Category Archives: The Cuckoo Way.


Tuesday, May 25th,       10 miles.     Killamarsh to Chesterfield.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so I boarded the first bus to Killamarsh, it took well over an hour to reach the destination having travelled around most of the Chesterfield district. I’ve become used to sitting for all this time with my face mask on. Calling at the hospital we picked up a drunk who had probably been released from casualty, as could be expected he caused some chaos on board before staggering off in the middle of nowhere.

I alighted at the Canal Bridge stop where I finished yesterday, but it was difficult to make out the bridge as the canal was filled in, encouragingly though was a sign for The Cuckoo Way to Chesterfield. The Greenway runs all the way to Renishaw and is a facility I hope the locals make use of, there were very few on it today.  So I disappeared into the undergrowth on the edge of a housing estate. The line of the canal was just a ditch to my left, at least it doesn’t seem to have been built over. The Cuckoo Way roundels, which I explained yesterday, were a help in navigating where the canal has all but disappeared.

Turning a corner the Trans Pennine Trail cycling route appears to the right following an old railway line. One could walk on the cycleway but I preferred to stay on the “towpath”. All of a sudden there was water in the canal, this section has been a fishery part of the Sitwell Estate. Coming towards me was a gentleman and his hound, he turned out to be the water bailiff for the estate. During the periods when we’ve not been allowed to travel far local fishing became a boom pastime and he was kept busy supervising the waters. He told me of the plans to restore more stretches of the canal, how to save and transfer the fish and how the line of the HS2 was coming through the region adding complications to the scheme. In this age of zoom conferences and working more from home will another railway be needed? The canal reverts to a ditch farther on.

The water bailiff goes on his way.

The line of the canal, the towpath and the Trans-Pennine Trail alongside.

The Greenway continued at times narrow and muddy, at others alongside the redundant canal. The cycle way has gone elsewhere. It passed the outskirts of Renishaw and then as a footpath following the filled in canal across open fields. Good progress was made as the way was clear ahead, although I had no idea of where I really was.

Approaching Staveley the canal originally was carried on a high embankment to cross the River Doe Lea, this is apparent on the ground except at the river itself, Staveley Puddlebank.

Staveley Puddlebank.

A lot of work is being undertaken at Staveley with a new lock and a basin constructed. This is some achievement as much of the labour is voluntary, Chesterfield Canal Trust. It was easy to get lost here with the new works and the many cycle routes.

Lunch was eaten on a bench next to the old Mill Green bridge. Men were fishing in the basin using very lifelike lures. As I sat two vessels came up the canal. The first powering a reed cutter and his mate using a rake to clear the water. In front of my eyes, the raker pulled a bath out of the canal – catch of the day. A little farther along he’d netted a bike and a supermarket trolley or were they art installations?.

Much friendlier than they look.

Catch of the day.

Entertainment over, I set off on the last few miles into Chesterfield. The towpath remained good and  a café was open at Hollingwood Lock.  On this section to Tapton new locks and bridges have already been built, and the canal is viable, although the only two boats I saw were from the Canal Trust used for pleasure trips raising money for the restoration cause. If you had a boat why would you put it on a section of canal only navigable for six miles.

And then there was a mile to go…

The end of the 6mile navigable section is short of the city and the rather dreary water comes to an end by building development sites which were basins in the years of the working canal. There are plans for a new showcase canal basin close to the city centre.

This lady’s not for turning.


First and last lock.

Even if the canal peters out before you get into Chesterfield, the sight of that twisted landmark is inspiring.

On reflection, I think it would be better to walk the way in the opposite direction with a far better finish at the Trent in West Stockwith.

46 miles of varied walking and I only became lost once in the housing estates of Killamarsh. I never heard a cuckoo, but I found a plausible reason for the Cuckoo tag, 




Wednesday, 26th May.      10 miles.     Worksop to Killamarsh.

I found myself changing trains in Sheffield, but all went well and I was in Worksop by 9.30. Getting out of Worksop was more pleasant than getting in on the Eastern side had been – that old adage “West End Girls” comes to mind as I hum the almost Miles Davis like composition, hear that trumpet interlude!. The west ends of many towns and cities in England were usually cleaner and healthier to live in with the prevailing wind blowing the smog to the east ends.

