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The Trent and Mersey Canal is a 93.5 miles (150 km) long canal in the East Midlands, West Midlands, and North West of England. It is mostly a "narrow canal" (locks and bridges big enough for a narrowboat 72 feet long x 7 feet wide) but east of Burton upon Trentmarker, it is a wide canal (locks and bridges can accommodate boats 14ft wide).

History

As its name implies, the Trent and Mersey canal was built (opened 1777) to link the River Trent at Derwent Mouth (in Derbyshiremarker) to the River Merseymarker. The second connection is made via the Bridgewater Canal, which it joins at Preston Brookmarker in Cheshiremarker. Note that although mileposts measure the distance to Preston Brook and Shardlowmarker, Derwent mouth is a mile or so beyond Shardlow.

The idea of a canal connection from the Mersey to the Trent ("The Grand Trunk") came from canal engineer James Brindley. It was authorised by an Act of Parliament in 1766 and the first sod was cut by Josiah Wedgwood in July that year at Middleportmarker. Less than eleven years later, the whole canal, including more than 70 locks and five tunnels, was open, with the company headquarters in Stonemarker.

On January 15th 1847, the Trent & Mersey Canal was acquired by the North Staffordshire Railway Company (NSR). This was done to stifle the opposition of the Canal Company to the creation of the Railway Company. In particular, the NSR had plans for a railway from Stoke-on-Trent to Liverpool; however, this line was abandoned due to opposition from other rail interests.

The Grand Trunk was a part of a larger scheme of Brindley's to link the four main rivers of England (Trent, Merseymarker, Severn and Thames) in a project known as the "Grand Cross". The Trent and Mersey Canal provided the northern arm of the cross (to the Mersey), and the eastern arm (to the Trent). It also provided the central "hub" of the cross, between Great Haywoodmarker, and Fradleymarker Junctions. The western arm, to the Severn, was built as the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker, whilst the southern arm (to the Thames) traversed the Coventry and Oxfordmarker Canals.

Map & Gallery

Plan for the Trent and Mersey Canal (marked in red)
Image:Barnton tunnel east entrance.jpg|Barntonmarker Tunnel east entranceImage:TandMMacclesfield.jpg|Hall Green Branchmarker crosses the T&M at Poole AqueductImage:DoubleLock.JPG|a typical set of Double locks on the T&MImage:TandMJunctionMacclesfield.JPG|Hardings Wood Junctionmarker with the Hall Green Branchmarker

Features

Anderton Lift

On the Cheshire stretch of the canal, between Middlewichmarker and the Northern end of the canal in Preston Brookmarker Tunnel, is the Victorian Anderton Boat Liftmarker, which lowers boats fifty feet from the T&M to the River Weavermarker. It was restored to full operation in 2002 after twenty years of disuse, and was then the only operational boat-lift in the United Kingdommarker until the construction of the Falkirk Wheelmarker in Scotlandmarker.

Harecastle Tunnel

Another major feature is the Harecastle Tunnelmarker, near Kidsgrovemarker in the city of Stoke-on-Trentmarker, north Staffordshire. There are actually two tunnels. The first tunnel, built by Brindley, was 2880 yards (2633 m) long, and barges were 'legged' through by men lying on their backs and pushing against the roof with their feet. This was a physically demanding and slow process and created major delays, so leading civil engineer Thomas Telford was commissioned to provide a second, and wider, parallel tunnel with a towpath. This 2926 yard (2676 m) long tunnel was opened in 1827. In the 1900s, the Brindley tunnel was closed due to severe subsidence, but the Telford Tunnel - although also prone to the same problems - remains in use, and is the fourth-longest navigable canal tunnel in the UK.

Flyover Junction

Just North of Harecastle Tunnel, the T&M features one of the only two "flyover" junctions on the English and Welsh network. The Hall Green Branchmarker leaves the T&M Mainline (which runs E/W here) on the south side, but then crosses over the main line and travels a short distance north to join the Macclesfield Canalmarker at Hall Green Stop lock. (These days, some guides do not refer to the Hall Green branch, simply treating it as part of the Macclesfield Canal.)

