Etherow-Goyt Valley Way Part 2: the Etherow

Published 3 November 2019

Etherow Goyt Valley Way sign

The Etherow-Goyt Valley Way roughly follows the route of the Goyt River and then the River Etherow, on a walk connecting Stockport, Greater Manchester, with Hadfield in Derbyshire. At fourteen miles long, it’s an easy walk to do in a day. But is this just another urban trail? Or does it hold something special about it? There was only one way to find out. I spent the morning loosely following the River Goyt. And after that came the Etherow and beyond…

I picked up the Etherow a short way before its confluence with the Goyt, and joined a winding path that followed the twists and bends of the trail.

Lazily I walked, past a sewage works and through woodlands, to the village of Compstall. Now peaceful and slightly genteel. Compstall was once a hive of industrial activity, and it was the river that powered it.

Compstall village green
Compstall village. Once home to thriving mills. Now a bit less busy.

It was a calico printing business that started it all in 1804, followed by a cotton mill and extensive housing for the workers. As the mills grew, so did the village, with a church, chapel, Co-op and other shops all arriving on the scene by the time the century was out.

But nothing lasts forever. The mills closed down, and whilst some of the buildings are still in use for light industry, Compstall is perhaps more of a domitary village rather than somewhere masses of people work. However the 1960s brought a different kind of development. One that still brings people here. Not for work though. But for leisure.

Over a quarter of a million people a year come to enjoy Etherow Country Park. And most will arrive at the car park next to the old mill pond where there is now a visitor centre, cafe, and lots of ducks and geese. Many of those visiting will walk round the millpond, and up along the waterways that kept the millpond topped up from the Etherow.

The millpond at Etherow Country Park
The old Compstall mill site is now a busy country park.

It was somewhere I knew well. As a child, we’d been regular visitor to this park; my parents driving over the hill to visit it. I knew these paths of old. I knew exactly where the Etherow Goyt-Valley Way would be taking me next.

The Etherow itself flows to the south of the park, mostly hidden away in trees, although it does break cover at the end of a tarmac track that runs to the north of the millpond and main waterway. It’s here, a short way off the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way that the river goes crashing over a sizeable, dramatic looking weir.

I left the water again, and went left the water behind as I entered the Keg Woodlands. The original park had been build around the millpond. But it was quickly expanded to the west, taking over the old deer park that was once part of the estate of the Andrews family, who had founded the mills. This is the quieter part of the park, although that was not for want of some publicity attempts which came in the form of A4 laminated signs with arrows and one simple word. Bluebells.

Bluebells in Etherow Country Park
Bluebells in Etherow Country Park

Why? Because there were bluebells in the woodlands. So many bluebells. Those who hate bluebells would have, well, hated it. But I love them. They’re fantastic. Sadly, their flowering season is far too short. But then, if bluebells were around all the time, would they still be so special? To which I say bluntly, yes. Absolutely. What is wrong with you, suggesting they wouldn’t be?

Another path of the finest tarmacadam weaved its way uphill as I danced delightedly through the bluebell filled woodland. And then, near an old and rather battered wooden shelter that offered covered benches for people to escape the non-existant rain, a path turned off to the left. I was to follow it. Alas, it was time to leave the country park. And the bluebells. And head elsewhere.

Flowers lining the path out of Etherow Country Park
Heading out of Etherow Country Park, towards the mighty Werneth Low.

When the Etherow Goyt-Valley Way was created, there was no path running alongside the river beyond the weir for several miles. There still isn’t. So instead the walk’s creators had to come up with an alternative plan. And that was to go up a hill called Werneth Low.

I followed a path lined with wild flowers up the side of the hill, then joined a farm lane with a few isolated houses. There were stunning views to admire, but for some reason my mind was fixated on the logistics of bin collection of the houses given they sat at the end of narrow, winding lanes. No way could a full size bin wagon get down them. Did, therefore, the council have little mini ones that served properties like these? Indeed, just how many places like this did the mostly urban council need to serve?

These were obviously important questions, and ones that I would obviously be thoroughly researching as soon as I had got home. But instead we really should be focussing on the hill itself. For the hill is Werneth Low.

