When canals were first built, their raison d’etre could be found in the canal basin. These was where most journeys started and ended, as boats would move from basin to basin with cargo to be loaded and unloaded. As such, these expanses of water would usually be lined on three sides by warehouses and wharves that could handle cargo as well as shield the hard work of the canal from public view. Many basins still have their surrounding infrastructure and architecture, but are now used as focal points of the leisure industry. A prime example is Bugsworth Basin, at the start of the Peak Forest Canal. This was once the largest and busiest inland port on the network. It’s now home to a pub, boat trips, picnic spots, a visitors centre, gift shop and café, as well as being a great spot for walks and general gongoozling.
Bugsworth Basin connected to the Peak Forest Tramway, which took limestone, lime and gritstone to the canal, where it could be transported to Manchester and other major cities. The first basin was opened in 1796, and was soon expanded as limestone was in great demand for the construction of roads and railways while lime was used in soaps, bleach, mortar and fertiliser. Lime kilns and lime sheds were located around the basin to handle the 600 tons of limestone that came through each day. However, when the tramway was rendered obsolete by the railway, the basin went into decline and finally closed in 1927.
The Inland Waterways Protection Society began to restore the basin, which reopened for navigation in 2005 and is now a popular tourist destination with a canal shop and visitor centre that sells gifts as well as boat supplies. There is also an exhibition space exploring the industrial history. A walk around the basin is supported by a series of interpretation panels explaining points of interest. There’s plenty of nature to be seen around the basin, which features a specially-created vole habitat and the basin is home to Wandering Duck boat trips, who offer two-or-three day catered holiday trips as well as a one-day experience. Finally, there’s the Navigation Inn, which was once owned by Coronation Street actress Pat Phoenix and now serves home-cooked food as well as beer.
Elaine Peter Scott