Raising funds for Elizabeth’s Legacy of Hope
Day 1 The Bridgewater Canal, opened in 1765/6 - Preston Brooks to Manchester
First task of the day – find your canal!
It took me half an hour and, as I looked down on a scene of utter tranquillity, it hardly seemed possible that this had been a busy hub of activity for both passengers and goods, at a major interchange of water and road, in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The coach would arrive from London at the Red Lion Hotel, long gone and now a supermarket, and passengers then took the horse-drawn boat into Manchester, taking a further seven hours to reach their destination.
Commercial goods were dealt with at the wharves and warehouses, also long gone.
Contrary to what I thought, there had been two canals before the Bridgewater – the Newry Canal in Northern Ireland, to carry coal, and pre-dating the Bridgewater by 18 years, the Sankey Brook from St Helens to the Mersey, also carrying coal, pre-dating by 4 years.
The start of the Bridgewater Canal. There are no locks on this canal as James Brindley, the engineer, followed the contours.
I walked up to the Preston Brooks Tunnel, the start of the Trent and Mersey Canal which I had walked two years ago and then turned north west to start my journey up the Bridgewater Canal to Manchester.
I soon met a narrow boat for a chat about the difficult passage through the Tunnel. Although only 15 minutes and less than a mile long it is twisty and narrow. Apparently, the Duke of Bridgewater made it like this so that goods had to be transhipped from the wider Mersey boats to smaller boats, with all the accompanying fees for unloading, loading and warehousing plus transit charges. No fool, our Duke!
A horse carries 2 tons on the road but pulls 100 tons on water!
I always forget how friendly people are up north. When I arrived at Runcorn Station on the evening of the May Bank Holiday, there were no taxis. Just one young man in the queue. A taxi eventually arrived and he very kindly said, ‘You go first’. The driver had called by on the off chance and was about to go home. How lucky was that! I hope the young man didn’t have to wait too long for his taxi!
I had a meal deal at the nearby Premier Inn, £55 for bed, full English breakfast and two course dinner with pint of beer. Well, I wasn’t going to miss out. So I had the surreal experience of sitting on my bed, eating salmon teriyaki followed by cheesecake, washed down with a pint of Becks, listening to Nigel Kennedy play Jimmy Hendrix on the telly!
Breakfast next morning was a jolly affair, waited on by local ladies gossiping about this and that and feeding me enormous portions of scrambled eggs on toast.
One of the things I love about walking the canals is all the miscellaneous general knowledge to pick up on the way. Here I was passing Daresbury. I could see the 8 massive cooling towers of the power station, owned by SSE, burning coal and biomass. I was right alongside the world renowned Daresbury International Science and Innovation Campus, responsible for some of the most ground-breaking research being carried out in the world today and home to over 100 high tech companies. And half a mile away in Daresbury church is the ‘Alice window’ designed by Geoffrey Webb and dedicated in 1935, a hundred years after the birth of Lewis Carroll who was born in the parsonage and whose father was the vicar. And this was only the morning of Day 1!!
Later in the day, I passed Dunham Massey Hall, a couple of fields away. Mike Luxmoore had by this time joined me and later we drove out to see the house and garden. We arrived as the gardens were closing but a nice man on the gate allowed us in – a great plantsman’s garden of the north-west apparently and a medieval deer park to boot. We enjoyed it!
Dunham Massey, Grade 1, Georgian, built for families Booth and Grey, housing Grinling Gibbons' fabulous limewood panel of the Cruxifixion
My cousin, Lesley Reynolds, joined us at the Belmore Hotel in Sale for dinner and would walk with me for the next couple of days.
Mike was to leave us here to walk to the Barton Aqueduct on the Leigh branch of the Bridgewater, the first and only swing aqueduct in the world which allows ships on the Manchester Ship Canal to pass under. It was opened in 1894 and is still in regular use. He was lucky enough to see it opening. Google 'BartonAqueduct-inoperation-YouTube' - very impressive.
Day 2 Manchester
I was excited to visit Manchester, walking in on the Bridgewater Canal. How expectations can be dashed! First, we were plagued by lycra-clad bicyclists hell bent on getting to work on time. Then there were depressing views of building sites, railways and roads. Even the Manchester Ship Canal was pretty dull – vast but empty.
