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CVLLP 15: Canal Access

Project Objective

To restore and enhance this important arterial Churnet Valley Living Landscape access route.

The Caldon Canal is the key access route in the valley and includes:

  • 22 accesses linking to 8 signed long distance walks
  • 5 wood and nature reserve walks
  • 3 locally signed walks
  • 5 towns and villages and local visitor attractions such as the Cheddleton Flint mill and Churnet Valley Steam Railway

The Caldon Canal access and towpath condition report (BW 2011) has identified 6,163 metres of towpath that is in poor condition and needs restoration – this includes 1,456 metres that requires the canal bank to be reinstated. The towpath should be restored using local stone to create a hard walking / cycling surface with the canal banks protected from wash erosion, where necessary, to ensure longevity and sustainability of the restoration. Access to be formalised and improved where possible and two new DDA compliant access points installed.

Fit to existing strategies and objectives

The Staffordshire County Council Rights of Way Improvement Plan (ROWIP) established a framework for managing the rights of way network over a 10 year period (2007-17) and set out their priorities for improving it to meet the needs of today's users.

In the plan it is recognised that Staffordshire's public path network, with other linear routes (such as the canal towpath), provides an important means of access to the countryside for people to enjoy outdoor recreation. However, this local rights of way network is more than a recreational asset. It links communities with local services such as schools, employment sites and shops and enables people to access such facilities by a sustainable mode of travel. Its use also provides important social, health and economic benefits for people and communities. There is substantial evidence that links the natural environment with good physical health as the countryside offers many opportunities for physical activity such as walking, horse riding and cycling.

The Churnet Valley is recognised within the ROWIP as an area where demand for access is, and will remain, high.

Research also suggests that use of local rights of way helps to boost tourism and contributes to rural economies. The link between the use of local rights of way and rural economies was clearly demonstrated during the 2001 Foot and Mouth epidemic when it was considered necessary to close the public path network. Many businesses reported losses of income as a result of the closure.

Comprehensive description of the project

Caldon Canal – A Brief History

Opened in 1779 as the Caldon Branch of the Trent and Mersey Canal, the canal was built to carry limestone from the Cauldon Lowe quarries in the Southern Peak District. Tramroads were built to bring the limestone to the canal from where it was transported along the canal system. A second branch canal, the Leek Branch, was constructed to connect the Caldon Canal with the town of Leek and the newly constructed reservoir at Rudyard.

Consisting of 17 locks along 17.5 miles (28km) the Caldon Canal was used for transporting limestone. It managed to fend off the attention of the railways for a while but eventually at the beginning of the 20th Century a new railway line was built and canal traffic slumped dramatically. By the1960s the canal had deteriorated to such an extent it had become more or less un-navigable.

Due to the persistence of the Caldon Canal Society (now the Caldon & Uttoxeter Canals Trust) and in partnership with British Waterways and Staffordshire County Council (three partners in the CVLLP) the campaign to re-open the canal finally came to fruition in 1974.

Access and connectivity to the Churnet Valley

The Caldon Canal follows the River Churnet from Leek to Froghall; the river joins the canal at Oakmeadowford Lock and forms part of the navigation.

The canal towpaths provide 17 km of country walking with many connections to other walks within the valley as well as connections to the local attractions.

British Waterways National survey counted over 700,000 annual visits to this part of the canal system as well as 19,000 cyclists, 9,000 Anglers and 11,000 canoeists.

Around 4,500 boats navigate the Caldon Canal and Leek Branch with 29,000 people spending a day on the canal. 

Connectivity: The Caldon Canal has accesses to, or links to the following:

  1. The Staffordshire Way
  2. Churnet Valley Geotrail Part 1
  3. The Three Rivers Challenge Walk
  4. The Churnet Way
  5. Cheddleton to Deep Hayes Walks
  6. Staffordshire Moorlands Walks
  7. Locally signed Red, Green and Blue walks as part of the Froghall Wharf Walks
  8. Chasewood Access
  9. Booths Wood Access
  10. Access into Leek town and Rudyard Lake
  11. Access to the Churnet Valley Railway at Froghall, Cheddleton and Consall
  12. Access into Froghall, Denford, Longsdon and Cheddleton villages
  13. Access into the Flint Mill at Cheddleton
  14. Consall Nature Reserve
  15. Deep Hayes Country Park
  16. Ashcombe Park
  17. Consall Wood.

During the next four years of our project new trails that will also connect to the canal include (CVLLP 18):

  1. Towpath Trail (Uttoxeter Canal)
  2. Plateway Paths
  3. Churnet Valley Geotrail Part 2

Towpath condition

Towpath continuity is 100% from Leek to Froghall via Hazlehurst

The physical condition for walking and cycling is variable from excellent to very muddy.  Generally the towpath can be walked for the full length in good sturdy walking boots.  Some improvements are needed to sustain good walking routes and some major works are required to create a cycle route and appropriate access for pushchairs and wheelchairs.

Analysis of Inspection

The Canal Access report undertaken during the development phase of this project graphically identifies the condition of the towpath in relation to its ability to sustain walking and cycling (not Highways standard). Analysis reveals the following:

  • towpath is in good condition - no improvement required – 7,311metres
  • towpath is fit for purpose and requires normal maintenance regimes – 2,975 metres
  • towpath may require structural bank protection and resurfacing – 1,456 metres
  • towpath that needs resurfacing – 4,707 metres
  • towpath requires drainage – 300 metres
  • towpath requires bridging to over sail streams – Five

Other surfaces

Bridges -There are 32 bridges in total:

  • 8 require renewed surfaces under bridge - 240m2 of surfacing
  • aqueducts - 2 Aqueducts need surfacing – 240m2 of surfacing

Access points – There are 31 in total:

  • 4 need formalising
  • 3 need replacing with kissing gates to improve access
  • 4 need minor repairs
  • 2 potential DDA accesses

The Canal Access report goes on to detail what works are required to meet the needs outlined as follows:


Lock 12
0m     Start – Bridge underside brick sheeting
5m     Finish – Bridge sheeting needs levelling and letting grass grow
15m   Start – Dry stone walls repairs
389m Finish – Dry stone walls repairs.

