As the Peak Way starts and finishes in Stockport, you’d be forgiven for thinking that part of the it would be urban walking. But in fact, it’s the exact opposite. Once you set off from the lovely Woodbank Park on the 155 mile long-distance walk, you’ll immediately find yourself in beautiful countryside. And this continues all the way to Hayfield – you’re first destination. In fact, this is a very picturesque route for your first day of the walk.
A glimpse of the past
So arguably, the only sign of urbanisation is the glimpse of Pear Mill water tower and chimney which come into view as you look back towards Stockport. This was an Edwardian mill built by the River Goyt in 1912, was one of the last cotton-spinning mills to be built, commencing production in 1913.
And, as you return to Stockport on your last day, you’ll also feel that you’re miles away from the town.
Colours of the seasons
Depending on the time of year that you walk it, you’ll enjoy nature’s seasonal displays. In spring, the woodland alongside the River Goyt has masses of bluebells and the white flowers of the wild garlic (and of course the unmistakeable aroma of garlic). In summer, the sun streams through the green leaves on the different varieties of trees which creates shadows that dance around on the path whilst the ripples on the river are highlighted by the sunlight. Then in autumn, the full range of browns, from light beige to golden, provide an amazing display.
Amazing heritage features
On the first day, you'll also see lots of amazing heritage features too. The first of these is the historic Goyt Hall Farm (dating back to around 1520).
A short distance further on is Chadkirk Chapel which is a restored 18th Century chapel which has an association through legend with the 7th century missionary St Chad. The Chapel’s quiet beauty was enhanced in 1995 by extensive restoration. This included the installation of a specially commissioned life-size statue of St Chad near the altar. It also included the colourful carved wooden panels depicting scenes from the life of the Saint.
Just past here you’ll join Peak Forest Canal which runs for 15 miles between Ashton-under-Lyne, east of Manchester, and Whaley Bridge, Derbyshire. It was authorised by Act of Parliament in 1794 and its purpose was to provide an outlet for the vast limestone deposits around Dove Holes near Buxton. You will soon reach Hyde Bank Tunnel which is 308 yards long and it has no towpath but boats can pass inside it. Boats were propelled through it by 'legging'. If a boat was being operated single-handedly, then the boatman would lie on his back on top of the cabin and 'walk' along the tunnel roof. If two crew members were available, they would place a plank across the boat, lie on that, back-to-back, and then they would 'walk' along the tunnel sides. Meanwhile, the horse found its own way over the top of the tunnel, a distance of about a half mile.
In less than a mile, you will cross Marple Aqueduct. Opened in 1800, it was built to carry the lower level of the Peak Forest Canal across the River Goyt and is the highest canal aqueduct in England at 309 feet long and 100 feet high. Due to lack of maintenance and repair in the decades following its construction, part of it collapsed in 1961 because of frost damage but was restored and re-opened in 1974. The adjacent Marple Viaduct was built by the MS&LR in 1863, to carry the Marple, New Mills and Hayfield Railway that serves Marple Station.
Into Torrs Riverside Park
Then, on approaching New Mills you’ll cross the 160-metre-long Millennium Walkway which enabled the Torrs Gorge to be passable for walkers and provides a route through the previously impassable gritstone gorge at Torrs.
The Torrs, where the Rivers Sett and Goyt come together is where their power was harnessed for over 200 years by mills. The area has mill ruins, weirs, cobbled tracks and archways of bridges towering dramatically overhead and it is well worth spending some time to look around and read the information boards and plaques which tell you about the industrial history, the wildlife and the Hydro Scheme.
So, this first stage of the route is packed with interest, but is also in lovely countryside. As you walk down the track to Goyt Hall Farm and beyond, you’ll be surrounded by fields inhabited by horses. Then you’ll enjoy walking along the canal towpaths with wildlife for company, and of course, the colourful narrowboats. Next, you’ll walk the path alongside the River Goyt into the Torrs Riverside Park and finally down the Sett Valley Trail, the route of a former railway.
So near, yet so far away
So, what about the last stage – the one that brings you back to Stockport? Well on your final approach you’ll follow the River Goyt once again and into the woodland alongside the river. And this is where you’ll see those wonderful colours I mentioned, depending on the month in which you arrive. You find it difficult to believe that you’re so near to Stockport.
So that’s it – no urban walking. Not unless you make a slight detour for refreshments in Marple or new Mills.