The lower Manifold valley one of the most beautiful parts of the Peak District and is an excellent area for walks which are interesting but never too arduous. This circuit from Wetton takes in Thor's Cave and continues downstream to Ilam, returning along the opposite side of the river. Though it's not a particularly long walk, there is so much to see that it will probably take most people a full day. The best time to do this walk would be June, when the hawthorn blossom and gorse bloom colour the hillsides white and yellow.
Leave Wetton on the small road which leads to Wetton Mill and the Manifold Valley. Only a few yards along the road a farm track branches off left, followed by a footpath just a few metres further long the road.
Take the path and follow it down a small dale until it branches and take the left branch which contours around the hillside before crossing a stile at the edge of a wood and climbing up to Thor's Cave.
The cave is extremely spectacular and from above it there is a stunning view of the valley below. It's also well worth a scramble around the inside, which is at least 10 metres tall and is lit by an opening at the back of the cave, so it is possible to see your way around.
From Thor's Cave return the way you came to the fork in the path, and follow the other branch down to the river, which is crossed by a footbridge - though in summer there is usually no water in the stream here for it disappears underground near Wetton Mill, about a kilometre upstream.
Follow the old railway track (the Manifold and Hamps Trail) down the valley for about a kilometre to Weag's Bridge, where the Grindon to Alstonefield road crosses the valley and there is a small car park. Leave the Trail here and take the farm track which runs parallel to it on the river side, and leads to Beeston Tor farm - another half kilometre further downstream.
From the farm a track leads off up the hillside away from the river, for there is no path alongside the heavily-wooded lower Manifold. Follow the farm track until it degenerates to a grassy trail and then diverge left up the side of the grassy dale to a small wood at the top of the hill. This leads to a stile and the path continues down to Throwley Hall, a large farm which stands next to the ruins of what was once a fine Elizabethan house.
Our next objective is Rushley farm, which lies by the river at the bottom of the hill and the simplest route is to follow the small unfenced road which passes Throwley Hall en route for Ilam. Though this carries little traffic, you might find it more pleasant to take the path which diverges from the road after about 500 metres and contours around the hillside before meeting another path which leads directly down to Rushley.
The road makes a right-angled bend at Rushley and just after this a path leads off across the fields to cut off the corner and arrive at the footbridge across the (usually dry) river Manifold and thence into Ilam Park. If you haven't been here before then the most interesting route is turn right immediately you cross the bridge and follow the so-called 'Paradise Walk' along the edge of the trees - it's very pretty and doesn't delay your ice-cream too long!
The river itself is very interesting here. About 400 metres below the footbridge the water from the River Hamps resurges from a spring on the opposite bank and when you arrive close to the first weir you pass the 'Boil Holes' where the Manifold water resurges and suddenly the dry river is flowing again! The water has travelled a direct distance of 8 kilometres underground and its reappearance seems miraculous. St Bertram was probably responsible - his bridge lies just below here and a path leads back to Ilam Hall, where you will find a National Trust information centre and tea shop.
To get back to Wetton you must first return to Rushley, though you can cut straight across the park at the back of Ilam Hall if you want to save time and don't wish to retrace your steps. At Rushley turn right along the road to cross the river by Rushley Bridge and then pass through a stile in the left wall to take a path which heads across the fields and then climbs the hill parallel to a farm road. On the way notice the field patterns which are very old, probably mediaeval. The path leads to Castern Hall, once the home of the Hurt family and prior to that, a grange belonging to Burton Abbey. The Georgian house is a fine building with a commanding view down the valley.
Dry River Manifold near Castern
Go around Castern Hall, following the road to the farm above, and just behind the hall take a track on the left. This initially contours around the hillside, but in the third field it starts to climb away from the valley and you should branch left to reach the left-hand corner of the field, where a gate leads to a path which hugs the top edge of the cliff leading down to the Manifold. It's a superb situation above the river and forms the top edge of Castern Wood, a nature reserve.
Follow the cliff edge for over a kilometre, past the spoil-tips of numerous lead-mines which were worked here until the late 19th century. A small dale then comes in from the right, and the path follows this away from the river before crossing the head of the dale to emerge on the tiny road which links Weag's Bridge with Alstonefield. Continue through a stile on the far side of the road and follow the path which skirts Wetton Low to return to the village.