Froghall Wharf and the Churnet Valley

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




4.5 miles (7.2kms)

650ft (198m)
2hrs 15min

About the walk

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.

Transporting limestone

In theory, the limestone could have been taken from the quarry to Froghall on a basic tramway and then loaded onto 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.

At the wharf

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 tramway 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 onto 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

Froghall Wharf has now 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.

Walk directions

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

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.

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

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

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.

Bear slightly to the left of the farm and, just past it, go over a stile on your right and then continue left along the track. Go through a gate and carry on to another. In the next field cross diagonally left to a gap in a hedge. Continue 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, going left before the buildings into the field.

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

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.

Additional information

Grass paths and dirt tracks may be muddy and slippery in very wet weather; many stiles and steep steps

Forest and farmland

Keep on lead near livestock

OS Explorer 259 Derby

Froghall Wharf car park

At Froghall Wharf picnic site

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Walking in safety

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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.