Avoiding the axe on an easy ramble to Thor’s Cave
Your weekend walk with Bob Clare of www.lancashirewalks.com
In study after study health and well-being, both physical and mental, is enhanced by being out of doors in the countryside. Week after week I try to encourage readers to take the cure of 'exercise and fresh air'. But what if you are disabled? Or in a family with very young children still in prams or pushchairs? Before local government cuts reduced the Lancashire Countryside Service to just two staff, the Red Rose County had an excellent record for improving disabled access to the countryside. In a number of locations 'tramper trails' were established. A tramper is an especially designed all terrain buggy which is capable of traversing ground at a top speed of 5 mph. They are at once robust and simple to use. The trails themselves, suitable for pushchairs and wheelchairs, fell into the category of 'miles without stiles'. I came across this phrase a little over two years ago when John, Sandra, Ken and I walked the Manifold Valley Trail featured below.
The trail follows the line of a former railway, always a sign that the walking is going to be easy. Most disused railway tracks came into existence after 1963 when there was a radical rationalisation of the national rail network following a report by Dr Richard Beeching which became known as 'the Beeching Axe'. The Manifold and Leek Light Railway went out of existence almost 30 years before as the line became so unprofitable its owner LMS (London Midland Scottish Railway) had to shut it. After the track bed was given to Staffordshire County Council it made the decision to convert it into a multipurpose trail for walkers, cyclists and horse riders. This is possibly one of the earliest examples of this type of change of use. (I look forward to the day when the M6 becomes a Long Distance Path!)
Unlike other trails in the Peak District National Park which traverse the White Peak uplands the Manifold keeps to the valley bottom and so provides a very different walking experience. We checked it out in autumn just as the trees were turning colour. It was truly lovely. Whatever time of year it is to be recommended as a route that offers easy accessibility for wheelchair and pram.
Start: Manifold Valley Information Point, Hulme End SK17 0EX
Distance: 8 ½ miles
Time: 4 – 5 hours
Grade: Easy unless taking detour up to Thor’s Cave.
Map: OS OL24 The Peak District White Peak Area. Just as useful as the OS map is the leaflet 'Manifold Valley' published by the Peak District National Park with the Staffordshire Moorlands District Council available from local Tourist Information Centres.
Logistics: The best way to achieve this walk is to leave a car at Waterhouses and then have some kind friend or relative to take you to the start at Hulme End.
To the south of the Manifold Valley Information Point join NCN Route 549 and stay on it until you reach the A523 close to Waterhouses.
Now for readers who require a little more detail there is little to add but to point out a few features to look for on the way. Soon after picking up the trail it enters the steep sided wooed valley formed by the river. At various points limestone crags add to the beauty of the walk. After one mile the Way passes close to Ecton where the copper mine was the richest single mine in Britain and added considerable wealth to its owner the Duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth House. In two miles come to Swainsley Tunnel – 150yds long where care is required as it is shared with single lane motor traffic. At three miles reach Wetton Mill – the mill itself long disused but there is a thriving tea room should refreshment be needed. Close to the four mile mark the obvious feature of a great cave can be seen from the track. This is Thor’s Cave named after the Norse God of Thunder (and a lot of other things). It earned this name because of the sound the wind makes through its mouth and then escaping from smaller holes. It is accessible on foot and the platform at its entrance makes a superb view point over the section of the valley you have just walked. At five miles you part ways with the River Manifold and complete the trail following its main tributary the River Hamps. After seven miles the Way passes close to Brown End Geological Nature Reserve (as well as another tea room). At eight miles arrive on the busy A523 Leek-Ashbourne Road. Keep left for the end of the trail at the former station of Waterhouses.
Bike hire is available locally and for cyclists the whole trail can be completed there and back in a leisurely two hours including tea breaks.
- Walk checked out by John Griffiths.