The actual junction where the branch leaves the main line is a normal right angle junction called Hardings Wood Junctionmarker. The branch leaves the main line on the South side, then immediately turns 90 degrees clockwise. It runs westwards alongside the main line, maintaining the original level while the main line drops through two locks. At Red Bull (the name of the pub and small settlement called "Red Cow" in Arnold Bennett's novels) the branch turns 90 degrees right, to head North and cross the main line on Poole Lock aqueduct. It then immediately crosses the A50 on Red Bull aqueduct, carrying boats North to join the Macclesfield Canal at Hall Green.

(There is only one other such junction on the English canal network: on the Caldon Canalmarker, which itself joins the T&M in nearby Stoke-on-Trent. At Hazlehurst Junction, the Leek Branch leaves, and subsequently crosses, the Caldon Canal main line.)

Stoke-on-Trent

The canal passes through the centre of the city of Stoke-on-Trentmarker, where it formed an integral part of the 1986 National Garden Festival, the Stoke-on-Trent Garden Festivalmarker. The canal's towpath forms a vital part of the city's National Cycle Network, and Connolly Basnett Loop.

Route

The route is conveniently divided into a northern and southern section by Harecastle Tunnelmarker

Northern Trent and Mersey

The Northern end of the canal makes an end-on junction with the Bridgewater Canal within Preston Brook Tunnel, from where one can access Runcorn (but no longer the Mersey or Ship Canal) in one direction and Manchester (with its many canal links) in the other.

From the junction with the Bridgewater Canal, the T&M travels south through Preston Brook Tunnel (one-way operation, alternating each half hour) and two smaller tunnels at Saltersford (since 2008 also one-way operation, alternating each half hour), and Barntonmarker to the "junction" with the River Weavermarker at Anderton Boat Liftmarker near Northwichmarker.

After Anderton, the next major destination is Middlewichmarker, where a junction with the 50 yard long Wardle Canalmarker leads to the Middlewich Branchmarker of the Shropshire Union Canalmarker which gives access to Chestermarker, Llangollenmarker and (south on the "Shroppie") a parallel route to Birminghammarker/Wolverhamptonmarker.

South of Middlewich, having passed through Wheelock the T&M climbs out of the Cheshire Plain via the "Heartbreak Hill" locks (more traditionally the "Cheshire Locks") to the summit-level and the junction with the Hall Green Branchmarker, leading to the Macclesfield Canalmarker at Red Bull (Kidsgrove). The boater can use the Macclesfield Canal to head for Marple, and the junction with the Peak forest Canal (and hence, via the Ashton, Rochdale and Bridgewater canal) to complete the Cheshire Ringmarker.

Southern Trent and Mersey

After the long (40 minute) Harecastle Tunnelmarker (one way, alternating roughly every two hours), the canal emerges in the outskirts of Stoke-on-Trentmarker, and is soon in the middle of the city and then at Etruriamarker, and the junction with the Caldon Canalmarker.

Leaving Etruria, the T&M is soon back in open country. It is now in the valley of the infant River Trent (which the T&M follows until the River becomes navigable and the canal is no longer needed).

The next sizeable place is the Market town of Stonemarker.

After more countryside, the canal reaches Great Haywood Junctionmarker and the towpath bridge across the junction with the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canalmarker (which heads south to skirt Wolverhamptonmarker and join with the River Severn at Stourport-on-Severnmarker - thus connecting the Mersey with the Severn).

The next event is a right angle bend, of no apparent significance from the boat - but a map shows that this is where the canal (and the Trent) changes its basic direction - from SW (heading away from Runcorn) to NE (heading towards Nottingham).

Very near is Fradley Junctionmarker (with the Coventry Canal (detached portion). The Coventry soon leads to the Birmingham and Fazeley Canal and branches off to Birminghammarker or (via another stretch of Coventry Canal) to Coventrymarker and a junction with the Oxford Canalmarker and hence to all the "Southern Half" of the English canals.

The canal now heads directly to its terminus, passing through Burton upon Trentmarker, Mercia Marina at Findernmarker, the largest inland waterway marina in the UK, and then (through wide locks, the first being at Stenson) to Shardlowmarker (a canal village, formerly the home of the T&M company offices) and, finally, Derwent Mouth.

It is not far from Derwent Mouth, via the River Trent to Trentlockmarker, the four-way junction with the Erewash Canal (dead end at Great Northern Basin, formerly a link with the Cromford Canalmarker), Cranfleet Cut (bypasses Thrumpton Weir to continue navigation towards Nottinghammarker) and the River Soarmarker Navigation (links via Leicestermarker to the Grand Union Canalmarker).

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