Relive the Edwardian era on this easy route beside picturesque Rudyard Reservoir, source of the water for much of the Midlands' canal network.
Minimum time 3h00
Distance 8.5 miles (13.7km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL24 White Peak
Start/finish Rudyard Old Station, grid ref SJ 955579
Trails/tracks old railway trackbed
Landscape wooded lake shore, peaceful pastures and meadows
Public toilets Rudyard village
Tourist information Leek, tel 01538 483741
Bike hire none near by The pub: The Abbey Inn, Leek, see Directions to the pub, page 27
Notes Take care along the banks of the lake - keep well away from the shore line
© Automobile Association 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
From Leek take the A523 north west towards Macclesfield. Soon turn left on to the B5331, signed to Rudyard Lake. The entrance to the car park is on the left immediately under the railway bridge and before Rudyard village.
1 This is an easy there-and-back route from Rudyard Old Station, now the base for the little Rudyard Lake Steam Railway. This narrow gauge line follows the course of the former standard gauge line for 1.5 miles (2.4km) along the lake shore, its miniature steam engines providing endless fascination for visitors of all ages. The route follows the track north through cool woodlands to reach the Dam Station. As the name suggests, this is adjacent to the dam holding back Rudyard Lake. Make a side detour across the dam to a visitor centre, café and toilets - here, too, you'll find rowing boat hire and seasonal launch trips on the lake.
2 Return to the old railway and carry on cycling northwards. The lake is easily visible through the trees - some care is needed as parts of the bank are prone to collapse, so keep well away from the shoreline. Looking across the lake, you'll see some of the odd boathouses that so delighted their owners a century and more ago. The lake is a popular place with school groups and Sea Scouts, so may well be lively with dinghies and Canadian canoes.
3 Passing by an intermediate railway halt, our route reaches the terminus of the miniature railway at Hunthouse Wood. More of the shore remains to be followed, however, so continue northwards along the old track, shortly passing through a gateway and on to a wider base of potholed, compacted ballast and cinders. The lake gradually narrows to its northern tip where there is a small car park and turning area. You can turn around here and retrace the route back to the start for a total ride length of 4 miles (6.4km). Before doing so it is worth diverting left along the tarred access lane for 200yds (183m) to a viewpoint offering a panorama down the length of the lake. The bridge here is across the canal feeder leat, which gathers Dingle Brook beyond the reedy marsh to the north. American troops trained for the D-Day landings in 1944 in this area, while the cornfields and pastures beyond were once a popular golf course.
4 Back on the old railway continue to the village of Rushton Spencer. Look to the right of the car park for wooden bollards and the muddy railway track. Take this (not the wider potholed road) through the trees, initially a muddy stretch that soon becomes a strip of compacted gravel on a grassy trail. This leads to the old station at Rushton Spencer. There's a superb North Staffordshire Railway station house here, and also a village pub called The Knot.
5 This is the end of the line; from here retrace your outward route back to Rudyard Old Station.
6 As a final flourish it is possible to follow the old trackbed south to the outskirts of Leek, just short of an old tunnel. This trip is beside pastureland and partly follows the route of the canal feeder leat and the little River Churnet. Return the same way back to Rudyard.
You've probably passed over, or cycled beside, many a canal and taken them for granted as part of the scenery. The building of the county's canal system was a massive undertaking, but few people consider just where the water comes from to make them operate. The answer is places like Rudyard Lake. This was created in 1800 as a reservoir to supply water to the Caldon Canal, which served Leek and, more significantly, the Trent and Mersey Canal at Stoke-on-Trent, one of Britain's most important canals.
The Dingle Brook would have taken too long to fill the reservoir (and to keep it topped up) so, in addition to the dam, a feeder channel, or leat, was constructed up in the hills to the east of Rushton Spencer. This collects water from the River Dane as it rushes down from the high Staffordshire moors and delivers it to Rudyard.
When the North Staffordshire Railway line was built between Leek and Macclesfield during the 1840s, the owners realised the reservoir was a potential leisure resource. They ran special excursion trains and laid out walks in the area. One couple had such pleasant memories of the time they spent here they named their son Rudyard Kipling after the area. Wealthy patrons built eccentric boathouses and chalets along the western shore of the lake, and these can still be seen today.
Rudyard Lake is surrounded by wooded hills, pleasant hay meadows and cow pastures. The route takes full advantage of the countryside and offers opportunities to enjoy the other summertime facilities here such as a miniature railway, boat trips on the lake and rowing boat hire. It's an ideal family day out.