Canal Holiday Cruising Notes from Festival Park Marina
CRUISING THE CALDON CANAL
CRUISING NORTH on the Trent & Mersey Canal from Festival Park Marina
CRUISING SOUTH on the Trent & Mersey Canal from Festival Park Marina
Within half a day canal holiday cruising east from Festival Park Marina, destinations MILTON or STOCKTON BROOK
These two trips, which are a little more than 5 miles or a little over 7 miles respectively provide an easy start to the holiday through the heartland of Hanley the most central of Arnold Bennett’s Five Towns now part of Stoke-on-Trent. Both follow the same route to Milton along the Caldon Canal initially, a stretch which will take three hours and take in three locks, so a gentle introduction with a convivial pub at the end if time is short. Those with more time may wish to continue to the Stockton Brook a further 4 locks and two miles distant where there are a variety of shops. The additional cruising will take a further 2 hours making a journey time of 5 hours or thereabouts. At busy periods be prepared for these times to be longer, if for example, you have to wait at the locks.
Your hire boat holiday cruise from Festival Park Marina begins by heading south along the Trent and Mersey Canal (T&M) before taking the branch along the Caldon Canal. This canal, strictly speaking a branch off the Trent and Mersey mainline, was built to reach limestone quarries at Froghall, an objective which was extended to also connect the towns of Leek and Uttoxeter to the system. Festival Park itself, which was created as part of the inner-city regeneration in the 1980s, is set in the very heart of Stoke on Trent, a city of actually six towns which were forged in the white hot heat of the industrial revolution. Coal, iron, steel, pottery, bricks & tiles were the products. Works, mines and kilns were the places which turned these raw materials into the goods the world bought. The canal barge and later the railways were the means by which these products found their markets. These days the waterways are known now for relaxing barge breaks and narrowboat holiday hire rather than the slate grey and Staffordshire blue tones which Arnold Bennett captured so evocatively in his novels and stories which perhaps do for Edwardian Stoke-on-Trent what Dickens did for Victorian London. The first of these A man from the North was followed shortly after in 1902 by Anna of the Five Towns (he omitted Fenton) and then many others which were widely acclaimed at the time and have since become literary classics. They detail a world which may occupy the same geographical space as that of today, but in which the dark satanic mills of Elgar’s Jerusalemhas largely been replaced by modern industry and green spaces
However, glimpses of the old ways, bottle kilns and pot banks are still visible as you explore this interesting and often beautiful inland waterway. Initially, head south out of the marina towards Etruria. Immediately opposite until 1940 was the original Josiah Wedgwood factory before the main production centre moved to
Only the roundhouse – visible in the illustration above – remains. Most of the buildings were demolished in the 1960s. Another view – this time from Etruria Bridge in about 1794 - also shows the roundhouse and you can get your bearings from that. Your canalboat holiday begins as you head beneath the bridge which has since replaced the one in this historic engraving.Wedgwood is well known as the person who industrialized the making of pottery. What is less well known is that he was one of the leading lobbyists for the abolition of slavery. He produced cameos of a slave in chains which became the most famous image of a black person of the 18th century and with the motto – today perhaps a tag line – Am I not a man and a brother? The profile of the campaign was raised significantly throughout the country and beyond, eventually leading to the abolition of the slave trade through the mass protest of ordinary people, women, Methodists, Quakers, Poets, Parliamentarians ex slaves and slavers as well as industrialists like Wedgwood.
Once through Bridge 117 it is a short distance to the junction where the Caldon Canal branches off to the left. In the fork between this and the Trent and Mersey main line is the former British Waterways Etruria Yard, wonderful old buildings built of local brick. Beyond this and between the two canals is the Etruria Industrial Museum, a former Potters Mill works where bone and flint were ground for the pottery trade as recently as 1972. The mill was steam powered and has been restored. It can be seen afternoons on Wednesday to Sunday inclusive and is a must for your return trip.
At the junction stands a fine statue to James Brindley, the builder of the canal
The Caldon Canal was only reopened in 1974 through the efforts of the Caldon Canal Society and local people after a number of years of dereliction. It now provides an agreeable linear park through the potteries and the first gem that you will encounter is the delightful Hanley Park. This was begun in 1892 but essentially is an Edwardian masterpiece of municipal planning, on the southern side of the canal. Before this however you have three locks, the first two in a staircase – the only ones of this kind in North Staffordshire and then Planet Lock the last one you will encounter on your first day. Beyond lies the sylvan beauty of the park and there are plenty of moorings here, worth remembering on the way back
At Bridge 8, those wanting an early diversion could walk to the Potteries shopping centre and in the same northerly direction there is also the Museum and Art Gallery – with an unrivalled ceramics section naturally - and the Bridgwater Factory Shop. There is also a tourist information office in the shopping centre.
