Offlist Walk: Ecton Hill & the Manifold Valley

12 05 2012
12th May 2012
Mrs NLW
6.7 miles
Explorer OL24 (The Peak Distric – White Peak area)
Sunny, some cloud, breezy

Wetton Hill, from Back of Ecton

This was the first day of a week spent in the beautiful Derbyshire village of Parwich in the White Peak. This walk  however takes place entirely in Staffordshire, starting from a carpark in the southwestern corner of the village of Wetton.

It was a busy Saturday morning in Wetton, with a nearby field being set up by a multitude of secondary school children, and quite a few walking groups throughout the village. We head up through the village past many lovely cottages, and then carry on north via a track onto National Trust land as we squeeze between the two peaks of Wetton Hill, stopping only to climb a dry-stone wall after a piece of errant map-reading. After passing between these two peaks there opens up a beautiful green bowl of a valley filled with ewes and their young, curious lambs. Through the valley, we cross a brook and bear north-west, and limb through a field and a rook inhabited wood onto a steep hairpin strewn rough lane. Fortunately we only stay on this lane for a couple of switch-backs before we leave through a gate and across fields which contain what remains of a number of copper mines, after which we carry on climbing, but not as steeply as before through more fields until we reach the peak of Ecton Hill.
It is very windy at the trig point, but it was worth hanging around to take in the views; Dovedale to the east, Hartington to the north, and below us, just to the east, running north to south is the Manifold valley. We descend by continuing north and then in a wide anti-clockwise arc until we emerge from some woods by a curious house that looks like something from the German middle-ages. Down the extended drive from this house is Dale Bridge, and a gate onto the Manifold track; the Manifiold Track was created by Staffs county council after it dismantled the old Leek and Manifold Light Railway just before the second world war.

Looking north up the valley from Thor’s cave

We follow the busy track south alongside the meandering river Manifold, the track joins a lane and the pair pass through a long straight tunnel. On the far side we find that our lovely track for walkers and cyclists now contains a number of motorcycles, and not a few cars, it’s quite irritating having to keep stopping to let them pass.

We come to Wetton Mill, which is no longer a working mill, but does have a tea-room and facilities. The mill is buzzing with visitors, and we elect not to stop but carry on south until we get to Thor’s cave. I have vague memories of family holidays to this region in the early 80’s, and part of that is a memory of being ‘awed’ by Thor’s cave, although this may have been more about the name Thor, and learning of norse mythology than of the cave itself. The cave is a gaping maw in the side of a prominent cliff directly in our view as we follow the Manifold. Underneath the cave we leave the river to head east and uphill  along a heavily wooded path, after a while the path carries but we turn right and back on ourselves to wend our way up to the cave. The entrance to the cave itself is made of broad and deep sandstone shelves, it doesn’t look the easiest thing to negotiate, particularly as it’s so busy, so we sit outside the cave and recover from the climb.
The final leg of the walk is to follow a narrow track around the shoulder of the cave and across a field to a farm track between two fields – eventually meeting up with the wooded path we had been following before we turned off for the cave. From there it is a short walk into Wetton.
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