The Trent & Mersey Canal, engineered by James Brindley, was the country's first long distance canal; constructed between 1766 and 1777 it runs 93 miles from the Bridgewater Canal at Preston Brook in Cheshire to the River Trent at Shardlow. Shardlow itself was, at one time, an important river port with several wharfs and associated warehouses which are now, in the present day, part of a conservation area with over fifty Grade ll listed buildings converted for business use or as private dwellings. With several public houses within the conservation area Shardlow is now considered to be Britain's most complete surviving example of a canal village.
Turning off the main road through the village a short distance down a residential lane took me to a gravel-surfaced free car park and from there a wide footpath led between hedgerows to the canal a couple of hundred yards away. With a choice of going left or right I chose left first as I'd gone to the right the last time I was there. Past a short row of waterside houses the path took me under a bridge, past a boatyard and under another bridge to where the canal widened out into a basin. The old warehouses there had been converted into apartments and a couple of waterside restaurant/bars with pleasant tree-shaded gardens, and just beyond were lock gates and the lock keeper's cottage. Past the lock I was heading into open countryside and with no idea where I would end up I decided to turn round and retrace my steps.
As I passed the last of the canalside houses I saw the oddest thing; a couple of times I'd heard what sounded like the hooting of a steam locomotive although there was no railway line anywhere near there, but running round the large garden of that last house was a miniature steam loco complete with open carriages and several children as passengers. It seemed to be a strange thing to have running round a private garden, but just beyond the end of the garden was a small backwater where a few boats were moored and a place which looked like it could be a pub so maybe it was connected to that.
A few more minutes of walking took me past the attractive backwater of Chapel Farm Marina with its corner gardens, then further along the path took me under a bridge and I came to another set of lock gates where a large information sign designed for canal and river traffic told me that I wasn't far from the River Trent. Just beyond there the path on the canal side was lined with some form of foliage with creamy-white flowers which gave off a lovely scent something similar to (I think) honeysuckle; apart from the really obvious ones I wouldn't know one wild flower from another so if anyone knows what this was then I'd love to know as it really was nice.
Eventually I came to the end of the canal where it joined the River Trent and the River Derwent, and the path took me to the right and up a gentle incline to Long Horse Bridge. The original bridge was a timber construction which crossed the Trent at the Derwent junction; after collapsing in 1893 it was rebuilt, then in 1932 it was replaced at the same location by a bridge made of reinforced concrete. After 70 years the bridge was suffering from severe concrete degradation so for safety reasons it was closed in 2002 and demolished the following year. The new Long Horse Bridge, with a span of 170ft, was constructed across the Trent in 2011, 140metres upriver from the original one, and was opened in November that year.
At the far side of the bridge I wandered along just far enough to take a handful of photos then I made my way back across and headed back along the canal to where I'd parked the van. I'd had a good couple of hours walk and I could have gone further but I wanted to get back to the show ground for a last look round and to get something for my tea before everything started closing down. It had been such a nice walk though that I'll certainly do it again another time.
**Since arriving back home I've found out that the miniature railway is in a private garden which is open to the public on certain days as part of the Open Gardens scheme. What looked like a pub was just another house, but if I'd gone to take a look I would probably have been able to look round the garden properly and maybe have a ride on the train. Something to remember for next year if the weekend coincides with the steam rally.