River Etherow

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The Etherow (left), joined by the Black Cloughs from Bleaklow

The River Etherow is a border river of Cheshire and Derbyshire. A river of the Peak District, it is ultimately a tributary of the River Goyt, which it meets at Marple, Cheshire.

The Etherow is 19 miles long and drains a basin of some 30 square miles.


The Etherow enters the Goyt

The Etherow rises in burns in the Redhole Spring and Wike Head area of Pikenaze Moor at the edge of Yorkshire with Cheshire, whence runs Salter's Brook south along the border of the two counties, under the A628 road at Salter's Brook Bridge and turns west. Within a few hundred yards the brook meets the Far Small Clough at the three shires' point of Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire and thereafter it is definitively the Etherow, just a mile or so from the springs of the brooks.

The natural course of the Etherow thereafter marks the border of Derbyshire to the south and Cheshire to the north. It broadens into the Longdendale Chain of reservoirs in the Peak District, emerging emerges again at Tintwistle, Cheshire, at the foot of Bottoms Reservoir dam.[1] It passes Melandra Castle in Gamesley, where it is joined by Glossop Brook. Above Compstall the river passes through Etherow Country Park, its waters supplying the lakes there.

The Etherow flows into the River Goyt at Brabyns Park near Marple, Cheshire.

The Etherow and the Mersey

The modern accepted start of the River Mersey is at the confluence of the Tame and the Goyt, in central Stockport, 4 miles downstream.[2] However, older definitions, and many older maps, place its start at the confluence of the Etherow and Goyt; for example the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica says of the Mersey "It is formed by the junction of the Goyt and the Etherow a short distance below Marple in Cheshire on the first-named stream."

The 1784 John Stockdale map shows the River Mersey extending to Mottram-in-Longdendale, and forming the boundary between Cheshire and Derbyshire.[3]

Natural history

The River in Hollingworth

The upper reaches of the River Etherow pass through peat moorland, inhabited by Foxes, Voles and an introduced population of Mountain Hare. Red Grouse, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear and Golden Plover may be seen. Kestrels, Merlins and Short-eared Owls nest here. The reservoirs attract Mallards, and also Teal, Pochard, Common Sandpipers, Black-headed Gulls and Canada Geese. The woodlands are home to Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, and Spotted Flycatcher.[4] Water Rail have been recorded at Etherow Country Park.[5]


Schematic of the rocks beneath the Etherow

Longdendale is a steep-sided V-shaped valley that is glacial in origin. Longdendale is in the Dark Peak, where a thick blanket of peat overlies the Millstone Grit sandstone, formed on a bed of shale through which flows the Etherow. Directly beneath the upper valley lie areas of Carboniferous Millstone Grit, shales and sandstone. It is on the edge of the Peak District Dome, at the southern edge of the Pennine anticline. The Variscan uplift has caused much faulting and Glossopdale was the result of glacial action in the last glaciation period that exploited the weakened rocks. The steep-sided valleys of the cloughs cause significant erosion and deposition. The layers of sandstone, mudstones and shale in the bedrock act as an aquifer to feed the springs. The valley bottoms have a thin deposit of boulder clay. The brooks are fed by the peaty soils of the moors and are, therefore, acidic (pH5.5–7.0).[6]


The Etherow valley was an important trans-Pennine route, and in 78AD the Romans under Agricola built the fort of Ardotalia (later known as Melandra or Melandra Castle) to defend it. Mercians settled at Hollingworth about 650AD. Many placenames of the area date from this period; for example, Mottram and Glossop.

Lady Shaw Bridge

From the Middle Ages a packhorse route was maintained onwards, forming part of the saltway from the Cheshire slat towns of Nantwich, Northwich and Middlewich across the Pennines. The saltway followed the Etherow to Ladyshaw, and at Salters Brook (SK137999) it forked, with one route leading to Wakefield and another to Barnsley.

