The Cotswold Canals traverse a beautiful part of the British Isles
A landscape of hills, valleys and flowing water; where the abundant mills once gave the area prime importance in the cloth industry and indeed provided the necessity for the canals.
A long distance footpath, the Thames & Severn Way, links the Rivers Severn and Thames following as closely as possible the towpath of the Stroudwater Navigation and Thames & Severn Canal.
The waterway climbs 350 ft. from the Severn Vale at Saul, passing through Stroud and the Cotswold Hills, via 56 locks and the 2.17 miles long Sapperton Tunnel.
The summit level twists and turns along the contours through open countryside and comes close to Cirencester as it begins a more gradual descent into the Thames Valley through flights of locks at Siddington and South Cerney. Beyond Cerney Wick Lock is Latton Junction where the former North Wilts Canal wound its way round Cricklade to Swindon and joined the Wilts & Berks Canal either to Abingdon on the Thames or Semington on the Kennet & Avon Canal.
The Thames and Severn Canal now passes through remote countryside as it heads towards the River Thames. It passes Eisey Manor and the village of Kempsford before reaching the last of five round houses which overlooks the junction with the river at Inglesham, near Lechlade.
This spot is best approached from Lechlade along the Thames & Severn Way. Or better still… by boat!
A Trip through Time
Two separate waterways once linked England’s two greatest rivers. The Stroudwater Navigation, to the west of Stroud, was opened in 1779 to connect Stroud to the Severn.
Ten years later the Thames & Severn Canal extended this route to Lechlade on the Thames.
In 1972 a society was formed to protect and restore the Stroudwater Navigation and the Thames & Severn Canal. This is now known as the Cotswold Canals Trust.
Early volunteers struggled to re-open short lengths of waterway and gradually locks and bridges have also been restored often in partnership with local authorities. Cotswold Canals Trust Members will continue to help with physical work, run trip boats, promote the Trust and raise funds.
The Stroudwater was abandoned in 1954 but is still owned, and leased out, by the original builders — The Company of Proprietors. Much of the line is intact and many attractive features and distinctive buildings remain. In 2001, the newly formed Cotswold Canals Partnership made a commitment to restore the Cotswold Canals. This group will steer the restoration and future funding.
The restoration of the Cotswold Canals is gathering pace. In the west, a £25 million project is led by Stroud District Council.
This scheme, 6 miles of the most difficult section to restore, centred on Stroud and funded with £12million from the Heritage Lottery Fund, £7.5 million from the South West Regional Development Agency and contributions from other sources, including £800,000 from the Trust and over £1m of volunteer effort, will see the restoration of Phase 1a.
Phase 1b, the critical length needed to link Phase 1a to the rest of the inland waterway network at Saul is the next big challenge.
Meanwhile in the east, the Trust now owns the first section of the Thames & Severn Canal where it meets the Thames at Inglesham and is working at numerous locations within the Phase 2 Cotswold Water Park section.