Obviously being a hill, Wernerth Low is not low. Although it’s highest point is a mere 279m high, so it’s not particularly high either. But that’s irrelevant as Low is an old Northern English term for hill. Hence Werneth Low is basically Werneth Hill. But that doesn’t sound as good.

Although not that high, it’s on the edge of the relatively flat sprawl of Greater Manchester, so gives you an excellent view of the suburbs. It features in Stuart Maconie’s book, The Pie at Night, where Maconie describes a view that “takes the breathe away.” And in 2013, Johnny Bramwell, the lead singer of band I Am Kloot wrote about it in The Guardian. He declared “I can remember, as a kid, looking down on Manchester and thinking: ‘I want all those people to hear my songs.'”

The view towards the Peak District, from the south side of Werneth Low
The view towards the Peak District, from the south side of Werneth Low

Johnny was standing at the Cenotaph, a memorial to the population of the nearby town of Hyde that died in the two World Wars, that was erected in 1921. When it was unveiled, 15,000 people stood on this hilltop to watch, and take part in the ceremony. The words on one side of the Cenotaph is inscribed with the words “They willing left the unachieved purpose of their lives in order that all life should not be wrenched from its purpose.”

It’s a popular spot, thanks to the views. And that much of it is a country park. And, perhaps most importantly, it has a road going over it, a couple of car parks and a busy pub. Which is also recommended by Johnny Bramwell. And it’s a pub I’ve been in several times myself, as a child, a teenager and more recently as an adult.

Without doubt people come to the Low mostly for the views of Manchester and beyond. Which is, in a way, a shame as the views on the other side of the hill deserve to be seen as well. That’s the side with the views towards Mellor Moor, the Etherow Valley, and the Peak District. You can even see Kinder Scout. These were the views the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way was celebrating. And they were mighty fine.

Walking in the woods on the east side of Werneth Low
Walking in the woods on the east side of Werneth Low

From the side of Werneth Low, several lanes took me to Back Wood Woodland, where I am told you can see loads of bluebells in bluebell season. But there were few to be seen. On the other hand, there was a huge grassy field, a perfect spot for lying on in the sun, so I couldn’t complain too much.

From there, it was all fields until the hamlet of Hodgefold. The trail then joined Hodge Lane, once part of a packhorse route used to transport salt over the Pennines to Yorkshire, from the Cheshire Salt Mines.

The industrial revolution didn’t pass this cluster of houses though. Not that you’d know it now. A huge print works had been built alongside the Etherow, and the trail went past the remnants of the huge dye vats that once bleached cotton.

Hodge Lane Dye Vats in Broadbottom
Hodge Lane Dye Vats in Broadbottom

What is now the Broad Mills Heritage Area was the home to one of the biggest mills in the area. Cotton was spun and weaved here, and in the 1860s, 1,200 people worked here. An impressive number given the nearby village of Broadbottom now has a population of about a thousand.

The mills closed in 1934, with fire ravaging the buildings in 1939. Not much remains, and much of what does has been reclaimed by nature. But it’s all been tidied up, and landscaped, making these industrial ruins a pleasant and popular place to walk around.

And what better place to visit once you’ve walked round them than the nearby Lymefield Garden Centre and Farm Shop? It’s not actually on the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way, but it’s cakes are excellent and I couldn’t resist popping in to look. And then purchasing a ‘Creame Egg Chocolate Brownie’ that I would eat some time later ina field. Well, sometimes you just have to.

Remnants of the mill buildings at Broad Mills Heritage Site
Remnants of the mill buildings at Broad Mills Heritage Site

Into Broadbottom village proper I headed. A quiet but adorable village with an excellent pub and a name that’s not funny in the least. Seriously, stop sniggering back there. It’s not mature of you.

Alas the trail didn’t take me past the wonderful Harewood Arms, which is probably a good thing as if I’d popped in, I may never have bothered finishing the rest of the walk. It’s a great pub, and it sells beer brewed by the brewery based in its cellar. If I’d gone in, I probably would have never left.

