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The Manifold Way

Follow the former Manifold Valley route of one of England's most picturesque small railways.

Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)

Minimum time 3hrs 30min

Ascent/gradient 518ft (158m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Hard surface on Manifold Way, other footpaths can be muddy in wet weather

Landscape Woodland, meadows and valleys

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Start/finish SK 095561

Dog friendliness Keep on lead near livestock

Parking On Manifold Way near Wetton Mill

Public toilets At tea room over bridge at Wetton Mill

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© AA Media Limited 2015. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153

1 From the car park by the bridge at Wetton Mill, turn left on to the road and continue past the bridge itself. When the road bends sharply right near the ford, go through a gate on the left and walk along a track. In about 100yds (91m) cross a stile at a gate on the right and go on to a public bridleway.

2 Go through another gate, follow the course of a stream on your left, then turn right across the next stile. Leave the bridleway and follow the well-signposted footpath to Butterton, along the course of a stream until it terminates at a lane just beyond a ford. Turn left and continue towards the main road.

3 Turn right on to the road opposite Brookside Stables and head uphill, past the church and the Black Lion Inn. Turn right at a T-junction, go left at a public footpath sign, cross two stiles then head along a spur, through some trees and down a steep hill to cross the stream by a wooden bridge.

4 Head uphill, keeping the hedge on your left, cross two stiles and turn right on to the road. Turn left towards Eckstone then right across a stile on to the footpath. Cross two stiles, turn right behind a small derelict building and follow the line of the wall. Cross a stile, then a stream and head uphill keeping the fence on your left.

5 At the junction where the fence meets with a stone wall, turn right, cross the field and nip over a stile by a large tree. Follow this path across a field through a gate then veer left to the corner of the next field. Veer right from a derelict stone building, cross a stile and bear left across marshy ground to two stone markers.

6 Cross to a further two stones at the end of a hedgerow, go along the hedgerow to a waymark pole then right over a stile, cross the field and go through a gate to the road. Turn left and continue to Warslow. Turn left into Quarter Lane, pass the church and, when you reach the T-junction, turn right.

7 Turn right again at the next junction, cross the road and walk down School Lane. Turn left through a gap stile on to a public footpath. Clamber through three more gap stiles, following the course of a stream. Enter a wooded area, go downhill, cross a stile and turn right to join the Manifold Way. Follow this easy, well-defined trail through an old railway tunnel, back to the car park.

Described by one local as 'a line starting nowhere and ending up at the same place,' the, narrow gauge Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway was one of England's most picturesque white elephants. Though it survived a mere 30 years from its first run in June 1904, its legacy is still enjoyed today. It ran for 8 miles (12.9km) from Hulme End to Waterhouses where passengers and freight had to transfer to the standard gauge Leek branch of the North Staffordshire Railway.

The narrow gauge railway owed its existence to Leek businessmen who feared that their town would lose out because of the newly opened Buxton-to-Ashbourne line. Their solution was to provide a local rail link to the south east of the county. For the entire period of its existence the railway was a financial disaster and should probably never have been built. It was only made possible because the Light Railways Act of 1896 provided grants for small projects like this and reduced bureaucracy.

Engineer Everard Calthorp, who built the Barsi Railway near Bombay, used the same techniques and design of locomotive for the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway in the Peak District as he used in India, and as a result it looked more like a miniature Indian railway than a classic English line. The engines were painted chocolate-brown and black and pulled carriages of primrose yellow.

The success of the line was, however, based on the supposition that the Ecton Copper Mines would re-open and that an extension to Buxton would tap into a lucrative tourist market. But the mines didn't reopen and the extension was never built. To survive the small railway made a daily collection of milk from farms along the line and hauled produce from the creamery at Ecton for onward transportation to London. Passenger traffic was light, probably due to the long distance and steep uphill climb from the valley bottom to the villages on the top. Tourists did flock to the area on summer weekends and bank holidays, often causing severe overloading of the carriages as they headed for scenic areas like Thor's Cave and Beeston Tor. Even with this seasonal upturn the line never made a profit and when the creamery shut in 1933 it was the end of the road for the miniature trains. The last one ran on 10 March 1934.

The track was lifted and the bed presented by the railway company to Staffordshire County Council. They had the remarkable foresight and imagination to be one of the first local authorities to take a disused railway line and convert it to a pedestrian path. Today, as the Manifold Way, it closely follows the rivers Manifold and Hamp and is a favourite of walkers and cyclists.

While you're there

Visit the old station at Hulme End. Now the Manifold Valley Visitor Centre it has excellent displays covering the history of the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway and the industries and communities it served. There are also several relics from the day of steam and a scale model of the line with Hulme End Station as it was in its heyday.

Where to eat and drink

The Greyhound Inn, Warslow, is a classic country inn specialising in good food and hospitality. Walkers are particularly welcome but are asked to leave muddy boots at the door. The lounge has a huge fireplace, great for those wet and cold days, and an extensive menu which includes home-made soups, a superb battered Whitby haddock and grand old-fashioned puddings like treacle tart, rhubarb crumble and ginger syrup pudding with custard.

What to look for

The walk passes through the one tunnel that served the old railway. This is close to Swainsley Hall, which was the home of the Wardle family at the time of construction. They were shareholders in the company building the line and although happy to take any profits going did not want to be troubled by seeing the trains from their house.

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