Canal Boat Holiday Hire On The Caldon & Leek Canal
43 Miles, 34 Locks, 1 Week Canal Cruise from our Festival Park Marina base in Etruria, Staffordshire
It has been called the hidden valley and it certainly feels like it when your boat leaves behind the former industry of the potteries and the fledgling River Trent to emerge into the open country beyond. The canal joins the Trent & Mersey Canal at Etruria Junction just before its big brother descends down a busy 5 locks through Stoke on Trent. First obstacle for the intrepid navigator is the 2 lock staircase at Bedford Street which is swiftly followed by the oddly named Planet Lock. Maybe, in the old days, those tumbling out of the nearby hostelries at closing time, including the working boatmen, became embroiled in the odd bout of fisticuffs and ended up “seeing stars”!!!
A rare patch of greenery is then seen as the canal passes through Hanley Park with its bandstand, a reminder of how our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors spent their Sunday leisure time. Although most are now derelict and the bulldozer has been at work in a vast regeneration of the area the shadow of a once great pottery industry can be seen in those remaining factories lining the canal as empty, broken windows stare blindly out on the traveller below, like a ghost from the past. The canal slowly sheds its industrial clothes as it passes through Northwood, Milton and the 5 lock flight at Stockton Brook to emerge among greener pastures at Endon, an attractive mooring spot with a nearby pub a short walk away.
However the real jewels in the crown still await you as you approach Hazelhurst Junction, surely one of the most spectacular and picturesque sights on the waterways. At this point the short Leek Arm heads off on your right and winds round to cross its neighbour on a high aqueduct whilst the Caldon Canal continues down a flight of 4 locks to the Churnet valley below. There are good overnight moorings here, and the attraction of the canal side Hollybush Inn at Denford often proves irresistible to the passing boater. The canal becomes even more remote at this point as it winds down the Churnet valley through Deep Hayes Country Park. At Cheddleton there is a delightful Flint Mill and the very popular Churnet Valley Railway, a preserved steam railway, runs a service on Bank Holidays and summer weekends. However, further surprises await and after a mile or two and 3 more locks the boater arrives at Oakmeadow Ford Lock. This is the point where a new adventure awaits you, the short passage of the River Churnet incorporated into the Caldon canal by that wily old engineer himself, James Brindley. Brindley sadly died of “a chill” whilst completing his survey of the canal and never saw it completed. A simpler explanation has since been offered that diabetes, now a treatable illness, was responsible for the great man’s demise.
This “canalised” river stretch is so beautiful and peaceful that you can be forgiven for thinking that you are in another world but even more delights are in store as you arrive at the lovely Consall Forge where the canal kisses goodbye to its sister waterway before continuing down the valley. Mooring across from the Black Lion Inn, surely one of the most remote in the country with the Churnet Valley Railway running past its front door and the gently rushing weir of the Churnet in front of you, is a unique experience not to be missed. Those boats too high to pass through the very low Froghall Tunnel can turn here or before Flint Mill Lock just beyond. Those who proceed to the conclusion of this canal will be rewarded with the terminus at Froghall Wharf and the recently excavated and restored basin at the start of the now derelict Uttoxeter Canal.
The Leek arm is often neglected by boaters whose main aim is to reach Consall Forge and Froghall but it is worth the extra few hours needed to explore its short length to near Leek and back. Although it is narrow and shallow in places this is another beautiful waterway with its high aqueduct views over the Caldon Canal and the wooded stretch to the short Leek Tunnel before turning just beyond to retrace your wake.
Perhaps no more confirmation is needed of the Caldon’s remoteness than the fact that when Thomas Boulton & Sons copper wire works at Froghall was turned into a Munitions Factory during the war and the Luftwaffe tried to bomb it they could not find it!!! The canal can be cruised in as little as 2/3 days but to really soak in the magic and benefit from the spell of the hidden valley a week’s holiday will enable you to really chill out.