Tuesday, 18 November 2014

In search of the origin of The Chesterfield Canal.

Maybe it wasn't quite up to the search for the origin of the River Amazon or the River Nile but this was still an enjoyable expedition undertaken with Sal on a cloudy Sunday afternoon. Not only did we find the origin of the canal in what can only be described as a bleak run down industrial landscape but I also managed to fulfill a life's ambition of getting up close to the famous "crooked spire" of Chesterfield.

I'm talking fifty years ago now, when we used to travel down to my grandparents in Burton on Trent as a family. Always the highlight of the journey (apart from riding on a proper steam train!) was the sighting of the spire of the Saint Mary and All Saints Church in the far distance as the train sped on it's way to Derby and then Burton.

I suppose it was akin to many childrens experience of going to Blackpool and being the first person to spot the Tower. With us it was the first person to spot the spire. It's just a shame that the Church doors were locked as I would have loved to have had a look inside.

In common folklore, there are numerous explanations as to why the spire is twisted. One well established legend goes that a virgin once married in the church, and the church was so surprised that the spire turned around to look at the bride, and continues that if another virgin marries in the church, the spire will return to true again; with only a few weddings, it seems that this legend understandably discourages marriages at the church. Another legend is that a Bolsover blacksmith mis-shoed the Devil, who leaped over the spire in pain, knocking it out of shape. However it is now believed that the twisting of the spire was caused by the lead that covers it. The lead causes this twisting phenomenon because when the sun shines during the day the south side of the tower heats up, causing the lead there to expand at a greater rate than that of the north side of the tower, resulting in unequal expansion and contraction. This was compounded by the weight of the lead (approx. 33 tons) which the spire's bracing was not originally designed to bear. Also it was common practice to use unseasoned timber at the time the spire was built as when the wood was seasoned it was too hard to work with.

A wander around the town centre, which quite a nice minture of old and new was followed by a pint in the local Spoons before  retracing our footsteps back to the canal. As you can see from the photographs the canal itself is very nice until you get close to the town centre which is the case in most towns I think. I should imagine even the run down area was a joy to walk and travel along at one time.

The canal towpath forms part of a long distance walk which eventually ends in Istambul, 2000 miles away! Obviously this entails you having to jump on the ferry at Hull for a small part of the walk.

The canal is known locally as 'Cuckoo Dyke'. It was opened in 1777 and ran 46 miles from the River Trent at West Stockwith, Nottinghamshire to Chesterfield. It is currently only navigable as far as Kiveton Park near Rotherham, plus an isolated section near Chesterfield. Since 1989, 12 miles of the canal have been restored along with 36 locks and 11 bridges; 2 new marinas have been built. The latest section was opened early in 2012 with the flooding of the new Staveley Town Basin. There is only eight miles left to restore. Detailed plans already exist for every bridge, lock and aqueduct on this stretch. The Chesterfield Canal Trust which was formed in the 1980s is currently running a campaign called Closing the Gap in order to achieve this aim. They do a magnificent job because without them the canal would probably have been lost and forgotten by now.

All in all it was an interesting and very enjoyable afternoon out. A project was hatched to walk as much of the canal as possible over the next few years, so watch this space.

Tapton Lock

Tapton Lock

Chesterfield Canal

Chesterfield Canal

Chesterfield Canal

Route marker

Chesterfield Canal

Bridge Graffiti

Crooked Spire

Canal Start

Old Towpath

Bridge taking the old towpath

Information Sign

Chesterfield Theatre

Church steps

Wall in Churcj yard

Crooked Spire


Saint Mary's and All Saints Church

A journey of two halves.

It was one of those all too frequent occasions when the weather forecast had a big wad of thick cloud and rain hanging over Cumbria whilst ...