Not how I imagined I would look on the famous Manchester Ship Canal!
Man U's Stadium - I never expected that so a bit of a bonus!
I was as underwhelmed by Manchester as I had been bowled over by Liverpool two years before. Manchester does not have the benefit of being a European City of Culture as Liverpool had in 2008. What a difference these awards can make.
I was expecting a 21st century northern powerhouse springing from one of our great Victorian cities. I got a rather subdued one, with not much going on, a surprising lack of traffic and people, with drear stone buildings and dull modern ones. It was midweek and post bank holiday. Not sure if that is an excuse or not!
One area of interest is Castlefield, birthplace of Manchester and site of the Roman fort, Mancunium, sited on a sandstone bluff which is still very much in evidence, at the confluence of rivers Irwell and Medlock. Here the Bridgewater Canal becomes the Rochdale Canal and, sited very close, is Bridgewater Hall, built in the 1990s, home to the Halle Orchestra and named after the Duke of Bridgewater. I'm sad we didn't have time for a concert.
The canal is mostly underused and underground. We found ourselves walking in stygian gloom under road and rail, before popping up in Canalside, the LBGT centre of town, which looked a little jollier. We even lost the canal at one stage so insignificant is it!
Brilliant bit of graffiti to lighten the stygian gloom
Lesley was my guide for the day and, having booked into our Princess Hotel, we set off to explore. I had great hopes for the Town Hall and its high Victorian interiors, all designed by Alfred Waterhouse, but it was dead and deserted, about to undergo a huge restoration.
A high Victorian tour-de-force.
Shame we couldn't get access.
Me and Albert in St Peter's Square, site of the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.
Next we tried the Cathedral which looked just like a large town church from the outside. It was more exciting inside with very fine medieval choir stalls and misericords, one of the latter showing an early depiction of backgammon. Also a wooden ceiling ‘held up’ by 14 life-size angels holding medieval musical instruments. The cathedral was bombed in the war and the stain glass is 20th century, colourful and eye catching.
Medieval hanging ditch bridge dating back to 1421, lost and rediscovered in 1880s and now on display in the visitors' centre. It bridged a ditch around the cathedral originally.
Sadly we missed it!
Next was Chetham’s Library, founded in 1653 under the will of Humphrey Chetham, a prosperous Manchester textile merchant, banker and landowner and twice High Sheriff. It is the oldest surviving public library in the English speaking world and still open to readers free of charge! It also has one of the original chain libraries! There had always been schools on the site and in 1969 the Boys’ Grammar School became the now famous Chetham’s Music School. Today, the library is still expanding its collection.
Harry Potter, eat your heart out!
Then it was lunch. We walked into the nearest restaurant, Gino’s, which, from unprepossessing beginnings, turned out to be one of the many new restaurants in the recently restored triangular-shaped Corn Exchange in all its Edwardian glory, opening up on to the Exchange floor and full of action and eating. Best pile of pasta I had had in a long time and nice to see the Manchester folk enjoying themselves.
The hop on and hop off tour took us to see Salford Quays - for real instead of just on the breakfast telly. It’s an impressive acreage of water but I didn’t get much sense of past history and the boom years of industrial Victorian England. Or was it that large plate of crab pasta making me sleepy and inattentive?!! There seemed to be an awful lot of building going on with endless development sites. There really isn’t much beauty to Manchester.
We probably should have gone to the Whitworth gallery but it was a 2 mile journey by bus and I had run out of energy. We were gearing up to see Samuel Beckett’s ‘Happy Days’ in the Royal Exchange Theatre, a seven-sided steel and glass construction in the round, opened in 1976, suspended from the columns holding up the dome of the Exchange. What a brilliant use of such a space.
We sat up in the gods and looked down on a mound of earth with a collapsed body buried to the waist in a hole at the top and a badgers’ sett at the base where another body lay. Well, I thought, this is going to be interesting!!
Over two hours later we were clapping enthusiastically this extraordinary performance by Maxine Peake as Winnie lamenting her lost life and all its unfulfilled dreams while her useless husband grunted from his hole from time to time. I could say it was an appropriate end for my day in Manchester.
