Consider how difficult travel was before the roads we take so much for granted today, no lights, sign – posts and a confusion of muddy straggling tracks over the bleak high moorland. In the lowlands huge thickly wooded areas stretching through The Macclesfield Forest and The Peak Forest, woods still teeming with wild boar, deer and prior to 1486 wolf, not to mention robbers and highwaymen looking for easy pickings. Legend has it that Pym Chair gets its name from the highwayman Pym leader of a gang of scoundrels who sat on a stone chair watching for his next traveller to ambush, approaching Oldgate Nick, you can see Oldgate Nick from both Saltersford and Errwood sides of Cats Tor and this feature of the skyline was a marker used by travelers as a point to walk to.
A highwayman by the name of Black Harry plagued the packhorse trains further along one of the routes between Tideswell & Bakewell crossing the moors around Wardlow, that is until he was arrested hung, drawn and quartered – and duly gibbeted - on the Gallows Tree at Wardlow Mires, the death penalty was introduced in 1772 for being armed and disguised (face blackened) on high roads and open moors.
When Mary Queen of Scots was captive in Buxton these routes that passed through Goyt Valley into Buxton were watched by government spies by order of Lord Walsingham and whilst the Queen was in Buxton no strangers were allowed to enter the town for fear of Catholic conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth 1.
Buxton was very well known throughout Elizabethan England and received visits from many famous and infamous members of Elizabeth’s court. Certainly nothing wheeled could pass over the high moorland, even large horses found the going very difficult on the soft peat, as an example the first wheeled transport between Liverpool and Manchester didn’t happen until 1760, so crossing this Derbyshire moorland terrain was tough.
It wasn’t until a 1697 act made local Justice of the peace erect Stoops ( Inscribed Waymarkers ), that any sort of signage on large moors or commons existed. They were
the size of a Farm gatepost, directions often indicated by a pointing hand and travellers found their way by turning to the right of the inscription which usually pointed to the nearest Market town. These routes have left clues in place names like Saltersford, Jaggers Clough at Edale, Saltergate at Chesterfield, The Pack Horse at Hayfield all owe their names to these routes, there was a piece of ground in Buxton known as Salters field.
The Jaggers leading these trains had to know their routes they were responsible for the safe arrival of the goods carried and would stick to what they were familiar with. Tudor governments made the first efforts to deal with road problems passing acts in 1555 to use local labour under the parish overseers to repair and maintain highways, ruling "no man has the right to sow peas, stack manure or dig his Marl on the highway". If the highway was blocked The Kings liege had the right to make way over adjoining land even by taking down hedges. So if a section of highway became too deep in mud, they just moved sideways and started a new track the land owner having no choice, although before the enclosure acts walls and hedges on roads were few.
Pack horse trains could be as small as six but as many as forty, the horse breed in the early days were called Chapman which was crossed with the imported Barb and developed into the breed Cleveland Bay, other breeds later used for pack were Galloway and Welsh Ponies.
Definition - Chapman – Horse used as Pack horse
Chapmen – Merchant travelling with Pack horse
The average horse carried 240lbs either in panniers or saddles or a rough pad known as a Panel secured with cord or ropes known as Wantys or Wantows, over good terrain they expected to cover 30 miles a day. Incidentally it is recorded that a trotting Pack Horse team sounded like a troop of Cavalry, this sound was probably made by the jingling of the load securing points called Wanty Hooks where the cords were fastened. As well as Pack horse some more accessible parts of these routes would later be used by Drovers, Wains and Badgers (A dealer in meal, dairy, malt, eggs etc)
Macclesfield had one of the largest concentration of Packhorse operators outside London, the majority travelling north with salt up into Yorkshire and returning with cloth, coal, lead etc.
Pickfords Removals started its carrier business at Goyts Clough, quarrying and supplying paving stone to some of the major cities, these they carried by Packhorse and returned back with various goods, the Pickford family lived for many years at King Sterndale and were major benefactors in the area helping greatly with the finance for the building of King Sterndale Church.
We had four main routes through The Goyt Valley with three crossing points across what was a major hazard, the river. You could loose a whole load in a swollen river so it is not by accident that much money was spent on the construction of The Pack horse bridges, these bridges seem a little
remote now but they have over the years attracted people to either settle or work near to them, Errwood with farms and the Hall, Hill Bridge had the old Teazle Mill close by and Taxal with the Church and village.
The four crossing points through the upper Goyt being Goyts Moss, Goyts Bridge at Errwood, Hill Bridge and Taxal. We know that there was a stone Packhorse bridge at Errwood and at Taxal and I strongly suspect looking at the stone pillars at Hill bridge there was one there too but I have seen no documented evidence of this.
The main Salt routes are usually identified as Goyts Bridge and Taxal but I would say as all these routes developed, that salt would be carried on them all, all four routes across these points were later developed to take wheeled transport and the road system grew from this. Taking Goyts Moss first the route ran past the Cat & Fiddle following what can now be seen as the old Macclesfield Road past Goyts Moss.
