The Shropshire Union Main Line from Market Drayton to Autherley Junction (Wolverhampton)
This was one of the last canals to be built in the "Canal Age" and is characterised by long straight lock-free sections and exceptionally deep cuttings and high embankments. The design of the canal with lock-free sections and the resultant topography including impressive aqueducts was designed for speed and therefore competitive advantage. The towpath is generally well maintained although rather wet where it passes through deep cuttings, especially Woodseaves (near Market Drayton) which is almost impassable in normal shoes for much of the year. The towpath is fine on the embankments. Despite its title, there are two sections of the canal in Staffordshire, totalling about 22 miles: from the Wolverhampton boundary to Knighton Wood and from above Tyrley Locks to Betton Bridge on the edge of Market Drayton. This is interrupted by a section amounting to 4 miles where it passes through Shropshire.
Voluntary associations are the Shropshire Union Canal Society and the Inland Waterways Association Shrewsbury & North Wales Branch. There are well marked mooring places, many provided by the former. The canal has long sections of on-line moorings but no marinas in the Staffordshire sections. It is home to Wolverhampton Boat Club. It is a popular cruising route forming part of the ‘Four Counties Ring’ and is maintained by the Canal & River Trust North Wales & Borders Waterway. It is notable for its extensive views across towards the Wrekin. The Tyrley to Market Drayton section is a particularly popular walk. Belvide and Knighton reservoirs could be more developed for leisure purposes.
Giffards Cross Bridge, Brewood, Shrophsire Union Canal. Photo courtesy Waterway Images Ltd.