Escape the crush for a while with an excursion along the charming Caldon Canal. Experienced boaters share what's good to know about this canal less-traveled.
Boaters are well used to life at less than 4mph, even when boating through our busier towns and cities. So here is a waterway that might just be the right remedy for a happier, healthier cruise.
From Etruria Junction
At Etruria Junction in Stoke on Trent take a turn off the Trent and Mersey Canal onto the Caldon Canal heading east towards the picturesque Churnet Valley. From the junction you will soon pass through a staircase lock, which is followed shortly by another single lock. You will cruise through past the town of Hanley, one of the six towns that make up Stoke on Trent. You'll spot frequent reminders of the area's industrial past. Soon the town slips away as the canal follows course of the River Trent in the valley below. Do make sure you stop and admire the view at Lock 4.
The outskirts of Endon
After the fifth lock the canal turns away from the River Trent up a flight of locks towards the outskirts of Endon, one of Stoke's six constituent towns. The view remains mostly rural with pleasant views towards the hills on both sides of the valley.
At Hazlehurst Junction the canal splits in two, keep right for the Leek branch or head left and down the Hazlehurst locks if you want to head to Froghall. On the main line to Frogall you catch frequent glimpses of the Leek branch across the valley and actually pass under it as it flies overhead on a handsome aqueduct.
Along the Churnet Valley
The mainline now turns south east along the Churnet Valley towards the town of Cheddleton with its Flint Mill Museum and the Churnet Valley Steam railway. Below Lock 16 Oakmeadowford Lock the canal joins the course of the River Churnet. Please check river levels carefully before locking down onto the river. If the level is on red do not proceed. The bridges are low, the river runs fast and there's a big weir to avoid at the end of the river section.
If the rain gods have been behaving and the levels are good, it's a beautiful cruise down to Consall Forge. Steam train enthusiasts are recommended to moor at Consall with many opportunities for train spotting, both steam and vintage diesel. The canal, railway and river continue close along together with views of steep wooded hillsides.
Arriving at Frogall Tunnel
Eventually along a very narrow section of canal you will reach the visitor moorings and winding hole at the portal of the Frogall Tunnel. Please be aware that headroom is severely restricted in the tunnel and that the profile of your boat is crucial to being able to pass through without getting stuck. If you don't fit the gauge, do not attempt passage. For those who fit through there are great moorings near Hetty's Tea Room, and for everyone else, it's just a shortish walk away but well worth a visit.
If you want to explore the Leek branch head back to Hazelhurst Junction. The turn is extremely sharp and you'll need a lookout to make sure the way is clear. You may find to better to continue to the winding hole before turning back towards the Leek branch.
It's narrow and shallow in places with a few sharp turns and the by now familiar low bridges, but the views across the valley are wonderful. Be careful on the approach to the Leek tunnel, it's not very long but it is one way working. You are almost into the tunnel before you can see if it's clear so approach slowly and be prepared to reverse and wait.
Sadly, the canal doesn't continue all the way to the town of Leek. The original terminus basin now sits under a retail park having been sold for development in the 1950s before the canal leisure revolution managed to save it from being filled in. Be careful not to miss the winding hole if your boat is over 45-foot long. You can always reverse back onto the visitor moorings.
If you do manage to visit both Leek and Frogall, both of these locations are part of the Inland Waterways Association “Silver Propeller Challenge”.
Thanks also to all the wonderful boat vloggers such as Minimal List, Floating Our Boat and Narrowboat Clips and many others who have vlogged about their experiences on the Caldon. If you fancy an armchair cruise check out their channels or just put “Caldon Canal" into the YouTube search box.