The serene beauty of the Manifold Valley disguises the fact that the world’s richest copper mine once thrived at Ecton, deep in the Staffordshire countryside.
Tantalising remnants of this add another dimension to this walk into the Manifold’s tortuous gorge and the shapely limestone countryside between Leek and Hartington.
1. Copper mines
Join the wide trail from the rear of the car park and walk this tarred cycle track towards the hills. In 1904 a narrow gauge railway linked Hulme End to the standard gauge network at Waterhouses, near Leek. The canary-yellow passenger coaches of the Leek and Manifold Valley Light Railway were a poor substitute for the copper ore the promoters anticipated would flow from the anticipated reopening of Ecton mine. This came to nothing and the railway carried its last traffic in 1934; in 1937 a far-sighted Staffordshire County Council purchased the trackbed and opened it as a recreational trail.
2. Back to the Bronze Age
Remain on the trail across a minor road; to your left are spoil heaps, levels and tumbled ruins from Ecton Copper Mine. Bronze Age miners worked here, but the height of production was in Georgian times when 4,000 tons a year generated immense wealth for the Duke of Devonshire, some of which was spent on Chatsworth House and on developing Buxton as a spa town.
3. Limestone at your feet
The track reaches a tunnel entrance at Swainsley. Turn left before this to find a gated lane on the right just over Ecton Bridge. Follow this above the river Manifold through to Wettonmill (turn right at the farm).
4. Over water
Cross the bridge and turn left on the lane. In 500m this reaches a junction; turn sharp left on a grassy path up a deep valley below Wetton Hill. The path rises through superb limestone countryside to a lane below Manor House.
5. High on a hill
Follow this for 600m to a junction at a hairpin bend. Walk uphill to use a handgate on the right in 100m. From here, the path rises gradually past old mine workings to the trig pillar on Ecton Hill.
6. A steep descent
Bear slightly right; the path plunges down the snout of Ecton Hill to a barn. Turn left down the steep path this side of the barn, and keep downhill and right to find a stile in a wooded corner.
Descend the track past the Gothic-style house with a copper-sheathed spire, a reminder of the industry that finally closed in 1891. Copper mined here in 1866 was drawn into wire at works in Oakamoor, Staffordshire, and used to form the first Trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, laid from Brunel’s Great Eastern steamship.
7. Dairy exports
At the road, bear right – the concrete ruins to your left are those of a dairy that kept the railway running until the 1930s, exporting milk and cheese to London. Fork left and then turn right along the Manifold Track back to the visitor centre that is housed in the old Hulme End Station.
Easy walking on the old trackbed, but it may be very muddy underfoot on the paths through the upland fields. Do not attempt to enter any old mine buildings, workings or caves. The Manifold Trail is suitable for users of wheelchairs and those with limited mobility.
How to get there
By car: Hulme End is 2 miles south-west of Hartington on the B5054, about 10 miles from both Leek and Buxton via A-roads. Park at the visitor centre (pay & display).
By public transport: Bowers’ bus service 442 between Buxton & Ashbourne serves Hulme End. 0871 200 2233
The Manifold Inn
Hulme End, Hartington, Staffordshire ST17 0EX. 01298 84537.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OL24.
Grid ref: SK 103 593