The Caldon Canal (or the Caldon Branch of the Trent and Mersey Canal which is the proper title) was built at the end of the 18th century to serve the burgeoning industry of the Midlands. Protected by the Canal and River Trust, it’s now arguably one of the most scenic canals and rivers routes on the UK canal system, as it meanders from Stoke on Trent through the Churnet Valley to Frogall and includes the Leek branch, perfect for a short break narrowboat holiday.
A brief history of the Caldon Canal
The Caldon Canal, built in 1779 by the Trent & Mersey Canal Company, served a number of purposes. Firstly it was designed to provide a water supply for the ‘Grand Trunk Canal’ (now Trent and Mersey). This branch canal would tap into the rainfall on the Staffordshire moorlands via new reservoirs that were created to provide water to the canal.
Because of the limestone, coal and ironstone in the area, the canal was then used to carry all this cargo into the nearby towns from Etruria to Froghall, including Stoke on Trent. It continued to be successful, even after the railway takeover in the 1840s, unlike many other British waterways. When ironstone was discovered in the 1850s, it triggered a boom in carrying to the steelworks at Shelton. These new steelworks also increased the demand for limestone, which was used to remove impurities from the iron during smelting and played an important part in this canal heritage.
The decline in the use of the Caldon Canal began after the First World War. Some industries, such as coal and ironstone mining, closed down completely and rail and road began to take over as more efficient means of transport between towns and industrial estates. By the 1960s the canal had become virtually unusable and then through the efforts of various groups, a local canal society, canal enthusiasts and the British Waterways, it was regenerated and brought back to use for leisure craft and canal navigations in 1974.
Top Caldon Canal Facts
Starting from Etruria in Stoke-on-Trent, the canal twists and turns its way out of the busy city, past parks and housing estates of the narrow Caldon Valley before arriving to the open countryside of Staffordshire.
The first locks are a two-lock staircase at Hanley Park, on the outskirts of Etruria and from there you will cruise under various bridges. Look out for the two huge bottle kilns by the side of the canal around bridge nine.
The canal runs from Etruria along the valley on the outskirts of Stoke after bridge fourteen, providing lots of lovely scenery of the inland waterways. This area becomes progressively picturesque as you enter the Churnet Valley and on to the small town of Milton.
After Milton, you travel through open farmland and on to the flight of five locks at Stockton. By the time you have navigated Stockton Brook Top Lock number nine, you’ve reached the end of the locks on this stretch and continuing across Stanley Moss Aqueduct to bridge 28 you’ll then enjoy a period of long straight cruising.
At Hazelhurst Junction, the Caldon Canal splits with the main Froghall line dropping down three locks and the Leek branch crossing over the top, near the Churnet Valley Railway. The short branch of the Caldon Canal to Leek is a beautiful and peaceful stretch of canal, passing through the Leek Tunnel, that now finishes just outside the town, the original canal basin for the Leek arm having been filled in long ago.
The rest of the Caldon Canal passes through the Oakmeadowford locks and Flint mill lock. The Uttoxeter Canal also begins at the end of the Caldon Canal, managed by the Uttoxeter Canal Trust.
The original length of the canal, which can no longer be seen on a Caldon Canal map, extending to a basin on the south side of Leek Railway Station, was filled in in the late 1950s / early 1960s to allow for the building of the Barnfields Road Industrial Estate.