The demands of the early Industrial Revolution put great strains on England’s road system, little changed since Roman times. Water transport was the answer, and a network of canals soon threaded the landscape. Water for these liquid sinews was harvested from the uplands, stored in lakes and delivered by leats and feeders.
The great canal engineer John Rennie saw the potential of Dingle Brook to top up the Trent and Mersey Canal; in 1797 he designed a dam to impound the flow. So was created Rudyard Lake, a glistening two-mile-long reservoir feathered by tranquil woodlands north-west of Leek. In Victorian times, it became a popular destination for day trippers taking the North Staffordshire Railway. This walk follows in their footsteps.
From the car park, follow the miniature railway laid on the trackbed of the old railway. Soon skimming the eastern lake shore, the route parallels a swim made in 1877 by Captain Matthew Webb, emulating his cross-channel exertions.
Poetry in motion
At the lake-head car park past the stone bridge, turn back-left on the waymarked Staffordshire Way (SW). Peaceful today, US troops trained here for the D-Day landings in 1944. As the lane departs the shore, the rolling pastures you can see here were once a golf course developed by the railway company in the early 1900s. The round-lake path has been popular for more than 150 years. One courting couple retained such fond memories that they named their son after it – Rudyard Kipling, author of If, voted England’s favourite poem. Follow the SW left up through the copse here.
Beyond elegant Cliffe Park, Rea Cliffe Wood speckles the shoreline; you’ll pass behind some of the flights of fancy that are the lake’s renowned boathouses. Simply follow the waymarked SW along lane, tracks and paths, eventually reaching a road called The Crescent at Rudyard. Use the fenced footpath ahead to the lakeshore. Pause a while to reflect upon the lake’s history, including the tightrope walk across it, made in 1861 by Charles Blondin, famed for crossing Niagara Falls on a rope. Today’s activities are more sedate, including rowing boats for hire and steam train trips. Cross the dam and turn right to return to base.
How to get there
Rudyard Lake is two miles north-west of Leek and well signposted from the A523 Macclesfield Road. Park in the public car park (free) at the Rudyard Lake Steam Railway (immediately past railway bridge).
Find out more
Rudyard Lake visitor and activity centre
Lake Road, nr Leek
This three-star hotel has an excellent carvery.
The Abbey Inn
Abbey Green Road, Leek
This country inn has three rooms, and serves local real ales and filling fodder.
Rudyard Lake Steam Railway
Rudyard Road, nr Leek
Steam trains run at weekends, plus daily in high summer.