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Leek Legacy

An 18th-century watermill provides the starting point for a revolution in transportation.

Distance 4 miles (6.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 420ft (128m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Meadow track and some road, 8 stiles

Landscape Hillside meadow and woodland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent

Start/finish SJ 977569

Dog friendliness Must be kept on lead at all times

Parking Ample roadside parking on Abbey Green Road

Public toilets None on route

1 From the museum turn left along the A523, and immediately left again along Abbey Green Road. Follow this, bearing left over a bridge, to Abbey Green. Just before passing the Abbey Inn turn right through the car park and go up the obvious path. After 30 paces cross a stile and walk diagonally left to the top of the slope.

2 At the top bear right, keeping the fence about 20 paces to your left. Proceed through another fence into Abbey Wood where the path becomes wider. After a kissing gate carry on up the bridleway until it becomes a grassy track. Aim just to the left of a small copse ahead. Continue to a slot in the wall at the corner of Back Hills Wood.

3 Follow the faint track, keeping the dry-stone wall just to your right. At the bottom of the hill go through a gate and bear slightly left, keeping North Hillswood Farm to your right. At a rough surfaced road, go left until you reach a metalled road. Turn left and 100yds (91m) after Folly Rest cross a stile on the left. Descend, keeping the fence to your left and at the bottom head right.

4 Go through the gate on your left and pick your way along the path through Back Hills Wood. At the top right-hand corner, cross the stile and keep going straight, keeping the bank of trees to your right. At the end of these trees turn left along the bridleway and retrace your steps back to Abbey Green.

5 Opposite Abbey Dairy go right along a bridleway, through a gate, and continue in the same direction over a succession of stiles. After the second stile head diagonally left along the faint track through the meadow to its far right corner. Cross a stile and continue with a fence just to your left. Go through a hedge and up a short hill. At the top, cross a stile to your left and descend, now with the hedge and fence to your right.

6 At the bottom, cross the stile and head right past the house. At a metalled road, go left, and then left again along the A523, back to the Mill Museum.

Leek is an ancient market town that has long been associated with the textile industry. These days, the silks for which it was once renowned have largely been replaced by synthetic alternatives, although a number of textile manufacturers and factory shops selling brand names direct to the public still remain. But it's a little corn mill on the outskirts of the town, built by an illiterate millwright, that put Leek right at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution.

James Brindley was born at Tunstead, near Buxton in Derbyshire, in 1716 and in 1726 his family moved to Leek. Until the age of 17 he worked as a farm labourer and there is no evidence as to what, if any, formal education he received. He was apprenticed to millwright Abraham Bennett and after nine years of learning his trade he set up on his own as a millwright in Leek. It was here that he designed and built the water-powered corn mill that today houses a museum to his life and work.

However, it wasn't as a millwright that Brindley would make his name, but as a designer and builder of canals. In 1759 the Duke of Bridgewater hired him to devise a system whereby coal could be inexpensively transported from the duke's mines at Worsley to a textile manufacturing centre in Manchester. Brindley's solution was a 10-mile (16.1km) canal that included a underground channel and an aqueduct.

The scale and complexity of the project was unprecedented and when the Bridgewater Canal was completed in 1765, it revolutionised the way goods were transported in the north of England. In short, the age of the canal had begun. Brindley went on to engineer the Trent and Mersey Canal, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal and many others.

In total, he was responsible for 360 miles (579km) of canals, all of which had a huge impact on both the local, and national, economies. And, as if his career as a millwright and canal engineer weren't impressive enough, he undertook all of his engineering feats without any written calculations or drawings, preferring instead to do everything in his head.

Where to eat and drink

The Abbey Inn has a splendid stone patio, overlooking Abbey Green and the Churnet Valley, and a warm, cosy interior. Bar snacks and traditional pub meals are served every evening, and Saturday and Sunday lunchtime.

While you're there

Make sure you take a little time to visit St Edward's Church. It boasts a fine 13th-century roof in which every beam has been hewn from a separate oak tree. Leek's market is held every Wednesday in the Market Place, while the Butter Market is open Monday to Friday.

What to look for

Brindley Mill is a water-powered corn mill with a riverside garden. It illustrates Brindley's talents as an architect and a millwright and has a small museum dedicated to his life. Open weekends from Easter to end of September, 2-5pm and some weekdays in July and August.


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