Review of ‘The Land of the Etherow’, by Neville T. Sharpe

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 4th December 2000, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

THE LAND OF THE ETHEROW
by Neville T. Sharpe

Publishers Churnet Valley Books must be delighted to have Neville T. Sharpe as one of their authors. The Land of the Etherow is the latest of their wide range of carefully selected titles and follows in the same pleasurably readable style as the author's earlier book Peakland Pickings. Again the move is away from topics and places which have had more than their share of literary attention.

Neville Sharpe was born in a house which faced directly up the Longdendale valley, an area abounding in strange stories which refuse to die. A memorable sighting of a strange water creature is described in the book and similarly the mysterious lights of Longdendale are not easily dismissed. The lights are now the subject of a website providing constant surveillance by means of webcams.

The author's own reminiscences are woven amongst those of others now long gone, very often displaying the sort of off-the-cuff humour that makes reading a delight. Anecdotes pop up to enliven what could, under the wrong pen, be just dry history. We learn that tales of Dick Turpin live on in Tintwistle where one chap has an old anvil which he claims was used by an ancestor to shoe the highwayman's horse. Not to be outdone, someone else owns the hammer used to knock in the nails!

Then there is a tale drawn from the turnpike era when a coach carrying a pious dignitary was overturned on one of the Peak's notoriously rough and isolated roads. The coachman declared that he could not make the horses right the coach because his lordship was present. Asked to explain his reasoning, the man answered, 'It is because I dare not swear in your presence; and if I don't we shall never get clear.'

The good Bishop, desperate, replied, 'Well then, swear a little, but not much.' The coachman ignored the proviso and swore liberally; the horses knew that he now meant business and soon the coach was upright again.

Behind such light-hearted sketches is a serious narrative relating to a large expanse of the north-western Peak, with special emphasis on industrial and social history. As for the Etherow itself, it comes as a surprise to learn that it once shared the name of a far more famous river, the Mersey. More surprising still is the revelation that 200 years ago salmon swam a long way up this river and their young used to run up the rivulets among the moors to an incredible height, easily caught in the shallow water, where eels also raced and trout was plentiful for the people of The Land of the Etherow.

Available from bookshops price £9.95, ISBN 1-897949-68-5. Further information from Churnet Valley Books.

Review by Julie Bunting


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