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Cheddleton Flint Mill and Deep Hayes

A short walk discovering the parts water and flint have played in the Staffordshire potteries.

Distance 3.3 miles (5.3km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 272ft (83m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Tow path, tracks, grass paths and roads, 11 stiles

Landscape Canal, reservoir, forest and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent

Start/finish SJ 961533

Dog friendliness Can be off-lead along tow path

Parking Deep Hayes Country Park visitors' centre

Public toilets Deep Hayes Country Park visitors' centre

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1 From the visitors' centre in Deep Hayes Country Park go down to the bottom of the car park and cross the stream before following the shore of the reservoir along a wooded track. The path gains some height above the reservoir, but continues along the shoreline. At a fork of two obvious footpaths take the left-hand option down some steep steps and across the concrete stepping stones.

2 Once across the stream head right through a stile with a sign that says 'Keep dogs on leads'. After a short while this track runs alongside the small stream that fills the pools of the reservoir. When you cross back over the stream, continue to follow the stream to the left through an aluminium kissing gate and along a boardwalk.

3 At a junction of three paths (marked by a wooden signpost) head sharp left, back over the stream for the final time, before following the footpath sign to Cheddleton. After crossing a stile, go right for 30yds (27m) before continuing up the hill along a wooded trail. At the top of the wood cross the stile and head straight across the field, aiming for the left of the farm buildings called Shaffalong.

4 In the far corner of the field, cross the stile and go along the muddy farm track to a gate. After the gate, continue straight ahead (rather than round to the farm) to a small stile in the wooden fence. Head diagonally right to another stile, and again to another. From here go immediately left, keeping the hedge to your left, before crossing a stile.

5 At an obvious wooden public footpath sign, head straight across the field following the line of trees to your left. Cross the small stile over a dry-stone wall and cross the next field to its far side. Just to the left of a clump of trees is a stile followed in quick succession by another stile and a slot in the wall, bringing you out on to the road into Cheddleton.

6 When you reach the end of this road, head left, with care, along the A520 and, after 150yds (137m), turn left following the signposts to the flint mill. After exploring the mill museum, keep going along the canal tow path for about 1 mile (1.6km) until you reach a bridge over the canal. Cross over the bridge, before turning right, along the driveway, to return to the visitors' centre.

The walk starts not at the flint mill, but at Deep Hayes Country Park, a recreational area which has been created around a disused reservoir. The reservoir itself was built in 1849 to compensate the River Churnet for the loss of water to several mills further downstream, while at the same time works were completed at nearby Wall Grange to pump 1½ million gallons (6.8 million litres) of drinking water from Caena's Well. During the 1830s and 40s thousands died in cholera epidemics because of poor water, so clean water was needed to serve the growing population of the booming Potteries region.

The reservoir at Deep Hayes was formed behind an earth dam 50ft (15m) high and 400ft (122m) long, which was built by hand. It continued to 'top up' the River Churnet until as recently as 1979, when problems with the dam's structure became too costly to repair. The water level was reduced, and three separate pools were made to create the country park you see today, complete with trails, toilets and visitors' centre.

The highlight of the walk, though, is undoubtedly the flint mill on the Caldon Canal. Originally a corn mill dating as far back as the 13th century, it was strengthened for flint grinding in 1800. Flint is a hard, nearly pure form of silica; when ground down to a fine powder it's used to harden and whiten pottery (before flint was used, silica was added in the form of fine sand, but the sand was often iron-stained and impure).

The flint arrived by narrowboat. It was heated in kilns at 1,100 degrees centigrade (2,012 degrees Fahrenheit) to make it more brittle, a process known as 'calcining'. The heated flint was then broken up and ground into fine powder by the water-powered, and later steam-driven, millstones. The slip, a mixture of water and fine flint powder, would be dried into blocks called 'cake' and taken to the wharf for dispatch to the potteries.

The mill continued to be worked well into the 20th century. During World War Two George Edwards & Son ground rutile (a black or reddish-brown mineral) for welding rods and, as late as the 1960s, ceramic stains were ground here for potteries overseas (in Saudi Arabia and Finland, for example). The mill finally stopped grinding flint in 1963.

Where to eat and drink

The Old School Tea Room offers a fantastic range of food and drinks, from snacks and cakes to home-made soup, freshly made sandwiches and baguettes, and an all day brunch. Try the house speciality, Staffordshire oatcakes with a variety of fillings. There is also a small craft centre here, which sells an amazing array of locally produced gifts. Open Monday to Friday, 10-5 in summer, Tuesday to Friday, 10-4 in winter, plus weekends 10-6 in summer and 10-5 in winter.

While you're there

The Churnet Valley Railway runs from Cheddleton to Froghall and back again, five to seven times a day, on certain days throughout the year. All trips are steam-powered in lovingly restored locomotives and stop at Consall and Leek in addition to Cheddleton and Froghall. All stations have a nearby tea room or pub for a bite to eat, in addition to other attractions, such as the museum and engine shed at Cheddleton, idyllic canal walking at Consall and the Brindley Mill Museum at Leek. For a timetable, visit the station in Cheddleton or www.churnetvalleyrailway.co.uk.

What to look for

The Caldon Canal, running from Froghall to Etruria Junction on the Trent and Mersey Canal in Stoke-on-Trent, was the brainchild of canal-building genius James Brindley. Flint came from Cheddleton on the Caldon Canal, while high quality clay came from the West Country, via the Mersey and the Trent and Mersey Canal.

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