As you approach Ivy House there is a pottery on the left hand side of the canal and this is the part of Stoke on Trent in which Wedgwood first leased premises. To the south and east, beyond the A5009, lies the former track-bed of the railway to Leek which was closed to passengers in 1965 and freight in 1970.
Navigational Note: You will need your BW key to raise the lift bridge at Ivy House. Some of the bridges are very low so be careful of your head
Berry Hill to the east of the canal was once an area of early mining and the site of the Berry Hill Colliery, which, after closure in 1960, became the headquarters of the National Coal Board in North Staffordshire. More recently the fields have become a haven for wildlife including waxwing, sandpiper and redstart.
This is a landscape of contrasts melding old industrial sites, new housing and wild areas. Pathways cross the fields and hills and are used extensively today, just as they were in former times by brickworkers and miners returning to their homes after a hard day’s work.
Milton appears after a number of pipe bridges, the last of which heralds a winding hole, so be careful as you approach in case someone is turning their boat. This is in fact Foxley where there is an attractive redbrick canalside pub with a garden, albeit on the market in January 2013.
Here was once a short arm. It was to Foxley that one of the last working turns on the canal was destined. Packing houses for finished pottery had been established at Milton adjacent to the canal and one of the major companies to transport finished ware from their factory in Hanley at Ivy Bridge to Milton was Johnson Brothers. Until later in the 20th century, Johnsons used three narrowboats, all incorporating Milton in their name: The Milton Queen, The Milton Maid and The Milton Princess. Only The Milton Maid survives, at Streethay near Tamworth. The production of pottery finally ended in Milton in 2000
The village of Milton was the birthplace of the Reverend Samuel Leigh, of Milton Methodist Church. He became the first Methodist missionary in Australia in 1815, and after several years there moved on to become first Methodist missionary to New Zealand in 1822. His home church at Milton is named the Leigh Memorial Church in his memory.
There are two good pubs in Milton, the Miners Arms with real ale and a garden and the Millrace, both close to bridge No.18. The Miners Arms was a nod to nearby Norton Colliery at which 950 men worked underground in three gas and house coal seams, the Bowling Alley, Cockshead and Seven Feet. The pit closed in 1977 after more than 100 years of operation. Incredibly, on 1st January 1948, the Evening Sentinel newspaper reported that one man a Mr. Wilshaw, age 82 has been working at one pit for 71 years and claims the country’s record for long service underground. Mr Wilshaw, who is still employed by the Norton and Biddulph unit of the NCB, started at Norton before he was 12. He spent his entire working life underground and for over 50 years has worked at the coalface. They bred them tough in those days! The site lay derelict for more than a quarter of a century before being developed from 2003 for housing and business units.
Milton also has a fish and chip shop, post office and general store. It once had a railway station and may have once again if the railway is re-opened as is being planned.
For those wanting to press on, Stockton Brook should be a feasible objective for most of the summer months when there are long days. Beyond Milton there is Engine Lock which was named after a Beam Engine which once stood nearby to pump water from the mine workings hereabouts. To the east is the source of the River Trent, here just a trickle before becoming a mighty river by the time it reaches Nottingham
Navigational notes: A windlass is needed to raise the lift bridges at Norton Green and Long Butts
The countryside is becoming more attractive as the canal approaches Stockton Brook. Five Locks raise the navigation to the summit of 484ft above ordnance datum. There is a fine Victorian waterworks at the start of this flight and part way up pubs, shops and facilities are accessible. Stockton Brook has a number of pubs including The Sportsman which is a traditional pub with skittles. There is also a Post Office and a store within the village. The lock flight begins with an old Victorian waterworks near the canal
Within a day's canal holiday cruising east from Festival park Marina Destination LEEK or BASFOORD BRIDGE
If you have decided to stay the first night in the marina at Festival Park, perhaps to unwind from your journey or to enjoy the carvery at the on-site restaurant, when your canal holiday cruie begins the next day, you could expect to make good progress up the Caldon Canal to one of two delightful locations. By nightfall the next day, your cruise can take you the 12 miles into either the silk town of Leek or to the beautiful stone built canal side pub at Basford Bridge. Which you take is entirely up to you, but you will need to make a decision at Hazlehurst where the canal divides, heading either north to Leek, or south to Basford Bridge
N.B For those setting out from Festival Park, follow the notes for the half day cruise to Stockton Bridge. If you have not made it through all the locks here, or need to make use of the facilities the village provides at then these will be the last locks you encounter for several miles.