We walked passed this sad sight the next morning. Ironically, she was called 'Happy Days'!
Day 3 Walking to Diggle
Today was the turn of the Ashton Canal, branching off the Rochdale Canal and heading north east to Ashton-under-Lyne and Stalybridge before turning north to slowly climb towards the Pennines up the Tamer River valley.
Walking out of Manchester was a whole lot better than walking in. This was somewhere I could live, all nicely landscaped around the canal with jolly people walking dogs, enjoying the sun and looking happy.
Tom Heatherwick's B for Bang sculpture
We passed Sport City, all thanks to the Commonwealth Games of 2002, and the Velodrome at the National Bicycling Centre, the cause of so much our bicycling success. We looked for Tom Heatherwick’s B for Bang sculpture but no sign. Unfortunately its spikes kept falling off so Manchester City Council had it dismantled and now it is beyond repair with bits having been sold off for scrap – how sad is that.
Our mid-morning break saw us join the beginning of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal at Portland Basin. We were now in big brass band country – Mossley, Uppermill, Dobcross, Delph, Diggle and many more villages in the parish of Saddleworth, fielding their own brass band in fortnightly competitions.
Lesley’s husband, Chas, plays the tuba in the Sale Brass Band. So she regaled me with stories of brass band rivalry competing in all these local villages - villages which were once heavily agricultural and then gave way to local hand-weaving of cotton until the late 18th century when mills sprang up further down the valley better able to cope.
We finally arrived at Gate Inn in Diggle at 5 pm, having had an hour’s stop for a nice lunch at the Roaches Lock, a canalside inn. Not often do the two coincide so we took advantage.
Dobcross village - ex-Saddleworth Bank building on the left!
Saddleworth Viaduct and one happy walker!
We also had a detour into Dobcross, a charming Pennine village atop its hill with its high wide mullioned windows and its ex-Saddleworth Bank and corner shop in The Square. Absolutely charming.
Lesley left me here after a very nice dinner with Chas who came to pick her up. Thank you, my walking companion!
Day 4 Over the Pennines to Huddersfield
At 7.30 in the morning I was looking at the entrance to Standedge Tunnel. For all its claim to be the highest, longest, deepest tunnel in UK in what must be one of the great feats of man-toil in UK history, it looked very ordinary, small and insignificant. In fact, I thought it was just another bridge until I noticed the metal gates closing off the entrance.
Legging it through!
So much for a lift through. There wasn’t so much as a dog’s hair anywhere near the place. All was quiet and empty. The only sign was a blue plaque to Thomas Telford whose skills had averted disaster when the tunnel was found not to be aligned correctly.
What now? I had to go over the top but where was the track to Marsden Moor? Luckily I met a man who had just come down from the Pots and Pans stone and the Obelisk War Memorial on Alderman’s Hill which we had noticed to our right for most of the day before. I told him where to find the canal and he told me where to find Diggle Hotel and hopefully somebody with local knowledge.
The hotel didn’t look promising. Very quiet and shut up. Then the booze truck arrived and, hey presto, folk appeared. The track was just beside the hotel and wound its way slowly upwards passing farms with their high wide mullioned windows and fields full of lazy cattle. I was accompanied by several pairs of curlews and their chicks, peewits and larks, all screaming, ‘go away’!
Reaching the summit with views to the west to Manchester and to the east to Huddersfield, I sat and ate my marmalade sandwich – just me, the moor and the curlews. It was utter bliss and quite breath-taking. It’s moments like these that I wish all my friends and family could be with me.
The weather was benign with no sign of the threatened thunderstorm, although I did have my trusty compass with me in case.
I was soon looking down on Marsden, a bustling happy little town with its canal and railway and tourist trade. I could see the huge mill complexes, one of them in the middle of the town being my great grandfather’s. They looked strangely and worryingly deserted.
Looking down on Marsden - the large block in the middle of the picture is the Crowther and Bruce Mill. There is also another mill to the right of the photo, also derelict.
