Thursday, 26 May 2011

Shining Tor via Cats Tor

I decided last mintue this weekend I would discover a part of the Peak District I have never explored on foot before. I have driven through the Goyt Valley a few times and always said to myself that I would go back and do some walks there. It is a popular place with a good reputation and only an hour from the suburbs of Manchester. In particular I've always wanted to walk to the top of Cheshire's highest point Shining Tor. I had a look online and was pleasantly surprised to find that parking throughout the valley is still free, which these days is sadly very rare. The weather forecast for Saturday was fine and dry in the morning with cloud moving in over lunch time and then rain in the later hours of the afternoon. So I set off fairly early hoping to miss any showers, well early for me anyway! There were hardly any problems on the roads at all so got there in just over an hour. I drove through Whaley Bridge which I don't think I have driven through before and was pleasantly surprised to find it is a lovely place. The road climbs out of Whaley Bridge and in to the heart of the Goyt Valley, I stopped at the viewpoint on Long Hill to read the information signs and take in the views across the reservoirs up the valley, I enjoy reading the local information signs as there is always something new to be learned about the area you are discovering. After taking some fairly serious bends on the main road, another minor road switches back to the right and down to the reservoirs at the head of the valley. The road is steep and makes a quick descent to the dam before crossing it to reach the far shore where there are two car parks. I stopped at the first car park to have a glance at the map and realised it wasn't the one I was looking for, the planned start being another kilometre up the road at the Errwood Car Park.

Errwood Reservoir

I eventually found the Errwood car park and parked up Keisha, my black Astra who had her 100,000 mile birthday this week. Can't believe she has let me drive her the equivalent of round the world twice over the last eight years. Most of those miles taking me to mountains and far away places like regular visits to the far north of Scotland. The freedom the car gave me several years ago changed my life forever. I'll stop talking about Keisha now as it freaks some people out how attached I am to my car. I set off from the car park excited about exploring somewhere new. Walks you have done before can be comforting sometimes but today I wanted that exciting buzz of having to use the map to find my way again and not knowing what was round each turn and over each hill. The path from the car park took me through a field of tall ferns that stood like an army on a hill. The path went through a gap in the wall, through a metal anti vehicle gate and then down a track through some of the most colourful woodland I have ever seen. The forest was alive with the usual spring colours but with the added addition of Rhododendrons and a bright yellow shrub I was yet to identify. A small stream passes under the track and then after only a short walk a track switched back to the right clearly sign posted to Errwood Hall. I climb up that track and found myself in the opening at the ruins of Errwood Hall.

Errwood Hall

Errwood Hall was built in the 1830's by a wealthy and well educated Manchester business man by the name of Samuel Grimshawe. He gave this impressive stone built mansion and surrounding estate to his son as a wedding present. The hall was a happy home to two generations of the Grimshawe Family for over a hundred years. The estates comprised of two thousand acres of land with workers cottages, a private school, woodlands, moorlands, farmlands, farms, a small hamlet, a private colliery and several other small buildings and features. Sadly the hall was demolished in the late 1930's when the Fernilee dam and reservoir were constructed to provide water for the growing industrial town of Stockport. I am not too sure why the hall had to be demolished, it is thought this was in the interests of water purity in the valley. I would like to think that in our day and age such an impressive building would have been rightly preserved. All that remains of the hall now is its stone floors, a few steps and the impressive stone arched window frames of the last remaining wall which luckily for us are all preserved by the Peak District National Park Authority. The surrounding landscape is still influenced by the Grimshawe's. Most noticeably the thousands of Rhododendron and rare Yellow Azalea shrubs that the family brought back from their many voyages and planted. In summer months the colours of the woodlands in the valleys around the hall are absolutely stunning. There are several other noticeable features in the landscape around the old estate. On the small hillock behind the hall there is the family cemetery which was restored by North West Water in the 1980's. To the east up the track from the hall are the remains of the workers cottages and old stone walled farmland. Just south from there is the old man made waterways and walls from the old colliery. Most of the farmlands and the old hamlet of Goyt's Brige are now under the waters of the reservoirs.

Yellow Azalea

I took in the strange atmosphere at the hall which was made less eerie by the positive noise of a family having a picnic and playing on the old ruins. It is sad the hall is now almost completely gone but at least its history is known and people research its story which I quite like. The full story of the Grimshawe Family is well document online at this fantastic resource. From the hall I took a path heading north west , eventually crossing an impressive curvy wooden bridge over the stream. At a junction of paths I then took the ascent path to Pym Chair. Pretty much every path junction around the Goyt Valley has excellent sign posts. Some people worry about sign posting and elitists often say the hills would be ruined by them. I totally disagree and I think when done properly and sympathetically they can be extremely beneficial. The path was surprisingly quiet and in the blue skies and sunshine it was a delight to be out. The path rises above the valley on the left which is a mixture of planted forestry and natural woodland, there was a constant bird song which only added to my already wide smile. At one point near Foxlow Edge I disturbed a Skylark who made it fairly obvious what it thought of my sudden arrival close to its nesting area as it flew directly over head doing the usual crazy display of noise and wings that Skylarks so famously perform. Definitely one of my favourite sounds when in the Peak District. I continued along the path, passed by the stone walls of the old Withinleach Farm, then reached the most bizarre building.

