WALK – UPPERMILL TO ASHTON Monday 3rd August 2009
My mate, Tom Clark and I had hoped to do the second stage of the epic Gritstone Trail walk in Cheshire & Derbyshire, but the weather didn’t look too promising, so settled for heading to Uppermill, in Tameside, to visit the museum and art gallery there.
My day started with some extra-ordinary good luck. I caught the bus for Manchester and my rendezvous with Tom early and the driver noticed that it was 9.20 am. He advised me to wait until gone 9.30 before purchasing my all day travel ticket, as it was cheaper at off-peak times. I travelled on his bus and paid when I got off, rather than on boarding as that took me through the peak time travel costs barrier.
I met with Tom at the time arranged, 10.30 am, two hours after the time we’d have had to set off for the Gritstone Trail path.
It was clear as we set off on the 83 bus to Oldham, where we could catch the 184 to Uppermill (having just missed one from Piccadilly) that the weather was improving and that we could have easily done the Gritstone Trail, but that could now wait for another occasion.
We hadn’t really planned out what to do in Uppermill, though I have been there before, with my friends Gil & Sally. I remembered a second hand bookshop another friend ran, Moorland Books, but like many other shops in Uppermill, it chose to close on Mondays.
We had a bite to eat in The Little Shop Café, a very nice Café attached to newsagents. We made appoint of calling into the tourist information shop attached to the Museum (which we didn’t go into because they were charging an admission fee, unlike many free museums in the UK) We decided to take the modestly priced canal boat trip, an hour’s Narrow-Boat ride, taking in two locks of the Huddersfield Canal. It was a very pleasant way to pass the time. A highlight was seeing the beautiful tall viaduct crossing the canal. The crew of the boat were very friendly and the captain advised on escape procedures in, as he put it, the unlikely event of us hitting an iceberg.
Boat ride completed, and a few errands done, we decided to walk the canal towpath back towards Ashton, seeing how far we could get. I had walked a large stretch of the canal before on my own, from Ashton, out to Greenfield.
The Huddersfield Canal was opened in 1811, and connects Ashton to Huddersfield, taking in the heart of the Industrial revolution driven mill towns of the North West of England. It was restored and fully opened to boat traffic again in 1978.
We set off from near the museum where the boat had disembarked. We had to backtrack a little when the path ran out to cross the canal on a bridge to the right towpath, and walked down the canal towards Greenfield. The woodland scenery around the towpath is a wild tangle of near primordial woodland. Weirs and rivers could be heard thundering just out of view. Butterflies, ducks & swans, as well as a few Canada Geese were al around.
Greenfield has a very nice Riviera style boat marina, which we crossed on a lift-bridge that can be raised to let boats in and out. Only one boat was moored in the marina as we passed.
Mossley was a relatively unremarkable little housing area. Lots of people were fishing in the canal, though the only catch we saw being made was lad snagging a discarded old shopping bag. He seemed as happy with it as I would be on catching a large salmon. (If I ever take up fishing).
Soon after Mossley the canal towpath ended abruptly. We had to cut through a housing estate, though we could see that part of the canal towpath had collapsed into the water, partly explaining the blockade. It did look as if the properties being built in contempt of green-belt territories would destroy the towpath anyway though. In the distance a church spire was shrouded in scaffolding for what looked like extensive restoration work.
We soon rejoined the footpath and came to the Scout Tunnel, a long, dark, spooky tunnel where you could see the light at the ends, but not right in front of yourself. Water seeped through to splash at us as we made our way through a perfect horror film setting, where we echoed our voices like ghosts as we moved forwards.
Daylight again, and now we headed for Stalybridge, with an ornate town centre, decorated in flower displays and hanging baskets, with the canal gouging effortlessly through the main town square, surrounded by supermarkets and bars. We stopped off at one such bar for our evening meal as it was now about 6.15 pm. It was a Lee’s pub, The Millpond, a large, friendly, though strangely empty bar. The staffs were very friendly and the pub grub was terrific.
Recommencing the walk, we entered the urban sprawl of Stalybridge, described by some guide leaflets as a ‘Mini-Venice’ and a ‘Charming town’. In fact, though the town centre looks quite ornate, the outskirts looked more derelict with every step – Old mills were collapsing into ruins, and the water itself was heavily polluted. Strange gurgling bubbles made it look as if the spirits of long dead frogmen were trapped in the murky depths. Kids threw stones into the canal despite fishermen being nearby and while people we had passed on most of the route greeted us with a smile, a cheery wave and polite inconsequential chatter, the Stalybridge people we saw seemed reluctant to make eye-contact with strangers, and somewhat surly.
There was little countryside between Stalybridge & Ashton, though the buildings became increasingly modern and less derelict as we approached the heart of Tameside. An ASDA superstore had swallowed up the towpath, and despite the wishes of the Ramblers and towpath action groups, the paths were now diverted through the car park for the store – an utter disgrace.
As it was getting late and we had seen the Ashton Portland Basin where the Huddersfield Canal ends before (on our Ashton walk) we cut out to head for the bus ride back to Manchester and an uneventful journey home. Some time soon, I hope to walk the Uppermill to Huddersfield half of the canal too.
Thanks to Tom Clark.
For my other walks see WALKS
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