BL Walk 8.                Buxton to Whaley Bridge

The Route:    Buxton station, Pavilion Gardens, Cavendish golf course, Watford Farm, The Bent, CHP Railway, Bunsall Top, Fernilee Reservoir, Taxal, Toddbrook Reservoir , Whaley Bridge station.

Starting point:        Buxton station. (G.R. SK 058737)

Distance:     9 miles (14½ km)

Ascent:        1164 feet (355 metres)

Map:           OS outdoor Leisure No. 1, The Dark Peak and No. 24, The White Peak

How to get there:  Daily train service to Buxton from Manchester and Stockport.  Daily train service from Whaley Bridge to Manchester, Stockport and Buxton.

Buxton Station

The Walk:  From Buxton station, go across Palace Road, pausing to admire the restored fanlight window at the western end of the station.  Go down the main road to the roundabout.  Cross over the Macclesfield road at the pedestrian island and go right.  Bear left almost immediately, down George Street and follow this road until you emerge in front of the Buxton Opera House.  Cross The Square and enter the Pavilion Gardens.  Stroll through these delightful gardens, resisting the blandishments of the café.  Pass the swimming baths and car park to emerge on Burlington Road.  Cross this road and follow the continuation of the Gardens alongside the infant River Wye until you reach the main Macclesfield road. 

Cross this road and go up Carlisle Road until you reach a signpost to the Cavendish Golf Club.  Go left here and follow Watford Road as it bends to the right to cross Gadley Lane.  Gadley Lane goes on to the Club House, but Watford Road continues as a rough track leading off to the left and is signed as a public footpath.

You will see with some concern a notice that tells you to beware of shooting after 7 p.m.  Presumably this would be the ritual extermination of golfers who had not paid their green fees or who had offended against the club’s dress code, so nothing for a mere walker to worry about.

The track cuts right through the golf course, dipping to cross a stream and then beginning a steady rise towards Watford Farm, which can be seen ahead. 

Buxton Golf Club

A further notice warns walkers to beware of golfers teeing off from the 17th tee, just above and to the right.  When the walk was recce’d this tee wasn’t a problem, but as we carried on up the track we were aware that golfers were driving towards us from two other tees and you should watch out for these as well.

At the end of the golf course the track passes through a gate with another warning sign, this time referring to the possibility of there being a bull in the next field.  There certainly wasn’t when we passed through, but that’s not to say there never will be.  The track now approaches Watford farm and swings right into a deep cutting.  To the left is a substantial embankment and the farm is perched on higher ground above this.  The track now swings sharp left and climbs to the farm.

Follow the waymarked path through the farm, avoiding the dogs and the geese and so enter Watford Wood. Looking down to the left you will notice that the embankment, which you saw earlier, ends abruptly after crossing what appears to be a culvert.  Very curious.

Still climbing gently, the track swings right to a gate. A notice on the gate clearly states that there is no right of way through it.  Instead, bear right, along a narrow waymarked path beside the wall and continue climbing through the wood.  This path is not exactly as shown on the OS map, but it is clearly the trodden and official route.

In a short distance you reach a garden gate on your left and the path goes through this, passing round the front of the houses.

There is a magnificent view from here, back over Buxton and towards Grinlow.  Indeed the next section of the walk is along a delightful narrow lane with fine views to the left, forming part of a walking route called the “Ring of Trees”.  This is a ten mile circuit of Buxton keeping mainly within the woods that fringe the town.  Many of these woods were planted at the behest of the then Duke of Devonshire to hide the scars left by quarrying and mining.

The lane slowly descends until you reach a cluster of buildings on the right.  Immediately beyond these there is a signpost pointing to the right.  Go right here and up a lengthy flight of steps through the wood.  At the top of the steps, the path leaves the wood and swings first left then sharp right, still climbing, before eventually reaching a stile, taking you out onto open moorland.

The path bears right, across the moor, but it is worth while pausing here for a moment and just following the line of a derelict wall for a few paces until you can see Tunnel Farm ahead of you and below.  The tunnel referred to is Burbage Tunnel on the former Cromford and High Peak Railway.  This early line was opened in 1830 and used canal type technology, with long level sections interspersed with steep, rope worked inclines.  Here at Burbage Tunnel the line was at its summit level and looking left you can see the course of the line heading away towards Ladmanlow, where some of the former station buildings still stand.  From Ladmanlow to Whaley Bridge the line was abandoned in 1892 when the new link line from Buxton station to Hurdlow was opened.  The old route from Hindlow to Ladmanlow was retained until the late 1950’s to serve various quarries.

Return now to the stile and follow the easy path across the moor. 
Soon you get an extensive view ahead, down into the Goyt valley, across towards Shining Tor and to the right to the western end of Combs Edge.  Here you are on the main English watershed.  Behind you all streams drain to the Trent, Humber and North Sea, whilst ahead of you the streams go to the Goyt, Mersey and Irish Sea. 

Follow the path down beside the drystone wall, avoiding the muddiest sections as best you can, and thus reach the abandoned section of the Cromford and High Peak Railway, just by the northern mouth of Burbage Tunnel. 

The tunnel is now firmly bricked up, but this was not always the case and the author did venture through it in the 1960’s – an interesting experience if somewhat foolhardy.

Turn right, along the railway alignment and enjoy almost a mile of level walking where you can gaze around and admire the view without fear of stumbling over uneven ground.

