Of all the beauty spots in the Peak District, this western corner where it merges with the Staffordshire Moorlands is one of its hidden gems. The pretty village of Grindon where the walk starts, is little changed from a time when most of its cottages were the homes of agricultural labourers, when farming was more labour intensive.
The village sits on the edge of the White Peak’s limestone plateau, overlooking the deeply wooded gorge of the River Manifold at the point where it joins the north flowing River Hamps. Caves in the limestone crags on the far side of the dale were used to shelter ancient man, both in pre-historic days and also during times of strife following the breakdown of Roman rule.
The Manifold Trail, which is used for about half of this walk, uses the abandoned track of the Manifold Light Railway. Opened in 1904 it was built to carry milk and cheese from the dairy at Ecton and also serve the tiny farming communities in the surrounding area. Running for almost 9 miles between Hulme End and Waterhouses where waggons were loaded on to standard gauge trains, it became popular with tourists. Unfortunately it never made much money, a wag once called it ‘A line starting nowhere and ending up at the same place’. As a result the line was closed in 1934 and the track converted into a minor road. Nowadays apart from a short section near Swithamley, the track is now car free and one of the Peak District’s most picturesque walking, riding and cycling trails.
The described route followed by this walk starts in Grindon and by field path drops down into the Manifold Valley. Turning right along the trail, this is followed past Weag’s Bridge and then to the right beside the River Hamps. The trail is left opposite a convenient tea room at Lea House, turning right to climb back on to the limestone uplands. Here the path follows the line of a once busy packhorse trail carrying copper ore between Ecton Mines and a smelter in the Churnet Valley to the west. The slender spire of Grindon’s parish church of All Saints, known as ‘The Cathedral of the Moorlands’ points the way.
6miles (9.65km) of easy to moderate walking along field paths and a valley bottom surfaced trail. 472ft (144m) descent and ascent.
Recommended map: Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 scale Outdoor Leisure Sheet 24, The White Peak Area.
Public transport – nearest bus service High Peak 442 from Ashbourne to the start of the Manifold Trail at Hulme End.
Car Parking Grindon behind the Parish Church.
Refreshments – tea caravan at Weag’s Bridge and tea rooms at Lea House above the trail near Waterhouses. Nearest pubs serving meals are at Waterfall and Butterton.
- From the car park turn left and walk beside the church wall and through the parish playground.
All Saints’ Church is known as the Cathedral in the Moorlands. Its spire like others nearby,acted as a pointer in days when roads were few and far between.
- Follow the lane opposite the playground and walk slightly downhill, past a terrace of white painted houses and as far as an old cottage.
- Turn left as indicated by a footpath sign. Go over a stile beside a metal gate and follow a field path downhill bearing slightly right across the meadow.
- Cross the stile in a wire fence and following the direction of a waymark on a pole, begin to go more steeply downhill.
- Cross the dry valley and by still going downhill, enter woodland and eventually join the Manifold Trail in the dale bottom.
Look across the valley on your way down to the trail and you should be able to pick out the massive opening of Thor’s Cave. This was the former home of Stone Age people and wild animals dating back over 50,000 years. The bones of mammoths and giant bears have been discovered in caves along the valley sides. Prehistoric people built their religious sites on the high ground. Further to your left you can see Ecton Hill where copper and lead were mined. The wooded eastern slopes of the Manifold Valley are a Nature Reserve, haunt of many semi-rare native plants growing on the sparse limestone soil.
- Turn right along the trail and follow it for about three or four miles, crossing the minor road from Grindon to Wetton at Weag’s Bridge where there is usually a caravan selling drinks.
The River Manifold is usually dry in summer, flowing underground between Wetton Mill and Ilam where it emerges beside Paradise Walk in the grounds of Ilam Hall.
Before swinging right with the trail, look across the dale to the dramatic crag of Beeston Tor.
- Leave the trail opposite Lea House tea rooms by turning right to cross a footbridge and go through a kissing gate.
- Turn sharp right and begin to climb the hillside. Go through two gates and into sparse woodland. Beyond the wood the path can be indistinct but narrow gates point the way.
- Turn right on joining a farm lane.
- Go past a remote farmhouse and into a shallow dry valley. Climb the zig-zagging track up the far side.
- At the top of the climb, bear left at a path junction and follow the steadily widening path alongside a stone wall.
- Enter a walled steadily improving field access track. Ignoring the track, going left just before the first houses, continue to follow now the part-surfaced track back to Grindon.
- Where the path reaches the minor road, turn right for about 40 yards and then turn sharp left.
- Go downhill then up towards the terrace of white houses and follow the road back to the church and the car park.