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Walk Derbyshire – Shardlow’s Inland Port and Eighteenth Century Walk

Walk Derbyshire – Shardlow’s Inland Port and Eighteenth Century Walk

When the eighteenth century Duke of Bridgewater’s fiancé gave him what we might today call the push, he decided that not only was he secretly pleased to be rid of her, but to be honest, he was also bored by London, which took up too much of her time through the London Society she frequented.

Moving north, back to his estate outside Manchester, the Duke of Bridgewater didn’t take long to come up with the idea of what to do with his spare time.  He also decide how to use his growing wealth from the coal being mined beneath his estate.  This growing fortune we must realise had come about at the start of what became known as ‘The Industrial Revolution’.  What had once been carried out mainly by hand, was now increasingly mechanised, run by entrepreneurs such as Richard Arkwright on steam-driven spinning and weaving machines, machines demanding mechanical power.  That power was provided by steam engines, engines driven by coal.  The Duke of Bridgewater supplied a large share of the coal, but it had to be carried to the mills on the backs of mules, an extremely slow process.  So slow was the movement of coal over the comparatively short distance that mill-engines were frequently running out of fuel in their attempt to keep up with the insatiable demand for produce.

The duke had the coal and the finance to develop his side of the business of producing cotton fabrics.  There were thousands of tons of the stuff lying a mere hundred feet or so beneath the ground; access to it was comparatively easy, but it was one which eventually led to a new industry, together with an expansion of the duke’s coal sales.

The answer to the problem of how to reach Manchester in the shortest possible time was easy.  Simply dig a canal direct to the coal face and fill a barge, then float it all the way to the centre of Manchester.  Hazards such as the eventual building of the Manchester Ship Canal were simply circumnavigated by innovations such as swing bridges and tunnels.

Having successfully developed a canal directly from the productive end of his coal mines and the rapidly expanding cotton mills in and around Manchester, a place soon to become known as ‘Cottonopolis’, the duke used the services of a completely untrained engineer and surveyor known as James Brindley.  Barely literate and with no formal education, Brindley was able to calculate, purely by eye, the best route for a canal across otherwise open country.  

Canals had first been built by the Romans, as a means of transporting heavy goods over long distances. Their arrow-straight roads were simply there to move foot soldiers as rapidly as possible across open countryside. Everything else was carried by barge away from sea-ports that sprang up around the country.  It took until the seventeen hundreds for the likes of the Duke of Bridgewater and his engineers such as James Brindley to become enthused with developing canals.  For a brief time until superseded by the railways, a sort of canal mania swept through the British countryside 

It had long been a pipe dream of the likes of Brindley to link North Sea ports with Liverpool, where a port devoted to the import of raw cotton and other Caribbean based raw materials like tobacco and sugar were being off-loaded.  With raw materials coming in from the west and a ready market in Europe to the east, all that was needed was to move these finished goods eastwards and timber for builder’s needs from the Scandinavian forests in return.  At first this was dealt with by road transport, but ideally it would be more efficient to move them by barges floating on convenient canals. 

We cannot be sure who spotted this answer to the conundrum, but it lay in the fact that land between the Humber Estuary and Liverpool is served by numerous rivers, but mainly the Mersey and its tributaries in the north of a large area of flat land, and also the eastward-draining Trent in the middle.  With the finances of Francis Egerton, Duke of Bridgewater and the untrained skills of James Brindley, a system of inter-linking canals through surrounding counties were dug in order to create the Trent and Mersey Canal, England’s major barge-only canal.

Of the three local rivers, Erewash, Derwent and Trent, only the Trent which starts life above Leek in Staffordshire has sufficient water flowing westwards between its banks, but within its eastern confines there as a steady growing flow towards the North Sea.  The now named Trent and Mersey Canal makes a turn towards the River Mersey and the Port of Liverpool where nowadays goods are mainly confined to container carrying vessels offloaded directly on to lorries for delivery throughout the north of Britain. Of the two Derbyshire rivers joining the middle Trent, only the Erewash has ever profitably carried goods; this was along the short-lived Erewash Canal running between Derby and Nottingham.  The Derwent was never suitable for navigation, except for using its water for the Cromford Canal.

What the Derwent can do, is provide water for the Trent, which it does near Shardlow and in doing so, forms a complex of basins and boatyards complete with warehouses and workshops. The Trent & Mersey Canal was opened in 1777, initially designed to carry locally dug clay to the Potteries, but later used as a safe route for the fragile products on return journeys.  Surrounding all this, is a level 3 mile path, which is the subject of this month’s walk starting from Shardlow Port. This rarity on English canals was the commercial hub of the region, where goods both finished or were an essential part of ongoing production.  At one time it would have been busy with carters offloading raw materials ranging from China clay, to silk and raw cotton, carefully packed finished crockery from Stoke, knitted stockings and lace from Nottingham, or preparing cotton yarn for the weavers.


A level, canal side walk of 4 miles with no climbing.  Suitable for wheel chairs and toddlers. N.B. Keep children of all ages and dogs, strictly under close control at all times.

Ordnance Survey 1:25000 Outdoor Leisure Map Sheet 260, Nottingham & the Vale of Belvoir.

Local bus services between Derby and Long Eaton.

Canal-side near Shardlow Basin, signposted from Long Eaton.

Pubs such as the Clock Warehouse House within Shardlow port complex, and the Navigation Inn close. 


Park at the canal-side car park in Shardlow Port, on the south side of the canal. (Signposted beyond Long Eaton).

Walk back out of the car park, towards the canal bridge.

Do not cross the bridge, but turn right and go down a flight of steps to the tow-path where another right turn opens the way to the top of the tow path.  The canal at this point was created in order to avoid a sharp bend and difficult navigation along the main river.  Tow paths may make pleasant walking tracks today, but we have to thank the plodding efforts of heavy  horses that plodded up and down the tow path over two hundred years ago.

Used mainly by canal barges, traffic was also steam powered between the Humber and Shardlow when the duke raised the necessary finance on behalf of Josiah Wedgwood and other entrepreneurs to expand their canal interests. 

Where the rivers Trent and Derwent join, turn hard right and walk beneath the bridge, away from the Trent.  Two subsidiary rivers join here, the Trent and Derwent before becoming the Trent and Mersey.  76 locks serve the canal, enabling barges to ride up and down high ground crossed by the Trent & Mersey Canal.

Drop down to the lower river.  Cross it by a footbridge on the left where the River Trent takes over.

Turn right on the far side and with the river on your right, follow the river.  At this point, the Trent and Mersey Canal is taken over by the river proper –the Trent.  Follow this southwards, then west to re-join the Trent & Mersey Canal. 

You are following the River Trent here on one hand, with a roughish path beneath your feet.

A semi-official path now crosses a field in the middle of a sharp bend in the river.

Leave the river temporarily to cross the field, rejoining the path on reaching the riverbank once more.

Reaching the walls of an old mill, opposite the entrance to Shardlow Marina and follow the mill wall as far as a field gate.

Follow the river bank and then climb up to a stile giving access to the A6.

Cross the stile and then, with care follow the busy A6 into Shardlow.

Pass the Navigation Inn then continue to follow the A6.  The Heritage Centre is in front where the display of old horse-drawn barges evoke life on the canal over two hundred years ago.  Shardlow Port and the car park is directly ahead.


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