Excuse my indulgence.

Back to the inauspicious start at an enclosed lock under the main street, but then all was lovely and green as this canal walk has been so far. I thought the sign was probably unnecessary.

I’m sure these were Tufted Ducks.

Today was going to be a day of locks, 30 were needed to raise the canal up to the Norwood Tunnel which went through the limestone ridge in the path of the canal between the Trent and Chesterfield, “The Giants Staircase”. Several of them were double or treble locks where there is no basin between the locks, these are quite rare in England. An amazing feat at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This stretch has been restored between 1995 and 2003, but the work is ongoing.

Eight locks up and I arrived at Shireoaks Marina, originally a C19th basin for a local colliery -the last coal left here in 1949. I had read about a recent building in the traditional way of a Cuckoo Boat, Dawn Rose, and that she was moored in the marina. I could find no way into the marina so if she was there I was denied a sight which is a shame.

Entrance to Shireoaks Marina.

The marina through the railings.

About this point I started to notice Cuckoo Way roundels. The birds didn’t look like cuckoos to me and I later read that they are choughs borrowed from Retford’s coat of arms and incorporated into the original Chesterfield Canal seal and now used in the Trusts emblem. The diamonds were from Chesterfield’s seal.

It was good to find some of those lovely Peak and Northern signs along the way. Above Shireoaks was the start of more climbing, the seven Turnerwood Locks and some old cottages picturesquely situated on the towpath. It was here I met a man cycling the towpath on a 1970s Claud Butler bike, one of the elite British bikes at the time. We chatted all things cycling and it was obvious he was very proud of his steed. Notice the Shimano gears with down tube shifters.

Around the corner a swan was sitting on her nest, it was only a few years ago that someone shot a pen in the same spot leaving the cob distraught. Why? Let’s hope this bird brings up a successful brood.

I was now at the bottom of the Thorpe series of locks with two triple locks and two double locks, 15 locks in half a mile all in sylvan scenery. I was suitably awestruck.

At the top the canal levels out. On the right is one of those old farms with accumulated junk from 50 years ago. I would have loved to explore deeper into the undergrowth but the whole place had a forbidding atmosphere.

Farther on was a DL – CC boundary stone which I’m still trying to decipher. The canal has the rail line running close by it and just before Kiveton Park station is the wharf where stone quarried nearby was loaded and taken off to London to rebuild the Houses of Parliament after they burnt down in 1834. At Dog Kennet Bridge the towpath changes sides for the short stretch to the blocked Norwood Tunnel. The last turnabout point is rather ornate. The tunnel ran for 2,880 yards before it was blocked by mining subsidence in 1907. I have to walk over the top.

The walk over was quite pleasant first past Kiveton Waters fishery, their café was closed, then through the old reclaimed colliery land where care was needed with the many paths going in all directions. Dropping downhill through fields there was an underpass for the M1 and then slowly water appeared on the left where the Norwood Locks had been. These were a series of 13 in a third of a mile, three treble and one quadruple. They are all filled in now. The way passes extravagant houses with traces of canal stonework in the water channel running alongside. It was whilst looking into the garden of one house that a kingfisher flew straight towards me, landed on a reed and then flew back again showing me all its colours.

Kiveton Fisheries.

Bits of the canal reappeared and then vanished under houses in Killamarsh where land was sold off. I became disorientated in the estates and reappeared at the bus stop 3minutes before the bus came down the hill. I have to get back here tomorrow morning hoping the line of the canal will be more obvious. It has been very short-sighted to build a housing estate here and it will be a major engineering undertaking to connect the two halves of the navigable canal.


Rather than end today on a sour note, here are a few photos of the detail that goes into lock construction.






Sunday,  May 23rd.        10.5 miles,     Retford to Worksop.

Today I’m left with vivid memories of abundant greenery along the canal for most of the way. I started off from the Town Lock in the middle of Retford but within minutes I seemed to be surrounded by trees. The canal crossed aqueducts, including one over the River Idle, and then with the King’s Park on the right and a massive manicured cemetery on the left I was in the countryside. A few old wharves were evident and then the West Retford Lock. Close to town was popular with dog walkers, one lady pushing a baby buggy had a little terrier close behind, as she passed me I realised another terrier was having a ride in the babyless buggy – arthritis was her excuse.

