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Canoeing the Shropshire Union Canal from Ellesmere

Posted by Gav Grayston.
First Published May 2014; updated May 2023.

We enjoyed a fun afternoon padding the Shropshire Union Canal from Ellesmere in the sunshine. We also answer some questions about family canoeing on canals.

It was an unseasonably warm May weekend so time to tackle something we've been wanting to do for ages: the Shropshire Union Canal...

Paddling the Shropshire Union Canal from Ellesmere

Paddling the Shropshire Union Canal from Ellesmere

We're fortunate in this country that our industrial heritage means that many miles of inland waterways are ready to explore. And you don't need an expensive canal boat to do it.

However, despite having some great canals on our doorstep, it is not something we've done, until now, that is.

Family Canoeing and Canals

Canoeing on a canal with your kids may not have crossed your mind, so here's a quick set of answers to your questions.

  • Are canoes allowed on a canal? Yes. But you do need a license. We recommend you join British Canoeing, which includes a paddling license on the canals. You also get a waterproof card and lanyard that you can take with you if you get challenged by officials (or boat owners).
  • Are there any restrictions to paddling on a canal? Yes. Observe the waterway's rules. Don't go through locks (take your canoe out and walk around - locks are dangerous). Don't go through tunnels.
  • Is it safe to take kids on the canal? As with all watersports, you must take the right safety equipment. On the plus side, there are no dangerous currents to worry about. On the minus side, you can get some big canal boats coming at you, but they don't go fast. Let them see you and get out of the way. We went over to the bank and let them pass. (There are a lot of 'learner' drivers hiring canal boats for holiday breaks. Best to keep clear.)

Another thing I'd add is that there can be a lot of rubbish in canals, especially urban ones.

As with all waterways, don't let kids put things in their mouths that have been in the water (including their hands).

The Shropshire Union Canal at Ellesmere

Ellesmere terminus on the Shropshire Union Canal

The Shropshire Union Canal winds its way through some beautiful countryside.

This was a busy canal route, with much produce coming from North Wales.

There are signs of how profitable this was with some of the (now rather old) grand buildings in the small town of Ellesmere. In the past, there was so much trade money that Ellesmere Port on the Mersey was created to get the trade from the small land-locked town of Ellesmere to the sea-going ships.

A pleasant meander

Letting canal traffic pass by our little inflatable canoes

Letting canal traffic pass by our little inflatable canoes

Unfortunately, we don't own two cars that can both take our complete tribe. So when we all go canoeing, we can't use one car as a shuttle to ferry people between the start and finish. We, therefore, are stuck on routes where we have to finish and start in the same place.

This usually involves paddling upstream on the River Severn, having a picnic, and then having an easier paddle back downstream.

Fortunately, the current wasn't a problem on the canal, making it much easier to retrace your strokes.

The wind was a problem, however.

Hitching a ride

Our youngest solo paddler was tied to the back of the main canoe to avoid 'drifting off' and was sometimes joined by her sister 'pontoon-ing' up to get a free ride whilst Dad did the paddling (which was fine by me).

A sunny afternoon on the canal is a gentle paddle. There's no rush. If there's canal boat traffic, just let it pass.

Enjoying a picnic on the side of the canal

We found a lovely spot in the countryside, sat on the towpath, and had a picnic in the sunshine.

With the wind behind us, it was an easy paddle back to the car.

We didn't go far, but it was a great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon.