Apedale Country Park

Exploring the industrial history of a wasteland that’s been returned to nature.




4.75 miles (7.7kms)

300ft (91m)

About the walk

Apedale Community Country Park, just to the west of Newcastle-under-Lyme, has a rich and varied history. The name itself has two possible meanings: one suggests that the word ape comes from the Latin apis meaning bee; the other is that ape is short for apple. Whichever you prefer, it seems probable that Apedale was once an ancient rural landscape, although for the last 2,000 years, it has been anything but…

Iron smelting in Apedale probably goes back at least to Roman times, if not before, but the impact on the landscape would have been negligible compared to what came later. Mining in the region is known to date back as far as the 1200s. This was made possible in the early days thanks to large deposits of coal lying at or very near the surface. Of the four main Staffordshire deposits, the Potteries Coalfield was by far the biggest, comprising an area of 100sq miles (259sq km). The Potteries, though, were doubly blessed. Not only was there coal to be mined and sold, but there were rich seams of high-quality clays that could be used to make pots. As the pottery industry developed, so the demand for coal increased, and the Apedale collieries would have played a major role in meeting that demand. The arrival of the first canals in 1777, thanks partly to the vision of people like Josiah Wedgwood, precipitated a boom in business throughout the region, and the emergence of the railways 60 years later proved to be another catalyst to productivity and prosperity.

With the Industrial Revolution well under way, iron mining and smelting enjoyed its own boom thanks to the invention of the blast furnace in the late 18th century. Apedale was a major centre of production, at one point providing employment for more than 3,000 men. Rising costs, however, sent local industry into decline by the 1920s, and when the owners lost their fortune in the Wall Street Crash, it ended altogether. Coal mining in the area, however, continued until 1998, when the last deep mine was closed at Silverdale, just a mile or two to the south of Apedale.

For much of the 20th century Apedale remained a barren and desolate place but today little evidence of the area’s industrial heritage remains. Nature has reclaimed the spoil heaps with luxurious ferns (see Fern Bank, on the map), and trees are recolonising the land, creating 455 acres (184ha) of woodland, meadows and pools that everyone can enjoy. Active reclamation work began in 1995 and continued efforts to improve and develop the park and its facilities reflect a triumph of nature over industry. Apedale Community Country Park is probably as green now as it’s been in the last 300 years, an ancient rural landscape reborn.

Walk directions

From the Heritage Centre in Apedale Community Country Park take a path to go right, through a gate. After 400yds (366m) turn right down to a corner of the park, then continue straight ahead, passing to the left of the sawmill. At a fork in the path, head right down a short hill to reach the corner of a lake.

Ignoring the stile, turn left along the narrow path into the woods. Stay on the main path, go over a plank footbridge, then go right at a fork to emerge into Fern Bank, containing giant, head-high ferns. Follow this path to reach a junction, with a clearing to your left. Walk through the clearing to reach the main gravel track.

Turn left and continue for 600yds (549m) to a gate and the turn-off for the lake, Point 2. About 30 paces after the gate, head right up a signed footpath along the edge of a small copse, keeping the fence to your right. At the top of this wood, 30 paces off the track to your left is a disused mineshaft.

Continue up the track and straight ahead to the village of Apedale, a former mining community. On the right, just after the track veers to the left, is Gamekeeper’s Cottage, once the site of a colliery.

About 100yds (91m) beyond the cottage turn left and go over a stile by a gate. Cross the field ahead to reach another stile. Go left to yet another stile, head right following a fence to the bottom of the hill, then skirt left to reach another stile.

Cross into Watermills Wood and follow the trail to another stile, then come to a junction of two paths. Head right here and, after 10 paces, fork right again. You’ll shortly come to a succession of stiles before continuing up to Watermills Farm.

Go over a stile and continue for 100yds (91m) before following a footpath left over a series of fields and stiles to some farm buildings on your right. When the fence veers round to the left, follow it to the edge of a young plantation. At the wide gravel track, head right and at a fork go left to reach the summit and the preserved pit wheel and wagon.

From the summit drop down the other side, continuing over a crossroads for a gently curving track to a T-junction. Head right here, and then take the wide track left down the hill. At the tarmac road head left and continue back towards the Heritage Centre.

Additional information

Wide gravel tracks, roads and dirt trails, many stiles

Ancient woodland, farmland and hilltop

Under close control in the country park

OS Explorer 258 Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle-under-Lyme

Car park opposite Heritage Centre, gates close at dusk

At Heritage Centre, when open

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About the area

Discover Staffordshire

It was Staffordshire that bore the brunt of the largest non-nuclear explosion of World War II, when a munitions dump at RAF Fauld went up in 1944. It was also the county’s regiment that once boasted within its ranks the most decorated NCO of World War I, in the person of William Coltman (1891-1974). Going back a little further, George Handel penned his world-famous masterpiece The Messiah on Staffordshire soil. During another chapter of Staffordshire history, the county was home to the first canals and the first factory in Britain, and it had front-row seats for the drama surrounding one of the most notorious murder trials of the 19th century, that of Doctor William Palmer.

In outline, Staffordshire looks not unlike the profile of a man giving Leicestershire a big kiss. The man’s forehead is arguably the best region for hillwalking, as it comprises a significant chunk of the Peak District. This area is characterised by lofty moors, deep dales and tremendous views of both. Further south are the six sprawling towns that make up Stoke-on-Trent, which historically have had such an impact on Staffordshire’s fortunes, not to mention its culture and countryside. This is pottery country, formerly at the forefront of the Industrial Revolution and the driving force behind a network of canals that still criss-cross the county.

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