Doggy buggy.

I hadn’t gone far when I came across boats moored up and their owners engaged in canal side chat. Most times you pass moored vessels all you are aware of is some smoke from the chimney with the occupants tinkering deep inside out of view. Anyhow, these three were very sociable as we discussed the difficulties of restoring canals. I was able to chip in with the Lancaster – Kendal problem which they seemed to know all about. As with yesterday’s couple drinking wine I’ve  never been offered even a cup of tea  from a canal boat. I’m sure Sir Hugh will have partaken.

Lady Bridge, number 54, had good examples of the grooves cut into the stone by the horses tow-ropes. Nearly all the bridges and locks on the Chesterfield Canal have been given names with past associations, I suspect it was a very sociable trade being a boatman along here.

The next sequence of narrow locks were named after the Forest of Sherwood which extended this far in the C18th. The third one was named Charlie’s after the lockkeeper who live in the adjoining house. More open countryside bordered the canal with rich looking sandy soil. However, there were still a lot of trees bordering the canal, particularly some fine specimens of weeping willow.

Charlie’s Lock.

Today’s corny name.

A stretch of the canal ran alongside the A1 and the noise was only just tolerable, pity the people living  there. The inviting looking pub, The Chequers at Randby, was on the wrong side of the water which was probably a blessing as I had a way to go. The canal twists and turns through the Randby Bends seemingly getting nowhere, but it is only cleverly following the contours.

By the time I reached Osberton Lock I was ready for lunch and luckily found a bench which happened to be a memorial to a gentleman who had lived in the attached lockkeeper’s cottage for many years.

I was now entering the estate of Osberton Hall and I found the towpath changing over to the left-hand bank – the owner of the Hall in the late C18th  had an Act of Parliament keeping the towpath on the opposite side from his house. The landowning toffs have always been up to it, nothing changes. I managed a sneaky shot of the stately pile.

Now it was all semi urban scenery into Worksop. Interest was maintained by the defunct steam driven Bracebridge Pumping Station, for Worksop’s C19th sewerage. The canal then comes alongside a massive factory, apparently a flour mill. There were some pleasant canal side cottages still standing.

Then over the canal in front of me was a warehouse with direct access to canal boats moored below – the trap door is still there. The warehouse was at one time owned by Pickfords of removal fame but now functions as a coffee shop and gym, I had visions of a weight lifter coming crashing through.  It was time to finish for the day.




Saturday May 22nd.     6.5 miles.     Clayworth to Retford.

The bus drops me off opposite St. Peter’s Church, this originates from the C13th but was much altered in the C19th. Murals by the arts and crafts artist Phoebe Traquair cover all four walls of the chancel, but there was no entry today. Outside though the churchyard wall contains a large boulder, perhaps unearthed by navvies digging the canal or was it a meteorite landing in the village? The village cottages were bedecked in clematis and all was quiet on the little lane leading to the canal at Otters Bridge, now down to number 68..

This was the start of a delightful walking through open countryside, views across the flat drained fields, lively birdsong and the all-pervading Mayflower scent. A roe deer was seen scampering across an open field, mother mallards shepherding their broods and swans protecting their cygnets. There were long stretches of reed beds and I heard several warblers but only caught sight of the one Reed Warbler.

‘There are boats moored up alongside the headquarters of the Retford and Worksop Boat Club. Much tinkering is going on, but nobody is sailing. Today’s prize for the corniest boat name goes to Goldilocks.

Several canal side pubs were passed, but none looked inviting, plastic children’s play areas and hastily concocted Covid dining areas. One, The Hop Pole, reflected on the acres of hops grown locally in the C18th until the canal ruined their trade by bringing hops from Kent, which had a better taste. Another of interest on the outskirts of Retford, the Packet Inn, was once the terminus for the weekly packet boat from Clayworth bringing people and produce to market. This was a two-hour journey and the return was an alcohol fuelled party. 