I have seen part of this route at Burbage referred to as Jaggers Gate although not on a map, at Errwood the Packhorse bridge in a way misleadingly known as Goyts Bridge actually didn’t span the Goyt but was across Wildmerstone brook. The Goyt was crossed by a ford and stepping stones, looking at the old postcards produced, they nearly always show a view looking straight at the Pack horse bridge but the River Goyt is actually to the right of the picture where the rivers meet. The bridge that spans the Goyt was slightly further down river, wider and built primarily for carriage access for Coal, Barytes and Stone and to Errwood Hall and still sits quietly under the waters.
The lower two photographs were taken in 1994 when the reservoir was low showing the drive coming down from Errwood Hall and Goyts road bridge sitting in the mud.
The Drive from Errwood Hall, 1994
So what can still be seen of these ancient routes? Well probably more than you would think, one of the legacies that the thousands of feet and hooves have left are the Holloways. Holloways are formed by countless travellers wearing down the soft peat causing deep hollows, when they became to difficult to pass they just moved sideways on a new pathway. You may have driven past many times and never noticed one of the best examples, next time you cross the top of long hill stop where you turn to Errwood and look both sides of the road those deep furrows are not naturally accuring. You can trace them all the way down toward The Goyt to Cromford High Peak railway / Sandy Lane, likewise they can be seen heading for Buxton in the fields top side of Long Hill until you get to ground that has been ploughed.
Holloways can also be seen coming out of Saltersford heading up Cats Tor to Old Gate Nick, also if you get the chance follow the road through Saltersford turn right for Rainow / Bollington the road drops down past some cottages with a Red telephone box, look to the right and you can see another good example of Holloways heading down the field. Whilst there carry on turn to your right stop in the small layby and look back at the skyline and Old Gate Nick in the distance you can see why it was important for guiding travellers. There are also good examples of Holloways coming over from Goyts Moss, as you leave Buxton via Cat & Fiddle on your right hand side where the Waterboard have a small stone building near the road and the old road goes off to the left.
If you want to look from your armchair its pretty good what you can see from Google Earth, zoom in at the top of Long Hill you can see things that you can’t from ground level. I have written this assuming the persons reading has no knowledge of Holloways forgive me if you are already familiar with these fascinating pieces of History. I quite often walk through them stand and wonder who passed this way and what a relief it must have been reaching the top of such a long climb, seeing Buxton in the distance below, if nothing else it gives some indication of how many persons travelled these routes and for how long.
The Bridge is Taxal Packhorse Bridge, damaged beyond repair in a flood, the stone in the middle I assume will be denoting the Derbyshire / Cheshire border And the Holloways are the top of Long Hill go and look yourselves and imagine the effort of those horses carrying 240 lbs each (nearly 18 stone)
The Romans also travelled through the Goyt Valley 2000 years ago and left future travellers some good sound road systems some of which we still use today.
The Roman Roads were well constructed and paved, most people know that they constructed roads as straight and direct as possible but a long straight road doesn’t always mean it is Roman. Many of today’s roads do follow the line of previous Roads if not exactly as for instance the Romans did themselves at Batham Gate they used part of the route of a Bronze Age track running from Arbor Low to the Bull Ring at Dove Holes.
We have to mention Buxton again, its importance to the fabric of The Goyt Valley. I think living locally we forget how special the water is there are only two warm spas in the country Bath & Buxton The Romans knew and respected the Spa of Blue Water, its importance to them is one reason why we have so many Roman routes around us.
There are two Roman road systems passing through The Goyt Valley one passing through Central Whaley and one passing to the South of Kettleshulme at Fox Hill. Coming from Derby they leave Buxton as one via the current Manchester Road, splitting above Cold Springs Farm where the current road takes a sharp turn left.
The Road to the left followed a route down to Errwood via Goyts Lane crossing the Goyt and up toward Pym Chair on the road still known as The Street, (Embridge Causeway) then onwards through Pott Shrigley and Bramhall.
The other runs up behind Brookfield and White Hall Passing close to the Iron age Hill fort at Castle Naze overlooking Combs & Chapel then through Wythen Lache, (Lache means Lake) Wainstones past Elnor Lane Farm down Elnor Lane crossing the river at Horwich End, under Toddbrook reservoir somewhere near to the Dam wall, then up Black Hill along what is now referred to as Disley Tops down through Lane Ends into Disley and beyond. For close on 1800 years this was the only road between Whaley & Buxton until the development of the Turnpikes.
Most of the route is Tarmac but just above the lodge for Brookfield House, part of the road remains unmetaled and very much untouched it does give a glimpse of how narrow it was and what it must have looked like for many years.
This is a photograph of a guide stoop, this one is still standing at Beeley.