Water was an important source of power for industry, and the Etherow and its tributaries were fast flowing and constant. Watermills were used to grind meal and to full woollen cloth (Littlemoor 1781). Wool was transported along the turnpike road (1731) that ran from Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge, Mottram, Woodhead and Lady's Cross to Sheffield, to be woven on hand-looms in the dale.[7]

From 1782 to 1820, water-powered cotton mills were built along many brooks feeding the Etherow, including six on the Glossop side of the river. With the adoption of steam to power the ever-larger mills, built closer to the coal fields, the river assumed a new role as a source of water for Manchester and Salford. In 1844 John Frederick Bateman advised Manchester Corporation that the River Etherow, which rose at the highest point of the Pennine chain, could provide water, collected in purpose-built reservoirs, "nearly as pure as if it comes from the heavens." This led to the construction of the Longdendale Chain of reservoirs, the first scheme of its type in the world. Three reservoirs were built on the Etherow to impound drinking water, with another two to provide compensation water for the mills downstream.[8]

Woodhead railway line

The Woodhead Line, which followed the river from Hadfield to the Woodhead Tunnel portal, was an important cross-Pennine route built in 1844 by the Sheffield, Ashton-under-Lyne and Manchester Railway. Three tunnels of 5,293 yards were dug, connecting Woodhead with Dunford Bridge on the River Don. The Woodhead Tunnel passes almost beneath the source of the Etherow on the moor.

Though now closed to railway traffic, one tunnel is used to route electricity cables for the National Grid, with work in progress to use a second tunnel for a new cable, thus preventing the re-establishment of rail traffic.


Walking and cycling

Walking and riding on the Longdendale Trail-March 2008

Following the closure of the railway line, the trackbed was taken up and the Longdendale Trail constructed along its route. This is now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail, Sustrans National Cycle Route 62.[9] This, in its turn, has been nominates as is part of the 2000-mi|e "European walking route E8" from Liverpool to İstanbul.

The Pennine Way crosses Longdendale, descending from Bleaklow to the south and ascending Black Hill to the north. The youth hostel at Crowden is a traditional stop after the first day's walking, from Edale.

The circular walk known as 'The Longdendale Edges' takes in the high ground (at about the 1,000 feet-1,500 feet level) on both sides of the valley. It is about 17 miles long and is 'not recommended in doubtful weather'. The detailed route, clockwise from Crowden Youth Hostel, is given in Peak District Walking Guide No.2, published by the Peak Park Planning Board.


Torside Reservoir is home to Glossop & District Sailing Club and Etherow Country Park is the home to Etherow Country Park Sailing Club.[10][11]

Country Park

Etherow Country Park is in Compstall, close to the mouth of the Etherow. It opened in 1968 as one of Britain's first country parks. Originally it was an industrial area incorporating a mine, a mill and a mill pond. The River Etherow flows through the park and is the source for the mill pond. Etherow Country Park has many local groups associated with it including a small local community group, the Friends of Etherow, anglers, the afore-mentioned sailing club, and a model boat club.

Compstall Nature Reserve is a 31.6 acre region of the park which is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The area was given the designation in 1977 for its biological interest, in particular its wide range of habitats, including open water, tall fen, reed swamp, carr and mixed deciduous woodland.[5]


The Etherow has no major tributaries; it is fed by numerous brooks and streams from the cloughs flowing off Kinder Scout, Bleaklow and Black Hill. Minor left tributaries are:

  • Black Clough
  • Shining Clough
  • Wildboar Clough
  • Torside Clough
  • Glossop Brook
  • Shell Brook
  • Hurst Brook
  • Gnats Hole Brook
  • Chisworth Brook

Minor right tributaries are:

  • Salters Brook
  • Heyden Brook
  • Crowden Brook
  • Hollingworth Brook
  • Arnfield Brook
  • Ogden Brook
  • Gigg Brook




  • Quayle, Tom (2006), Manchester's Water: The reservoirs in the hills, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, ISBN 0-7524-3198-6 
  • Quayle, Tom (2006), The Cotton Industry in Longdendale and Glossopdale, Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus, ISBN 0-7524-3883-2 
  • Scott; Smith; Winterbottom (1973), Glossop Dale, Manor and Borough, Glossop and District historical Society 

Outside links

("Wikimedia Commons" has material
about River Etherow)