“A little less than 50 years ago the Marple Aqueduct was close to ruin. After gradual decline due to lack of maintenance over many years, water began to seep into the stonework. During the long cold winter of 1961-62 this froze and caused severe damage to the walls of the Aqueduct and a large section fell into the River Goyt below. At this time the canals were already un-navigable due to the sorry condition of the locks and it looked like time might be up for this magnificent structure, once described as "a wonder of the age" by author George Borrow.”
I’ve extracted the above words from the full story of the 200 year old aqueduct. During my days in Manchester the canal has been lovingly restored and, like many others in the area, is now unrecognisable from its former disreputable state.
Sadly, this morning I didn’t have time to wait for a barge and a train to enter the frame (another time, perhaps), but you can see that the towpath is accessible by bicycle. There are more pictures in this posting.
Sue had wanted to visit Lyme Park, so whilst she drove there I cycled by a route intended to avoid any roads.
The Bridgewater Canal leads easily to the Mersey Valley, where I paused by Chorlton Water Park with a couple of wardens, trying to spot families of Whitethroat and Bullfinches that they assured me lived in the woods by the golf course.
On the approach to Stockport an information board next to a giant wooden fish explained that this was the site of Heaton Mersey Bleach Works, dating from 1784, one of over 100 industrial premises built in this area from the late C18 through to early C20, many of which presumably got their power from the river.
Over the past 60 years the river has gone from being one of the most polluted in Europe, to being a home for a variety of freshwater fish. The rare Banded Demoiselle Damselfly is also reputed to be here; indeed it is the emblem of the Mersey Vale Nature Park. I didn’t see any!
My ride progressed along the river bank at a leisurely pace all the way into Stockport, where a closed path ushered me into a trading estate that drove me inexorably into the centre of town, which luckily is pedestrianised. I’d thought that the route of the Midshires Way would draw me nicely along to the Peak Forest Canal. I was mistaken – the footpath through Vernon Park is just that, a Footpath.
After pushing (literally) on to the slightly more spacious Woodbank Park I gave up on the Midshires Way and cycled through Offerton to renew my acquaintance with the River Goyt at Chadkirk. A quiet lane then took me to the canal, which I joined just after passing St Chad’s Well, which is marked on the OS 1:50000 map.
Local tradition says that this is a holy well associated with Chad, the seventh century Bishop of Lichfield, who came as a Christian missionary to this area.
The practice of Well Dressing apparently dates from Celtic times.
There’s also a tradition of making a votive offering to the gods; this could be a small coin or even a bent pin. Or half a pork pie?
Anyway, a short carry up a flight of steps brought me at last to the towpath. I soon had to leave it to go over a tunnel, but then it was a straightforward ride over the aqueduct, up the long flight of locks to Marple, and on along the Peak Forest Canal to the outskirts of New Mills. I turned right up to Seven Springs and Brines. This would be better in the other direction; my limited ability on the bike meant that I was unable to find the necessary traction to negotiate the steep stony track any other way than on foot. Which made me a little late for my rendezvous with Sue in Lyme Park.
So ended a pleasant morning’s ride, in gloomy conditions. Next time I may choose to follow the Trans-Pennine Trail through the Mersey Valley and on to its junction with the Cheshire Ring Canal system, which I would follow to a track leading into Lyme Park from beyond High Lane. That may be a better route.
Here’s today’s 28 mile jaunt, including 650 metres ascent, which took a leisurely 3.5 hours.