Etherow-Goyt Valley Way Part 1: the Goyt

Published 27 October 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. So I headed to Stockport and began to follow the Goyt…

In the year 1844 George John Warren, also known as Lord Vernon, gave an area of agricultural land known as Stringers’s Fields to the local council. It gave it to them so it could be transformed into a park for the use and enjoyment of the local population.

A very generous move, you may immediately think. Although did you wonder if the council in question actually wanted the land, or had the resources to convert a large field into a luscious piece of parkland?

Given the town of Stockport was a northern mill town, with all the bellowing smoke and pollution that came with such things during the industrial revolution, the local population would no doubt have enjoyed a bit of greenery. The council that was required to transform the area completely as a condition of the gift, then maintain it at their own expense, may have been less happy with the agreement.

The entrance gates to Vernon Park
The entrance gates to Vernon Park – the start of the Etherow Goyt Valley Way

Anyone wondering why that would be may want to consider what the response of a modern council would be if you came along, said “here’s some land. You now go and build a park on it.” In this age of austerity where school buildings are crumbling due to lack of funds, where council services are being cut to the bone, and where park maintenance budgets are being slashed to the absolute minimum, the modern council may just stare at you and bluntly ask “How?” and “With what?”

Maybe someone creative would go “Well maybe if we used a bit of the land for housing, then we could use the proceeds to build the park…”

It was a move the council simply couldn’t ignore. A fait accompli. They had a lot of land. They had a lot of plants. They had to do something. And work finally began. In September 1858 Vernon Park officially opened, and Stockport’s first public park has been welcoming visitors ever since.

Located on the banks above the River Goyt, Vernon Park includes a pond with fountain, a bandstand, lots of flowers, a curious piece of modern art that’s difficult to describe and – on my visit – a small, occupied tent. There’s a grand red brick building that used to house the town’s museum and is now a cafe. And it’s where the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way starts. It’s a fifteen mile walk that follows first the River Goyt, and then the River Etherow up to Hadfield at the edge of the Peak District. Hence the name of the walk. The latter is a tributary of the former, and the Goyt itself is one of the tributaries of the River Mersey. Indeed one of the country’s most famous rivers starts its life a mile away from Vernon Park when the Goyt meets the River Tame. And then is almost immediately buried under the town’s shopping centre. But the Mersey is going the wrong way for us to worry about.

Path up the hill in Vernon Park
Steps in Vernon Park

To which you reply “no. Not allowed. It’s all a park, or nothing.”

And so – broadly – it was with Stringer’s Fields. The land was given and was followed by arguments about money. And not just fields. The Historic England website even cryptically notes that local churches and chapels objected to the park. It gives no reasons why, but presumably they were worried that the workers may, on their one day off of the week, to choose to spend their time in the park rather than worshipping. So the fields remained fields, and nothing much happened until 1857 when, presumably in complete exasperation, the local market traders association went out and purchased 47,000 trees and shrubs at auction, and handed them over to the council.

And whilst Vernon Park is a rather lovely place, especially when viewed on a fine spring morning when the flowers are putting on a fine display, it’s not particularly representative of the rest of the Etherow-Goyy Valley Way, which is just a tad less formal. And that more natural look really kicks in when the trail enters Vernon Park’s neighbour, Woodbank Memorial Park. Once the estate of a manor house, the park was another donation to the council, this one made in 1921 by then owner Sir Thomas Rowbotham, who gave it in memory of those who had died in the First World War.

The entrance gate to Woodbank Memorial Park
The entrance to Woodbank Memorial Park

It’s in Woodbank Park that the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way heads into the woodlands that grow along the banks of the River Goyt, and that was exactly where I was heading next. Which is as good a time to mention TV sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf, where the word “goyt” is used as a fake swear word in the first few series.

Now it could also easily have been “goit”, which means a small artificial channel for carrying water, or a corruption of “goitre” which is a pain in the neck. But hey, Red Dwarf’s creators Rob Grant and Doug Naylor were born not far from Stockport. So hey, it’s obvious really. And there’s no denying it. “You goyt,” as an insult has quite a ring to it.

The River Goyt, seen in Woodbank Park with Pear Mill in the background.
The River Goyt, seen in Woodbank Park with Pear Mill in the background.

The path meandered along through the woodland path; the Goyt sparling in the bright sunlight of an Easter Monday bank holiday. Dog walkers were everywhere, with some canines enjoying a nice swim in the river, blissfully ignoring the signs warning that the river was polluted and that bathing most definitely wasn’t allowed.

I wasn’t equipped for swimming anyway. Besides, I was too busy being transfixed by the fantastic display of bluebells lining the woodland.

