What a complete change of atmosphere down here at the bottom of the gorge! The noise of the town is completely drowned out by the cascades of water. The sound is echoed off these tall stone cliffs and massively impressive viaduct arches.
Take a look at their stonework and then back at the rock face. Yes, it is indeed the same kind of rock, a tough sandstone. All of it was quarried right here. What would have been a much narrower gorge has been made wider from quarrying, leaving quite a smooth surface – now a proper challenge for local rock climbers.
One of this sandstone’s features is variability; some of it is coarse-grained, suitable for those massive blocks in the pillars, while elsewhere it is fine-grained and ‘flaggy’ – in other words it can be split into thin slices. Stone floors and even roofing slates for houses and mills could be made from this type.
A large proportion of New Mills’ important structures and buildings were built from this very local stone, known as Woodhead Hill Rock. Sourcing local materials is very much part of the Green agenda in modern times; two hundred years ago, it was the norm.
So the industrialists who caused much of this cliff face to turn black from the soot of their coal fires at the same time saved huge amounts of energy by not transporting stone from faraway places.
But take a look at the rock just past the remains of that old wall. Why didn’t this area turn black too? The completely clean lower section can only have been inside a long-vanished building, built right against the rock face. The air outside must have been almost unbreathable.
Exactly what kind of building it was we shall discover when we return this way. First, we need to understand why anything was built down here at all in this highly inaccessible spot.
Next, pass under the viaduct, go past the big weir and then turn right to cross over the River Sett via the wooden bridge. Follow the wide path upstream along the River Goyt, under the tall stone road bridge to arrive at the old weir.
This trail was originally developed by Simon Corble for the Royal Geographical Society’s Discovering Britain.
Simon Corble is a theatre director, playwright and actor based in Derbyshire’s Peak District, is passionate about the countryside and discovering the hidden secrets of the natural world.