After a summer of drought and hard ground, of late it’s a return to slippery fields, mud, bog and giant puddles. All I wanted was a walk on solid ground, so decided upon one of my favourite routes with a relatively short circular wander in the Manifold Valley.
Following many hours of very heavy showers, I drove through flooded roads and driving drizzle to park up at Wetton Mill. Unsurprisingly there were no other vehicles in the parking area by the bridge. Skies above were grey and full of water and the river dashing past looked like the one in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory it was so brown and fast flowing.
We crossed over the little humpbacked bridge where a sign informed us that the café and toilets were closed so there would be no pot of tea or ice cream reward at the finish. Following the road around to the left led us up to Dale Farm as indicated by a National Trust sign, one of several that we would pass, confirming that a lot of land and buildings hereabouts are owned by them.
At the bottom of the farmyard we turned left to follow the gated track that was once the main road through the valley. It’s hard to imagine cars regularly coming this way and I certainly wouldn’t want to try driving it now.
One or two bright yellow flowers like illuminated stars could be seen on the bank of gorse bushes to our right whilst above a smattering of golden leaves were clinging desperately to trees until either strong winds or a frost would bully them into releasing their grip.
A little flock of sheep were munching away on a patch of riverside pasture, their fleeces soggy from days of downpour.
It was peaceful and quiet in the valley, being devoid of cars or engine sounds that morning, allowing both me and Nellie contentment as we enjoyed our surroundings.
With skeletal trees lining the riverbank it meant that I had a clear view of the little circular dovecote on the opposite bank which must surely be hundreds of years old. Behind it were farm buildings and cottages to the side of Swainsley Hall. The Hall was purchased in 1896 by Thomas Wardle who was a director of the Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway. It is said he didn’t want to see trains from his windows so had Swainsley tunnel built to protect his views.
Near the end of the track is the stone lined adit to a sough which drains one of Ecton’s mines. Water was dripping from the dank and dark entrance into a stream of crystal clear water that was gushing out in a rush to cross the road and waterfall down into the river.
After passing through the final gate we went left again over another little bridge then turned right just after the impressive entrance to Swainsley Hall.
It was great fun walking the tunnel, lit by a bracelet of lights that remain on twenty four hours a day. Hiding holes on either side for shelter from passing traffic exposed rugged rock behind a lining of smooth stones.
We were now following the former track bed of the railway line that operated between 1904 and 1934. The 8.25 miles of narrow gauge line between Hulme End and Waterhouses had 10 little stations or halts along the way.
The line’s engineer was Everard Calthrop, who also developed narrow gauge railways in India, which is why some of the rolling stock was said to have resembled that on the Barsi railway in Maharashtra.
Although it carried passengers, this railway was mainly used to transport milk from local farms to a creamery at Ecton. However when it closed in 1932 and a new bus service operated around local villages, the line became unprofitable.
The single track road with occasional passing places has a 20mph speed limit to protect cyclists and walkers. Having regularly visited Manifold, I can vouch for the fact that nothing here has changed in appearance in more than sixty five years. Every time a trip down memory lane, this will always be my road to happiness.
FOOTNOTE BY NELLIE: Me and mum were walking up the fields near home the other day when I found something disgusting to roll in. Primeval instinct made my shoulder dip down before mum could shout and stop me. Instantly I knew I was in for a scrub in the back yard when we got home. Mum’s favourite scent is Youth Dew by Estee Lauder whilst mine is Fox Poo by She Screams Louder!
From your ever loving niffy Nellie xx