Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Taking the Leek

We were tempted to by-pass the Leek branch of the Caldon – just three or four miles ending in the middle of nowhere.
I'm so glad we didn't – it was a delight and so different from the rest of the Caldon. Swing hairpin left from the top of the Hazelhurst Locks and you follow a canal that winds around the sides of steep hills, often offering breathtaking views. It's narrow in places and there are many moored boats along the opening mile or two but then it gradually opens out, each corner widening almost into a pool.
And suddenly the most spectacular sight of all appears. There on the horizon, towering fully 100 feet above the surrounding treetops is an enormous Gothic tower, so out of scale it could be a giant's plaything.
It is, in fact the water tower of the Victorian St Edwards "lunatic asylum" at Cheddleton, 135 feet tall and built in 1897. The hospital shut in the 1990s and the site is being redeveloped. Apparently the amazing tower was due for demolition (what little regard we have for the masterpieces of the past!) but was bought and converted into a private home. Lucky owner.
The finish of the Leek is less downbeat than the guides suggest. Go through the short tunnel, wind and you can reverse to moor up barely 15 minutes from Leek town itself. This morning we walked to the hilltop by the tunnel and gazed at a panorama of green rolling hills. There still in the distance above them all was that remarkable giant's castle.

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