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Canoe Touring from your doorstep

Words by GoKayakingAdmin on 26/07/2021 16:39:53

A group of students from St Helens have shown that it's possible to do a varied and interesting canoe tour without having to travel far.

They had been hoping to travel to Scandinavia for their Duke of Edinburgh's Gold Award Expedition, but sadly the pandemic put a stop to that. Not to be dissuaded, they instead swapped fjords for our local waterways.

Setting off from the Boat Museum at Ellesmere Port, they paddled and portaged for over 50 miles across four days, finishing with us at our Go Kayaking North West store in Runcorn. They were joined along the way by two teachers and some experienced volunteer canoeists to provided remote supervision and support.

9 rain

Leaving Ellesmere Port along the Shropshire Union Canal, there's no sign that it's only 200 meters from the busy M53 motorway. The forecast rain was not as bad as had been feared.



The signs of industry faded away, and the Village of Stoak appeared.


Arriving in Chester, the first obstacle appeared. Northgate Locks, almost directly underneath the Ring Road is a flight of three locks. Canoes are not generally allowed to use locks in England (unlike Sweden) mainly because every lock passage requires a large volume of water. The only way is to portage up the steeply sloping towpath. Participants in DoE Expeditions must be self sufficient, so camping equipment had to be portaged as well. Fortunately, trolleys were available so that once lifted from the canal the boats could be wheeled.

Following the locks, the canal goes into a deep cutting through the centre of the historic Roman city


There were another five more locks to pass that day. A key element of tactics is to know how far it is to the next one; if it's only a few hundred metres, it may be easier to wheel the canoes along the towpath rather than putting it back in the water


After over 19km, the teams arrived at the Netherwood Touring campsite. With showers and other facilities, this was luxury compared to the wild camps in Sweden.

Day two continued along the Shropshire Union canal, with another 7 lock portages and some beautiful countryside, including views of Beeston Castle. The weather took its revenge for having been better than forecast yesterday but the crews were not daunted.



At Barbridge Junction, the route left the main Shropshire Union and followed the Middlewich Branch, finishing at the Aqueduct Marina. This was the longest day in terms of distance, 25.5km.

The Marina has a large field which they can make available for canoeists, with the Marina itself providing the facilities. Dramatic sunset and misty dawn.


Day 3. The Marina is named after the nearby Aqueduct (really an embankment with tunnel through it!) which carries the canal over the River Weaver. It looks, on the map, as if a short scramble down the embankment would take you to the river, and indeed it would. Unfortunately, the river at that point is narrow and tree lined, and many the trees have fallen across it, making passage quite difficult. The route therefore continued along the canal to Bridge 23 on the outskirts of Winsford, from where a 3.4km portage on tracks and minor roads led to Winsford Flash.


From there, the river Weaver becomes the Weaver Navigation and is wide enough for substantial ships. The Winsford Salt Mine is the source of most of the rock salt spread on British roads every winter, and promoted the growth of other associated industries requiring transport.


The locks at Vale Royal raised the level of the river, and embankments formed the Vale Royal Cut, straightening and deepening the original winding river.

Winsford Flash was formed by mining subsidence as the salt was extracted, and the signs of this can be seen in the bridge in Winsford which has tilted as a result of ground movement.

The day's paddle finished at the A556 bridge at Hartford. Only 19km, but that included the portage which was a lot more challenging than paddling the same distance. While there was room for a couple of tents on the towpath, so that somebody could stay and look after the canoes, there was nowhere for the students to camp. Without the restrictions of the pandemic, a campsite might be found, which would make an official ‘canoe trail’ a possibility, but for this trip it was necessary to take them back to the Marina to camp, pitching their tents in the same field as if it was new to them. The DoE 'pandemic rules' allowed this.


The final day took the Expedition down the Weaver past Hunt's Lock and the Anderton Boat Lift, one of the wonders of the canal network.

After 8.5km on the Weaver, a short but steep portage led up to the Trent and Mersey canal just before Saltersford Tunnel. This tunnel is short enough that canoes and kayaks are allowed to use it, and because it's not quite straight, you can't see the far end. Fortunately, there's a procedure to ensure that traffic in each direction goes at separate times. 



Before reaching Go Kayaking, it's necessary to pass the Preston Brook Tunnel. This is officially forbidden to paddlers, so had to be portaged via the old 'horse path' - used when the horse drawn canal boats were taken through by the crew 'legging' - lying on their backs and pushing the boat along using their feet on the tunnel roof - which makes pulling canoes up a path sound easy.


On arrival at Go Kayaking, the Expeditioners finished off by giving a presentation on what they had learned about the Canal System. Despite the challenges, they all enjoyed the Expedition.



As a DoE trip during a pandemic, this was a complicated trip to organise, and presented different but no less difficult or interesting challenges to both expeditioners and volunteers.

We are grateful to Go Kayaking North West in Runcorn for their support, particularly allowing us to leave our vehicles and canoe trailer in their compound for the duration of the paddle. Not to mention having supplied most of the boats (a few years back)!

Written by Chris Bolton from Rainford High OEC