I have taken much of this walk before, as a section of the Medlock Valley Way, and Daisy Nook is one of my favourite stretches of countryside in Greater Manchester.


My friend Tom Clark accompanied me, and we setoff from Manchester, arriving by bus at Failsworth Pole, site of the landmark maypoles. There have been five maypoles on the site, and previous ones have been brought down by lightning storms. The current one is a fragment of the previous one, which has been mounted on top of a war-memorial like tower, surrounded by an over-abundance of plaques commemorating its history. 


                                                BEN BRIERLEY


By it is a new addition, a statue of local dialect poet Ben Brierley (1825-96), subject of my own first published poem, BEN BRIERLEY.  


Ben was a strident figure, known as Abraham to many for his uncanny resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. (Interestingly, Tom assumed that the statue was one of Lincoln when we first approached it on this visit).


Ben was born in a house in Failsworth, and a plaque can be seen on the row of shops near to the pole commemorating the place of his birth.  A humble weaver and bobbin winder by trade, he became a writer in his thirties, creating his own popular journal. He was largely self educated, and describes reading in his own time by candle light, having to get closer to the candle flame as the wick burnt down. On one occasion he got so close the papers he was reading ignited. He was soon to become popular enough to be invited to give reading tours throughout Britain and also in the US.


He was also a very radical political figure. He witnessed the Peterloo Massacre, of 1819, and he was heavily involved in local politics. He was responsible for getting the Central Library open for the public.


His grave is in the heart of the heavily overgrown Queen’s Park Cemetery. I only found it myself with some difficulty given the vegetation burying most of the graves there. . A pub in Moston is named after him, The Ben Brierley, (now closed down - the pub sign portrait of Brierley has been removed).  Ben may once have been a member of the Masonic lodge that used to operate over the road from the pub in the upper rooms of what is now the Co-Op shop. 


There was once another statue to Ben, in Queens Park, but it was badly vandalized. It was taken off its still standing plinth and stored in the boathouse of the park boating lake for eventual repair. In 1995, the boathouse burnt down, and the statue was sent with the other debris to the city dump, never to be seen again. Sadly, though only a few years old, the new statue has already been heavily daubed in graffiti. 


Ben lost all the money he had made from his writings, stories, poems and journalism (he was editor of the Oldham Times for many years) when a building society he invested went into liquidation Friends started a fund to help him.


Ben Brierley has some importance in the history of Daisy Nook. A group of local radical poets, including Samuel Bamford and Ben, were invited to come up with a suitable name for Waterhouses, which was becoming a recognized beauty spot in the 1840’s.  Ben won the competition with the name Daisy Nook. He first refers to it by the name in the poem A Summer Day In Daisy Nook (1859). He had asked local artist Charles Potter to provide illustrations for a fictional place called Daisy Nook for a poem he was writing for the friendly competition. Potter (often seen walking a three legged dog around the Failsworth and Ashton area) used the Waterhouses region as his inspiration, and the name Daisy Nook stayed.


                                                CRIME LAKE


From the Pole, we walked down Ashton Road to Cutler Hill, through a mixture of housing estate, and nice detached suburban properties with landscaped gardens. As we got towards Cutler Hill, the gradient got steeper and we were now in open countryside, surrounded by pasture and farmland. We stroked some friendly horses and ponies that soon lost interest in us once they realized that we had no food. We crossed the motorway that slices through land that was once part of the park, and we walked on and came to the entranceway to Crime Lake, which marks the beginning of Daisy Nook now a National Trust owned public beauty spot.


Crime Lake, now largely used for fishing, despite big signs saying No fishing Allowed, has a strange history. It was created by accident when navvies digging the   Fairbottom Cut of the Hollinwood Branch of the Rochdale Canal breached a vital valley wall and accidentally created a small lake. This was unfortunate, as there were two cottages directly in the path of the water. Rumour has it that the lake also swallowed a small church. The waters rose slowly, over months, so no one was in any personal jeopardy. One property was still inhabited after the other was submerged. The owners moved out once continuing to live there became impossible. Legend has it that the roofs of the properties are visible on bright summer days, but this is widely disputed.


