The Manifold Valley

The Manifold Valley is just outside of Ashbourne and the valleys there have been described as the ‘Switzerland of Staffordshire.’ It winds its way wonderfully through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Peak District National Park. The Manifold Way closely follows the rivers Hamps and Manifold and runs from Hulme End to Waterhouses. It is a distance of 8.25 -9 miles, depending on which route you take.

It has been quoted, referring to the railway line, in the ‘Tramway And Railway World’ of 1904 as, ‘the line passes through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world,’ and we wouldn’t argue with that!

The Manifold Valley starts at Hulme End station where there is an excellent village shop, which is open all hours. There is also the local pub called the Manifold Inn which serves cask conditioned ales and really excellent food. In spring, there is a wonderful profusion of green and white, with wild growing herbs and cow parsley on the edges of the trail, which makes it looks like a bride should be walking down the aisle surrounded by such gorgeous colouring. At the station, there is a visitor’s centre within the old station building where you can buy various booklets, local walking leaflets and some fabulous nature books. There is also a fantastic model of the old railway station with a small section of track where the model trains run down to Butterton and back.

The Manifold Way uses the route of the disused Manifold and Leek Valley light Railway and it is really even route with hardly any gradients and most of it is traffic free. There is a section about 2 miles long where the track is shared with cars, from Swainsley down to Wetton Mill, although there is an alternative route by using the old gated road from Swainsley. Because it has recently been resurfaced, it is ideal for walking, but also for cycling, wheelchair users and pushchairs or for people with limited mobility. There are car parks at both ends of the tracks and also at various points along the way.

Cycle Hire is available at Waterhouses, from Peak Cycle Hire or at Brown End Farm who are an independent operator. The Manifold Trail was recently voted the top cycle routes in a Sunday newspaper.

The wonderful rivers of the Manifold and Hamps have carved out steep sided valleys into the limestone plateau of the White Peak over thousands of years. It is one of the most characteristic features of the limestone Valley and although the rivers are still there with their stunning crystal clear waters full of trout, for part of their length they now flow underground, unless they are in flood when they are fully surface flowing.

The River Manifold is partially subterranean and disappears just past Wetton Mill. It reappears in the grounds of Ilam Hall. It starts off in the moors close to Axe Edge and flows 12 miles south through small villages of Longnor, Hulme End and Ilam where it joins up with the River Dove near Thorpe Mill. The Hamps River begins its journey in the bleak Staffordshire moorlands and flows south through the villages of Onecote, Ford and then Waterhouses. Here the River turns north into limestone country where during dry weather it disappears underground and reappears for miles away at Ilam Hall.

The Manifold Valley is more open and pastoral than the Dove Valley with grassland and woodland along its banks, occasionally interrupted by the impressive outcrops and crags. The semi natural ash woods are among the best in Britain, and the woodlands, grasslands and limestone crags of the Manifold combine to provide a very rich variety of habitats for the wonderful wildlife here.

It is a place of great importance for the flora and fauna it supports and also the geology of the underlying rock strata and much of the land is safeguarded as a site of special scientific interest. The common spotted orchid can be found right the way along the valley and keep an eye out for kingfishers along the river because there have been several sightings of this spectacular little bird.

There have been 80 species of birds recorded, which shelter and nest in the woods and also present are red deer, foxes and badges, while weasels and stoats are frequently seen running along the dry stone walls hunting for food. The existence of the trees, which thrive in the thin limestone soil, gives an indication that some of the woodlands have been here for hundreds of years. There have also been unconfirmed sightings of otters in the River Manifold.

With the limestone also supporting some of the finest grassland in Britain, there are a variety of wild flower species, 120 being recorded to date, and many of the wildflowers are full to bursting with butterflies and bees, making it a truly wonderful natural place to spend the day.