Over the past three months we have been braving the winter weather (we have been very lucky to avoid the rain) to enjoy guided history walks in the Churnet. Led by Byron Machin these walks proved to be very popular!

There is so much to discover at the Churnet, both the natural and industrial heritage of this part of Staffordshire meant that we were never short on places to visit.  Bellpit meadows, our newly acquired land purchased thanks to a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, featured in every walk. Even those that came on all three walks enjoyed visiting Bellpit each time to learn about how we are going to use the land as a buffer for the Churnet. And, as the name suggests, the history of the Bellpits on site is just as interesting.

The first walk in January took us along the Canal and up to Bellpit Meadows visiting cherry eye Bridge along the way. Designed at the request of the local landlord to look more picturesque cherry eye bridge takes its name from the local ironstone miners- the Ochre associated with ironstone used to into their eyes and made them bloodshot!

The Canal itself, known as Caldon Canal, was fascinating in itself. Opening in 1779 the canal runs for 18 miles from Etruria to Froghall and linked up the Caldon Plateways, which also happens to be the first ever railway in Britain! The Canal was designed by James Brindley. A feeder fed the canal system via John Rennies newly designed Rudyard Lake- from which Rudyard Kipling takes his name! 

Walking along the Canal – photo by Becky Blackman

The name Bellpit meadows comes from (surprisingly) the various filled in Bellpits that can still be seen as depressions in the land. Bellpits are one of the most ancient forms of mining and was commonplace in Britain in the 16th and 17th centuries. A small shaft was extracted until the seam of the coal or ore was hit, then a small chamber was cut out until the roof became too unstable to carry on. Then up they came and started a new shaft somewhere else. 

Becky telling the group all about Bellpit meadows and how it will be used as a buffer for the Churnet thanks to HLF. 

The team here at Coombes would like to say huge thanks to Byron for leading these walks, and a big thank you to HLF for providing us with the funding to run these brilliant walks.