|Though overshadowed by its more famous neighbour, the Dove, the River Manifold is still a beautiful river, with a lower section which is hardly less spectacular than Dovedale.|
The Manifold rises at Flash Head, less than a kilometre south of the Dove, and takes a winding course to pass just south of Longnor. It then turns south to meander through gritstone countryside before reaching the limestone area at Ecton, near Hulme End.
Here a sudden transformation overtakes the river. So far, its surroundings have been unremarkable, but at Ecton the scenery changes dramatically as the river enters a deep limestone valley. The Manifold sweeps past Ecton Hill, once the site of the most productive copper mines in England, and on to Swainsley Hall, built by a Leek mill owner. From Hulme End it is shadowed by a cycle track which follows the course of the former Manifold Light Railway, built in 1898 to carry tourists and freight along the valley and up the Hamps valley to the railhead at Waterhouses, but which closed in 1934.
Downstream, the Manifold valley becomes deeper and grander, with crags such as Ossam's Crag, until it reaches the old watermill at Wetton Mill. Beyond here the river usually disappears underground most summers, so from here to Ilam the Manifold is usually 'dry' between May and October. The nearby river Hamps does the same, and the water from both rivers reappears at the 'boil holes' near Ilam Hall.
View from above Thors Cave
Beyond Wetton Mill Thor's Cave comes into view. This is a huge cave in a prominent spur high above the valley, which can be seen for miles around. The cave has yielded many objects of archaeological interest which show it was inhabited by both early man and prehistoric animals but it is now primarily an object of interest to tourists, who scramble to its entrance, climb through it and admire the view from the spur above the cave.
The Hamps valley joins the Manifold at Beeston, about two kilometres below Wetton Mill, and just below this lies Beeston Tor, one of the largest and most spectacular limestone crags of the area. St Bertram's cave lies at the foot of the crag and is traditionally the place where the saint lived as a hermit. When it was excavated in 1926, Saxon brooches, coins and rings were found, so the cave was certainly used during this period.
Below Beeston the terrain opens out slightly and the river winds towards Ilam through a grand, often wooded, valley, though in summer this contains only a dry river bed. Castern Wood here is a nature reserve and those lower down are designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest, on account of their Lime Trees.
Just upstream of Ilam Hall the water from the Manifold and Hamps reappears at the boil holes and the river flows again only to suffer its final indignity at the hands of its more famous neighbour. For when the Manifold joins the Dove below Ilam, there is little doubt that the Manifold is the larger stream, but the combined river is called the Dove.
River Manifold Photo Gallery - click on the images to enlarge- Click Here for a slide show
0 - Ecton Hill
1 - Manifold Valley near Swainsley
2 - Manifold Valley from Thor's Cave
3 - Manifold Valley and Thors Cave from Wetton
4 - Manifold Valley - Thors Cave
5 - Manifold Valley - Beeston Tor
6 - Manifold Valley - dried up river
7 - Ilam - St Bertrand's Bridge