Project Activity

Works programmed 2012 to 2015 managed by BW will restore 1.456 m of canal bank using mainly hardwood posts interwoven with pliable timber such as willow – all material to be sourced and handmade from timber produced by the sustainable woodland management projects (CVLLP 1 & 5). 

Towpaths- 6,163 m to be hardsurfaced, using local stone , 1.8 m wide to allow walking and cycling on the same path; recognised original surfaces at bridges, aqueducts etc to be restored as original.

Installation of biodiverse friendly bank erosion protection using arisings from the tree management programme and resurfacing the towpath with locally sourced stone from our partner, Lafarge, will require formal training and qualifications in woodland management, boat handling skills, use of tracked dumpers and mini excavators, use of historic agricultural tools and DDA compliance awareness.

Repair and resurfacing to other structures will require skilled historic lime mortar brick and stone laying, cobble and sandstone restoration, rebuilding dry stone walls and potentially installation of modern non slip long lasting surfaces. The towpath should be restored using local stone to create a hard walking / cycling surface with the canal banks protected from wash erosion, where necessary, to ensure longevity and sustainability of the restoration. Access to be formalised and improved where possible and two new DDA compliant access points installed.

Outputs and outcomes

Measured outputs

  • Up to 100 placements for young people with formal qualifications and work experience gained
  • 22 accesses to towpath formalised
  • 6km of footpath restored
  • 100 tonnes of tree waste recycled
  • 1.5km of vole and otter friendly bank protection installed


  • 100 young people more prepared for employment or education
  • improved access to the canal for 700,000 walking and cycling visits and thus benefits to health for user communities
  • improved population of BAP species such as damsel and dragon fly, native crayfish and voles


The Canal, its towpath and various parcels of land where work will be carried out under this project are all in the ownership of British Waterways, They will enter a binding legal agreement with the Lead Partner and the Heritage Lottery regarding long-term maintenance of works carried out under CVLLP.

What happens when the project is finished?

The Churnet Valley Living Landscape Partnership is fully committed to maintaining the Caldon Canal as the key access route through the valley and the following ‘new’ projects have already been identified:

  • Hazlehurst – 374m of dry stone walling renewal needed
  • Hazelhurst Aqueduct – 2m2 of friable brickwork needs renewing along with 2m of stone stinger. This could be a lime mortar heritage repair training opportunity
  • Bridge 7 – DDA compliant access could be achieved here
  • There are opportunities to create visitor moorings at various locations

CVLLP partner, British Waterways, who maintains statutory responsibility for the canal (none of the projects and activities identified in project CVLLP 15 are undertaking statutory activity) will gain charitable status before CVLLP Heritage Lottery phase ends and they are dedicated to maintaining the canal as a major access and interpretation route indefinitely.

Risks and constraints

Operational Risks

Risk: Key staff retention technical skills and relationships with land managers need to be built up over time staff recruitment and retention is therefore important.

Contingency planning: The canal access plan is completed and the majority of work required to be carried out will be undertaken by a mixture of volunteers and training placements supervised by three staff; British Waterways staff will organise and recruit, while the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Training Officer (CVLLP 22) will be heavily involved with the placements and daily supervision that will be accomplished through the Practical Projects Officer (CVLLP 23); continuity should therefore remain.

Risk: Failure to recruit suitable numbers and quality of volunteers and trainee placements.

Contingency planning: The responsible partner for this work (BW) already has good procedures in place. The project timetable allows for changes or additions to activities involving community volunteers should there be issues with support staff.

Project Delivery Risks

Risk: Poor weather may reduce BW’s ability to deliver access projects within described timescales, this is liable to have a minimal potential effect as timescales for work in a given year is based upon seasonality of work rather than the amount that needs doing. Exceptionally wet periods may result in difficulty accessing bankside areas and wetlands but BW expect this to cause delays rather than reduced outputs.

Constraints, licences, permits etc

British Waterways own all of the land where this project will take place, where licences or permits are required by Environment Agency or DEFRA BW is competent to ensure they are provided. Statutory Bodies Natural England, Environment Agency and DEFRA

are all involved with this project and have positively fed into its planning and this bid submission. The canal towpath is not a designated Right of Way.

Invasive species

During access work along the canal BW will manage invasive species in conjunction with the Churnet Valley Big Pull (lead by Participation project CVLLP 9) and the dedicated professional action of the canal vegetation project (CVLLP 5).


Our CVLLP Training Officer and Practical Projects Officer will maintain high levels of biosecurity with volunteers and placements while undertaking projects. They will also work with others to raise the awareness of biosecurity issues within the valley.

Environmental Policy

Reduce travel: The training Officer and the Practical Projects Officer will be based at the CVLLP office in the project area in order to reduce travel to a minimum and meetings will all be held in the project area.  Where possible site management equipment will be stored in the project area thus negating the need to bring it in from a distance.

Efficient travel: Vehicles provided for the project staff will be low carbon emissions vehicles, there will be a CVLLP dedicated mini-bus available within the overall project which will be used to reduce private car use.

Discipline: Project Staff will be expected to comply with the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust Environmental Policy (Appendix 3.4), or the British Waterways Environmental Policy (Appendix 3.2) depending on area of work being undertaken.

Overall ethos

Our work with volunteers and placements will be heritage orientated, but throughout there will be a strong element of sustainability and the potential for young people to in include environmental issues in the projects they carry out.