Once through the locks you cruise at this summit level through the valley to ward Endon, an extremely pretty stretch although once greatly industrialized.
Navigational Note: Just before you reach Endon you will encounter a curious obstruction in the canal, stone built and circular. This is the central pier of a swing bridge which until 1964 carried a light railway across the canal to the Victoria Mill. Its possible to pass either side, but take care as there is not a massive amount of room.
This view shows the bridge after the trains had gone but with the central platform still intact in 1969
Beyond the obstruction lies the Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club which occupies the arm straight ahead beneath bridge No.27a. You need however to take a sharp turn to the right just after Bridge No 27 and continue on toward Hazlehurst
The Endon Arm, known as Endon Basin was once a canal and railway interchange wharf built less than 100 years ago in 1917. There is a footpath from here to Endon or you can walk along the road at the next bridge No.28 if you want supplies. Endon has a pub, a garage, a bank and a local shop which sells CRT payment cards to enable use of the launderette and showers at the next bridge. There are meals all day every day at the Toby Carvery, Leek Road, Endon
Hannah the Hiker says ‘Why not walk off yesterday’s meal with a bracing climb to Stanley? Leave the boat at bridge No.28 and climb the hill to the south to discover this pretty brownstone village. There are great views across Stanley Moss down in the valley and across to Endon and a nice pub too, appropriately called the Travellers Rest. They do food.
Soon after this, through some beautifully rural surroundings with views across to the Peak District, looms Hazlehurst Junction, a spectacular flying junction where the northern branch to Leek crosses over the main line, by means of an aqueduct, to Frog Hall.
At Bridge No.28 there is the Fine Feathers Farm shop and rare breeds centre which also has a tea room and at Park Lane Bridge is the facilities block for those that need it and have the appropriate card with which to pay for the facilities they use. Filling up here with water is our recommendation.
Navigational Note: If your choice of destination today is to LEEK, then take the right hand branch which continues on the level passing over the descending main line. If you want go straight to FROGHALL, take the left hand branch and descend through the Hazlehurst three locks immediately beyond Bridge No35 and thence on beneath the aqueduct
For those canal cruising in their holiday narrowboat to LEEK
The canal continues on the level and there are no more locks along this 2 ½ mile stretch. The navigation begins on the left hand or southern side of the valley and passes by means of the impressive Hazlehurst Aqueduct, over the canal Just over the aqueduct you can take the steps down to the Holly Bush Inn at Denford, which sits aside the mainline to Froghall.
If you are wondering whether the detour to Leek is worth the trouble Jim Shead writing in Waterways World said
‘’It is worth taking the trip up to Leek. The branch winds its way up the side of Churnet Valley and passes through the 130 yard Leek Tunnel before reaching its final turning point just beyond West Bridge where there are pleasant moorings. Leek is quite an agreeable little town’’
The distance is short but the views are excellent, this being a narrow, hidden little valley through charming countryside. Built in 1802 to open up the town of Leek to the possibilities a canal might provide, it also ensured the Trent and Mersey mainline at Stoke was well supplied with water off this high country.
At Bridge No.6 there is a tiny shop with a post office and grocery, but that’s all you will find on this branch by way of supplies. There is a winding hole in a lagoon just before the tunnel, which is 130 yards long, so if you don’t fancy a tunnel passage, turn here.
Navigational note: Leek Tunnel is not a difficult or scary prospect and navigating it brings you to the furthest extent of the branch just beyond bridge No.9 where there is a winding hole beyond which you must not cruise
Originally the canal used to pass through the Barnfields estate to the centre of Leek, to reach a basin, now a car park, close to the present Morrison’s Store. Plans are under consideration for a new canal into the town centre by way of one of a number of routes including the original line.
The remaining part of the canal in water is a pleasant walk over a stone aqueduct that straddles the River Churnet, a waterway with which travellers on the main line will become endearingly familiar. Beyond this the town itself can be reached with all the facilities a moderate sized market town normally offers. Leek was once a working home for William Morris of the Arts and Crafts movement and it also provided a centre for proponents of the Leek School of Embroidery.
Hannah the Hiker says ‘If you get to the end of the Leek Canal you might think that’s that but there is no better reward than a hike up to Rudyard reservoir, the real source of all this water. It was built to supply the water to the canal and soon became a local beauty spot where Rudyard Kipling’s parents met and decided to call their son by that name. There is a delightful walk up the River Churnet to that spot.
