parish churches near the canals

parish churches near the canals

When walking into the cool, quiet, serene confines of a local parish church it's easy to be transported back to a simpler time. The welcoming signs and pamphlets offering information about the next bake sale or seniors' outing haven’t changed, except for the dates, often for hundreds of years. The monuments on the walls bear silent witness to centuries of life and death in the community that the church serves. Low burning candles are often good reminders that these churches are still living, vibrant entities, a focus of social activity for many. They aren't simply a place of worship, although that is obviously still a vital and overarching function, they may also be the centre of the local community.

As I've travelled the canals throughout England and Wales, I've tried to visit as many of these churches as possible. They give me a small insight into the community, its people, and its place in the larger world. I can often find a gravestone or memorial with a name that I recognize, making me wonder if there's a connection with a friend or of some famous person. The ancient dates on these always fill me with awe and wonderment as I come from a place whose written history only goes back a century and a half.

I also love the architecture, not just of the parish churches but of all the old buildings found throughout Britain. Brick and stone are rare building materials on Vancouver Island; they're not too earthquake-friendly! The soaring beauty of a stone nave with a decorated and arched ceiling serves its purpose well, if that purpose is to inspire awe and reverence. The meticulous carving of the pillars and massive blocks of stone making up the walls are a delight to see.

Parish churches themselves aren't always small and local however. Even large towns and cities have parish churches, and are sometimes difficult to tell from cathedrals. In fact, in a few cases a cathedral is also a parish church. I'm by no means an expert on the complex hierarchy of the Church (any church) so I won't try to explain how this works. Besides, while cruising I seldom visit cities or even larger towns, I prefer the quiet of the countryside and the small villages dotted along the canals. This has led me to visit many small or not-so-small parish churches; some of my favourites are highlighted here.

Church of St Nicholas, Newbury, (Kennet & Avon Canal)

St Nicholas Church, Newbury

Considered large for a parish church, St. Nicolas was most notable to me for its beautiful wooden ceiling, highlighted with gold-leaf covered ornamentation.

Foundations for the original Norman church on this site have been found, although the present church was entirely rebuilt in the early 16th century in 'late Perpendicular' style and restored further in Victorian times. As with many parish churches, it lacks transepts.

Church of St. Andrew, Wootton Rivers (River Avon, Kennet & Avon Canal)

Church of St. Andrew, Wootton Rivers
Church of St Andrew, Wootton Rivers - 'Glory be to God' clock face

This small C of E parish church dates from the 14th century and its wooden steeple was added in 1911. The chiming mechanism is like a music box but unfortunately I wasn't there to hear it.

The steeple is notable that its clock has "GLORY.BE.TO.GOD" on one of its faces instead of numerals. This was apparently built to commemorate the coronation of King George V.

St Georges, Semington (Kennet & Avon Canal)


This small church was part of the parish of Steeple Ashton for most of its life, beginning in the 15th century. At the beginning of the 21st century however it was transferred to the new parish of Semington.

This is a wonderful little building, seemingly the epitome of a classic parish church. It has some beautiful stained glass,  a lovely pipe organ, and even the local children's 'congratulatory' card to Prince Harry and Meghan Markle for their wedding the previous month.


I was there on a weekday and it was open and empty, but seemed to still echo the soft murmur of parishioners discussing the week's events and the patient shushing of excited children.

Holy Trinity Church, Bradford-on-Avon (Kennet & Avon canal)

Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon


Of particular note in Holy Trinity are some of the monumental sculptures.

This one in particular, from 1701, caught my eye as he seemed about to step off the wall and begin an oratory.

In addition, the weeping child on the left, draped in a cloth, with his foot on a skull is almost heart-wrenching in its reality.

sculpture in Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon

Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath (Kennet & Avon Canal)

Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath
Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath

As a major tourist attraction for the city of Bath, it's not necessarily obvious that this is in fact a parish church (Roman Catholic in this case). The ornamentation and appointments are incredibly beautiful;  it's a must-see, along with so many other sights in the city.

statue in Church of St John the Evangelist, Bath
St John the Evangelist Church, Bath

Church of St. Edward the Confessor, Cheddleton (Caldon Canal)

Church of St Edward the Confessor, Cheddleton

Church of St Edward the Confessor, CheddletonI wasn't able to enter this lovely old church. I'm told it's beautiful inside, with large stained glass windows and a carved quire screen. It was started in the 13th century and has an extensive cemetery surrounding it.

What most attracted me to it however was its immediate proximity to The Black Lion pub. There’s even a gate from the pub car park right into the churchyard. Quite handy I suspect, since it's dedicated to St. Edward the Confessor.

St. Margaret's Church, Wrenbury (Llangollen Canal)

St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury
Interior of St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury

St. Margaret's dates from the 16th century but has had many additions over the years such as the stained glass , the pipe organ , and bells in the tower. The six bells date from between 1610 to 1902.

The interior is notable for a special pew near the door reserved for the 'dog whipper' . He had the job of controlling dogs during sermons, and also of waking parishioners should they fall asleep.

Interior of St Margaret's Church, Wrenbury showing dog whipper's pew

St Collen's Church, Llangollen (Llangollen Canal)

St Collen's Church, Llangollen
Statue of St Collen in the church in Llangollen
intricate roof carvings in St Collen's Church, Llangollen
Vaulted ceiling in St Collen's Church, Llangollen

Llangollen is said to have taken its name from St. Collen, a 6th century monk that founded a church here, beside the River Dee where he arrived by coracle.

The present-day church has an incredible and intricately carved ceiling.

This, along with the small quire and altar with its carved Crucifixion, makes it one of the most beautiful small parish churches I've seen.

I think this is my favourite one so far!


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About Doug Yelland

Having spent most of my life at sea as an oceanographer, the inland waterways of the UK provided a quiet, relaxed, and fun retirement option. I now spend 6 months each year continuously cruising on my narrowboat, making friends, visiting pubs, and loving the whole experience.