CRUISE GUIDE: CAL­DON CANAL

It’s only a 20-mile cruise but what it lacks in length is made up by stun­ning scenery

Canal Boat - - This Month - TEXT & PIC­TURES BY MARTIN LUDGATE

I ’ve al­ways felt that the Cal­don Canal rep­re­sents a mi­cro­cosm of the the whole English canal sys­tem. It’s got aque­ducts, tun­nels, arms, odd locks, stair­case locks, flights of locks, junc­tions, basins, the lot. Add in some par­tic­u­larly splen­did scenery in the Chur­net Val­ley, a good help­ing of fas­ci­nat­ing in­dus­trial re­mains and a bunch of op­ti­mistic canal re­stor­ers aim­ing to ex­tend it in two dif­fer­ent direc­tions – and it re­ally is the canal that has very nearly ev­ery­thing. And it man­ages to squeeze it all into no more than 20 miles.

Hav­ing said that, de­scrip­tions of the Cal­don used to back­track a lit­tle on the at­trac­tive­ness by de­scrib­ing the in­dus­trial grime sur­round­ing its be­gin­nings at the heart of the Stafford­shire Pot­ter­ies con­nur­ba­tion, with “lit­tle sign of the splen­dours to come”, or some such ex­pres­sion. But in re­cent decades even that first length, where it leaves the Trent & Mersey Canal’s sum­mit level at the top of Etruria Locks and not far from Stokeon-Trent Sta­tion, has been trans­formed.

A statue of the great canal en­gi­neer James Brind­ley over­looks what are now park-like sur­round­ings of the canal’s first length, while the Etr­uscan Bone and Flint Mill (which pre­pared two im­por­tant ad­di­tives used in pot­tery) is now a work­ing in­dus­trial mu­seum (see in­set).

Speak­ing of James Brind­ley, his as­so­ci­a­tion with the Cal­don wasn’t a ter­ri­bly happy one. In 1772, while the Trent & Mersey was still un­der con­struc­tion (the great tun­nel at Hare­cas­tle and the tricky north­ern sec­tion took rather longer than ex­pected), he was car­ry­ing out some ini­tial sur­vey work for a pos­si­ble branch head­ing east­wards to Leek and Froghall, when he was caught out in the rain and drenched. He caught a chill, made mat­ters worse by re­main­ing in his wet clothes and sleep­ing in a damp bed at an inn, be­came se­ri­ously ill and died on 27 Septem­ber. (In­ci­den­tally the writer got com­pre­hen­sively drenched while tak­ing the pho­to­graphs for this ar­ti­cle; let us hope Brind­ley didn’t set a prece­dent.)

It was there­fore Brind­ley’s suc­ces­sor (and brother-in-law) Hugh Hen­shall who went on to do the de­tailed work on this branch, which be­came the Cal­don Canal as we know it. Its 17-mile route opened in 1777 from Etruria to Froghall, where it was con­nected to the lime­stone quar­ries at Cauldon Low (the spell­ing varies some­what) by the first of a suc­ces­sion of horse tramways.

To reach Froghall the canal needed first to climb the val­ley of the up­per Trent (no more than a small stream by this point), and then de­scend the Chur­net Val­ley – and the climb be­gins im­me­di­ately with a pair of stair­case locks. These lead to a sur­viv­ing ex­am­ple of the sort of in­dus­trial sur­round­ings which un­til not very long ago typ­i­fied the first few miles of the canal, but are rapidly chang­ing as new de­vel­op­ments re­place old in­dus­tries. It’s not an un­pleas­ant length, with old red brick­work dis­ap­pear­ing be­hind en­croach­ing veg­e­ta­tion.

A third lock, Planet Lock, leads to an un­ex­pect­edly leafy sec­tion lead­ing through Han­ley Park, be­fore the mix of old in­dus­try and modern de­vel­op­ments re­turns. A new hous­ing de­vel­op­ment looks across the wa­ter to a sur­viv­ing pair of char­ac­ter­is­tic Pot­ter­ies bot­tle kilns as the Cal­don, built us­ing the typ­i­cal early ‘con­tour canal’ method, twists left and right to fol­low the val­ley side.

Ivy House Lift Bridge is the first ex­am­ple of a char­ac­ter­is­tic Cal­don fea­ture, and car­ries a mi­nor road across the canal. The ur­ban sur­round­ings be­gin to thin out, with play­ing fields and res­i­den­tial ar­eas sur­round­ing the wa­ter­way as it grad­u­ally be­gins to leave the Pot­ter­ies be­hind.

