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Staffordshire's Steepest Railway

A circular walk exploring the problems encountered by engineers at Froghall's well-preserved wharf.

Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 650ft (201m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Grass paths and dirt tracks may be muddy and slippery in very wet weather; 9 stiles

Landscape Forest and farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 259 Derby

Start/finish SK 027486

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near livestock

Parking Ample parking at Froghall Wharf

Public toilets At Froghall Wharf picnic site

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park go up a short ramp and along the gravel track. At the fork head right and, just after Harston Rock, go left down a trail signed 'Moorlands Walk'. At the bottom cross a footbridge.

2 Shortly after the footbridge, cross a stile and the bottom of a field. Once back in the woods again, cross another footbridge and go through a narrow stone slot. Continue across a field to a stile and another footbridge. Cross another stile and follow a dry-stone wall up the hill.

3 At the top bear right and continue round, following the curve of the wall. After a slot, go down a gravel track to a surfaced road and then head right to the wide fork. Go right through Foxt and after the church go hard left down the rough road.

4 Just before a private drive go left and then across a stile on the right, following the path along a fence. After crossing the stile continue through the wood to a small stream. Shortly after go through a kissing gate and follow the path to a farm road.

5 Turn right to Ipstones. At the end, follow the footpath round to the left and then immediately up stone steps to the road. Follow the road right and then round to the left and, at the next corner, continue between the houses and along a road. At the main road go right then left along the footpath (signed) to Stones Farm.

6 Bear slightly to the left of the farm and, just past it, go through a gate on your right and then continue left along the track. Go through a gate and carry on to a gap in the wall ahead. In the next field cross diagonally left to a gap in a hedge. Keep going straight down the field to cross a stile in the far right corner. Keep on down the left-hand edge of this field to a track to Booth's Wood Farm.

7 Cross a stile and head left following the Moorlands Walk. Cross another stile into Booth's Wood and follow a steepish footpath down to a footbridge and a stile. At the top of the wood go through the gate and across the field to the corner of a dry-stone wall. Follow this wall and track to reach the Hermitage.

8 Go right on the main road and, after 400yds (366m), follow the footpath sign into the woods on the left. Follow this steep path down to a T-junction, then turn right to the canal. At the canal turn left towards the bridge, then cross it to reach the car park.

These days Froghall Wharf is a very pleasant and secluded picnic site at the heart of North Staffordshire's Churnet Valley but this hasn't always been the case. In 1777 the Caldon Canal from Stoke-on-Trent to Froghall was completed by engineering whizz James Brindley. Froghall was chosen as the site for the eastern terminus of the canal because of its proximity to the limestone quarries situated at Caldonlow, just 3 miles (4.8km) to the east.

In theory, the limestone could have been taken from the quarry to Froghall on a basic tramway and then loaded on to barges bound for Stoke-on-Trent. In practice however, the quarries were some 680ft (207m) higher than the canal, which meant building the tramway was almost as difficult as building the canal. The first version, with rails of wood topped by an iron strip, was built in 1778, but soon proved to be inadequate. A replacement, completed in 1785, fared little better. A few years later, though, a third line was built and this was made more efficient by an ingenious device called a brake drum. Full wagons at the top of the incline were attached to empty wagons at the bottom via a large wooden drum; when these loaded wagons were rolled to the bottom, the empty wagons were pulled to the top, letting gravity do all the hard work.

By the start of the 19th century, the tramway was delivering thousands of tons of limestone a week to Froghall Wharf. In the 1840s a fourth line was built which followed a virtually straight line to the quarry, and this line remained in use right up until 1920. When the limestone reached the wharf it was either loaded directly on to barges to be taken to Stoke for use in construction or it was fed into the tops of the enormous lime kilns that can still be seen at the wharf today. Layers of coal were added and then the mixture was fired to reduce the limestone to quicklime. This was then collected at the bottom and taken to nearby farms for use as a fertiliser; quicklime was also used in mortar and as an ingredient in smelting iron from iron ore.

Special Site

Today, Froghall Wharf has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), thanks to its flower meadows and large areas of woodland, which support 50 species of birds, plus many more species of insects dependent on over-mature trees.

Where to eat and drink

If you want to stop half-way, try the Linden Tree in Ipstones - it does an extensive and varied menu for lunch and dinner, with daily specials and a carvery only on Sundays.

While you're there

The Churnet Valley Wildlife Park, less than a mile (1.6km) to the west of Froghall, features a menagerie of rare and unusual creatures, including playful brown capuchin monkeys, Asian small-clawed otters and Scottish wild cats, which are endangered in the wild. Other residents include the European lynx, Arctic fox and a wide variety of birds. The park also boasts a picnic area and a gift shop selling light refreshments. It's open daily from Easter to October, and at weekends from November to Easter.

What to look for

As you leave the car park behind at the start you're actually walking along the line of the fourth and final tramway to be built between Froghall and Caldonlow. It followed an almost straight line between the two, and the cuttings and embankments that made this possible can still be see higher up the track.

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