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Boats on the Chesterfield Canal, courtesy Richard Croft

Chesterfield Canal

The Chesterfield Canal, known locally as the ’Cuckoo Dyke’ is beautifully green and peaceful, with barely a house in sight at the eastern end.

Chesterfield Canal

Length46 miles
Locks59 narrow and 6 wide

Maximum boat dimensions

Length21.95m 72ft
Width2.08m 6ft 10
Draught0.98m 3ft 2"
Headroom2.15m 7ft 1"

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It is very popular for walking and cycling, but quiet in terms of boats, perhaps because you have to turn around and come back when you reach the end. However, it is well worth the journey for the leafy tree tunnels, meadows and wildlife.

One area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest, because of its rare aquatic plant life, including linton's pondweed, short-leaved water starwort, and brackish water crowfoot.

The canal was saved from dereliction, and boaters can now travel from the River Trent to Kiveton Park. There is a further five miles of restored canal at the Chesterfield end, but this is not connected to the rest and is only accessible by slipway. The Chesterfield Canal Trust is working to close the gap between the two sections.

In total, the 46-mile canal has 59 narrow locks, six wide locks, and two tunnels - one of which, Norwood, collapsed at the start of the 20th century.

Days out along the Chesterfield Canal

The history

The Chesterfield Canal was promoted by James Brindley but since his growing reputation meant he was greatly in demand, much of the work fell to his assistant John Varley. The line, known locally as 'Cuckoo Dyke', officially opened in 1777, five years after Brindley's death.

It originally extended 46 miles from the River Trent through Worksop and Retford before arriving at its terminus in Chesterfield. Along the way it negotiated two tunnels and a combination of narrow gauge and broad gauge locks. These hark back to a decision in 1775 when it was agreed that although the canal should be narrow from Chesterfield to Retford, it should be built on a larger scale between Retford and the River Trent to accommodate wider-beam river traffic along that section.

Throughout the 19th Century, the canal was very successful. In addition to large amounts of coal, it also carried agricultural goods, iron, pottery and ale. Its most famous cargo was 250,000 tons of stone from local quarries which were used in the construction of the Houses of Parliament.

Two World Wars and the advent of the railways did little to avert a commercial decline that was compounded in 1907 by a collapse in Norwood Tunnel. Although some trade did continue on the canal, the last recorded commercial cargo was in the 1960s. By this time restoration efforts were already underway and it was largely due to the efforts of campaigners that the Transport Act 1968, which reclassified canals according to their status of usage, allowed a sizeable section between Stockwith and Worksop to remain navigable. In 1976 the Chesterfield Canal Society, now known as the Chesterfield Canal Trust, was formed.

photo of a location on the canals
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