Narrow boat hire for the Coventry Canal
Take a trip down the Coventry Canal for an unforgettable canal holiday. Follow this link to see the availability and hire of our narrow boats for cruising down the Coventry Canal The History of the Coventry Canal
The Coventry Canal joins the Trent & Mersey Canal at Fradley Junction, is 38 miles in length and there are a total of 13 locks during its passage to the city of Coventry, a city blitzed by the Luftwaffe during World War II. There are though still many surviving medieval buildings. The famous "new" Cathedral should be visited and there are a number of interesting museums.
It is a relatively short canal that, in truth, is not the most visually attractive of the many on the system - but still great for a canal boat holiday. Essentially rural and once so busy with coal carrying boats and barges right up until the mid-1960s, the waterway passes many ‘coal tips’ and ‘spoil heaps’ now covered in greenery and in the process of reclamation, especially by nature itself. However, it both was, and is still, a crucial link between the northern and southern sections of the network. The great advantage it gives to boaters wishing to by pass the ‘Second City’ is that it removes the need to lock up to, and then down from, Birmingham.
The canal begins at the now attractive Coventry Canal Basin. The actual basin was opened in 1769 and subsequently expanded in 1788. It is positioned a little way to the north of Coventry’s City Centre and just outside the city's inner ring road. The site and many of the buildings were restored between 1993 and 1995. The warehouses, Canal House and Canal Bridge are all grade II listed buildings and all boats cruising in and out of the Coventry Canal Basin have to pass through the Canal Bridge.
Coventry's most famous landmark is without doubt its stunning cathedral – an amazing modern construction (you must stop and see it on your canal holiday) which stands next to the shell of the original cathedral which was almost obliterated during the World War II bombing of the city. This is just a short walk from the canal basin, now lined with shops and pubs. Informative signs and artworks adorn the towpath between Hawkesbury Junction and the city. Without doubt, this section has undergone a lot of general improvement
Setting out from the basin, the waterway meanders north through the outskirts of Coventry passing under a large number of road bridges including the prominent hump-back bridges under the Foleshill Road through Little Heath and the Longford Road.
Five or so miles north of Coventry, at Hawkesbury Junction, a superbly preserved iron bridge advertises the start of the Oxford Canal which, of course, journeys southwards to join the River Thames at Oxford. At Hawkesbury Junction there are some fascinating buildings from the working days of the canal, and the Greyhound pub is a traditional stop for boaters on a canal boat holiday. This pub is very popular with both boaters and locals alike. From here the section back to Coventry is known as the "five 'n half", by locals, and refers to the mileage into the city centre. Hawkesbury Junction used to be a bustling canal centre where boating folk would take a rare opportunity to socialize together while waiting for their next loads of coal from the local collieries. There's a stop lock here too, designed to prevent water belonging to one canal company being used by the once adjoining and rival Oxford Canal Company.
As you continue on your narrow boat holiday - a few miles further north of Hawkesbury, just outside Bedworth, is Marston Junction. Here is the start of the Ashby Canal which starts its meandering, rural and lock-free journey towards the former coal mines at Moira. These days though, it is only navigable for 22 miles as far as Snarestone.
From Marston Junction, the Coventry Canal then runs north-west through Nuneaton, Atherstone and Polesworth and then towards Tamworth. Nuneaton, an ex-mining town, has a vast array of shops and supermarkets in its traffic free centre. Between here and Atherstone, the canal is never too distant from old quarry workings though manages to retain its rural image. There is a British Waterways heritage site at Hartshill which is worth a visit.
The eleven locks of the Atherstone flight are spread out over nearly two miles. Be prepared though to take up to three or more hours to complete the flight. That being said, relief is an option halfway through at the King’s Head, a very welcome canal side pub. You can always rest or even overnight at Grendon on the other side of the flight. Atherstone itself, a pleasant market town with some Georgian buildings, holds a ‘football’ match every year on Shrove Tuesday which follows 12th century rules!
There’s a couple of pubs and a ‘chippy’ in Polesworth and you will see an overgrown canal wharf, more coal tips, other industrial relics and the ruins of Alvecote Priory as you continue north through the new housing development of Amington. Your canal holiday will then reach Glascote Locks where there are often queues of boats during the summer months as the locks, in common with most on this waterway, empty quickly but are slow to fill. The canal traverses around the Tamworth suburbs and new buildings and redevelopment is much in evidence. The aqueduct which crosses the River Thame is both an impressive sight and a super experience if crossing by boat.
Heading towards Fazeley, boaters can turn west towards Birmingham along the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal. Many new houses are visible though there are good moorings at Fazeley itself and plenty of shops near to the A5 road junction. During the building process of the Coventry Canal, the owning company ran into financial difficulties and the Birmingham & Fazeley Company helped to complete the construction in 1789 in order to ensure the success and prosperity of its own waterway. This explains a couple of anomalies – in this section, the bridges have names rather than numbers and when ownership changed to that of the Coventry Canal company, this was never changed. Also, some maps show the canal as a northern and a southern section, connected by a stretch of the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal but others show the through route all as the Coventry Canal. This is simply a reflection of the complex period of ownership and re-leasing during that original construction period. It is worth noting that the famed canal engineer James Brindley was involved with the project at its outset in 1768 and his exacting standards of construction and reluctance to compromise or control overspends contributed significantly to the ongoing financial challenges endured during this period. Thomas Yeoman replaced Brindley in 1769.
Then it is onto Hopwas with a couple of good canal side pubs offering hearty ale and good food. A post office and a farm shop are available too. There is a firing range in Hopwas Woods and access is restricted. Watch out for the red flags and stay well clear. Further on, Huddlesford Junction provides the link to the Lichfield Canal, which is now under partial restoration. In fact, the M6 Toll Road has a brand new aqueduct crossing it though it will remain without water until the restoration is completed. It is a strange sight indeed when driving on that stretch of road…..an aqueduct not only without water but one with no connection on either side! Eventually, it is hoped that the Lichfield Canal together with the to be restored Hatherton Canal will provide a link to the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal.
A short distance on from Huddlesford Junction is Streethay Wharf, a recently built marina with many facilities and then one arrives into the famous and busy Fradley Junction. Fradley is a very popular location and it can be a challenge to find a mooring if wishing to overnight, especially during the summer months. The Swan is a picture postcard pub and well worth a visit for a pint and some food. Here the Coventry Canal comes to an end as it links into the Trent & Mersey Canal.
The Coventry Canal proved to be a vital trade artery for many years and formed part of the Birmingham to London route through the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal, the Coventry Canal itself, the Oxford Canal, and then the River Thames. Even when the Grand Junction Canal and other smaller waterway companies (which were to later merge and form the Grand Union Canal company) opened a direct rival route from Birmingham to London (this was through Warwick, Napton, Braunston, and Bletchley) trade still remained bouyant on the Coventry. This was partly attributable to the work carried out by the Oxford Canal Company to shorten its route north of Braunston. In addition Grand Junction (later the Grand Union) traffic using the Braunston to Fazeley route avoided the high tolls charged by the Oxford Canal Company on its own Braunston-Napton section (this also formed part of the new route).
The Coventry Canal Company paid a dividend right up to 1947 after which, like most of the canals, it was taken into public ownership. It has remained navigable to the present day and forms part of the Leicester Ring. In1957, the Coventry Canal Society was formed to protect the interests and promote the use and proper maintenance of this fascinating waterway.