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Logo: Tom Bates, Derbyshire Local Histrory writer  
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The Wonderful Wye!

Posted Thursday, June 7, 2007

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The River Wye

`The birthplace of perhaps the most eulogised of Derbyshire's rivers'

The River Wye rises at the watershed of five other infant streams high on Axe Edge in the Pennine foothills above the spa town of Buxton, and only a kilometre or so from the birthplace of perhaps the most eulogised of Derbyshire’s rivers, the Dove.

Here, where the rugged grandeur of the gritstone outcrops rise through the sedimentary limestone beneath, the snow sometimes lingers until the end of April and the annual rainfall averages 50 inches; hence the watershed where also spring the Rivers Manifold, Goyt and Dane.

Whilst the Dove flows south and for much of its length marks the county boundary with neighbouring Staffordshire, the Wye, after skirting Featherbed Moss and running down past the Tarret, collects the Burbage Brook before running mostly culverted beneath the streets of Buxton and then south-easterly through the very heart of the White Peak.

`The laughing, silver tinklings of it's infant gurgling'

Along its length the Wye displays a full repertoire of character changes from the laughing silver tinklings of its infant gurgling as it is released from the subterranean tunnels beneath Buxton to run merrily down through the steep and aptly named Ashwood Dale, - to its languid meandering through a series of lazy ox-bow bends along the floor of the Wye Valley east of Bakewell. In between this scenically diverse river flows through a landscape of lovely and unparalleled limestone dales, rich with picturesque wonders and breathtaking vistas, whatever the climate or season.

The main A6 trunk road follows the course of the river down the somewhat industrialised and heavily wooded Ashwood Dale and enters the Peak National Park beside the agriculturally rural sounding Pig Tor at the northern end of Cow Dale. Road and river continue together down the length of Wye Dale as far as Topley Pike then go their separate ways for three or four country miles before re-uniting at the junction of Taddington Dale and Monsal Dale.

The Wye leaves the A6 and runs beside the Monsal Trail through Chee Dale, bends around Chee Tor running north in a big loop past Wormhill Springs, before resuming its eastward course beside the Trail to cascade over a series of weirs beyond Miller’s Dale Station and on down past Litton Mill to Cressbrook Hall and Mill.

This stretch of the river is rich with the heritage and social history of the Industrial Revolution, with the early 19th century Litton Mill, a water-wheel driven cotton-mill notorious for the exploitation of child labour and the horrendous conditions suffered by a workforce of whom 80% were women and children. The original mill burnt down in 1874 but was re-built and continued in production until the mid 20th century.

A little further downstream and on the site of a mill built by Richard Arkwright in 1779 stands Cressbrook Mill built in 1815 by William Newton who also dammed the river above Cressbrook to create the broad expanse of the tranquil Water-cum-Jolly Dale.

Once over the weir and around the bend past Cressbrook Mill the river flows smoothly and straight down Monsal Dale, running beneath the ancient bridge by Upperdale Farm and on down beneath the railway viaduct at Monsal Head.

The viaduct marks the apex of a large loop as the Wye bends back westward over a picturesque and much photographed weir to pass 300 feet beneath the Roman look-out post on the towering Fin Cop above and sweep majestically down through the heavily wooded Brushfield Hough and the fringes of Taddington Wood before re-joining the A6 at the bottom of Taddington Dale. From here the Wye meanders slowly and sedately through Shacklow Woods to Ashford-in-the-Water where it displays its power to enhance the human landscape to the full, as witnessed by the numerous postcard’s available depicting the river as it flows beneath the famous Sheepwash Bridge. Here is scenic beauty at its very best with the river looping across the verdant meadows and broadening beyond the bridge, where its smoothly flowing surface is gently caressed by the fingers of the magnificent willows which overhang the stretch of water between the two bridges alongside the A6.

Just opposite Ashford Hall the river is divided by an old mill race and then re-unites to broaden out and form Ashford Lake before running on past Lumford Mill whose wheel it once powered, and over the weir just upstream from Bakewell’s ancient Holme Bridge of 1664. This is where the Wye comes into view of the onlookers standing half a mile downstream on the Gothic arched five-span Bakewell Bridge, 300 years older than its near neighbour, being built around 1300.

Bakewell is ever popular with tourists and the riverside walks are thronged from easter to the end of October, thus the duck and waterfowl which populate the mid-stream islands are perhaps the most well fed wild birds in Derbyshire.

Downstream beyond the Bakewell Showground the river forms the northern boundary of the park and river gardens,- and the pavilion boundary of Bakewell’s Cricket Ground where men dressed all in white can frequently be seen during the season standing on the river bank weilding 12 foot long poles with nets on the end to rescue drowning cricket balls! Beyond lie the flat plains of Haddon Park and here the Wye languishes in a series of ox bow loops through lush meadows on its slow approach to the magnificent Manor House belonging to the Duke of Rutland, Haddon Hall. There are superlative views of the river from the formal gardens, where from a specially raised platform at the eastern corner one has a spectacular view of the pretty ornamental `Dorothy Vernon’ bridge over the Wye as it winds its way round the stone embankments of this magnificent medieval manor house.

For almost a millennium the river has provided fish for Haddon’s guests, - and despite being heavily patrolled by water bailiffs and gamekeepers, for generations of local poachers. The Wye has always been popular with freshwater anglers and is frequently replenished with trout to avail the fishing clubs and syndicates who actually pay for the so-called pleasure of sitting for hours on the bankside waiting to stick a barbed hook into a fishes mouth or through its gill. It is recorded that as recently as 1970, 2,700 rainbow trout and 1,000 brown trout were added to the river.

From the fields of Haddon the river runs under the A6 and down the valley towards Rowsley, collecting the outflow of the Rivers Bradford and Lathkill, whose confluence is at Alport, (and which then become the little known River Daykin) before flowing swiftly beneath the old Fillyford Bridge which crosses the lane up to Congreave. Now the Wye is nearing its end, but it has one more job to do and turns the mill wheel beside Caudwell’s flour-mill at Rowsley before emptying into the Derwent by the twin-arched Rowsley Bridge.

As the Thames is central to London, dissecting and dividing the capital of England in half, so the Wye is to the White Peak, running diagonally from north west to south east and crossing the very heart of Derbyshire’s limestone countryside.

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