Rudyard Lake

The famous Rudyard Lake sits a few miles north of the ancient market town of Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands.

The two-mile-long lake was built over two centuries ago in 1799 to supply the nearby Caldon Canal.

During the 19th Century it became a popular destination for day-trippers, visiting the area from near and far.

It earned the title the ‘Blackpool of the Potteries’, although one local hotel preferred a more continental comparison, dubbing it the Geneva of England.

Visiting the water there is a calm and tranquil feel to the area. There is a mysteriousness that pervades the mass of water and the surroundings, a sense that this place was, and still is, somewhere where people come to relax and get away from the world for a while.

There is a beautiful purity to the view, one that has looked the same to those coming to gaze upon it for the past 220 years.

The famous poet and storyteller Rudyard Kipling was named after the lake and village because his parents first met there in the summer of 1863, regarding it as beautiful.

Lockwood Kipling was a pottery designer who worked at the Wedgwood Institute in Burslem, and Alice Macdonald was the daughter of a Methodist minister in the town.

Another famous writer, George Orwell has a Rudyard connection. The left-wing writer passed through the area in January 1936, the month Kipling died, staying in the freezing youth hostel. It was bitterly cold and he was reduced to warming his hands over a candle. He was on his way north to begin researching his classic book, The Road to Wigan Pier.

Orwell walked past the frozen lake, remarking that the chink of ice against the rubbish in the water was a melancholic image that he wanted to use in a novel.

Monument at Rudyard

There have been hundreds of events and spectacles held here over the decades. By the end of the 19th century, crowds of up to 20,000 people could visit the lake on some days. Its popularity continued into the early 20th century, and over 20,000 visitors were carried to the site on 88 trains on a particular day in 1913.

Victorian crowds flocking to the lake for many events held there

Captain Matthew Webb – who in 1875 became the first man to swim the English Channel – also visited Rudyard.

Ice skating on the lake years gone by

In 1877 he was top billing at a grand “aquatic fete”.  The event included a demonstration of his channel swim in front of a grandstand full of people.  Even though the event was held on a Monday, an estimated 25,000 people watched him – with shops and factories in nearby Leek closing for the occasion.

Another event included a repeat of a daring tightrope walk in 1864, when African-American Carlos Trower crossed the lake on a rope suspended some hundred feet above the water.  Trower – known as “The African Blondin” after the French tightrope walker Charles Blondin – returned to Rudyard 14 years later, for repeat performances.

One of the many events held at Rudyard – in 1864 Carlos Trower crossed the lake on a rope suspended 100 feet above the water

The BBC’s motoring show Top Gear held a challenge at the lake in 2006 to see which presenter had designed the best amphibious car. Richard Hammond’s attempt sank while Jeremy Clarkson’s attempt capsized with Richard on board at the end of the challenge. However, James May’s Triumph Herald, complete with sail and mast, performed well, despite the almost total absence of wind, and he was able to drive it out of the water, thus winning the challenge

It is undoubtedly one of my favourite spots in all of Staffordshire.

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