And so they were. After a long chat to a shopkeeper who had just sold me a jolly linen top all for the price of £23, I got the full story. When I was last here 10 years ago the NHS was about to pump lots of money into ‘our’ mill, with medical centre, associated health clinics, shops, flats and eateries. Local residents objected to the one-way system to access the centre and planning was refused. The NHS just took its business down the valley to Slaithwaite and Marsden lost out.
So Crowther and Bruce Mills stand derelict and forlorn in the middle of this bustling little town. What a tragedy. I had passed so many of these derelict mills on the way out from Manchester and would pass more on my way to Huddersfield.
Crowther and Bruce mill - derelict. I took over 30 photos of derelict mills, west and east side of the Pennines.
These are huge complexes with brick mills 4 to 5 storeys in height and large adjacent areas of low level sheds and warehouses. I only saw three successfully converted into apartments. Many did have the lower areas in use with the main brick buildings standing derelict. It seems such a waste.
I found the eastern entrance to the tunnel and watched a boatload of happy holidaymakers disappear into the tunnel for an hour’s ride.
I spoke later to a boat owner who had been through a couple of days before with a pilot to guide. He said it was pretty scary but exhilarating with the exposed rocks just above their heads dripping water. The tunnel is over 3¼ miles long and takes 1.40 hour to go through. I was quite glad I hadn’t had to make the decision to hitch a lift or not. The record to ‘leg it’ through is 1.25 hour! Two pairs of very strong legs, I guess!
Walking down the Colne Valley via Slaithwaite and linthwaite to Huddersfield was a delight. Such a pretty valley with the Colne river meandering alongside the canal and sheep grazing in the buttercup-filled fields. Ancient hay meadows still survive. The valley was famous for the fine quality woollen cloths it produced.
I was looking forward to Huddersfield, having read my grandmother’s diaries and the various memorabilia such as old newspaper cuttings. Again, my expectations were to be dashed.
It began well. I walked into Huddersfield through the university buildings, massive modern edifices and restored mills put to good use as various departments, all looking prosperous and useful.
Then a startling contrast as I worked through the centre to find my hotel. The streets were dirty, the shops were closed up, the Church which I was hoping to visit for an evensong practice was closed up and deserted, not a friendly sign to be seen. There was every sort of eatery and convenience store of various ethnic extractions – Egyptian, Syrian, Lebanese, Kurdish – but none that sold anything useful apart from drinks and snacks. Finding a yogurt and some fruit for my breakfast was beyond Huddersfield. I ended up with an apple pastry from a Kurdish store.
The great classical façade of the railway station was there in all its splendour but the adjacent George Hotel, the scene of the meeting which divorced rugby league from rugby union, was closed and shuttered, with rubbish spilling about its entrance porch. What our Harold would have thought as he strutted his way across the square.
such a great statue of Harold Wilson by Ian Walters
,At my hotel, I had a deep reviving bath with my magic crystals, blissfully unaware that I was leaking all over the room below! The Italian restaurant next door gave a 10% discount to hotel guests but, on entering, I realised this wasn’t going to work. The place was heaving with two huge parties of Huddersfield folk.
So I followed the high heels and hairdos to the hotspot of Huddersfield, Revolution Kitchen, where I had a most delicious pizza and a pint of something gorgeous and golden, all for the price of £13, watching all the girls making their own free cocktails behind the bar under the tuition of the barman. This was definitely a girl’s night-out-place. Glitter balls hung from the ceiling and DJs spun funk, soul, chart and indie!!!
I made my own majito under instruction and staggered home to bed, noticing that there was now a guard and roped area outside the front door with the moneyed young of West Yorkshire spilling out of smart cars and tottering in for food and fun! What a town of contrasts.
3 am – aware of voices outside my window. 4 am - looked outside my window. The building opposite which had looked lifeless and empty at 4pm was now lit up and a hive of activity with people spilling onto the pavement chatting and smoking.
4.30 – as the night porter wasn’t going to help me, I crossed the road in my bare feet and asked for the manager. All sorts of bow-tied officials of various ethnic origins gave me the once over, thinking, ‘Here's trouble’.
Finally the manager appeared, a smooth young man rapidly pouring oil on troubled water! One of the girls said, ‘Why did you book a hotel room across the road from a strip club?’ Ah, I thought, so that’s it. I retreated and got a room at the back of the hotel for an hour’s kip before the alarm went off. As I left the hotel at 7 am girls were being shovelled into the back of black cars with loud ‘thanks’ from the men!
