Restoration tales: the Chesterfield Canal – East Midlands

The continued restoration of Cuckoo’s Dyke is a past and future success story for revived waterways

Photo: 19Andy76


Given the popularity of canals today, it seems hard to believe that in the 1940s and 1950s many were facing abandonment. The rise of railways and road traffic had reduced our waterways to a handful of useful navigations, with others falling prey to disuse and poor maintenance, until local volunteers seized the day and restored them to new use.

One such example was the Chesterfield Canal – 46 miles of canal running from the Trent at West Stockwith to Chesterfield, which had fallen into such a state of disrepair it was proposed for official abandonment in 1961. The canal, though, lives on! It’s not yet fully restored but it’s defiantly alive and offers splendid walking and cycling routes, together with great places for observing local wildlife.

The canal, known locally as Cuckoo’s Dyke, was opened in 1777 and carried coal, agricultural goods, iron, pottery and ale as well as 250,000 tons of stone used to construct the Houses of Parliament. The canal’s principle engineering feature was the Norwood Tunnel, which was one of the largest when completed and also a significant cause of the route’s decline following its collapse in 1907. The canal has remained divided ever since. Without the tunnel, the section from Worksop to Norwood fell into disuse, while parts of the section to Chesterfield were filled in. By the 1980s, the Chesterfield was a muddy ditch in those places where it hadn’t disappeared completely.

Resuscitating such a beleaguered waterway was a serious challenge even to the army of volunteers inspired by previous success stories around the country. The Chesterfield Canal Society formed in 1976 and initially concentrated on the section east of the Norwood Tunnel and the last five miles of the western end.

Since 1989, 37 miles of canal have been made navigable and locks, bridges and towpaths have been restored so that pedestrians can walk every yard of the canal on the Cuckoo’s Way.

The revival of the Chesterfield is already a remarkable success story, but one that is not yet complete. You can read more about the Chesterfield Canal on our website and find out how to get involved in its ongoing restoration.

Each year, we hold a number of free Open Days for the public. So, we’re inviting you along to take a look behind the scenes and find out what it takes to keep our canals and rivers open to everyone. Find an Open Day near you.