Easy does it

Jonathan Manning enjoys a gentle ride along the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal into picturesque Chester

Sometimes simplicity is simply the best. And there’s nothing quite as straightforward as following a canal towpath into a city centre. Almost the only navigation required is to keep the water on the right, and as the track is flat the only potential challenge is a headwind. This blissfully peaceful ride joins the Shropshire Union Canal within two miles of the Chester Fairoaks Club Campsite, after a ride along quiet lanes, and accompanies the canal all the way into the heart of the lovely walled city of Chester. 

It follows a stretch of the ‘Shroppie’ which was originally the Ellesmere Canal, dug in the 1790s to connect Chester with Ellesmere Port and the Mersey. Half a century later it was merged with other waterways, including the Chester and Llangollen canals, to create the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company in the mid-1840s. By the start of the 20th century the Shroppie boasted the biggest fleet of boats in the country. 

But if this suggests a constant stream of commercial barges and towpaths overshadowed by heavy industry, think again. Reedbeds and farmland border the canal, while the last commercial cargo chugged along these waters in the 1960s. 

These days it’s fleets of swans and ducks that dominate. A recent joint project between Chester Zoo and the Canal & River Trust aims to create an abundance of biodiversity by planting wildflower meadows and trees, and installing bird and bat boxes along the Chester section of this ride. Keep your eyes peeled for dragonflies and water voles. 

In Chester itself, the Thomas Telford-designed Northgate Locks provide an impressive stair of three locks for boats to climb. It’s a steep ramp to cycle up, but once at the top it’s easy to pedal or walk your bike into Chester to explore the city. 


1. From the gates of the Club site turn left and continue for 2km to reach a lane on the left as the road bends to the right. 

2. 2km – Turn left along Little Rake Lane, signposted to Chorlton and Upton. Continue for 1km to a T-junction. 

3. 3km – Turn right at the T-junction, cross the small bridge, and immediately take the path on the left down to the canal. Head under the bridge, with the canal on the right, following the sign to Chester. Continue for 4km. 

4. 7km – At the time of writing a short stretch of the towpath was closed for construction work. If this is the case, turn left just before a large white bridge, going through the gate into the Countess of Chester Country Park, signposted to the Countess of Chester Hospital. Continue to a T-junction and turn right to reach Parkgate Road. Turn left at the road, cross to the path opposite and continue to the roundabout. Turn sharp right up Blacon Avenue, and near the top of the short incline cross the road to join a path that leads back to the canal. Continue, with the canal on the right for 1.5km into Chester. 

5. 9.7km – At the canal basin, with the Canal Warehouse Workshop opposite, cross the canal on the narrow, white footbridge and continue following the canal, which is now on the left, to climb alongside Northgate Locks. Stay by the canal, with towering walls either side, to reach the waterside Lock Keeper pub. Just before the pub take the path on the right to a roundabout. Take the second exit (Frodsham Street) and from here Chester Cathedral is on the right. 

6. 10.9km – To return, retrace your route along the canal all the way to bridge 134. Leave the canal here, turning right up to the road, and right at the road, over the little bridge. In 100m turn left along Chorlton Lane, and in 1km turn right along Little Rake Lane, signposted to Little Stanney. At the T-junction in 1km turn right to return to the Club site. 

You can download this route from our dedicated Strava page here.

About the route

  • Start/finish: Chester Fairoaks Club site, Rake Lane, Little Stanney, Chester CH2 4HS. 
  • Distance: 21.5km /13.4m. 
  • Time: 2 hours (plus time in Chester). 
  • Level: Suitable for all cyclists and e-bikers. 
  • Terrain: Hard track and asphalt. 
  • Landscape: Canal waterway and city centre. 
  • Refreshments: Lots in Chester. 

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Chester Fairoaks Club Campsite

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Conveniently situated near the gateway to North Wales and close to the delightful city of Chester.

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