Burbage Tunnel

It is an extensive panorama, but on a cold blustery day spare a thought for the enginemen who ran the trains on this most exposed section of line, at a time when the considered view was, never mind a cab roof, the “best protection for enginemen is a good overcoat”. Note the considerable earthworks on this section and, where the line swings left you can see to the right the earlier 1830’s line.  This has a much sharper curve and was superseded by the easier curve when steam locomotives were introduced. 

After about ½ mile of easy walking, you approach Bunsall Top. 

The small reservoir on the right, which uses the railway embankment as a dam, was the source of water for the winding engine and also for the locomotives.  When the line was originally built the incline from Bunsall Top to the next level section was divided into two sections and there was a second winding engine near Bunsall Cob.  The two inclines were combined into one in 1857.   When Errwood Reservoir was built between 1964 and 1967, the incline was converted into a road.

It would be possible to walk straight down the road from Bunsall Top, but rather than do that, the suggested route is to bear right, just before the reservoir and follow a path which skirts the water to reach the car park.  Go through the car park onto the road and immediately opposite is a stile and signpost.  Go through the stile and descend the well-blazed path, with a good view ahead down the Goyt valley where Fernilee Reservoir features prominently.  The path descends rapidly and soon swings left to rejoin the road (the former incline), just near Bunsall Cob.  Turn right and go down the road.

As you near the left hand bend, look to your right.  Below you are the weed choked remains of the reservoir that served the winding engine of the second Bunsall incline.  You will also be able to distinguish the old railway embankment.  This was superseded when the inclines were combined and the gradients slightly eased.

Continue down the road, past the toilets and the small car park.  Just beyond the car park, bear right, leaving the road and descending steeply by the wood to join a metalled track leading down towards Fernilee reservoir.  Once you are on this track, you are back on the former railway line again, and you’ll stay on it until you reach Fernilee dam.

A lovely level stretch now follows, with views over the reservoir – and occasional seats to enable you to sit and enjoy the vista.  If you are pressed for time, this would be your racing stretch as there are no obstacles for over a mile.

Fernilee reservoir was built between 1930 and 1938 for Stockport Corporation Water Works.  It is 126’ deep at its greatest depth and when full, contains 1000 million gallons of water.  The trackbed of the former C&HP line was used by a narrow gauge railway during the construction of the reservoir.

At the dam, leave the railway line and bear left, not over the dam itself, but down a narrow unsigned footpath, which descends steeply alongside a hedge to join another metalled track.  Go down this track, which soon reaches a series of waterworks buildings that don’t seem to be in use.  A signpost directs you along a continuation of the track, and soon you are in open fields.

You pass Borehole A on the left, and a little further on you pass Borehole B on your right.  Here the track finishes and you continue along a delightful riverside footpath.

Fernilee reservoir

 When you reach a footbridge over the Goyt do not go over it, but continue ahead alongside the river, ignoring the path branching off right, which would take you up to the main road.  Continue along the riverside path, in the mistaken belief that it must be downhill all the way now to Whaley Bridge.  However, when you reach Shallcross Wood, the path takes an uphill course and forks.  To the right a path goes up to the main road (you can see the steps in the retaining wall).  Your route continues down the valley, but some way above the river on an obvious terrace. 

The main road is hidden by the trees but the rumble of traffic is ever present.

Eventually you reach a crossing of tracks.  It would be possible to go right here, up to the main road and walk down the road into Whaley Bridge, but rather than that, go left, down to the river and across the bridge.

Now you see how wrong you were about the route being downhill all the way.  Just over the river the lane rises steeply up to Taxal church.  In fact, apart from the steps at the Buxton end of the walk, this is by far the steepest ascent on the entire route.  At the T junction, turn right and follow the lane past the church.  Where the lane swings left, carry straight on, past the toilets and in front of the Taxal Chimes, to reach a footpath. 

This is the Midshires Way and you follow this all the way to Whaley Bridge.  Look out for the distinctive waymark.  You soon come to a point where the path forks.  Here you could really do with a waymark and there isn’t one.  Go left and follow the path up beside a chain link fence, soon crossing a driveway and encountering a confirmatory waymark, reassuringly showing the Midshires Way. 
Go through a series of fields, the first few of which are decidedly muddy.  In fact, when this walk was recce’d, this was the only serious mud we encountered. .  It can be avoided by staying away from the edge of the field.

Note the rather fine large building on the right, now seemingly partly derelict.  This is, or was, Taxal Lodge school.   Whaley Bridge can now be seen ahead.

Continue straight ahead through the fields until you reach the Macclesfield road.  Cross over the road and go along Reddish Lane, ignoring turns right or left, until the lane swings right  and reaches Reddish Farm.  This is a fine collection of  buildings, but many are in sad need of repair.  A narrow stile to the left of the farm buildings leads onto a footpath - still the Midshires Way.  To your left is Toddbrook reservoir, built in 1831 to supply extra water to the Peak Forest Canal.  The path soon reaches the end of the dam wall and the Midshires Way is signed for the middle of three paths.  This path drops down the valley in front of the dam, giving a good view of the spillway.  This must be quite spectacular when the reservoir is overflowing. 

At the bottom of the path you join a tarred footpath beside the Goyt and here turn left.  Follow this path across the bridge over the Todd Brook and then through the Memorial Park past the former Congregational church to reach Reservoir Road.  Bear right here and follow the road down.  As you round the corner you’ll see the railway bridge ahead of you.  For trains to Buxton go under the bridge and then left up to the station.  For trains to Manchester turn left just before the bridge and go up Station View.  There is a gate onto the platform from this road.  If you’ve some time to wait before your train, there’s always The Railway Inn on the right hand side of the road, just under the bridge.

The Railway Inn