Wood Anemone The Churnet Valley - A Walk from Stoke to Leek
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On the 30th of August 2008, I took a train trip to Stoke on Trent. The aim was to walk the Caldon Canal from Etruria to Hazlehurst and up the Leek Arm to Leek.


Click the images to enlarge.

After leaving Stoke Railway Station, I picked up the main line of the Trent and Mersey Canal at Glebe Street. This is the site of Stoke Junction, where the Newcastle Under Lyme Canal once joined. It's now buried somewhere under the A500.

This is a very urban stretch, where the canal is hemmed in by high walls and low bridges. It's not pretty.

Bottle kilns like this would once have wreathed the Five Towns in smoke. Bulk carrying to and from the potteries was one of the reasons that the Trent and Mersey was built. Sadly, the industry is virtually dead now. These two have been retained as a feature in a housing development.

After about a mile, I came to the Etruscan Bone and Flint Mill, erected in 1857 to grind ingredients for the potteries. It's not called bone china for nothing. The mill is now an industrial museum.

The museum is at Etruria Junction, where the Trent and Mersey Canal meets the Trent and Mersey Canal (Caldon Branch). This was originally the start of the short Shelton Branch, which was absorbed into the Caldon when it opened in 1778.

One of the first landmarks on the Caldon is the statue of James Brindley. Brindley was involved with the early planning of the Caldon but died while surveying at Ipstones. His brother-in-law, Hugh Henshall, is credited with the final plan.

At the end of the old Shelton Branch, the canal takes a sharp right under a modern footbridge, which replaced a redundant lift bridge. Straight ahead were Etruria Wharf and the Hanley Tramroad, both long gone.

The first two locks on the Caldon form a staircase, so that the top gates of lock 1 are also the bottom gates of lock 2.

Many of the old canal-side buildings are derelict but still show how they would have loaded and unloaded goods from the canal. Sadly, dereliction is common in Stoke, although regeneration is improving some areas.

Hanley Park provides a break from the urban scene. The canal bridges here are decorated with fancy ironwork.

Beyond Hanley, I ran into the North Staffordshire Canal Corridor Regeneration project. This meant leaving the towpath to "follow a diversion", which turned out to be unsigned. Thus, I was left to zigzag around the back streets, trying not to lose the canal. Much of the area was derelict, with boarded up houses waiting to be demolished.

Every time I relocated the canal, the towing path was still closed, until, finally, I got back on track at Ivy House Lift Bridge.

The diversion cost me time, so I got down to some steady walking. There wasn't much scenery to bother with, though the views improved as urban dereliction began to give way to countryside. Eventually, I reached Engine Lock and stopped for a rest. While I was there, it put on a miniature "old faithful" impression, as water erupted from a vent while the chamber was being filled.

Further on, Norton Green Lift Bridge was raised to let a boat through. Just beyond it is the junction with the Norton Green Arm, which was built privately to serve local collieries. The branch is no-longer navigable but is still in-water as part of the feeder channel from Knypersley Reservoir.

By the time I reached Stockton Brook, I was getting tired and thirsty. However, I had now slipped even further behind schedule, so a pint in The Sportsman would have to wait for another day.

Sculptor Anthony Lysycia was commissioned to produce works for two of the locks at Stockton Brook. This is part of The North Staffordshire Canal Corridor Regeneration.

The works are based on local themes and were created with the help of local primary schools.

Approaching Endon, I came to Doles Bridge. The obstruction in front is all that remains of a swing bridge, which carried the railway line to Victoria Flint Mill at Stanley Moss.

Just beyond Doles Bridge is Endon Basin, where limestone from Caldon Low was transferred from standard-gauge railway wagons into narrowboats. The trade ceased in 1928 and the basin is now used by Stoke-on-Trent Boat Club.

Beyond Endon, things began to get familiar and the last two miles became a head-down charge towards my intended lunch stop. The Hollybush Inn is on the main line of the Caldon, just beyond Hazlehurst Aqueduct and exactly ten miles from Etruria.

Three excellent pints of Pedigree and a pub lunch later, it was time for a leisurely wander up the Leek Arm. The Leek Arm and the Caldon main line enter the Churnet Valley on opposite sides of the valley now occupied by Endon Brook. This valley was originally carved out by the Churnet, when it was a tributary of the Trent, before the last ice age.

The tower of the former St. Edwards Mental Hospital looms over this part of the Churnet Valley. The hospital is gone but the tower has been retained as a feature of a housing development.

Leek Tunnel has no towing path through it, so pedestrians have to walk over the top.

The canal stops at the edge of Leek, where it meets the feeder channel from Rudyard Reservoir. It originally extended further into Leek but this section was filled in, in the 1950s. There are plans to extend the canal back into Leek some time the future, but that's it, for now.


And that was almost it for my walk, too. All that remained was a walk to the bus station and the long haul home by public transport.
It was an interesting day out. Stoke didn't impress me and I won't be hurrying back, but the more rural sections of the canal, from Milton onward, were much better. I will return, some time, to explore more.