CONSERVATION enthusiasts are celebrating a milestone in their efforts to restore the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal to its former glory — after a piece of its history was unearthed outside a pub.

When the canal was built, milestones were erected along its length at quarter mile intervals from Manchester so that canal owners could work out what to charge the boat owners carrying coal from the many collieries along the route.

In the 1790s there were 62 of the large half-tonne stones but, when the canal fell into disrepair, more than half of them disappeared.

Some ended up as garden ornaments and members of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Society believe one even toppled into the waterway, where it remains.

In the summer members of the group took part in a walk along the canal, organised by the Milestone Society.

The walkers stopped off at the Horseshoe pub in Ringley for refreshments and got chatting to manager Karl Quinlan.

They were amazed when he told them he had recently dug up one of the huge stones from outside the building.

“I was just prodding around with a stick and saw a lump of stone. I moved the bracken leaves and it turned out to be this milestone,” said Mr Quinlan.

Dr Paul Hindle, chairman of the canal society, said: “It was a pure fluke that it was the Milestone Society who were there.

It was a weird coincidence.”

It is thought the milestone marker for six-and-three-quarter miles used to stand on the towpath next to the pub but, at some stage, it has tumbled down the slope to the ground beside the pub and was covered by overgrown brambles and weeds.

Volunteers from the society have now winched the heavy sandstone block back into its rightful place beside the canal.

“I am going to look after it now,” said Mr Quinlan.

Despite the latest addition to the towpath, there are still 32 milestones missing and Dr Hindle says the society would love to find and reinstate them.