Goyt walks: Fernilee reservoir

Fernilee Reservoir

We were lucky with the weather today – after a month of mainly grey skies and rain, the sun shone and the temperature climbed.  We continued the Goyt valley walk with a circuit of Fernilee reservoir, the lower and older of the two reservoirs in the valley.

The earliest history of the Goyt Valley belongs to Neolithic farmers around 3,000 BC, who were the first to start felling trees and clearing the ground for cultivation. Farming continued to be the predominant use of the valley for centuries. Following the Norman Conquest the Goyt lay between two Royal Hunting Forests (Peak Forest and Macclesfield Forest).

From the Middle Ages to the early 20th century, the Goyt Valley supported a flourishing community. Tenanted farms, coal mines, a water mill, a railway and a gunpowder mill were all part of the landscape. The flooding of the valley to form the Errwood and Fernilee reservoirs changes its use dramatically.  Fernilee was the first reservoir to be built in 1938 by the Stockport Corporation after they purchased the Grimshawe estate. It wasn’t until 1964 that work started on Errwood Reservoir which was officially opened in June 1968.

The Chilworth Gunpowder factory (which is thought to date back to the 16th century) now lies under the waters of Fernilee Reservoir. A serious explosion in 1909 killed three men, but the factory was still very active during the First World War.

Reaching the northern end of the reservoir, we carried on, following the Goyt through woodland and pasture in the direction of  Whaley Bridge, following old lanes and pack-horse tracks.

Reaching a point where we had a clear view across to the poetically-named Windgather Rocks, we turned and headed downhill through woods towards the footbridge across the Goyt.  At some point we lost the path and found ourselves negotiating a boggy morass.

Nobody steps into the same river twice.
The same river is never the same
Because that is the nature of water.
Similarly your changing metabolism
Means that you are no longer you.
The cells die; and the precise
Configuration of the heavenly bodies
When she told you she loved you
Will not come again in this lifetime.

You will tell me that you have executed
A monument more lasting than bronze;
But even bronze is perishable.
Your best poem, you know the one I mean,
The very language in which the poem
Was written, and the idea of language,
All these things will pass away in time.

– Derek Mahon, Heraclitus on Rivers

The return path along the east side of the reservoir follows the line of a dismantled railway – the Cromford and High Peak railway line was completed in 1831 to provide a shorter route to industrial Lancashire for Derbyshire coal than the Trent and Mersey Canal by linking the Peak Forest Canal at Whaley Bridge with the Cromford Canal near Matlock.

Initially the railway was powered by horses on the flat sections, while on nine inclined planes, stationary steam engines were used.  By the 1860s steam locomotives had replaced horses though they were still hauled up and down the inclines, along with their trains, by static steam engines.  A passenger service ran on the line from 1874 but it ended in 1877 after a fatal accident.  This is the same line that, as the High Peak Trail, runs down from Buxton through places like Parsley Hay to Cromford.

And so we arrived back at the start, and a Derbyshire ice cream from the car park refreshment van.  Then a short drive into Buxton for a substantial hummus, olive and tomato baguette at our favourite cafe, The Cafe at the Green Pavilion.

6 thoughts on “Goyt walks: Fernilee reservoir

  1. The Peak District, was really my first taste of the great outdoors and has remained my favourite wild space ever since. In 1958 or was it 59, my primary school, Peel hall, Wythenshaw, took our class camping to Tintwistle above the reservoirs, during one of the driest years, if not of the century [so far] at least the decade. I think it was followed by one of the coldest winters in memory in I think 1962. Did we remark quite so quickly on climate change then as we do now? We were in large tents, canvas things, 10 per tent at least ,and were given a “Palaisse” [spelling?] or sack to stuff with straw as a mattress. My gran had bought me an orange Blacks[I think] sleeping bag -it finally fell to pieces 30 years later. We didn’t wash for a week as the reservoirs were dry and the water supply to the camp site [Manchester Education’s?] did not work. My teacher at the time,Mr Field, one of those teachers who influence you for life, took classes & small groups, with his wife, in his car or by coach,on days out to Dove Dale & Castleton and various Peak district beauty spots.
    Living in Liverpool now, and being a non-car driver, the Peak district is easily accessible for a day trip by train,and still a regular destination 50 years later.

  2. Congratulations on a nice website and great photos of the Goyt Valley which bring back happy memories. My grandfather lived at Horwich End and remember going for many a walk up the valley to the reservoir and beyond both with the family and with the scouts in the 1950s.

  3. Does the river goyt start at Derbyshire bridge, we are looking to walk from there into Stockport


    1. Yes, pretty much so, Paul. It’s probably somewhere in the mossy bogs a little further south, but if you start at Derbyshire Bridge you’re as near as dammit.

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