The name Crime Lake may or may not relate to a dismembered murder victim’s corpse having been found in the water. There are also legends of boggarts and ghosts (popular in Ben Brierley’s verse), following walkers around after dark with eerie lanterns.


                                    FAIRBOTTOM BRANCH CANAL


The main trail through the park leads from Crime Lake along the canal towpath, which is heavily overgrown, and with stretches of stagnant water. The path rises on an aqueduct high over the Medlock Valley, and paths to and around the water run under the canal path. We made several diversions to explore these paths too, often having to step aside for bikers who were out in huge numbers showing the popularity of the park.


We passed the Model Boat Pond, which’s just an algae covered pool that has clearly not seen a model boat for years. We caught glimpses of butterflies and even a dragonfly among many birds and wild flowers growing throughout the park.


A major highlight is where the river shallows run through a valley where there is a fractured footbridge, gentle weirs, stepping stones and sand banks. Many people paddle and even swim here on warm days and small fish can be seen at times in the water. 


We made a short pit stop at the Ranger’s Hut and visitor’s centre, where we had a drink and looked at maps of the area.


We headed out through the Boodle Wood, which was tricky to spot among mud-churned bridle paths, but it proves to be the most sedate and peaceful stretch of the Park. This leads to the appropriately Named Dark Wood, a primal stretch of wild forest that looks unchanged and utterly unexplored.


There were choices of paths to explore, but we took one, which led to the River Medlock. We came out through the Bardsley exit from Daisy Nook and headed for Park Bridge. 


                                        PARK BRIDGE AND FAIRBOTTOM BOBS


Though the area looks like a natural, untouched countryside area to rival the Nook, Park Bridge was a thriving industrial iron works community.  Some remnants and machine housings have been preserved, and kept as eerie museum exhibitions, including the foundations of a Newcoman Atmospheric engine, which dominated the approach road known as Fairbottom Bobs.  Some of the machines are totally coated in spider webs and the grassy meadows are slowly growing over them – evidence of how nature claims back what is rightly her own.  The Park Bridge stables look formidable – almost like a fortification, and though The Heritage centre and tea shop was closed, the outside of the beautifully kept main buildings could still be walked around easily. In the distance, the folly tower at Heartshead Pike was clearly visible throughout much of the walk. Look out for a Kestral carved from tree bark in the grounds of a nearby farm.


We passed a row of ten lovely terraced houses in isolation from much of the World in the sweeping green pastures. A nearby fence had a sign saying 'No Swimming'  even though there was no water to swim in anywhere in sight. 


We were now ready to head back to the big city, and people were amazed when we asked for directions to Oldham, some thirty minutes walking away. We headed through the countryside to the dreadful Alt Housing Estate, the peace shattered briefly by heckling from local hoodies and glue-sniffing skroats, and from Alt, we got a bus into Oldham, and then back to Manchester.


We ended an excellent day with a visit to the wonderful Sweet Mandarin restaurant -SWEET MANDARIN  


To think I had planned on staying in and doing nothing all day.  Arthur Chappell




BEN BRIERLEY BIOGRAPHY - http://www.failsworth.info/famousfolk/benbrierley/benbrierleyinfo.htm


DAISY NOOK on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daisy_Nook


DAISY NOOK – THE SONG (By Alice Proctor) http://www.failsworth.info/daisynook/daisynooksong.htm


FAIRBOTTOM BOBS http://www.ashton-under-lyne.com/fairbottombobs.htm


PARK BRIDGE http://www.greenflagaward.org.uk/winners/winners_detail.asp?sectionId=22&parentId=23&pageId=23&awardId=GF&gsId=GF00360


MAP - DAISY NOOK http://maps.yell.com/client/yell/?&nat_id=1644419&businessType=PARKS+%26+GARDENS&qs=M35+9WJ&sl=false&storePC=M35+9WJ&ssm=&companyName=Daisy+Nook+Country+Park&replayURL=/b/Daisy+Nook+Country+Park-Parks+and+Gardens-Manchester-M359WJ-1644419/index.html Post code M35 9WJ

Arthur Chappell

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