A walk around ‘The Shire’ – Wetton Mill to Butterton.

Eight or Nine miles, mostly fairly easy, with a few short climbs.

images/betweengrindonford.jpgThe shire in question is, of course, Staffordshire, though from the look of these four villages – Grindon, Ford, Onecote and Butterton, you could be forgiven for expecting hobbits in their front gardens.  It is surely the kind of English landscape that Tolkein had in mind when he created his innocent idyll and it is almost completely untouched by the trappings of tourism, despite being well within the Peak District National Park.  There are two smashing pubs on route (not long ago, sadly, there were four, one for each village), either of which could be The Prancing Pony at Bree.  (Non-Tolkein readers, bear with us).

Now, this is a fiddly walk in some respects, so there is no point trying to guide you through every twist and turn of it; the best thing to do is to take out your White Peak OS map and follow the general idea with your finger.  If you end up doing your own variation, by accident or by design, then so much the better.

images/wettonmill.jpgThe walk starts at its most touristy part, (but by no means “spoilt”) at the car park near Wetton Mill.  Map Ref: 096561.  This can be approached from various routes, via Wetton Village, (near Alstonefield) or off the B5053 between Hartington and Warslow, on a long winding road down the Manifold Valley, (at one point passing through a dramatic tunnel).  All ways are scenic, but you might want to avoid the route down through Butterton village, as it will spoil the discovery of this place near the end of your walk.  Wetton Mill has a café and other facilities, which is very handy.

Start the walk down the quiet road, Southwards, on part of the Manifold Way.  The way takes a right swerve onto part of an old railway track, following the sinuous course of the river Manifold.  Just up the valley at Ecton was Europe’s largest copper mine, but it is impossible today to imagine the industrial scene that must have dominated here decades back.  Dotted all over the daleside are caves and as the most impressive of these, Thor’s Cave, comes into view (opposite), it is time to take a right turn up into Ladyside Wood, owned by The National Trust.  So impressive is the sight of Thor’s Cave, that you will be forgiven for taking a detour to explore it, but bear in mind that this is not a short walk to begin with and it is quite a climb up there.

images/butterton.jpgLadyside Wood is delightful, if precipitous, and the path through it brings you into the open and then down through green fields into the first of “the four villages”, Grindon.  Real picture postcard stuff and, like Butterton, built on a circular pattern, so you can decide which way round to tackle it. 

The road to take out of the village, at Crown Farm, heads due West for Ford.  Take the left-hand fork a little way out of the village and then at the “T” junction,  go straight over onto a footpath that hugs a wall through fields.  The path crosses walls at one point and it is not well walked or distinct, but bear in mind that you are travelling in more-or-less a straight line and that should help.

Arriving onto the lane at Ford village (more of a hamlet, really), turn right.  As its name suggests, the settlement is dominated by water and the sound of water; a very refreshing place on a warm day, under the shade of its trees.  Cross over the River Hamps on the road bridge and turn right along its banks for a short way, before the track takes you up the hill and then bends to the right, to pass through fields and open woodland, with lovely views over the Hamps Valley.

A mile further and you arrive onto the B5053.  As with all the roads on this walk, it is fairly quiet.  Turn right and a short walk brings you to the third village, Onecote. (Presumably meaning “one cottage” and not a brand of paint).  At last, your first fully-functioning pub!  The Jervis Arms has a great little beer garden, with the young River Hamps gurgling right through it.  Good food and a fine selection of real ales and ciders are on offer.  (Open all day at weekends, but lunch and evenings only, in the week). You won’t want to tear yourself away, in fact, but you must.

Continue down the road and just past Onecote Hall go right, down the track towards Home Farm, (not on the footpath just before the track).  Just past the farm, the route continues in the same direction as a footpath through fields, again, not very distinct, but as long as you have the electricity lines on your left, you are doing fine.  (Okay, that’s the least Tolkeinesque feature of the walk).   A microscopic heather moor (Grindon Moor) is next, before the path crosses a road and continues downhill through Twistgreen and a place called “The Twist”, with some wonderfully old, ruined farm buildings. 

Then you cross a whole series of narrow fields (preserving the medieval system, where each village household would have been allotted a different strip, on a yearly basis, upon which to eke out a living).  And then, perhaps the most enchanting of the villages, Butterton.  You emerge onto the street, just below the village at the ford; from here, explore at your leisure.  It is all the more enchanting for being very much alive; there is a village shop and a butcher’s and a great little pub in the Black Lion, right opposite the church; a really friendly place, serving fine ales and food and with accommodation if your legs have had enough! 

images/buttertongraves.jpgThe church is often open and well worth a look inside.  On the exterior, some nineteenth century renovations of medieval gargoyles ought to draw your eye upwards to the impressive spire.  If you love reading old gravestones, you are in for a real treat, as the villagers seem to have gone in for composing their own memorial verses for their dear departed, through three centuries.  Most of these are on the Eastern side of the graveyard.

The way out of the village is via the bottom of the street, once more, near the ford; over the stream, climb the hill on the road for a few yards before turning left along the Southern bank of Hoo Brook.  This delightful little tributary of the Manifold will lead you the last mile and a half, back to the start of the walk.  It is some of the best walking, especially in summer, as it is festooned with water mint, meadowsweet and so much watercress that you’ll wonder why they are not farming the stuff here.

The other great thing about following water on the home straight: it is downhill all the way.

Simon Corble