Located in Staffordshire Moorlands side of the Peak District, this constantly improving family…
‘A line starting nowhere and ending up at the same place’ was one disparaging description of the Leek and Manifold Light Railway, a curious 8-mile (12.9km) narrow gauge line that had its northern terminus at Hulme End, at the start of this walk. The line was opened in 1904 as a private concern and ran along the Manifold Valley to Waterhouses, where it joined the standard-gauge network. Its chief engineer was influenced by his time building railways in India, so that the Manifold engines had a colonial appearance with large headlights and cow catchers (neither of which were actually used). They were painted chocolate and black and pulled carriages of primrose yellow. A proposed extension to Buxton never took place, and the line was used mainly to transport local milk supplies. No wonder that it lasted for only 30 years. The station at Hulme End is now the Manifold Valley Visitor Centre, and the engine shed a tea room.
You start by following the course of the line south into the narrowing Manifold Valley, then at Ecton you leave the railway behind and climb the steep hillside. It’s time to turn your attention to what lies underground. Elsewhere in the Peak District the focus is on lead mining, but here at Ecton copper was the big prize. Both lead and copper mining had taken place here since early times, even before the Romans, but in the 1700s the scale of production really took off. Incredibly rich veins of copper were discovered, and in 1786 the Duke of Devonshire’s Ecton Hill mines produced about 4,000 tonnes of copper ore, reputedly making huge profits for the Duke which he used to help finance the construction of the opulent Georgian buildings of The Crescent in Buxton.
As you make your way up the steep, grassy slopes of Ecton Hill you’ll notice that there are lots of fenced-off shafts and the remains of former workings. The stand of pine trees above hides a giant spoil tip, for instance. Later in the walk you can look down at the pock-marked hillside from the top of Ecton Hill, which because of its important mining heritage is now a scheduled monument and a valuable educational resource. Because the copper deposits were found in vertical ‘pipes’, Ecton Hill contains the deepest mine in the Peak District. In fact, when it was dug in the late 18th century it may have been the deepest in the world at the time (over 1,800ft/550m deep).
Leave the car park on the Manifold Way (signed 'Manifold Track') southwards along the valley floor for 0.75 miles (1.2km). When you reach a road turn left, then at the junction go across another for the private road uphill, signed ‘Public footpath to Top of Ecton and Wetton’.
Go past several buildings, including the former mine manager’s dwelling with its unusual copper-roofed spire. Beyond this the path continues between two stone sheds, under an archway, then over a stile on the left.
Turn right and follow the path out along the bottom of the slope. It gradually slants its way up across the steep, grassy hillside. Towards the top it levels out, and at a line of hawthorn go up to cross a stile in the wall.
Walk ahead across the field to the bend in a wall, then head half right. Go through the gate at the end of a line of trees and maintain your direction down across the next field, going over the drive to Summerhill Farm. Cross the stile in the bottom corner and head left alongside the wall to reach a lane.
Go right and follow the lane uphill. Take the second path on the left. Go up the hillside close to the wall on your left. Continue straight on past a ruined building and aim for the trig point on the summit of Ecton Hill, in view ahead.
From the top continue ahead, veering half right as the Manifold Valley appears far below to your left. Go through the corner of a broken-down wall to go through a gate in the wall below. Head down the hillside beside a wall until you reach a gate by a barn.
Don’t go through the gate, but turn left, keeping the barn on your right. Walk across the hillside to the top edge of a crescent of pines, hiding an old spoil tip. From here take one of the zig-zag paths down the grassy slope to the bottom and turn right to rejoin the outward route. Retrace your steps to the start.
Surfaced tracks and grassy paths, some steep and slippery when wet; several stiles
Narrow limestone valley with soaring hills
Good on trail, but lead required around livestock in fields
OS Explorer OL24 White Peak
Hulme End car park (pay-and-display)
At visitor centre next to car park
<p>Be particularly careful around open mining shafts on Ecton Hill</p>
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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