Senior ecologist for the Canal & River Trust Paul Wilkinson recommends his favourite waterway walk, from Wolverley to Cookley.
The Staffordshire & Worcestershire Canal is a beautiful waterway; wooded in most parts and lined with occasional red sandstone cuttings. This is one of my favourite stretches to walk along, particularly for my love of bird and bat watching.
1. Start walking north along the canal from the Lock Inn and Old Smithy Tearoom in Wolverley. To the left is the River Stour, which meanders in and out of sight of the towpath. Where the river cuts close to the canal, check the sand bank for otter footprints.
2. Once you've gained some distance from the Lock Inn and things start to quieten down, keep your eyes peeled – it's quite common to see the kingfisher's dazzling blue flash when it darts up the canal. At dusk, common pipistrelles can be seen fluttering around the buildings, while soprano pipistrelles tend to loop overhead.
3. As the trees begin to part, keep an eye out for young orchard trees planted by the local community. In future years, once the trees have matured, there should be plenty of apples, plums and cherries for you to pluck from the branches.
4. As you approach the first bridge, you should be able to spot bat and bird boxes among the trees. These boxes are home to pipistrelles and brown long-eared bats, as well as the occasional yellow-necked mouse family. Between March and July, from a respectful distance, view the boxes to see what's nesting – you may find blue tits and great tits, maybe even nuthatches.
5. The offside of the canal forms a potholed sandstone wall as you walk through the cutting; there have been grey wagtails spotted nesting in these holes. In the evening, Daubenton’s bats patrol up and down the water's surface, eating insects. As you approach a bend, the floodplain turns into alder woodland. if you are lucky, you may see the threatened willow tit or lesser spotted woodpecker.
6. Go around another bend, past more orchard trees and another impressive sandstone outcrop with mighty oaks perched above it. The final stage of this short walk takes you into enchanting oak woodland, with ferns unfurling along the sandstone cuttings.
7. When you come to the Grade II listed Debdale lock with its artificial cave, you can either cross the bridge up to the fields above, or continue along the canal to a tunnel where a steep path takes you into the village of Cookley, or simply turn around and walk back to the start. Just don't forget to call in at the Old Smithy Tearoom for one of their lovely cakes or a pint at the Lock Inn before you leave.
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