The Cuckoo Way follows the towpath of the Chesterfield Canal for 46 miles, arguably one of the most beautiful and varied waterways in England.
The canal was designed by James Brindley but much of the work was by his assistant John Varley. The line, known locally as ‘Cuckoo Dyke’, opened in 1777, five years after Brindley’s death. It was at the forefront of canal design in its day with a multiple staircase lock flight and the longest tunnel in the country at Norwood. Originally extending 46 miles from the River Trent through Worksop and Retford to Chesterfield. Along the way it negotiated two tunnels and a combination of narrow gauge and broad gauge locks. A decision was made for the canal to be narrow from Chesterfield to Retford, but on a larger scale between Retford and the River Trent to accommodate wider-beam river traffic along that section.
Throughout the 19th Century the canal was very successful, carrying coal, agricultural goods, bricks, iron, timber, pottery and ale. Its most famous cargo was 250,000 tons of stone from local quarries which were used in the construction of the Houses of Parliament. The original cuckoo boats, all horse-drawn, were unique to the canal. Most boat trips were short, this meant that there was no requirement for overnight accommodation and hence no, or only a small, cabin or shelter. The “traditional” canal art was also missing.
The advent of the railways brought a gradual decline that was compounded in 1907 by a collapse in Norwood Tunnel. Although some trade did continue on the canal, the last recorded commercial cargo was in the 1960s. A sizeable section between Stockwith and Worksop remained navigable. In 1976 the Chesterfield Canal Society, now known as the Chesterfield Canal Trust, was formed and restoration completed of the Worksop to Norwood and Staveley to Chesterfield sections. The path apparently follows close to the original line of the canal on the remaining unrestored section.
The Cuckoo Way has the making of an interesting and varied walk in a part of the country I hardly know. Maps and a guide are available from the Canal Trust. After all our problems with the Covid pandemic and the resultant restrictions it is perhaps time I ventured farther afield – so here I go on an easy ‘expedition’ to get me started.