Trips out from Leek might include for those with children a short taxi ride to Alton Towers, the most visited theme park in Britain and Ireland. A regular bus service runs from leek Bus Station, making this a practical outing and a change in pace from the serenity of the canals, for those who enjoy the white knuckle rides such as Oblivion, for which the Park is famed
For those cruising to CHEDDLETON in their canal holiday barge You will be taking the left hand branch at Hazlehurst Junction beneath the bridge
Three remote locks in a beautiful position descend beneath the aqueduct carrying the Leek branch above the main line and from here the canal closely follows the River Churnet through some stunning countryside.
This is heralded by the delightful Deep Hayes Country Park to the south east of the canal, formerly an area of clay and coal workings which were abandoned around 1908 after Shaffalong Colliery closed. Now the area is home to wildlife in abundance, the meadows, pools and woods having been created in 1979 from a redundant reservoir covering 143 acres. Check for opening times before deciding to visit, however.
Down to Cheddleton, the canal follows the River Churnet and at the Cheddleton Flint Mill there is a museum which explains the importance of flint to the potteries further down the canal. A mill has existed here since the 13th century and its story is superbly told by the Cheddleton Industrial Heritage Trust which are the custodians of the museum and its collection of artefacts including an haystack boiler from 1770, a rare survivor.
Outside the mill is the well restored working boat, Vienna
Cheddleton is a delightful village set around the Saxon church of Edward the Confessor. There is a store here and a post office. A short walk will take you to the craft centre and tea rooms in the former Victorian school. There are also two pubs, the Red and Black Lions both serving real ale and food and the landlords of the latter are, according to the Nicholson Guide, narrowboat owners themselves.
Basford Bridge is reached after a short distance and here the scenery is very attractive as it is throughout this valley. It’s a good place to stop and not just because of the setting. There is an excellent pub The Boat here with low ceilings and a pleasant garden.
Moreover, an overnight stay on your canal holiday boat here presents the opportunity of a trip on the Churnet Valley steam railway – part of the North Staffordshire Railway, the Old Knotty as it was known - which runs from Leek to Froghall. Cheddleton station is right opposite the pub. The line didn’t close until 1988 and in 1996 was reopened by volunteers who have carefully recreated an authentic 1950s feel. The main line is 10 ½ miles long, but there is a branch from this to Cauldon Lowe which takes the traveler across some dramatic Staffordshire moorland scenery, including cresting the summit at Ipstones, 1063 feet above sea level and therefore a mountain. No wonder the area is called Little Switzerland.
Within two days canal holiday cruisingfrom Festival Park Marina Destination FROGHALL
If you have over-nighted at Leek, you should get to Froghal the next dayl without much trouble. In fact, the journey should take just 6 hours to travel the 10 miles or so. Simply reverse the cruising notes back to the junction and then follow the notes from that point down to Basford Bridge. If you have reached Basford Bridge then the journey time is shorter still just over five miles in fact and a leisurely 3 hours to cover the distance along the remaining part of the canal
Leaving Basford Bridge the isolated Woods Lock drops the canal level 5 feet 3 inches. To the left, the railway and the river follow the canal and to the right, rising ground is increasingly covered in trees By Oakmeadowford Lock, the river joins the canal and within the Consall Woods to the right are the disused shafts of iron mines, the ore from which travelled up the canal in barges to the forge at Consall until the 1920s. The towpath accommodates the Staffordshire walk at this point .
Hannah the Hiker says: The towpath here accommodates a section of the Staffordshire Way, a major trail that covers more than 90 miles across the county. It connects to the Cheshire Gritstone Trail and other national tracks. If you see hikers here you might encourage them on their arduous journey either north west to Mow Cop or south to Kinver Edge near Stourbridge
Navigational Note. Care should be exercised between Oakmeadowford Lock and Consall Forge simply because the river and canal share a common channel between these points and therefore a flow is introduced where previously there had been none. Watch out for the marker boards below the lock which indicate whether water levels are unsafe to proceed. Just before Consall Forge, at Bridge No.49, there is a weir on the right. Pass on the left hand side of the channel close to the Black Lion pub.
Consul Forge, once a hive of industry is now an idyllic spot in quiet countryside with a welcome pub, the Black Lion, at its centre. The Nicholson Guide describes it thus:
‘A splendid canalside pub of outstanding isolation in a beautiful setting and a fine garden. There is an open fire and real ale and the steam trains of the Churnet Valley railway pass within 20yards of the front door.’
