Best picnic spots: the Chesterfield Canal

Take an idyllic walk along the ‘Cuckoo Dyke’ as it meanders through meadows to Drakeholes Tunnels where an abundance of wildlife awaits

Chesterfield Canal


The Chesterfield Canal runs for 46 miles beside wide grassy meadows and through shady tree tunnels. It’s known locally as the Cuckoo Dyke, picking up its name from distinctive horse-drawn cargo boats known as ‘cuckoos’.

As well as being an important route for transporting coal, at one point this waterway also played a key part in the building of the Houses of Parliament. Between 1841 and 1844, 250,000 tonnes of stone were quarried in North Anston in Yorkshire, then moved along the canal en route to Westminster.

Nowadays, there’s no through passage for boat traffic – meaning boats have to turn around and come back the same way – so things have slowed down a touch. For much of your walk, you might even have the towpath all to yourself.

To start your walk, park considerately in Clayworth, then head northwest out of the village until you come to the canal. Turn right onto the towpath, and then enjoy a meandering walk along the gentle curves of the canal for around a mile and a half, admiring the simple stone and brick bridges, and lush meadows until reaching the small hamlet of Drakeholes.

When the canal takes a sharp right turn, leave the towpath and head down Eel Pool Road, turning right onto Mill Lane and crossing onto Broomhill Lane. Take the first footpath on the right and it will lead you to Everton Farm Shop. The Troop family have farmed the land here for over 600 years, and their farm shop is packed not only with their own produce but also ingredients from the surrounding area. After stuffing your pockets with delicious homemade sausage rolls and their special Bakewell tarts, retrace your steps to Drakeholes.

Drakeholes is a site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and a great spot for a picnic. There are plenty of benches scattered across the site as well as masses of grass on which to spread out a blanket. It’s worth spending some time watching the entrance of the 154-yard tunnel. You’ll notice there’s no towpath – people used to ‘leg’ their boats through the tunnel. The odd boat still passes through, although nowadays you’re more likely to see house martins swooping in and out of their nests in the tunnel entrance. Retrace your steps along the towpath to Clayworth, keeping an eye out for kingfishers.

Read more about the Chesterfield Canal on the Canal & River Trust website.

Roger Bunting