The first gen­uinely ru­ral lengths lead to Mil­ton and then on to Nor­ton Green, where a feeder en­ters the canal from Knyper­s­ley Reser­voir, re­mind­ing us of the Cal­don’s other main pur­pose be­sides serv­ing the lime­stone quar­ries. It brings in vi­tal wa­ter sup­plies for the

Trent & Mersey’s main line – and this has left its mark on the Cal­don, as we shall see.

A flight of five locks raises the canal through Stockton Brook vil­lage to its sum­mit level, and a mile fur­ther on at En­don is a basin which is home to Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club. Look out for the odd cir­cu­lar is­land in the canal near the basin – not just to avoid hit­ting it, but be­cause it’s an in­ter­est­ing piece of canal her­itage. A rail­way sid­ing serv­ing a nearby mill once crossed here on a swing­bridge, as re­called by a short pre­served length of track and an in­ter­pre­ta­tion board on the non-tow­path side of the canal.

An­other two miles of quiet coun­try­side lead to Hazel­hurst (or Ha­zle­hurst) junc­tion where the Leek Arm leaves the Froghall line – and to a his­tor­i­cal quirk of the canal. Although ge­o­graph­i­cally Leek is to­wards the left and Froghall to the right, it is the Leek arm which bears off right, while the Froghall line con­tin­ues straight ahead. Why? It’s quite a com­pli­cated story…

As built in the 1770s, the Cal­don sum­mit was very short, and by Hazel­hurst the canal was al­ready de­scend­ing to­wards Froghall. But by the 1790s, the Trent & Mersey was so busy that it needed ex­tra wa­ter sup­plies, and the up­per Chur­net Val­ley at Rud­yard, north of Leek, was iden­ti­fied as a lo­ca­tion for a large new reser­voir. The feeder to bring wa­ter down from the reser­voir to the Cal­don could be com­bined with a branch canal to serve Leek town – but the wa­ter sup­ply func­tion meant that it would need to meet the Froghall line some­where on its sum­mit level.

To make this eas­ier, the old locks at the orig­i­nal east end of the sum­mit were aban­doned, and the sum­mit level was ex­tended east­wards on new route to make a junc­tion with the new Leek Arm at Hazel­hurst. A new set of three stair­case locks then re­con­nected the canal to the orig­i­nal route to Froghall. Un­for­tu­nately this ar­range­ment proved un­sat­is­fac­tory as the stair­case locks were a bot­tle­neck and wasted wa­ter, so 50 years later part of the orig­i­nal line was re­in­stated, pass­ing un­der the Leek Arm on a new aqueduct, and climb­ing by

three new sin­gle locks to meet it at the present-day junc­tion. Is that clear?

We’ll ex­plore the Leek Arm first – but while we’re at this in­trigu­ing but at­trac­tive junc­tion, I’ll men­tion an­other odd­ity. Back in the 1960s and early 1970s, the line to Leek was legally aban­doned but nav­i­ga­ble, while the one to Froghall was of­fi­cially open but stanked off and un­us­able. And it’s largely down to that wa­ter sup­ply func­tion again.

In the 1940s the Trent & Mersey’s then own­ers the LMS Rail­way sought to di­vest them­selves of a lot of canals car­ry­ing lit­tle or no traf­fic, and did so via the 1944 Act of Par­lia­ment. These in­cluded the Hud­der­s­field, Llan­gollen, Mont­gomery, and the Cal­don’s Leek Arm – but not the Froghall line as it was still in use. De­spite this aban­don­ment the Leek Arm was kept open for work­boats as it still re­tained its wa­ter sup­ply func­tion (apart from the fi­nal mile in Leek which was filled in).

On the other hand, by the early 1960s the Froghall line had lost its last traf­fic and, not hav­ing a wa­ter sup­ply func­tion, it was threat­ened with clo­sure (never im­ple­mented) and then just al­lowed to fall derelict. How­ever thanks to a cam­paign led by the Cal­don Canal So­ci­ety, it was re­stored and re­opened to nav­i­ga­tion in 1974.

From the junc­tion, the Leek Arm clings to the hill­side be­fore turn­ing sharply (steer­ers of full-length craft take care!) to the left to cross the val­ley on a se­ries of three aque­ducts, across the Froghall line, a trib­u­tary stream of the River Chur­net, and a cur­rently out- of-use rail­way line. It con­tin­ues its twist­ing course along the north side of the val­ley, be­fore broad­en­ing out into a cu­ri­ous large pool at the en­trance to the short Leek Tun­nel.

