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The Torrs, New Mills - A fascinating and atmospheric riverside heritage park

As small Peak District towns go, New Mills does not have anything special on its ordinary-looking surface.  Venture just a few steps in a downwards direction and all of that changes…

It is like a super-hero hiding his amazing alter-ego beneath a work-a-day raincoat, hat and specs.  Running right underneath the main shopping streets of the town is the natural feature of The Torrs, a seventy-five-foot-deep gorge cut clean through the sandstone by two rivers; the Goyt and the Sett.  (A feat accomplished during the ice age, when they were fed by glacial melt-waters).

There are many directions from which to approach:-
By train, alight at one of two stations, depending on which line you are travelling on.  New Mills Newtown is the stop for the Buxton to Manchester line.  Out of the station, turn right on the main road and walk past the ancient mill housing the Swizzels sweet factory, (you’ll be stopped in your tracks on the pavement by the nostalgic smell of Refreshers and Love Hearts).  After a short while take a left turn down Wirksmoor / Torr Vale roads and then over the Goyt to join the path down from the other station, New Mills Central.

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New Mills Central is the stop on the line Sheffield - Manchester line, (Hope Valley).
From here you can drop straight down into The Torrs and onto the space age Millennium Walkway.

Buses from many directions will stop at the little bus station in the centre of the town.

By car, you are best to park in the small car park at the top end of Market Street and follow your nose towards the river, continuing downstream.

Or, you might arrive straight into the Torrs on foot, by either the Goyt Valley Way, or the Sett Valley Trail, (a couple of miles from Hayfield.)  The Midshires Way also passes close by, following the Peak Forest Canal.

So, there is no excuse of not being able to get there.  From whatever direction you appear, be sure at some point to find the Heritage Centre, located near the top of Union Street, very close to the bus station in the middle of the town.  There you will find leaflets and information explaining the history of the place, as well as a trail if you want a more guided experience.

Once you are heading downwards, (be warned that some of the approaches are very steep) you quickly leave the noise of the town behind and your ears are soothed by the constant tumble of water over rock and weir - so loud at times you can’t hear yourself talk, but the atmosphere is instantly refreshing.  Sandstone cliffs and enormous, eerie viaducts loom overhead.

It is hard to imagine that, during the industrial revolution, the place might have resembled hell, once the initial attraction of water power, (hence “New Mills”) had given way to coal-driven steam.  After the original corn mills, there were various mills for cotton, linen and paper, all taking advantage of the soft water for their processes.   Eighteenth and early nineteenth century weavers’ cottages can still be found at the top of the gorge; the top floor of each of these three-storey dwellings would have been a mini factory, weaving the yarn produced in the mill below.  Proper “cottage industry”. 

images/torrvalemill.jpgThe gorge is so narrow that it scarcely seems credible that a fair number of works were built on the banks of the two rivers.  Not only mills, but workers’ homes were created, wherever space would allow.  At the point known as “Rock Cottages”, you can clearly see where houses had been built right into the rock face itself, just high enough above the river to be safe from flooding.  These were still occupied up to the 1930’s - what dark interiors they must have had. So little sunlight reaches the floor of The Torrs, even today; imagine the added blanket of industrial smog that hung over the town in the nineteenth century, as well as the smoke from the mills themselves.

Close by Rock Cottages are the town’s two modern sources of pride and joy; the hydro-electric plant and the Millennium Walkway.  The first is usually manned by a helpful guide, who will proudly tell you that this is Britain’s first community owned and run hydro-electric scheme, built on the site of a former mill.  The output is not massive, but every little helps keep down our CO2 emissions.  The screw-type turbine is really impressive and leaves you thinking “Why are there not more of these things?  It is so obvious.”

The Millennium Walkway is a quite inspired solution to the problem of linking the main area of the The Torrs with Central Station and the former Torr Vale Mill - a vast old building, still there in all its glory, but now crumbling, rather gothically.   Its long sweep of shining steel takes you over the biggest of the weirs in the Goyt, at a dizzying height.  It is one of a few Millennium monuments which really look and feel like money well spent.

The Torrs must be a wonderful place to visit on a hot day; there is a spot to picnic beneath some birch trees at the confluence of the two rivers and for anyone interested in either industrial or natural history, (Kingfishers and Dippers are often seen here), the place is a wonder.

Simon Corble