Great Haywood in Staffordshire, where the rivers Sow and Trent join at Essex Bridge, to flow as one towards the sea, was an obvious choice for one on the most important canal junctions in the country.
Here, thanks to Brindley, the Trent & Mersey Canal joins the Staffordshire and Worcester canal, enabling onward travel to any of the four great English estuaries, the Humber. the Thames, the severn, and the Mersey.
Although now mostly used by pleasure boats the canal network gave a huge boost to the national economy of the 18th century.
Coal, iron and steel were the chief goods transported in this way, as well as salt from the nearby brine works at Weston and Shirleywich and potteries from Stoke on Trent.
The Trent & Mersey Canal was designed to serve the industrial revolution and to enable manufacturing towns such as Stoke on Trent and the Potteries to benefit from it. Indeed Josiah Wedgwood was one of the chief instigators of the canal. In 1761 he became interested in the possibility or constructing a canal to serve his poittery businness at Stoke-on-Trent because he depended on the safe and smooth transport of his pots. The road transport at the time caused too many brakeges. Wedgwood's idea was to connect the potteries with the River Mersey to the north. The rest of the canal, south of Stoke, was the brainchild of others.
I have been crusing south since Stoke on Trent and am now faced with a choice. Shall I stay on the Trent & Mersey a little longer or shall I take the Staffordshire & Worcester towards Wolverhampton and there join the tranquil Shropshire Canal?
Being a nomad without a plan I will probably toss a coin in the next day or two. I do love this free and easy life.
Should I choose to cruise the Staffordshire and Worcestershire canal for a while as it heads off towards the River Severn at Stourport then onwards on the river to Bristol?
Through the arch of the picturesque, 18th century bridge 109, the Staffs and Worcester canal begins its 46 mile journey to the River Severn via the pretty village of Milford with it's quaint Cricket Ground?
A small aquaduct carries the canal across the Trent and an even smaller one crosses a pretty millstream. Then suddenly, casting off its inhibitions, the canal widens into a broad lake called the Tixall Wide. Fringed by thick reedbeds, this is a haven for wildlife.
There are two different theories about how this came to be. Some maintain that the canal was widened into an artificial lake in order to placate the owner of Tixall Hall. Another theory is that the lake is natural and even that the 17th century writer, llzaak Walton, learnt to fish here. It was just easier to run the canal through it than to attempt to go around it.
Tixall Hall, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for a fortnight in 1586, was demolished in 1927. However the imposing Elizabethan gatehouse still overlooks the wide and is now used for holiday lets.
The canal meanders enchantingly through a pleasant valley with its plethora of trees where the canal crosses the river by way of a low slung mercenary aqueduct in typical Brindley style.
Bridge 105 is a handsome turnover affair, from which there is access under the roadway to the village of Milford and to Cannock Chase.
The canal soon passes through Stafford, one of my all time favourite English county towns. Stafford is so understated. despite its castle and Tudor buildings it is vertically untouched by tourism.
Stafford castle is medieval in origin although largely rebuild in the 14th century and now sports neo-gothic additions.
My alternative route involves crusing the Trent & Mersey Canal as it goes through the villages of Great and Little Hayward where there are many new houses built for commuters although the village centre of Great Haywood remain peaceful and largely unspoiled.
The lovely old Trent Lane leads from Essex bridge straight to the village pub, the Clifford Arms, where a classic vehicle rally is happening this weekend. It's mostly bikes and most of the bikers are as old as me!
Essex bridge is a fine example of a pack horse bridge, built to carry packhorses across the river. Typically a packhorse bridge consists of one or more narrow masonry arches, and has low parapets so as not to interfere with the horse's panniers.
Tolkien, of Lord of the Rings fame, recuperated in great Haywood after catching trench fever during the Battle of the Somme during World War One.
There's an excellent canal side farm shop and cafe.
One of the things I love about canal life is all the interesting people I meet. Today I met an extremely talented crafts person called Pat Langfield who trades as - Dreaming Spiders / Portias Crafts . From her narrowboat she sells her pyrography, wirework jewellery, shawls, bags and much, much more. Email Pat
Shugborough Hall lies to the west of Essex bridge. The National Trust visitor center is open between March and December. Enjoy the mansion the county museum, working farm, water mill, walled garden, shop and cafeteria.
The nearby village of Milford is a gateway to the former royal forest, now Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (ANOB), Cannock Chase . The vilage even has its own mountain bike higher shop.
I personally recommend the Barley Mow pub and grill. Okay so it's a bit of a modern gastro pub and I don't normally like gastro pubs but they do great food and it's not expensive and they don't mind you going in after you've been walking on the Chase with your muddy boots.
Before closing I should just clarify that the canal junction is in the heart of the village so you get to enjoy Great Haywood whichever way you go.
Also Stafford and Milford are both served by the no. 825 bus from Great Haywood. Make sure you don't catch the 826 on the way back as this service does not go through Great Haywood.
And for those of you who have been through here before, please be aware that the red busses (841 and 842) no longer serve Great Haywood so if you were hoping for an excursion into Uttoxeter you will now need catch the 825 and change at Stafford.
So which way will I go? Find out next time......