And to be honest, I wouldn’t have missed much. I was about to do the final few miles of the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way, and about to enter Derbyshire. On paper, you’d expect this to be the best part of the trail. Alas, it was to be far from it.

Once more I’d be leaving the river, and heading up a hill to some houses. And to be passed by two teenage girls going down to Broadbottom dressed in clothing that suggested they were heading out clubbing. Which would have made more sense if Broadbottom had a night club, and it hadn’t been about 2:30 in the afternoon.

A car wide track leaving the village of Broadbottom
Once again, nowhere near the river.

The lane I was following ended next to some ridiculously large metal gate. Beyond this was another lane, some more gates, a field and then the village of Woolley Bridge.

The section of the trail from Broadbottom hadn’t been the best, but it was at Woolley Bridge that the whole trail really went down hill. After spending the day strolling along river banks, through parks and woodlands, I was now wandering endlessly through housing estates and crossing main roads.

I’d started the day in idyllic woodlands whilst at the edge one of the largest towns in Greater Manchester. Now I was in the rural county of Derbyshire crossing busy roads, and moaning about car drivers who had avoided parking on a set of double yellow lines simply by parking on the pavement instead. When I ended up at the back of an industrial estate in Tintwistle, I really began to wonder why I was bothering.

A car lined road in Tintwistle
Definitely a highlight of the walk.

The whole thing could simply have ended quite happily at Broadbottom. We could all have happily gone to the pub there and enjoyed a pint of Northern Lights, or Old Git. There was no need for all this. This wasn’t pleasurable walking.

But no, despite all the evidence suggesting this was not a good move, those who had created the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way had decided to push on a little further. Their goal was Bottoms Reservoir, one of six reservoirs in the Longendale Chain. Four provide drinking water for Greater Manchester with water sourced from the Etherow. The other two – of which Bottoms is one – focus on regulating the water supply back into the Etherow again.

Now I was finally next to it. That destination that had seemed to important for us to reach. And it’s true it’s a nice spot. But to be brutally honest, nowhere near nice enough to justify walking a couple of miles through housing estates and alleyways to get to it. Especially as I’d only be next to the reservoir for a few minutes.

Bottoms Reservoir
The Etherow helps fill four reservoirs near Hadfield

For the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way would be going no further. True, the walker could head into the Peak District and find the source of the Etherow. The headwaters are some 14km east, and can be reached by following the Longendale Trail through the valley. But, apart from a twice daily National Express coach, there’s no public transport up there to get you back home. So the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way doesn’t bother. Instead it follows the Longendale Trail in the other direction to the town of Hadfield.

Until 1981, this was a railway line, with electric trains running between Sheffield and Manchester. But the line was deemed surplus to requirements, with the diesel operated Hope Valley Line being determined to provide enough capacity. So the railway line was lopped off at Hadfield, and it’s at the station there that I was now headed. And where I’d pick up the train to take me home.

It wasn’t the most exciting section of the walk either, although that may not be helped by the fact I’d walked down this stretch just a few weeks earlier. It was still a cut above the housing estates of Tinwistle, but I can’t say I was sad when I finally got to the outskirts of Hadfield.

The Longendale Trail near Hadfield
Water free walking to Hadfield

It was a bit of a disappointing ending to what had been a great walk. I’d been surprised at how delightful most of the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way had been. Even if the extensive bluebells hadn’t been there, the walk had revealed just how much great walking could be achieved inside the Greater Manchester area.

And it made me want to explore more. But that would be a whole other story…

Planning your own Etherow Goyt Valley Way walk

At 14 miles, the Etherow Goyt Valley Way is easily walked in a day. The start in Stockport is about a mile from the main bus and rail station. The other end at Hadfield has rail connections to Manchester. But seriously, you won’t be missing much if you stop a few miles early at Broadbottom village where you’ll also find a railway station.

You can find a detailed, although elderly, leaflet showing the route on the Tameside Council Walks and Trails page. (Depressingly, whilst the trail starts in Stockport, Stockport Council’s website doesn’t provide route details.)

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