The fi­nal half mile reaches to the edge of Leek, where the feeder from Rud­yard Reser­voir (surely the only canal reser­voir to have had a ma­jor lit­er­ary fig­ure named

af­ter it?) en­ters. Leek is an at­trac­tive and in­ter­est­ing mar­ket town that’s well worth vis­it­ing – it’s a mile walk, or a bus ride from just be­yond the end of the canal – and it’s a real shame that the last mile was lost. The canal so­ci­ety (now re­named to the Cal­don & Ut­tox­eter Canals Trust) hopes to one day ex­tend the Arm to a new ter­mi­nus nearer the town cen­tre.

Back at Hazel­hurst Junc­tion, the his­tor­i­cal need to save wa­ter (which drove the 1840s mod­i­fi­ca­tions) is ev­i­dent in the old wa­ter-sav­ing side-ponds which ac­com­pany the three locks lead­ing down to­wards Froghall. Pass­ing un­der the Leek Arm aqueduct, the canal fol­lows the south side of the in­creas­ingly se­cluded Chur­net Val­ley to Ched­dle­ton, where the area’s in­dus­trial his­tory is re­called by the pre­served Flint Mill (see in­set) and the un­usual small ware­house span­ning the canal. From here on­wards there are no roads fol­low­ing the val­ley – just the canal, the river, and a rail­way which (hav­ing been rel­e­gated to sand quarry traf­fic from the 1960s clo­sures un­til the 1990s) now has a new lease of life as the Chur­net Val­ley Steam Rail­way (see in­set).

The de­scent through the glo­ri­ous val­ley scenery con­tin­ues with oc­ca­sional locks, be­fore the canal and the River Chur­net merge for a one-mile length from Oak­mead­ow­ford Lock to Con­sall – be wary of this sec­tion af­ter heavy rain.

At Con­sall Forge, a canal­side pub used to have no road ac­cess ( just the canal, the steam rail­way and foot­paths) un­til not so long ago. Here the canal sep­a­rates from the river, passes un­der the rail­way,

and runs along­side the sta­tion with the plat­form wait­ing room can­tilevered out over the wa­ter.

Flint Mill Lock’s tail car­ries a cu­ri­ous de­vice in the form of a heavy plas­tic ‘cur­tain’ which should tell you whether your boat will fit through the very tight Froghall Tun­nel, or whether (if your boat is close to full length) you’ll need to ei­ther turn round here or risk re­vers­ing from Froghall. Ex­pe­ri­ence says that the gauge errs slightly on the side of cau­tion, but don’t take our word for it, and please don’t blame us if you end up re­vers­ing for a mile and a half…

The at­trac­tive pointed arch of Cherry-eye bridge is thought to be the re­sult of a landowner who in­sisted on a more at­trac­tive struc­ture; its at­trac­tive-sound­ing name has a rather less ro­man­tic ori­gin: in an­other re­minder that this was once a heav­ily in­dus­trial area, ‘cherry eye’ was a med­i­cal con­di­tion suf­fered by iron­stone min­ers.

A less-than-70ft wind­ing hole and a left bend lead into the short Froghall Tun­nel, also equipped with a gauge to in­di­cate whether your boat will fit. It does have fend­er­ing along the sides to re­duce the like­li­hood of scraped cabin cor­ners, but do take care.

Be­yond the tun­nel, since 2005 the canal has had a new ter­mi­nus. The old dead end basin lies ahead; a sharp right leads down through a lock (re­stored by vol­un­teers led by CUCT) to lead into a sec­ond basin, with pon­toon moor­ings for vis­it­ing boats. With a re­opened tea-room, old limekilns, and the steam rail­way and pub a short walk away, it’s an at­trac­tive des­ti­na­tion af­ter a splen­did cruise – but it’s more than that.

This is the start of the old Ut­tox­eter Canal: an­other 13 miles which once led on down the Chur­net Val­ley to Alton, Ro­ces­ter and Ut­tox­eter. And one day, the Canal Trust’s aim is that it will once again do so.

Tak­ing the Leek Arm at Hazel­hust Junc­tion

The ap­proach to Leek Tun­nel

The Leek Arm crosses a se­ries of aque­ducts

On the canal’s sum­mit level east of En­don

De­scend­ing the Stockton Brook lock flight

Bed­ford Street Locks, a stair­case pair

Typ­i­cal Cal­don lift­bridge at Nor­ton Green

In­dus­trial sur­round­ings near Han­ley

A tight squeeze: Froghall Tun­nel

In the Chur­net Val­ley be­low Ched­dle­ton

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