Bridge 61 is named Bonemill bridge alongside the building where bones were crushed for use as fertiliser. All these bridges and the older warehouses are constructed with attractive local bricks which have aged well.

Alongside the canal a garden has been furnished with signs and the occupant was all to pleased to chat about them.

After miles without, the first lock of the day was named Whitsunday Pie Lock, this strange title having many dubious origins. It is the last wide lock on the canal.  People were fishing unsuccessfully for perch and a couple had pulled up in their boat having cruised out of Retford for the weekend. They had just opened a bottle of wine and were in no hurry to proceed. This resulted in a lengthy conversation about boating, Covid and the best pubs in Retford. They had named their newish boat Our Lass – they were well and truly Yorkshire born and bred. For some reason I omitted to take a photo.   The next couple walking their greyhound were just as chatty and seemed to have all the time in the day, maybe life is more relaxed around here. Eventually I came into Retford with more old warehouses making an appearance. As is often the case these have been either converted into attractive living accommodation or become cafés or restaurants. so it was pleasant enough as the rural scene turned to urban hustle and bustle. The Town Lock is much narrower than those before, a good place to finish for the day.





Monday,  May 24th.      10 miles.     West Stockwith to Clayworth.

The bus to W Stockwith went around the houses more than once, at one time reversing the way through Misterton. I have a tight logistical transport plan to enable me to walk linearly and I was beginning to see it go wrong on the first day,  or is it the third? – it is too complicated to explain.

Suffice to say I started the walk at the canal basin next to the River Trent.  Is this the start or the end of the canal, well it depends, but in my case it is the start. 46 miles to go.

The River Trent is wide here and tidal, boats used to access it from or to the basin by the first lock. The canal as far as Retford had locks wide enough to accommodate  the larger River Barges. People are busy tinkering with their boats in the basin and the sign says the lockkeeper is on duty from his converted warehouse.

The River Trent with the old winch which pulled engine-less vessels into the basin.


The river lock and keepers cottage.


1798 warehouse, now the lock-keeper’s office.


A busy basin.

 A few boats were moored up on the first stretch of the canal. The towpath surface to Misterton has recently been improved and there are benches at regular intervals, that’s a good start.  The May Blossom was a delight, often lining both sides of the water, the theme of the day really. The sun was shining and the wayside flowers vying for attention. Life outside Lancashire was good.

The start of the canal.

Alongside Misterton, swans had made their nest on the towpath side, apparently if the male is on the path you had better turn around. Today he was too busy chasing ducks that came near the female on the nest.

The brick bridges are all numbered, counting down from 85, and modern mileposts are in place counting down from 45. I don’t know if any of the original mile markers have survived.

Bridge 82 0f 85.


One mile gone, 45 to go.

The rest of the morning is spent out in open countryside with hardly a habitation to be seen. I chat with a couple of lady dog walkers who tell me about the wild life I may or may not see. Kingfishers and otters are at the top of the ranks. One stretch of reeds is full of the song of Reed Warblers, but I only catch a glance of them.

The surrounding countryside is flat agricultural land as far as the eye can see, there is nothing here for the fellsman. Having said that I do pass at a distance Gringley-on-the-hill, an ancient village with far-reaching views. I can just spot its church tower on zoom.

Lunch is taken sat on the steps of Shaw Lock. On the adjacent bridge are the initials of the builder and date.  In a field nearby is an old brick works, boats brought coal in to a wharf and took the bricks out.

More wild woods and lush verges followed until I came to the mouth of Drakeholes Tunnel. Here the path goes over the top as did the horses whilst the boatmen pushed the barges through.


At the other end of the tunnel was a small wharf and across the road an Inn due to reopen soon, but will they still serve beer?

The next bridge along is named Face Bridge but the face on the keystone is very weathered. The bridge is ornate as it was the on the driveway to Wiseton Hall. The canal bends around the estate because the owner stated that it should not be built within 200 yds of the hall. The power of the upper classes.

 There had not been much traffic on the canal but in the last mile along comes a boat and two men paddleboarding.

I need to pay attention to the bridge numbers as I leave the canal at no. 68, Otters Bridge, to climb up to Clayworth and the end of my first day. I arrive just as the rain does.



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.