Close by the grounds of Offerton Cricket Club, whose pitch was surrounded by dense woodland, making look like you’d stumbled across some sort of hidden field known only to a select few. From where I stood, it was hard to believe I was stood at the edge of one of the biggest towns in Greater Manchester.

Bluebells in the woods of Woodbank Park
Bluebells in the woods of Woodbank Park

It was here that the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way left Woodbank Park and entered a local nature reserve. Not that much changed. The path still carried on along the river bank. There were still trees. It was just that there were less bluebells.

And so it continued until I arrived at a metal bridge that crossed the busy river, and suddenly I was yanked out of the woods and directed down a farm track instead. This then took me to a busy A-road, with copious amounts of traffic flying along it. But not before I got to see electricity generation in progress.

Stockport Hydro is a community owned hydro-electric scheme, whose two Archimedean screws harness the power of the river to make electricity that’s fed into the National Grid. Opening in October 2012, it generated 1,000,000 kWh of power in its first five years, and continues doing so to this day. With the average home using 4,000kWh of electricity a year, this one location on the Goyt is powering around 50 homes a year.

Stockport Hydro's hydroelectric turbines
The twin hydroelectric turbines of Stockport Hydro can be seen next to the River Goyt, just off Dooley Lane.

On arrival at the A627, the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way had to say farewell to the Goyt. With no footpath following the river for the next few miles, the trail retreated into the Chadkirk Country Estate, which is a very grand name for what is now mostly a series of fields owned by Stockport Council. On the other hand, it does have the 18th century chapel, although the half-timbered east side of the building is probably a few centuries older. After centuries of service, it was declared redundant in 1971 with ownership passing over to Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council.

The chapel’s not actually on the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way, but the short detour to see it is well recommended, and I did just that. You can even pop in for a visit, as long as you’re there on a weekend afternoon. Having lived locally for a couple of years, and having meant to visit it several times, this would have been a great time to pop inside and see what it was like. If only I hadn’t got there a couple of hours before opening… All I could do was sit down from a handy bench and admire the small building from the outside.

Chadkirk Chapel
Chadkirk Chapel – now owned by the local council.

I rejoined the walk proper just as it was heading up hill, going through more woodland. Our next destination? Another stretch of water. But not the Goyt. Nor the River Etherow. No, not yet. Not even a river. Nope, I was heading to the Peak Forest Canal, an 18 mile waterway that was originally built for transporting limestone from Derbyshire. Barely had I joined the towpath though, and I was being sent off it again, thanks to the canal heading into a tunnel.

Whilst the chapel was new to me, the canal certainly wasn’t. Although I generally cycled along it rather than being on foot; the towpath providing a good link between my house in the nearby town of Marple, and its neighbour, Romily. So I knew full well what I would be seeing next. Not that that mattered, because even when you’ve seen it before, it’s still an amazing sight. It’s one of the highlights of the canal: Marple Aqueduct.

The mighty Marple Aqueduct
Highest aqueduct in England

Opened in 1800, Marple Aqueduct has the honour of being the highest canal aqueduct in England, and indeed the highest brick aqueduct in Britain. It carries the canal over my old friend the Goyt, and has a whopping 27.4m distance between the canal water and that of the river. It’s three arches loom over the Goyt like a colossus.

Rather than cross the aqueduct, the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way heads underneath it instead. It’s a fine way to admire this impressive structure, and the equally stunning 36m high railway viaduct that sits alongside the canal. And it’s especially good when you walk under both whilst someone plays the accordion.

Marple Aqueduct and Viaduct
Marple Aqueduct with the railway viaduct in the background

Trust me on this. I’ve no idea why someone was playing the accordion. It’s certainly not something that usually happens when I’m cycling over it on the way to the swimming pool. But there he was. Sat on a bench at the top of aqueduct, and filling the surrounding area with the pleasant tones of his instrument; the notes rippling through the deep valley in an enchanting, almost hypnotising way.

The Goyt passes under both the aqueduct and the viaduct. But my re-acquaintance with the river was brief. We would never meet again. At least, not on the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way.

From the aqueduct. the trail headed up a steep hill, and then pottered around in some farms and through fields. And then, there it was. The next waterway. The Etherow.

It would be this contributory of the Goyt that would be, to some extent, the watery focus for the rest of the day as the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way carried on to Hadfield.

But for that tale, you’ll have to wait until part 2.

You can view all 65 of my photographs from the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way over on flickr.

A green Peak and Northern Dootpaths Society sign on the Etherow Goyt Valley Way
To Compstall and Werneth Low!