Certainly the Black Lion positively encourage boaters as their website reveals
‘’…and lastly if you wish to visit us by canal boat nothing could be easier. There are moorings right outside the pub across the railway lines at Consall Forge. We plan to eventually provide a Wireless link to the internet at the Pub for the benefit of all Canal users’’
This interesting pub is a well known venue for steam buffs and CAMRA members, serving among more recognizable fare two ales from the small Craft brewery the Peakstones Rock Brewery in nearby Alton. At present (2013) 2 of the brewery's ale's will be on sale, Nemesis which has an ABV 3.8% and the more potent Oblivion which has ABV 5.5%.
There is also a pottery here selling hand thrown pots and an attractive little railway station at which the steam trains stop. So tight is the available space here that the station is partially built over the canal, above which it is suspended. Beyond here the navigation itself narrows along the final mile and a half or so to Froghall.
On either side of the canal beyond Consall are nature reserves. On the left hand side is the RSPB reserves of Rough Knipe, Crowgutter and Booth’s Wood where Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Woodcock and Treepipit are among the less common residents. On the right hand side is the superb Consall Nature Park. Here you will find birch and ash, dog mercury, wild garlic and wood anemone. Some rare butterflies may be seen in season also including the Green Hairstreak and Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary. Crested and palmate newts live in the wet areas which in the Spring become a riot of colour when the Butterbur and marsh marigold flower. Further east still are the bilberry rich heathlands of Far Kingsley Banks where the flora and fauna change again.
The canal follows the northern side of the valley and passes a number of old lime kilns before reaching Flint Mill Lock. Adjacent to this is the old Flint Mill which performed the same function as the mill at Cheddleton. This is the last lock you will encounter
Navigational note:. The passage is narrow up to Froghall and in places two boats cannot pass either side so proceed with caution at all times
At Cherry Eye Bridge the mining tradition of the Churnet Valley ended in 1927 when the Cherry Eye iron mine closed. The mine was working red haematite, the best ironstone, the quality of which approached the very best ores which were found near Barrow-in-Furness.
The last ½ mile into Froghall Industrial Works show that our destination is at hand. There are good moorings west of the Froghall Tunnel which has restricted headroom and we would recommend you turn at the winding hole before the tunnel entrance and moor up. The last part of the canal can then be explored on foot and it’s worth making a detour to the railway station where there are excellent tea rooms and a good pub, the Railway Hotel. Opposite, Froghall Basin itself has a full length winding hole and was the wharf built to cosign loads of limestone down to the kilns through the valley and beyond.
Navigational note: Froghall Tunnel has height and width restrictions which limit the size of craft able to pass through. The maximum width at the cabin top is 5ft 6 inches and four feet 4 inches high above the water. To avoid damage or injury it is do not attempt this passage.
Froghall’s built environment owes a great deal to Thomas Bolton’s Copper Wire works – reputedly the factory the Luftwaffe could not find – and its buildings occupy most of the town although a large part of the old factory was demolished in 2011. This factory was famous for making the first transatlantic telegraph cables and for components for the Spitfire, without doubt the most iconic fighter aircraft of WW2.
Froghall basin is the end of the Caldon Canal, but not end of canal transport as the Uttoxeter branch once locked down to the Churnet and onto the town before abandonment with the coming of the railways in 1847. Recently the first lock of this canal has been restored and a new basin created.
The canal has largely been filled and much of it was used as the formation of the railway which was built over it after the canal closed. Much of the track-bed is now a linear path and the plan is to restore the original canal through to Alton Towers where a station remains and beyond to the town of Uttoxeter itself
Hannah the Hiker says Froghall is a great place from which to go walking and you can buy a leaflet at the Wharf shop for a small charge. The red route they describe will follow the canal back the way you have come and returns by way of an Otter & Falcon centre. The Blue route visits old tramways to the east and the Green route visit woods to north, along with old limekilns and two pubs. Alternatively return to Consall Wood by canal and explore the many trails through bio diverse landscapes to be found there.
End of CRUISING the CALDON CANAL
CRUISING NORTH on the Trent & Mersey Canal from Festival Park Marina
CRUISING SOUTH on the Trent & Mersey Canal from Festival Park Marina
All distances and times are approximate. The timings do not take account of cruising conditions which are variable and be aware delays can and will occur. It is your responsibility to return your holiday narrowboat before or at the time specified in your agreement(s) with the Company.