

114ft (35m)

About the walk

James Brindley was the foremost canal-builder of his age and in the 1760s he developed an ambitious plan. Dubbed the Grand Cross, his idea was to link England’s four main estuaries – the Mersey, Severn, Thames and Humber – by a series of new inland waterways. These would be the trunk routes, off which would be smaller local canals. Great Haywood, just to the north of Cannock Chase, was an important junction in that new network.

The main route in Brindley’s scheme was the 93-mile (150km) Trent & Mersey Canal, sometimes called the ‘Grand Trunk’. It was finished in 1777 and linked the two key ports of Liverpool and Hull via Stoke and the Potteries, connecting with the navigable River Trent in Derbyshire. Great Haywood was the point where it met another of Brindley’s arterial routes, also built by him at about the same time. The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal was shorter, at 46 miles (74km), and from Great Haywood headed southwest via Wolverhampton to meet the River Severn at Stourport. The other two canals in Brindley’s Grand Cross were the Oxford Canal and Coventry Canal, which together connected with the Thames and the other Midlands’ waterways.

Although the canals were soon superseded by the railways, which in turn were eclipsed by road traffic (including a motorway network in some ways mirroring Brindley’s canals masterplan), Britain’s inland waterways have seen something of a renaissance in the last few decades. Haywood Junction is now home to a smart marina and including a chandlery, workshop and boat repair service. Throughout the year this is a bustling and colourful location, with boats constantly manoeuvring and plenty of comings and goings along the towpath. A popular cruising route from Great Haywood is the ‘Four Counties Ring’, a 110-mile (176km) journey connecting the Trent & Mersey, Staffordshire & Worcestershire and the Shropshire Union Canal, taking most boats between 1–2 weeks to complete.

As you leave the Shugborough Estate you first have to cross the River Trent before reaching the canal. You do this via Essex Bridge, built in the 1550s by the Earl of Essex, it is said so that Queen Elizabeth I could visit him at nearby Chartley Castle. The elegant bridge once had 40 arches (it now has 14) and extended all the way into Shugborough Park, but it remains the longest packhorse bridge in England and a scheduled ancient monument.

Walk directions

From the car park walk eastwards across the open green towards the main entrance of Shugborough and cross the A513 with care. Enter the estate through the gates and follow the drive for a mile (1.6km), first among the woods then out into the open grounds. At a broad fork go right to reach the car park near the farm.

Turn left and walk along the main drive, past Shugborough Park Farm. Where it branches left to the Hall go straight on along a fenced, surfaced track. At the far end continue across the narrow Essex Bridge.

If you want to visit Great Haywood go straight on under the railway, otherwise go right on the far side of Essex Bridge to join the canal towpath. Turn left, go under Bridge 73 and past the lock to head north beside the Trent & Mersey Canal.

At Haywood Junction don’t cross the old brick bridge, but go right of it in order to pass underneath, now heading left on the Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal, signposted ‘Wolverhampton’. Go over the River Trent and continue along the towpath for 1.5 miles (2.4km), via Tixall Lock.

Go under Tixall Bridge (number 106) and immediately turn left up to the road. Turn right and join the road to cross the river. Now follow the pavement back to Milford Common and the start of the walk.

Additional information

Surfaced drive, canal towpath and pavement, no stiles

Woods, parkland, canal and common

On lead in Shugborough Estate, but off lead on towpath and enclosed tracks

OS Explorer 244 Cannock Chase & Chasewater

Milford Common pay-and-display car park

By Milford Common

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About the area

Discover Staffordshire

It was Staffordshire that bore the brunt of the largest non-nuclear explosion of World War II, when a munitions dump at RAF Fauld went up in 1944. It was also the county’s regiment that once boasted within its ranks the most decorated NCO of World War I, in the person of William Coltman (1891-1974). Going back a little further, George Handel penned his world-famous masterpiece The Messiah on Staffordshire soil. During another chapter of Staffordshire history, the county was home to the first canals and the first factory in Britain, and it had front-row seats for the drama surrounding one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century, that of Doctor William Palmer.

In outline, Staffordshire looks not unlike the profile of a man giving Leicestershire a big kiss. The man’s forehead is arguably the best region for hillwalking, as it comprises a significant chunk of the Peak District. This area is characterised by lofty moors, deep dales and tremendous views of both. Further south are the six sprawling towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, which historically have had such an impact on Staffordshire’s fortunes, not to mention its culture and countryside. This is pottery country, formerly at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the driving force behind a network of canals that still criss-cross the county.

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