Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

The River

Margaret Allen, Member and ex footpath officer for New Mills Ramblers

This article is from Signpost 68, Summer 2021

I count it one of the luckiest things of my life to have been born within reach of a river: not on it, nor above it, but just so far removed from it that it never became a too familiar sight, and never ceased to be a wonder. Even as a child I marvelled at the power, the unchanging course, the might of the river.

That was the River Aire in West Yorkshire to the East of the Pennines. Now living West of the Pennines, my river has become the Goyt. The second highest pub in the country is the Cat and Fiddle. Near to this lonely place a spring of clear water oozes through the heather moorland; the river Goyt is born. Soon the trickle picks up speed and forges its way down the steep hillside. Tumbling over rocks the water turns a rusty colour as it picks up elements in the soil. Soon, within a few miles the natural course of the water is tamed, dammed and utilised by man. Firstly the Errwood reservoir and then the Fernilee collect water for the towns and provide sport for yachters.

The river carries on from the reservoirs all the time being fed by tributaries. Gaining strength it widens and deepens, becomes a force to be reckoned with, now crossable only by bridges. Slowing down as it passes through fields its banks give pleasure to walkers and picnickers. On through Taxal, Horwich End to be joined by the Todd Brook at Whaley Bridge. Further downstream, nearing New Mills, it becomes its most dramatic. Millions of years ago ice carved a way through the steep, soaring rocks known as The Torrs, now the course of the river.

In the 19th century man again harnessed the river's energy, this time to power the mills, those palace sized edifices of employment and industry. All that remains of them in New Mills are gaunt, blackened stone ruins. Near a weir on the river a picnic area is sited where once a mill stood. But here the river is being harnessed once more; 21st century style! An Archimedes screw has been installed to generate electricity. Water is diverted to power the screw, but only when the river levels are at a certain height. It mustn't go below that level because of the wild life in the river. After years of pollution, when at times the river ran blood red, or purple from the dye works further up stream at Chinley; now there is a salmon leap at the weir.

Rounding a bend after the Archimedes screw the river becomes angry, churning and frothing its way through the Torrs. In its element, untameable, unapproachable because of the soaring rock face it dashes deafeningly ever onwards. However man's ingenuity provided access. In 2000 a wonderful Millennium Walkway was erected, designed by Stan Brewster, tragically a victim of the London bus bombing, but his legacy will last forever. The Millennium Way is 125 yards long, perched at 50 feet above the river. It hugs the rock face and is supported on tall pillars with the raging river boiling and seething below. At last there is pedestrian access along the river.

After the fury of the gorge the river loses energy and reaches a calm place. It gives respite and tranquillity flowing slowly through flower strewn meadows. A heron, long neck retracted, hunches on the far bank. Without warning it takes off, not with great flapping wings but in a languorous, graceful movement, circles, riding the thermals then lands further downstream. Fisherman in waders stand mid-river casting lines in hypnotic arcs. All is peaceful.

Meandering downstream the river now reaches Strines, my village. Not visible from my cottage but in autumn, when the early mornings are chilly, I witness from my eyrie on the hillside a wonderful sight. Milky white mist rises from the river undulating like a Chinese dragon defining its course. I crane my neck from the window to watch this unterrestrial substance stretching up and down stream. People in the valley are enveloped in the fog unable to see this phenomena. I long for someone to share this ephemeral experience.

But the river Goyt can't rest for long: it still has a long way to go. Picking up speed again it hurries on to reach what must have been its finest hour when, way back in the 18th century, it powered the water wheels for Samuel Oldknow's mills, that giant of the cotton industry. Long before the railway viaducts crossed the river a mighty weir was constructed, the water diverted to what became known as The Roman Lakes. At Marple Bridge the river Etherow joins forces with the Goyt. and lastly, when the River Tame joins it in Stockport the Goyt loses its identity and becomes the River Mersey.

What started as a tiny spring, 67 miles away high on the Pennines becomes a three mile wide estuary at Liverpool, finally ending its journey as it flows out into the Irish Sea.

Next: Plans for Rotherham

Page title:The River
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