Derbyshire Life retraces the irresistible High Peak route from the region’s heart to its restorative reservoirs

Great British Life: Errwood and Fernilee Reservoirs Photo: Gary WallisErrwood and Fernilee Reservoirs Photo: Gary Wallis (Image: gary wallis)

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the completion of Errwood Reservoir. Reacting to the building of a second reservoir in the Goyt Valley by Stockport and District Water Board, Clifford Rathbone, author of The Goyt Valley Story, wrote: ‘When I first learnt that they were going to flood the valley again in order to satisfy the thirst of the people of Stockport and its industry, I was filled with horror – the same horror that comes to a child when a toy or a pet for which they have a great love and affection is torn away from them. I had spent many happy hours round and about Goyt’s Bridge and Errwood paddling in the river, playing childish games under the ancient bridge and collecting sweet chestnuts from the beautiful trees.’

Errwood Reservoir was completed three decades after the construction of Fernilee Reservoir, which had submerged nine farmsteads and washed away the remains of several old industries, including the last vestiges of the Chilworth gunpowder works, where three men had been killed in an explosion in 1909. For Clifford Rathbone, and for many other people, the destruction of the hamlet of Goyt’s Bridge to make way for a second reservoir in the Goyt Valley was a ‘bridge too far’.

My wife, who was born in Chapel-en-le-Frith, has fond memories of being woken early by her parents to travel to the enchanted surroundings of Goyt’s Bridge to listen to the dawn chorus. Mercifully, the packhorse bridge, which had been a key element in this much loved riverside beauty spot, was salvaged before the reservoir was built and re-erected in a location further upstream.

Errwood Reservoir was officially opened by the Duchess of Kent, who was the guest of honour at a luncheon held at Stockport Town Hall. Edmund Bradbury, one of the organisers of the event, recalls that the Peak District National Park Authority, who had sacrificed one of their most treasured landscapes to meet Stockport’s needs, accepted that the character of the Goyt Valley would be changed dramatically, but predicted that the reservoir would bring ‘a new beauty to the valley’.

Great British Life: Errwood Reservoir which has brought a 'new beauty' to the Goyt ValleyErrwood Reservoir which has brought a 'new beauty' to the Goyt Valley (Image: Mike Smith)

Many visitors to the area of the Goyt Valley now occupied by the two reservoirs make their approach through Whaley Bridge, where the River Goyt meanders through the High Peak settlement, hiding behind the buildings on the eastern flank of the main street before crossing to the other side of the road. At the northern entrance to the town, the river runs parallel to a spur of the Peak Forest Canal, where pleasure boats moor alongside a towpath that links a Tesco supermarket to the town.

The canal ends at a former transhipment warehouse, where cotton from Lancashire’s mill towns was unloaded and exchanged for minerals transported on the Cromford and High Peak Railway, a daring feat of Victorian engineering. After running almost 30 miles across the Peak District hills from the canal wharf at Cromford, the railway plunged 1,000 ft on a series of inclines before crossing the River Goyt in Whaley Bridge over an iron bridge, where a section of the track has been preserved.

The bridge is linked to Buxton Road, the main street of the town, by Bridge Street, where the Goyt Inn serves an ever-changing range of beers from traditional hand pumps, whilst the Bridge Bakehouse at the head of the street has a popular outside seating area where customers can enjoy hot drinks and artisan cakes and biscuits. Buxton Road has a very good range of independent shops, as well as several more eating places, including the Village Kitchen, established in 2015 by Tracey Longden and Beverley Shuker. The café and deli sells delicious homemade and locally-sourced food.

The nearby Jarva Gallery provides an equally delicious feast, with ingredients designed to satisfy aesthetic tastes rather than taste buds. The gallery, established eight years ago by Lyndsey Selley, sells hand-picked homeware items, jewellery, original paintings and ceramics, many of them produced by Derbyshire artists. Lyndsey, a talented artist in her own right, used to exhibit her wildlife paintings in the gallery. After putting aside her brushes for a while, she intends to return to painting later this year, when she will concentrate on some new subjects that she has yet to reveal.

Great British Life: The Packhorse Bridge that was re-erected in a location further upstreamThe Packhorse Bridge that was re-erected in a location further upstream (Image: Mike Smith)

After passing the Jarva Gallery, Buxton Road crosses a bridge over the Goyt. Bill Carr, a retired painter and decorator, was carefully re-painting the railings of the bridge at the time of my visit. Explaining his presence, he said, ‘Knowing that Whaley Bridge Town Council has a tight budget, like most other local authorities, I offered my services to ‘Whaley4Wards’, a group of eight willing volunteers who work on various local regeneration projects coordinated by Cllr Martin Thomas.’

Buxton Road follows a chicane around the White Hart pub and a well-known cycle shop known as the Bike Factory, before proceeding to the cross-roads at Horwich End, where a right fork leads to the little hamlet of Taxal, where St James’ Church occupies a sylvan hollow close to the river, which can be traced a mile upstream from here to the dam wall of Fernilee reservoir. Beyond the cross-roads, Buxton Road becomes Long Hill, which winds its way to a summit where a side-road begins a dramatic 1-in-7 descent to the point where Fernilee Reservoir ends and Errwood Reservoir begins.

Before the road drops down this arrow-straight incline, there is an isolated shrine, erected in the 1950s at the instigation of Canon Baldwin of St Anne’s Roman Catholic Church in Buxton. The shrine is inset with a mosaic flanked by flowers. This unexpected feature is a reminder of the conversion to Roman Catholicism of the son of Samuel Grimshawe, a wealthy Manchester businessman, who had built a very grand country house in the woods above the River Goyt in the 1830s.

Errwood Hall had large Venetian windows in two bays, an Italianate tower and an entrance way topped by the family crest in the form of a dragon. When the last of the Grimshawes, Mary Gosselin-Grimshawe, died in 1930, most of the contents of the hall were sold at auction, but the building survived for a time until it was demolished due to alarmist fears that the reservoirs would be polluted if people were allowed to occupy premises in the immediate vicinity of the lakes.

Great British Life: The Peak Forest Canal at Whaley BridgeThe Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge (Image: Mike Smith)

The site of the hall is reached by taking a steep path from the car park on the shores of Errwood Reservoir until a plateau-like clearing is reached. Remnants of the once magnificent mansion comprise a scattering of foundation stones, some ground-floor window frames and the carving of the family crest, which lies forlornly on the ground beneath the entrance way it once topped. The voices of children who often play among the ruins sound like echoes of the joyous parties held in the hall by the Grimshawes, not only for members of the gentry but also for their estate workers.

The Grimshawe family also purchased an ocean-going yacht called the Mariquita, which was loaded with exotic shrubs collected on their travels. A spectacular result of these acquisitions can be seen each June when the rhododendrons and azaleas they had brought back come into flower. They also returned home with some people they had met on their excursions and offered them employment. The grandly-named Dona Maria Dolores de Ybarguen, a Spanish lady of aristocratic descent, became the first teacher at a school set up for the children of estate workers. Much loved by her pupils, ‘Miss Dolores’ died, whilst only in her forties, on a visit to Lourdes. She is remembered in St Joseph’s Chapel, a small circular building tucked into a fold of a remote hillside beyond the hall.

The path that leads back from the romantic ruins of the hall to Errwood Reservoir commands an extensive view of the man-made lake in a setting that is a combination of wild moorland and planted forest. This ‘new beauty’, which was anticipated 50 years ago when the reservoir was completed, has made the Goyt Valley one of the most popular destinations in the Peak District National Park.