Wednesday 8 January 2020

The Other Side of Shining Tor: Jenkin Chapel, Todd Brook Valley and Lamaload Reservoir

The Goyt Valley is understandably popular with dedicated walkers and casual visitors alike: it has woodland and rivers, hills and moors, even a picturesque ruined hall - and if you time it right you might come across the welcome sight of an ice cream van in one of the car parks by Errwood Reservoir. Shining Tor, the official highest point of modern Cheshire stands over the Goyt Valley at 1834 feet above sea level. There are expansive views from here across the Cheshire Plain into Wales, over towards Manchester and the Western Pennines, and - more immediately - down into the large, natural basin of heath and farmland that forms the Todd Brook Valley on its western side.

Cats Tor (right)

In keeping with our resolution to expand our regular, local hiking routes exploring this quiet and isolated area was the aim of this walk, which we did a couple of days before Christmas. We started from the Pym Chair car park, on the crest of the ridge between the Goyt and Todd Brook Valleys. According to some, Pym was a highway robber who used to lie in wait for unwary travellers here - others claim he was a local cleric who chose the spot to preach his sermons; personally, I wouldn't care to be the victim of either but whatever his vocation was, he's long since lost in the mists of time and the only thing you need to be careful of here now  is the odd car passing along the narrow road.

With a glance across to Cat's Tor, one of the prominent summits we'd cross on our way back to the car later on, we set off down the steep lane towards Pymchair Farm. To the south, the hills that we'd have to climb to get to Shining Tor were in clear view, while to the west a further line of high ground separated us from the flatter, picture-postcard farmland that most people would think of as typical Cheshire countryside.

Off we go...
Shining Tor in the distance.
Cook Hill and Broad Moss on the western side of the valley.

I'm not a great fan of walking along lanes and try to avoid it when plotting routes. Public footpaths are plentiful around here but our first target was Jenkin Chapel, an eighteenth century church that had earned itself a bright blue star on the 1:25k OS map. It lay directly ahead of us downhill so a stroll down the tarmac it was.

The sparse community of farmers living in this remote valley raised the money themselves for their church and for a minister to serve there. They built it themselves too, in 1733, which is why its architectural style is more domestic than ecclesiastical. The square bell tower was added a couple of decades later in 1755 and is accessed by an external staircase; without it, anyone travelling through the valley would surely have been hard pressed to recognise the building was a church and not the handsome home of a local farmer.

The chapel stands at a three-way junction of roads of much greater antiquity: these "salter's ways" were medieval packhorse routes that enabled the transportation of salt from Cheshire across the inhospitable uplands of the Pennines to the counties on the eastern side of the country. It probably wasn't much less bleak up here in Georgian times so it makes sense that the farmers used these established, ancient tracks when deciding where to build their new church.

We didn't realise at the time but we were lucky that we were able to go inside the building. Normally it's kept locked when not being used for services and you can only visit by prior arrangement. There were some people from the Highways Agency working on the road just outside the church so we surmised they might have been given access to make use of its facilities, which we then inadvertently took advantage of.

The church inside is a real gem: the box pews, the gallery and the pulpit stand out immediately but there are lots of charming details too when you take the time to look - the lovely turned-wood balustrade above the square chancel arch and the delicately-coloured, plaster rosette inside the chancel for example. Some of the stained glass (the window above the chancel) is modern after the original was destroyed by vandals but it's sympathetically done and references the hills that surround the valley. There is a much more comprehensive and informed description of the church and its history at the excellent Goyt Valley website if you want to read up on it further.

Leaving the church, we took a quick look around the outside of the chapel and the grounds. For being in such a remote location, the graveyard seemed surprisingly well-stocked, for want of a better term: one of the memorials was for Joseph and Kezia Jolley of the Spinners Arms in Hadfield, a pub some 12 miles to the north. Did one or both of them originally hail from this lonely valley tucked away in a wild corner of the Peak District, we wondered? Or had they walked these wild hills when they courted in their youth?

Heading southwards from the church along Hooleyhey Lane, we were reminded that we were following in the footsteps of those old packhorse trains when we crossed Todd Brook itself next to Saltersford Hall. The ford the salters would have crossed was no more though, the water having been diverted below the modern road at this point in its journey down to join the River Goyt in Whaley Bridge.

As we progressed, patches of sunlight began to break through the cloud intermittently and over in the direction of Shining Tor and Cats Tor there was actual blue sky.

After crossing the brook, the lane began to gain height again. We were heading for a very distinct pass between the ridge of hills on the western side of the valley, on the other side of which was Lamaload Reservoir.

Lamaload is a fairly modern structure, built between 1958 and 1964, that serves the market town of Macclesfield. It is notable for being the first concrete reservoir in the United Kingdom and its name is derived from the farm that once stood there.

After we'd stared at the sheep for a while and they in turn had stared at us, we followed the lane along a small section of the reservoir's eastern shoreline. It was time to pay the price for our steep descent into the valley now. A public footpath, running alongside a small plantation on the reservoir's eastern side, was the start of a prolonged ascent to Shining Tor.

It was slow going at first as the path was very muddy underfoot but once we cleared the trees we were on open ground and the walking became much easier. It helped to know that once we'd done the steepish climb directly ahead of us the next section would be an easy walk on the ridge that sweeps around the head of the valley.

The climb up to the ridge at the head of the valley.
Lamaload Reservoir with Manchester just visible on the horizon (r).
View back down Todd Brook valley.

And, apart from a few boggy patches along the path that were easily avoided, so it was - in fact there was only around 9 feet of ascent over the next half a mile of walking.

Shining Tor with Axe Edge Moor just visible behind on the right.
The path around the valley head - Shutlingsloe putting in an appearance on the horizon (r.).

As we grew nearer to Shining Tor the final pull up to the summit looked a bit like hard work but the beautiful, late afternoon skies to the southwest distracted us from whatever travails lay ahead.

Once we got to the path below Shining Tor we discovered that it wasn't nearly as stiff a climb as it'd looked from a distance and we found ourselves just north of the trig in no time at all. In fact, we would have been there far quicker had I not dawdled taking photos in various directions on the ascent.

Left of the wall, the path up; right of the wall, Shining Tor.
Our route back, the ridge along the eastern side of the valley. 
Shutlingsloe on the the left with Sutton Common mast on Croker Hill in the distance.
Shining Tor and Shutlingsloe.

It was busy by the trig at Shining Tor, though the walkers sitting there were more interested in their sandwiches and conversation than the white pillar on the other side of the wall. We had butties of our own to eat but with no space on the seats there we decided to save them until we were back at the car. It's only a couple of miles between Shining Tor and Pym Chair, in fact it's a there-and-back walk we sometimes do after tea on long summer evenings, so our protesting bellies didn't have long to wait.

Shining Tor trig.
View across to Manchester.
View south east across the Goyt Valley.
Following the ridge towards Cats Tor.

This was only a short walk, taking us around three hours, and it was a perfect one for a winter's afternoon. A dusting of snow might have been nice but the views from the Cats Tor and Shining Tor ridge were as reliable as ever even when the light was fading, making this final stretch a pleasant and undemanding stroll. Of the "new" routes we've tried, this is one of the best I reckon and I have a feeling we'll be exploring this "hidden valley" some more in 2020.

View north east towards Kinder, a patch of sun catching Rushup Edge and Mam Tor.
A last look back...
Gritstone outcrops by Old Gate Nick.


Date: December 2019

Walk length: 9.5 km

Total ascent:  361 metres


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