Four Counties Ring: Part 0

A New Start.

It has been a while. I haven’t blogged in over a year. The perceived and actual stress of my job, my workload, the death of my mother, all got to me. It directly and indirectly affected my health, culminating with a short enforced sabbatical in the cardiac unit of the Royal Stoke University Hospital last summer.

Well, I am happy to report that after the excellent care that I received at the RSUH, and some interesting experiences that I don’t particularly wish to repeat, such as two-and-a-half hours in an MRI scanner, the drugs are working and I’m slowly rebuilding my life.

I need to do two things. First, to regain some basic fitness both for my general health and the forthcoming field season and, second, to get back in the habit of writing.

To accomplish the first I have been out walking but I need something to give me a goal to achieve in order to enhance self-motivation. Whilst I don’t currently have the stamina for hillwalking I have hit on a plan to walk along canal towpaths as these are generally on the flat. So, my goal for 2017 is to walk the Four Counties Ring and I thought I would document it here to get back into the writing habit again.

The Four Counties Ring

The Four Counties Ring is 175km (110 miles) of canal and towpath, with 94 locks, encompassing the Middlewich Branch and parts of the Main Branch of the Shropshire Union, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire, and the Trent and Mersey Canals. It passes through Staffordshire, Cheshire, Shropshire and part of the modern abomination of the ‘West Midlands Metropolitan County’, which used to be in the old shire county Staffordshire.

A map of the Four Counties Ring

Canals and Geology

As I circumnavigate the Four (or Three) Counties Ring I shall try to expand on the relationship between the canals and the geology. The first link is with the cargos. Geological materials such as clay, building stone, coal, etc., were largely too heavy to transport in bulk on the old roads and the canals became the main highways for moving them. The major towns on the ring are there because of their geological materials, Stoke-on-Trent for the Carboniferous coal, iron ore and pot clay, Middlewich for the Triassic salt. Second, the underlying geology subtly influences the route of the canals the and locations of locks.

So, 2017 – a year of walks, canals, geology, blogging and photography – I hope.

Middleport Pottery, Trent and Mersey Canal, Stoke-on-Trent

Chile Earthquake M8.3 September 16, 2015

Here is the seismogram of the M8.3 Chilean earthquake of September 16, 2015 recorded at Keele University, UK.


Occurring about 230km north of Chile’s capital, Santiago, the coast of Chile is prone to large subduction related earthquakes such as this, including the largest earthquake ever recorded, M9.5 in 1960.

More information from the USGS.

Oakham, Rutland Earthquake 28/01/15 Recorded at Keele, UK.

Oakham Earthquake

A moderate (for the UK) M3.8 earthquake occurred last night near Oakham in Rutland, England. The recording above made at the University of Keele on our 6TD seismometer shows the three-components of ground motion (up-down; north-south; east-west) and nicely shows the arrival of P-waves and S-waves.

Our record from our SEP-1 school’s seismometer is not too shabby either.

20150128 Rutland Earthquake

Earthquake details from the BGS

Bristol Channel Earthquake 20/02/2014

20140214 Bristol Channel

Magnitude 4.1 earthquake in the Bristol Channel. Seismogram recorded at Keele University.

Probably associated with the Bristol Channel Fault System or one of the NW-SE strike slip faults that offset it.

Map from PESGB with approximate epicentre highlighted.


The Bristol Channel Fault System is a major fault zone along which it is thought that the Cornubian Peninsula docked against England and Wales in the Mid-Devonian. However, most UK earthquakes tend to be strike slip events on northerly trending faults due to the current stress regime in the UK (ridge-push from the North Atlantic from the NW + tail end of Alpine compression from the SE). A more likely candidate would be a fault parallel to the NW-SE trending Sticklepath Fault (going from Pembrokeshire and across Devon on the map) that offsets the Bristol Channel Fault System and on which there is evidence of significant strike slip movement during the Cenozoic.

More information from the British Geological Survey

As a comparison with ‘fracking’ events here is a useful chart. The Bristol Channel earthquake would be several centimetres slip on a 1 to 4 kilometre fault, a thousand times more powerful than the largest of the Blackpool events and about 30 million times for powerful than a typical ‘frack’ event.