Walks with Nellie
by Sally Mosley
This is not intended as a walk guide
Living in our land-locked Peak District that offers no coastal path opportunities, the best waterside walks are along canal paths, beside rivers or around reservoirs. Over the years I have wandered many of them but I wasn’t aware until recently that there is a fabulous circular path around Tittesworth. It certainly doesn’t show on my OS map. I was therefore thrilled to be told about this route that has been laid by Severn Trent Water Authority and set off with Nellie to explore.
There was plenty of parking at the Visitor Centre although spaces were filling up fast, especially ones that looked out over the water. I noticed that these appeared to be popular with people who just wanted to sit in their cars and gaze out over the reservoir, situated like a giant puddle between Staffordshire Moorland hills. I too could have sat there all day admiring the view but Nellie was eager to be off.
There were a few birdwatchers about with long lenses taking note of any unusual visitors. Records show that more than 200 bird species have been seen and identified at Tittesworth including migrating osprey that use it as a stopover. In July 2020 there were sightings of western cattle egrets and a laughing gull.
Tittesworth reservoir was created in 1858 by the Staffordshire Potteries Water Works Company to supply the Staffordshire Moorlands area, Stoke-on-Trent and Leek. Originally 51 acres, it was extended in 1959 to 189 acres with Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon attending at the official opening in 1962. It is stated that on average 28 million litres of water a day passes through the pumping station, with a possible total capacity of 45 million litres.
The name Tittesworth actually referred to an area that has existed here long before the valley was flooded. It is said to be an Old English word for enclosed settlement, probably belonging to someone called Tet.
There were rabbits playing on the grass verges only feet away, song birds flitted about in the trees and from the reservoir came the sound of geese, ducks and waterfowl reverberating across from the water’s edge.
I decided on an anti-clockwise route which meant that Nellie and I exited the car park, turned left and crossed over a bridge at the top end of the reservoir which was created by damming the river Churnet.
In the opposite direction on our drive from Blackshaw Moor to the car park we had passed a fabulous old farmhouse at Middle Hulme. This I later discovered dates in part from the early 17th century, although with later alterations and extensions.
After crossing the bridge we continued into Meerbrook for a quick detour and wander, walking carefully up the narrow main street of the village that contains some lovely properties built of rosy coloured gritstone that was quarried locally. Part of the village of Meerbrook disappeared in the 1960’s when the reservoir was extended.
The present Church of St Matthew was built in the 1870’s although there have been earlier houses of worship hereabouts. Just to the south of Tittesworth is the site of Dieulacres Abbey that was founded in 1214 by Ranulph de Blundeville, Earl of Chester. The name Dieulacres is French and means 'May God grant it increase'. After Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries the building was destroyed, its stone used to construct local farms etc. In medieval times a monastic wool industry operated in this region with several ‘granges’ built in the Leekfrith area.
Somewhere under these hills was the Meerbrook Coalfield that operated from the 1600’s until 1878. A drainage sough from the mine was said to be some 4 miles long, being yet another man-made construction associated with water.
After retracing our steps, the circular reservoir path was so easy to follow. It took us on an undulating route through coniferous woodland containing pine and larch as well as deciduous broadleaf woodland, heading around inlets whilst following the contours of the landscape. Every once in a while we passed through meadows speckled with wild flowers where butterflies fluttered by, bees buzzed and flies frolicked.
At one point we went past canoes stacked up in neat rows at the centre of Tittesworth Watersports which offers a range of activities. We passed quite a few people on our circuit, many with dogs that appeared in all sizes. Everyone was being courteous and friendly, side-stepping in an altogether new etiquette of path passing.
After walking across the substantial dam wall there were optional paths to the water’s edge. These have recently been made one-way to allow for social distancing.
Benches were positioned from time to time to take advantage of the glorious views, be it over the reservoir or toward distinctive distant hills such as The Roaches, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw Rocks, being dramatic outcrops of millstone grit. Finding one particular bench vacant I sat down quickly and took out our rucksack snack lunches. Afterwards there was yet another section of scenic walk taking us to the finish of our Tittesworth tour.
It was very busy at the popular Visitor Centre which has now reopened but operates a limited service in line with coronavirus restrictions and current legislation. It was lovely to be able to buy an ice cream which I shared with my little furry friend before heading back to the car.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: When I go out walking in the countryside with my mum we have to go through stiles. I’m a whizz at wall stiles, a bit useless at ladder stiles and hopeless at step-over stiles. But the worst of all are the squeeze stiles that were actually constructed to stop animals from getting through. When I was little I could wriggle between the stone posts, but now that I’m a big girl my hips sometimes get stuck and Mum has to extract me by lifting me up. The other day she was really cruel though and left me stuck for a couple of minutes whilst she had a good laugh and then took my photo. How undignified! I’ve got wispy light-coloured fur around my tail area and mum says it looked like I was showing off my frilly knickers!