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Thursday, 17 May 2012

Leek & Manifold Valley Light Railway

In a Nutshell

Gauge:    2' 6"
Length:   814 miles . At present 0 miles operational
Opened:  27 June 1904
Closed:    March 1934

Location: Manifold Valley, Staffordshire


View Larger Map

 More detailed map of the route of the railway

Web: There is no preservation society but there are several websites which include an outline of the history of the railway


Date of visit:16 May 2012


Key Facts

  • Although quarrying and mining were carried out in the valley, by the time the railway was built its principal source of goods traffic was milk
  • The railway owned two large 2-6-4 tank locomotives built by Kitsons of Leeds.
  • It also had 4 balconied passenger carriages, a bogie van and two bogie flat wagons. The flat wagons were sometimes pressing into service to carry passengers during Bank Holidays - tarpaulins spread over them to protect passengers from the elements
  • It was unique in the UK in using five transporter wagons which carried full size standard gauge wagons - each station had a short length of standard gauge track on which the wagons could be parked for loading and unloading. 
  • The trackbed was made into a footpath (the Manifold Way) in 1937 and is now covered in tarmac for its entire length, making it popular as a cycle route (cycles can be hired at the Waterhouses end of the railway)



My Impressions

 This was my first visit to the railway and to this corner of the Peak District. I have now realised what I have been missing. The surrounding countryside is quite interesting and picturesque; mostly undulating farmland, but the Manifold Valley itself is a fairly deep defile with craggy limestone cliffs and tumbling streams.

The Manifold Valley above Weag's Bridge Looking towards Beeston Tor
What I found fascinating is that the Manifold River becomes more an more diminished in its flow as it progresses down the valley, disappearing into sink holes (or swallets) which feed underground rivers in underlying caves and potholes.
The Manifold River at Ecton
We began our exploration roughly half way along the line at the village of Wetton where there is a car park and toilet. A footpath led from the village, past the local landmark of Thor's Cave, down into the valley. This provided our first view of the former railway in the valley below - the site of the former Thor's Cave Station:
The site of Thor's Cave Station viewed from outside Thor's Cave
We descended the path to the valley floor and proceeded northwards (ie into the distance in the above photo). Standing at the position of the former station and looking back was the oft-photographed view of the cave in the cliff above:

Thor's Cave viewed from the site of Thor's Cave Station

Thor's Cave and station with Southbound train approaching [Source:]
A little further down the line we noticed one of the swallets into which the river disappeared and the site for another of the railway's most well known postcards.
The former railway track and river between Thor's Cave and Redhurst Crossing
Train approaching Thor's Cave (Source:

 We found evidence of the foundations for the station building or 'bungalow' as it was known.

The building viewed from the opposite side.
Thor's Cave and Wetton Station 'bungalow'. (Source:
 Ten minutes' walk along the line and we came to a bridge across the river followed immediately by what would have been a level crossing, known in the days of the railway as Redhurst Crossing.
Redhurst crossing bridge viewed from the roadside.
When the railway was in service, a small platform was provided beside the railway for local farmers' milk churns.
The bridge and crossing viewed from across the railway. (Source:
The road now follows the railway trackbed for about a quarter of a mile until Wetton Mill is reached where there is a small cafe and a toilet.
Wetton Mill - the southbound train has pulled out from the station to pose for the photo - the mill building is in the background (Source:
The trackbed continues to be used as a roadway at this point.
The site of Wetton Mill Station (looking South towards the mill and the site of the above photo)
Wetton Mill Station looking south  (Source:
About a mile further north we came to the 167yd long Swainsley Tunnel built under part of the Swainsley Hall estate at the insistence of the then occupant (Sir Thomas Wardle) so he and his guests would not have their view interrupted by the railway.

 The tunnel was built to a height of 15' 3" above rail level to allow clearance for large standard gauge vehicles to be carried through the tunnel. At the further end of the tunnel the railway crossed yet another bridge, this time over Warslow Brook which it shared with a road leading to Butterton Station ..........

....... a few yards up the line.

Butterton Station (looking South). [Source:]
About half a mile further north .....
Between Butterton and Ecton (looking North)
...... we came to the site of Ecton Station ......
Ecton Station (looking North)
........ where there was once a quarry ........
Ecton Station (looking North) [Source:]
and in later years a creamery which produced milk for shipment via the L&MVLR and LMS to London.
The Creamery at Exton [Source:]

As we progressed further north the valley opened out into farmland the trackbed no longer played hopscotch with the river.
Between Ecton and Hulme End (looking north)
 And then, about three quarters of a mile from Ecton we reached the end of the line at Hulme End.
Hulme End station - station building on the left and rebuilt loco shed on the right (now a cafe)
Hulme End Station [Source:]
After a coffee and a bun, we trekked back across country to Wetton and then drove down to the other end of the line at Waterhouses. As we were running out of time I could only take a couple of snaps before heading back home.
Waterhouses. The L&MVLR bridge across the River Hamps and the start of the Manifold Way. The railway crossed the road and then swung right behind the camera, running parallel with the road and climbing up to the station which it shared with the mainline railway.
A L&MVLR train about to cross the road on its way down the line from Waterhouses Station [Source:]
Waterhouses station (with the road and river on the left below the station) [Source:]

As can be seen, sections of the line can be viewed from, and travelled along in, a car but to see the most interesting parts and get a feel for the railway as it was, then it is better to walk (or cycle). Cycles can be hired from Waterhouses, and the visitor centre at Hulme End contains information boards, photos and a 4mm scale display model of the station and rolling stock.

John Holroyd's 4mm model of the  Butterton and Hulme End at Hulme End station [Source:]
As can be seen above, I have only managed to see and walk the northern end of the line so far. I aim to make at least one return visit to walk (or cycle) the southern end and fill some of the gaps in my photographic record.


If you have not seen it, I can thoroughly recommend the BFI film of the railway in its heyday, showing a transporter wagon and views from the train as it travels the valley.

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