It pleases me, loving rivers.
Loving them all the way back to their source.
Loving everything that increases me.

– Raymond Carver

Seeking sea level

With the canal walk completed, I cast around for another project.  Then an idea began to take shape: to walk the Mersey from its source to the sea.  The Mersey is formed from three tributaries: the River Etherow, the River Goyt, and the River Tame.  The official start of the Mersey is at the confluence of the rivers Tame and Goyt in central Stockport, a few miles south of Manchester. Older definitions place its start a few miles up the Goyt; for example, the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica states, ‘It is formed by the junction of the Goyt and the Etherow a short distance below Marple in Cheshire’.

Mersey source
At the source

My idea is not just to walk the Mersey proper, but also its headwaters and main tributaries.  Apart from the general interest of these walks, there is a personal reason, too: it seems that my life and family history is contained in these waters.

The river Goyt rises in the Derbyshire Peak District.  A few miles to the southeast is Youlgreave, the small village where my mother was born. Derbyshire represents one tributary of my family.

Another tributary of the Mersey is the river Irwell, which flows through Manchester before joining the Mersey at Irlam. My father was born in Openshaw, to the east of Manchester city centre: the house where he grew up was a few streets from the banks of the Medlock that flows into the Irwell in the city centre. My wife’s father’s family were miners and mill-workers from Little Lever, near Bolton, where the Irwell twists and turns before heading due south to Manchester.

I grew up in Poynton, south of Manchester, in the 1950s when the village still retained visible traces of its coal-mining past and went to school in Macclesfield, near to the source of the river Bollin, yet another tributary of the Mersey.  In 1967 I left home to go to university and the car I travelled in followed the course of the Bollin and then the Mersey, over the Runcorn bridge from where the river opens out into an estuary three miles wide, before reaching Liverpool.

Mersey estuary
The Mersey estuary at Speke

Goyt valley

The Etherow

The Mersey

Estuary walks

Liverpool – its places and history – crops up often in these pages for the simple reason that’s where I belong. For more Liverpool insights and history visit local historian Mike Royden’s website. His latest book, Tales from the ‘Pool is out now.


28 thoughts on “Walking the Mersey from source to sea

  1. Gerry: my unfulfilled but less romantic project plan has been to do the same with the river of my boyhood – the Alt! Rising under Huyton Church, collecting debris and effluent along its short length, marking a no-go borderline for a boy from Page Moss, now partly landscaped and municipalised for a stretch with the moniker Alt Park, and at its mouth (could the Alt have a mouth?) washing the feet of a row of Gormleys. I don’t think I’ll find a publisher!

  2. Kevin – I crossed the Alt on the canal walk ( and I’ve pottered about at its muddy mouth ( So it does have one. I wouldn’t be so sure about publishers’ lack of interest. It would mine the same seam as Paul Farley’s Edgelands ( or Richard Mabey’s Unofficial Countryside (

  3. Hey Gerry,
    I can not reach some of the images that you have posted. Too bad.
    I really want images of very ancient Liverpool. Clear images that are readable.
    On my site (listed here) are images I have already.
    2 old images, on your site would make a nice addition to my collection.
    Also I can not read the address for Sheila M Powell who might have
    the originals.
    I hope you connect me to those images
    I went to school at Liverpool U. My mom was born Liverpool. I am now in USA.

    1. Hugh, I’m unclear which image you are referring to – and on what page of my blog it appears. The only image on this page is the map of the Mersey and its tributaries. If you can be more precise I’ll try to help.

  4. Hi Gerry, I like your blog. I decided to explore the Mersey too and have visited a few bits of it over the last two damp summers, including the Goyt/Etherow confluence. I’m walking round Longdendale lakes tomorrow with my daughters. I’ve lived in Wallasey, Liverpool, Sale, Ashton on Mersey, Heaton Mersey and Chorlton cum Hardy – never far from the Mersey. As well as exploring the three main tributaries, I’m following all the brooks here in South Manchester as they disappear under culverts and tunnels reappearing with different names in another parish. Your blog is further inspiration. Thanks. May the sun shine on this year’s walks. copland smith (poet etc)

    1. Thanks for your kind words, sir. Like me, you have strayed far from the Mersey! I like the sound of your explorations of the river’s tributaries – they would make an interesting blog!

  5. Hi Gerry,
    I am a student at Sheffield Hallam and I am studying the Mersey for my dissertation and I would love to be able to ask you some questions via email if that would be okay?
    Kind regards,

  6. Hi Gerry
    Just come across a claim that the origin of the Mersey is in Marple but a lazy cartographer placed it in Stockport as a neat compromise. The Etherow flows past my mum in laws farm at Broadbottom. It used to be dead but thanks to the Mersey Basin clean up now has trout and fresh water crayfish which attract heron.
    Not sure how much truth there is in the Marple story but will check it out.

  7. It gets worse – just come across a map from 1794 showing what is now the Etherow named as Mersey River well into Derbyshire

    1. Hi. I used to live in Broadbottom too (until I “emigrated” all the way to Romiley about 25 years ago). Most evenings would find me walking down by the Etherow. I’ve also seen references to the Stockdale map and often wonder just where the old sources reckon the Etherow became the Mersey. Name changes tend to occur at confluences, but I can’t think of any significant ones upstream of Mottram.

  8. Hi all.
    First off, apologies if much of this turns out to be a duplication. I tried to post earlier but it simply vanished!

    I was brought up in Stalybridge right by the Tame. I spent 4 years between marriages in Broadbottom, many evenings walking by the Etherow. I moved to Romiley, my current wife and the Goyt in 1990, so the waters that officially source the Mersey have been close to me most of my life. Even for the other 13 years (my first marriage) I lived within a mile of the Medlock!

    I’ve seen the Stockdale map of 1794 too and have often wondered just where he considered that the Etherow became the Mersey. I’d say name changes usually occur at confluences, but I can’t think of a significant one upstream of Mottram.

  9. Geoff,
    I Did raise this with the Marple Local History Group and fear that it has caused civil war to break out across the region. The good people of Stockport not taking kindly to being upstaged. However, if you have a choice between a riverside park in Marple and a dingy car park at the back of a shopping arcade in Stockport, I know which one I would choose to start my journey.

  10. Was thinking of canoeing the Mersey from my home in Stockport to the sea. Any idea of the total mileage? Thinking of days….

  11. Only around 3, or 6, depending on the number of decent watering holes you’d have to call at on the way……

  12. Hi Gerry.
    Hope you are well.
    My partner and I have started doing river walks, so far completed the Bollin Trail and have started the Mersey from Stockport but from Urmston we have lost the route. There doesn’t appear to be a river path, also lost it under the M60 but found our way again there , do you have a map or did you simply follow the river? Off piste so to speak.
    Anh help appreciated.
    Thanks Ruth

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