Day 5/6 A Long Tramp into Leeds, more river than canal
Peaceful scene on the River Calder but no towpath!
Huddersfield Broad Canal, on the right, joins the Calder River
Huddersfield Broad Canal took me north east to join the Calder and Hebble Navigation and a hard slog, hot and humid, into Wakefield along alternating canal and river, the latter with no proper towpath. In fact the path can wander away from the river which is disconcerting as it is not always clear where it goes. It was also the weekend so the bikes and buggies were out!
It rained for half an hour when I was walking on an overgrown river path so got soaked from the waist down. Regretted lack of waterproof trousers. As that was the only bad weather I had had, I was thankful. Also I seemed to always have a cooling breeze in my face.
Wakefield Cathedral - not what I was expecting!!
My intention was to make evensong at 3.30 at Wakefield Cathedral. I found the cathedral with lots of street music and folk milling around. How jolly, I thought. At the door of the cathedral I was stopped and asked for my wrist band. Strange, I thought. I'd never been asked for a wristband for evensong before. I said that I was only going in for evensong. As people were pressing to get in, he let me through. I was met by a wall of sound and a rock band on a brightly lit stage in front of the altar belting out ferociously loud music with hundreds of people listening and jigging along.
I found a man with a dog collar and said, 'Evensong's off then?' Yes, he nodded, looking very pleased that his church was flavour of the moment! After the initial shock, I thought well, why not. I hung around for a while until I couldn't stand the noise anymore. It was good to see the church so full of people enjoying themselves. Felt almost medieval!
I had booked my hotel for the previous night by mistake and, because of whatever was going on musically in the town, all the hotels were booked out. So I found myself taxiing out to the M1 and the Holiday Inn where West Yorkshire’s version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding was taking place. Screaming flower girls, a fat little bride, no bridegroom to be seen, rollicking guests and general mayhem. I was just thankful for a bed, a bath and a meal, even if the guests did wake me up at all hours of the night roistering down the passages.
Hepworth Wakefield Museum - Art Fund Museum of the Year 2017
7.30 the next morning found me walking across the River Calder to the Hepworth Wakefield Museum which seemed to consist of boring big blocks of grey concrete. Ah, but it’s by David Chipperfield, I hear you say. Yes, well that’s as maybe. I hope the contents were a tad more inspiring but unfortunately I wasn’t going to find out at that hour.
What was charming was the chantry church of St Mary on Wakefield bridge, built between 1342 and 1356, one of four bridge chapels still surviving in England. River on the left, bridge on the right.
I then spotted another enormous mill complex, abandoned as per usual, beyond the museum and by some new apartment blocks overlooking the canal. What a shame that both the museum and the flats couldn’t have made use of this splendid old building. But what would be ‘sexy’ about that?
I now joined the River Aire but had to divert onto roads as the embankment was impassable. So I spent a dirty, dusty, nasty, noisy hour trudging along roads. However, it did take me through Mickletown and its post office, open every day except Christmas day as I was proudly told, where I was able to fill up my water bottle and buy my sarnies for lunch
Met a nice young man from the Canal and River Trust at Woodlesford Lock, out to catch the Sunday trade. I told him about my walk and he was very taken with it. I would have joined there and then but my card had just expired. He also said that since going private, the Trust had done extremely well, raising money and gaining members, much to his surprise. Yes, I thought, you have to work for your money now. Jolly good thing too.
No .1 Lock beside the Armories in Leeds. Hard to believe this was once all derelict!
Leeds was historically a vital cross-pennine link between Liverpool and the North Sea.
Walking into Leeds was a pleasant experience – one of the few towns which seem to have made the most of their water frontage – and I hit No.1 lock by the Armouries at 3.30.
I headed off to the airport for my lift home only to discover that PK had flown for an hour and had had to turn back because of weather. So I sank a pint in Witherspoons at the station, bought a very expensive ticket and boarded the train to London, reflecting on a walk of contrasts from cities and suburbia to open moors and sleepy river valleys, with quiet canals and even quieter wildlife.