The Disappearing River.

Although I have written about the Manifold Valley in the Staffordshire Moorlands previously I have not written about the odd river that winds its way through this valley

Thor’s Cave overlooking the Manifold Valley.

The Manifold river rises just south of Buxton near Axe Edge, at the northern edge of the White Peak, known for its limestone beds. It continues for 12 miles (19 km) before it joins the Dove. For part of its course, it runs underground (except when in spate), from Wetton Mill to Ilam. During this section it is joined by its major tributary, the River Hamps.

On the 7th of August 2012 I travelled to the Manifold valley and after parking at the cycle hire car park in the village of Waterhouses I followed the cycle route which shadows the river as it travels through the bottom of this limestone valley.

I headed towards Wetton Mill which is probably 2-3 miles from Waterhouses along the valley, it is said that close to the bridge which crosses the river and leads to the mill which has now been converted to a tea room can be found two swallow holes, these are holes in the river bed which the river flows into and then flows underground for four and a half miles before emerging at a boil point in Ilam park.

It soon became apparent that the further along the valley I travelled the less chance of finding any flowing water became evident, and further more the light drizzle of rain I had been enduring for the last half hour became more intense. I decided to cross the dried up river bed and shelter in a cave I had spotted through the trees. After about an hour the rain eased off and I decided to retrace my steps and head back to Waterhouses to see if I could find a place where water still flowed along the river bed.

The proper term for the swallow holes are Swalletts  an attempt to prevent the water from sinking down the swallets was made in the past by concreting them over. Needless to say, this was in the main ineffective because when the river was in flood, pressure was built up to such an extent that many of the concrete plugs were blown off. Later, more successful attempts were made incorperating cast iron pipes to release the pressure.

It was not until I had almost reached Waterhouses and I was opposite Brown End Farm cycle hire that I noticed there was water running along the river bed, I climbed down the embankment and followed the river for maybe two hundred yards until I noticed that the small amount of water that was flowing disappeared under a large boulder. So despite what I had been led to believe that the first swallett holes are at Wetton Mill it seems that the first ones are close to the main road that cuts through Waterhouses. The swalletts greedily devour the small amount of water which flows here and deprives the river bed of a continuous flow of water. The same can be said of the nearby river Hamps, that too disappears underground only to reappear in a fenced grotto beside the boil point where the manifold rises and where both rivers join the Dove as it flows through nearby Dovedale.


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