The Spanish Shrine

Probably the most fascinating of all the buildings on the estate is the Spanish Shrine that you will find on the walk up to Pym Chair from the hall. Just after passing the ruins of Withinleach Farm on the path to Pym Chair you will come across a round stone hut, not too dissimilar to Hagrid Huts in the Harry Potter movies, with a small cross on its roof. The Grimshawe family built the Spanish Shrine in 1889 in memory of Dolores de bergrin. Miss Dolores was governess to the children at Errwood Hall and teacher at the estates small private school. Sadly she died in her early forties on a visit to Lourdes. The hut is not locked and you can open the wooden door to reveal its inner delights. The wall of the shrine has a beautiful tiled mosaic. It also has a pulpit, religious items, candles, letters and remembrance items. I had a look in the hut and took a photo. I am not a religious man at all, I like to consider myself agnostic if anything, however I do enjoy the architecture and decoration of most religious buildings and this was no exception. I continued on the ascent beyond the shrine heading towards the tarmac road known as The Street. Looking back from here I could see that Foxlow Edge would have been a great detour. I watched a Kestrel flapping around above me for a while, it seemed to be stalking something in the grass to my left, either that or it likes posing for photos so it can feature on Trekking Britain.

Kestrel

I reached The Street and headed over to the far side of the road where a path avoids the arduous task of ascending the tarmac. The ascent reaches the pass known as Pym Chair. I think named after a famous chair like rock about here somewhere. I then crossed the road again and started the long ridge walk across Cats Tor to the col known as The Tors and then eventually up the final ascent to the summit of Shining Tor. From Cats Tor looking back I could see the sun lighting up Windgather Rocks at the furthest end of the ridge, a magnet for first time climbers. As I climbed higher the views opened up, the contrast of the flat Cheshire plains on one side and the dark peat moorland on the other. The obvious features being the reservoir below and the huge white telescope dish of Jodrell Bank sticking out like a sore thumb in the flat Cheshire plains. Ahead the view was of a well laid stone paved path, white cotton grass and the objective of the day Shining Tor with its pointy neighbour Shutlingsloe beyond stealing every one's eye. Wild Moor across the Goyt Valley had lovely patterns where the heather had been worked and managed creating strips on the hillside, it looked almost as if someone had done a bad job waxing their legs. Looking far over my right shoulder I could see Manchester and as I always do when I'm up here I thought about how lucky I was to be up here instead of down there in one of those crazy bustling city streets I have to walk down every working day of my life. I whistled The Manchester Rambler as I often do when I am in the Peak District and hummed Shining Star by Ash, probably due to the fact I was on Shining Tor? The wind was really strong but mild, a really good day for the ever useful wind shirt. As I reached the col known as The Tors two Grouse flew up over a wall to my right to reach the next field, they hadn't banked on the wind picking them up like it did and darting them to the next but one field instead. It was absolutely hilarious seeing two fat birds darting through the air so quickly like over sized darts. I reached the summit of Shining Tor and stood on top of it in awe of Shutlingsloe across the valley, it really does steal the lime light here as the summit of Shining Tor isn't much to write home about.

Shining Tor Summit Trig Point


There is a wall and bench on the summit and through a gate in the wall the OS trig point pillar. I realised at this point that the highlight of this walk was most certainly not the highest point. The two tors are what I expect from the Peak, though with less features then most Peak summits, the ridge walk is pleasant though and gives great views. The true highlight of this walk was definitely the valleys and woodlands around and above Errwood Hall. I headed down the long straight dip from the summit across the head of Shooter's Clough and up to Stake Side. The long Stake Side ridge has an almost perfect stone wall along its crest, the ridge has an incredibly straight profile and when seen from The Tors and Shining Tor you could easily think it was man made like some kind of Incline. I turned left along the ridge, on a day with more time I would have turned right where just a kilometres easy walk away along the easy bridleway is the Cat and Fiddle Inn. I walked along the top of the ridge on the easy track with the impressive stone wall on my left standing taller than me for most of the descent. I had a look at the map and decided that just walking straight back down to the reservoir on the track looked nowhere near as good as heading down in to Shooter's Clough. It was definitely the right decision, I headed through the gate and took the zig zag switch back down in to Shooter's Clough through some more beautiful woodland. I found an old stone dyke at one point and found it the perfect place to stop and have my lunch as it was sheltered from the strong north westerly wind.

Myself and Johnny Marr

The track finds the bottom of the valley and crosses some stepping stones over the small idyllic stream. I set off along a path that heads past the man made walls of the old colliery and eventually reached the track I left earlier near Errwood Hall. Here there are the stone walls of the ruined old workers and servants houses. I turned right and headed back down the track to eventually reach the car park. On the way back down the track having to stop every so often to stand in awe of the woodlands and the incredible colours shouting out from them. If I do the walk again I would probably head up and over Foxlow Edge on the initial ascent to Pym Chair and would also visit the knoll behind Errwood Hall on the way back by heading up to it from the ruined workers houses. There is the family cemetery up there where several Grimshawe family members and their much loved staff are buried. Fabulous walk with so much variety in a stunning valley only an hour from Manchester. I'd had a good day as it was, but then that night it was made even better. I went to Sainsburys in Altrincham to pick up a few groceries and bumped in to one of my musical heroes. The legend that is Johnny Marr! I am a huge Smiths fan, they are one of my favourite ever bands so to meet Johnny was a huge thing for me. We chatted for a few minutes and he even gave me one of his plectrums he had in his jacket pocket. Great day and glad it wasn't my last which Saturday was supposed to be according to some nut case of course!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...