It was a little misty when we got up and did a quick engine check before casting off. Some of the other boats were showing signs of crew getting up and on the one behind us someone came out and drank a coffee as we were checking the oil but they didn’t get their crew out of bed fast enough and we were first off the moorings.
The summit stretch of the Caldon just meanders over open countryside, which is rather pleasing to the eye, Even the very industrial features such as Endon Basin don’t look that way, but the little traffic island in the middle of the canal just before you get to the basin reminds you that this canal was very much an industrial artery in the day. The island is all the remains of a swivel bridge for a tramway which crossed the canal and ran parallel to the railway line down to Endon Station. After Endon, where the canal takes a right hand turn you wind your way to Park Lane Bridge No 31 where there is a small C&RT yard offering water, elsan (and pumpout), showers, refuse disposal and dry recycling (cardboard, glass, tins etc.)
When the Caldon Canal was first constructed the line dropped down three locks just past Park Lane – the Park Lane Locks – but it’s impossible to work out just where the canal went as the line was altered towards the end of the 18th Century and the summit was extended along to Hazelhurst when the line from Leek was added.
At Hazelhurst Junction the main line drops through three locks and the line to Leek goes off to the right. But it wasn’t always like this. Originally you carried along the line towards Leek until you got to Hazelhurst Turnover Bridge No 3 where there was a staircase of locks dropping you down to the main line. However these locks were slow and so a hole was punched through the Leek Branch Embankment ( Hazelhurst Aqueduct ), the new locks were built and the staircase locks were closed off.
The Leek Branch is really nothing more than a navigable feeder for most of its length – think the Llangollen Canal to Llangollen but narrower with less flow and a lot more vegetation. But it seems to be quite deep so you make quite good progress.
Leek Tunnel Winding Hole is less of a winding hole and more of a small lagoon, but how deep it is out towards the edge we didn’t try to find out. But it does allow you to get a good alignment for the tunnel so you can see if it’s clear. The tunnel isn’t much wider than a boat but it does have good head room and it’s almost pleasant to navigate.
Just after Leek Bridge No 9 there is a winding hole with a notice saying that all boats over 45 feet should wind here. We wilfully ignored it – and the comments from the person on a moored boat saying we couldn’t turn round and continued right up to the end of the canal where the feeder from Rudyard Lake joins and the canal used to cross the River Churnet. The canal from here to a basin just outside Leek was filled in in the 1960 and the basin has now been completely built over.
After a bit of manoeuvring and some bow hauling we got turned round and chugged back down towards the winding hole where we moored up and walked back into town.
The route into Leek isn’t clearly sign posted at all and it doesn’t take you along the old route of the canal, although we suspect you could do it by walking up the road, instead it takes you across to the old railway line which leads you straight to the Morrisons supermarket which now occupies the site of the railway station, which was next to the canal basin. There are long term plans for the railway to Leek to be restored and linked to the Churnet Valley Railway so when that happens they’ll have to come up with an alternative route into town… or they could restore the canal and build a new basin over what is a pretty grim, run down, industrial area.
When you get to Morrisons it’s still a little walk, up hill, to get to Leek itself but it’s worth the walk. The town still has a thriving market and a lot of independent shops, and the Red Lion on the Market Place does a very good pint of Hydes. We’d gone into Leek to do a crew swap so when people had left and others had arrived we walked back to the boat via the Morrisons where we picked up some supplies.
When we got back to Hazlehurst junction we did the sharp turn and headed down the three locks and under the aqueduct. Just past the aqueduct there is the stub of the old line for the staircase locks which seems to be used as a private mooring now.
The canal passes The Hollybush Inn , which is right by the canal and is a very popular stopping point for obvious reasons, and then it meanders its way down the river valley to Cheddleton Flint Mill which occupies a large site by the side of the canal – it’s now a working museum. Just before the mill are set of visitor moorings – if you want to stop and go to the pubs in the village then you must stop here as there are no moorings below the two locks.
If you go down the locks then the next place you can moor is on the very short length of visitor moorings opposite the Boat Inn but be prepared to tie up to the wooden fencing poles as there are no rings and the bank isn’t suitable for spikes or hooks.