The canal, built between 1793 and 1816, runs 25½ miles in total, comprising of two sections.
The southern section starts at the River Avon in Stratford-upon-Avon in Warwickshire, and stretches north as far as Kingswood Junction near Lapworth, Warwickshire where it is connected to the Grand Union Canal by a short spur.
Along the route of the canal, there are 55 locks, most concentrated upon a length between Hockley Heath and Stratford.
Earlswood Lakes in Earlswood are feeder reservoirs to the canal. The three lakes were built between 1821 and 1822 and have a total capacity of 210 million gallons. The lakes consist of three separate pools; Terry's, Engine and Windmill Pool. They are retained by earth embankment.
The southern section of the canal passes over three cast iron aqueducts, unusual in that the towpaths are at the level of the canal bottom.
Travelling north, from Stratford-upon-Avon, the first is the Edstone Aqueduct near Bearley which at 250 yards, is the longest in England. Beneath this aqueduct is also the trackbed of the Alcester Railway, (absorbed into the Great Western Railway which ran between Bearley and Alcester, where it joined the Midland Railway's branch line between Redditch and Evesham. There was once a pipe from the side of the canal that enabled locomotives to draw water to fill the loco's tank. Some excellent pictures of the aqueduct with locomotive tanks being filled from the canal can be found on the Warwickshire Railways website
The third aqueduct is the more modest Yarningdale Aqueduct which carries the canal over a small stream near Preston Bagot, Warwickshire. This cast iron aqueduct was built in 1834 to replace the original wooden structure which was washed away when the stream flooded that year.
There is only one tunnel on the canal - at Brandwood near Kings Norton Junction at the northern end.
Another interesting feature of the canal is the unique barrel-roofed lock keeper's cottages to be found along its length.
An Act was passed in 1793 for the construction of a canal from a junction with the Worcester and Birmingham Canal in Kings Norton to Stratford-upon-Avon. The act did not include any provision for any connection with the River Avon.
Construction began in 1793, and William Clowes, the engineer, continued up until it reached Hockley Heath in May 1796. At this point, cutting ceased due to a lack of money but was restarted in 1800 under a new engineer by the name of Samuel Porter. He continued up to Kingswood where cutting again ceased. Construction recommenced in 1812 and it reached Stratford in June 1816. Here a connection with the River Avon, authorised by an Act in 1815, was made.
By the late 1930s the southern branch of the canal had become derelict. Although the northern section was never officially closed, it was blocked when Lifford railway bridge was repaired by the Great Western Railway in such a way that it could not be opened by anyone using the canal. After Lord Methuen raised the issue in the House of Lords in 1947, and was assured that the bridge "would be lifted at any time on notice of intended passage being given", Tom Rolt of the Inland Waterways Association gave notice that he intended to pass under the bridge on 20 May 1947. Despite difficulties with the state of the canal, and the fact that the accompanying boat provided by the GWR got stuck, the bridge was reached. It had been jacked up and was resting on heavy timbers. Eric de Mare repeated the exercise in 1948, and the northern section was saved from dereliction by such efforts. Warwickshire County Council attempted to obtain a warrant of abandonment for the southern section in 1958, but were resisted by the IWA and the Stratford Canal Club. The canal was then offered to the National Trust, who raised the £42,000 required to put it back into good order.. Restoration started in 1961, using voluntary effort, including prisoners from Winson Green prison, and the formal reopening was on 11 July 1964. A private toll fee was charged for navigation, until the canal was transferred to British Waterways on 1 April 1988. Its restoration was a turning point for the waterways movement in Britain.