A POTTER ON THE CHINA TRAIL
Getting around cities by bike is more and more popular, and sight-seeing by bike is an great way to explore urban areas - for locals and visitors alike.
The brainchild of Sustrans Ranger, Mike Barr, The China Cycle Trail is one of a number of leisure routes developed by the Stoke-on-Trent City Council in partnership, in some cases, with Sustrans.In this case the new route is part of the celebration of twenty years of the National Cycle Network. There are few people who know the ins-and-outs of cycling in the Potteries better than Mike, so all are fully researched and available for anyone who wants to explore the city.
The Trail is a circular route of around eight miles that acts rather like an inner ring-road to a variety of other routes that explore other parts of the city or reach out to the edge of the Peak District, head south into more rural Staffordshire or north onto the Cheshire Plain.
Combining some local routes as well as sections of NCR5, NCR55, you’ve guessed it - NCR555, and the towpath of the Caldon Canal (incorrectly labelled Trent and Mersey Canal on the map – the T&M is NCR 5 and NCR555) which is now surfaced as far as Cheddleton, near on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands.
Well known-names in ceramics populate much of the trail map; Emma Bridgwater, Burleigh, Wedgwood (though the main factory museum and estate are just of the Trent and Mersey Canal towpath to the south of the City near the village of Barlaston - an easy cycle, passing the Britannia stadium on the way), Spode, Portmeirion and so on – some offer tours, some have outlet shops and cafes (if you plan to purchase, plan to transport carefully – the towpath has a solid surface, but is not always sympathetic to delicate items conveyed on bicycles). Then there’s the less famous, but still prospering, like Steelite.
The inaugural ride of the new route, despite the ceramic heritage, set off from Central Forest Park, formerly Hanley Deep Pit – there were several collieries in the city - now home to one of the country’s largest skate-board plazas. BMXers love it, too, but it is not for the unskilled or faint-hearted.
Setting off towards the city centre, the potteries appear and the few remaining bottle ovens so characteristic of the area start to pop up. Once there were 4000 of the, now about forty remain, carefully preserved during the rebuilding on brownfield sites.
Just after passing through Hanley, the city centre – just follow the NCR5 signs – there’s the wonderful Bethesda Chapel and, a few yards further on, the Potteries Museum – now most famously home to the Staffordshire Hoard.
You’ll notice the parks, too. There are a lot of them, but Burslem Park is a real gem, recently benefitting from five million pounds worth of Heritage Lottery funding to bring it back to its Victorian glory. Hanley Park has just received similar funding – you cycle past it on NCR5 or pass right through the centre on the Caldon Canal towpath if you follow the route option to visit Emma Bridgwater. Then there’s Westport Lake, once dump for pottery waste, once a pleasure park, now in the care of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust.
With short sections of quiet road, the bulk of the riding is on surfaced canal towpath and old railway lines. There are a few barriers that will frustrate, anger, draw a sigh of resignation or stimulate deep thought about the logic behind it. The city centre is passed through on restricted use roads and pedestrianised areas (please be careful on busy days).
Anyone with a bike could enjoy this ride and gain an insight into a fascinating, unique city that still makes an awful lot of pots. If you don’t have a bike, why not hire one from the Brompton Dock at the railway station (only a short distance from the trail)?
Close to the route are Discount Cycles, Davenport Street, near Westport Lake, and, more famously, Brian Rourke Cycles on Waterloo Road, Cobridge. Then there’ the local fast food …. keep an eye out for the oatcake shops, which generally close in the early afternoon.
And my favourite spot? Run down and un-loved, just off the trail is Price and Kensington's National Tea Pot factory - those were the days.
A potter, yes, and a jolly one – though the Jolly Potter is not on the route.
Maps and information on cycling in Stoke-on-Trent can be found at www.stoke.gov.uk/ccm/navigation/leisure/cycle-stoke/ or www.stoke.gov.uk and follow links. This includes the Leisurely Rides series.
For Sustrans see www.sustrans.org.uk
For Brompton hire www.bromptonhire.com
For cycling in surrounding Staffordshire www.staffordshire.gov.uk
For leisure cycling there is also another organisation in which Mike Barr has had a leading role, North Staffs
Cycling http://northstaffscycling.btck.co.uk/ They offer a mixture of rides of around 40 to 60 miles at a leisurely pace. In addition they offer impromptu medium length rides of 20 to forty miles, and deliver the Leisurely Ride programme promoted by the City Council (above).
Cycling clubs in the area include Lyme Racing Club and Kidsgrove Wheelers.
There are several refreshment stops on the way, with Westport Lake visitor centre a popular one. Hanley, the city centre, has a full range of restaurants, cafes and pubs. An addition to en route cafe is at the renovated Middleport Pottery, a mixture of museum and working pottery with galleries, too. there's another cafe at Emma Bridgewater's Eastwood Pottery.