Reg’s next ‘Plodder Project’ is a walk that traces the line of the Thirlmere water pipes all the way from Heaton Park to Thirlmere, starting with this rather urban walk from Heaton Park to Blackleach Park.
I’ve inserted Reg’s comprehensive directions at the end of this posting.
Eleven of us assembled at 10.30 not prompt, and set off in cold but sunny weather into the depths of Heaton Park, where a phantom barber awaited us.
After examining Heaton Hall and the Dower House, we headed for the reservoir that holds water from Thirlmere and Haweswater before it’s distributed around Manchester via a sort of ‘ring main’.
A wall on the north side of the reservoir affords a good view across to the Peak District.
A comprehensive tour of Heaton Park, which is apparently the largest urban park in Europe, took us past the Temple (another good viewpoint) and beside the Hall, which is guarded by ornamental lions.
This was all pretty exhausting for the merry band of Plodders, who soon sought refuge on a ha-ha.
We then continued to the Colonnade, a relic from Manchester’s former Town Hall.
The exit from the Park, after five miles of walking, was through the high archway of the Grand Lodge, which can apparently be hired as a holiday home!
Soon we were at Agecroft, where a fine bridge carries the water pipes over the River Irwell.
The pipes spend most of their time underground, but here they cross above the dilapidated remains of the Manchester to Bury Canal.
Reg felt very at home in this part of the world.
We found a couple of inspection covers – this one housed a new looking valve, but the nearby iron access gate that Reg had seen on earlier visits had gone.
After a long and very familiar (thanks to the Bogle Stroll) section along the A6 under the M60/M61 junction, we finally left the tarmac and proceeded into Blackleach Country Park, a tranquil area that has taken the place of a chemical factory that occupied this ground for many years.
After supping the dregs of our flasks in the Visitors Centre, we departed on a variety of charabancs – the number 37 bus (every 10 minutes) proving particularly useful to those who wanted to travel to either Manchester or Bolton.
Here’s our route – 20 km, 150 metres ascent, taking a little over 5 hours.
There’s a huge and comprehensive slideshow, showing many local urban features – here.
And set down below is Reg’s diligently compiled set of directions and other information that should enable anyone with the desire to follow exactly in our footsteps.
Heaton Park Reservoir to Blackleach Country Park.
The Heaton Park Reservoir is where water from Lake Thirlmere is stored as part of Manchester’s water supply. It makes a fitting starting place. Heaton Park’s rolling scenery, with views of the Pennines, would be how the construction teams would have found Prestwich and the surrounding countryside. Prestwich was a health spa at this time and noted for the purity of it’s air. Originally it was planned to store the water in a reservoir near Bolton but the air pollution due to surrounding mills persuaded the planners to take the Aqueduct to Prestwich.
Interestingly although the Haweswater Aqueduct is acknowledged as it enters the Heaton Park Reservoir there is nothing to indicate where the Thirlmere Aqueduct enters. As the result of a piece of detective work, namely the trained eye of Peter Smith, we think we have located where the pipes of the Thirlmere Aqueduct are situated near the side of the reservoir. The reservoir is hidden from view in all but one place which unofficially allows you sight of the reservoir. Your scouts have been very active!
Finally before commencing the walk description be mindful of two things - the Thirlmere Aqueduct travels beneath the road near to the western boundary of the reservoir, Bury Old Road. Prior to this it travels under Scholes Lane and Hilton Lane on it’s way up from Agecroft. Consequently the first sighting of the Aqueduct is the bridge across the Irwell at Agecroft. We have made the most of our time in Heaton Park to enjoy a rural outlook prior to at times a very urban walk involving a lot of street walking. To this end if we reach Blackleach Country Park(another haven of countryside) the majority of street walking is behind us. It is as well to remember at the time the Aqueduct was constructed roads like the A6 would have been relatively green.
From the railway station we enter Heaton Park, immediately across the road, and head for Heaton Hall. Heaton Park has a rich and fascinating history. Between the mid 14th century and the beginning of the 20th century just two families owned the Heaton estate. It passed through generations of the Holland Family until Elizabeth Holland, the last member of the family, married Sir John Egerton in 1684. Heaton Hall was built for Sir John and over the years has been added to. Heaton Park remained in the hands of the Egerton family until 1902 when it was sold to Manchester Corporation for £230,000. Heaton Park is Grade 2 listed on the English Heritage Register of Parks. More details can be found on the English Heritage website.
Near to the hall are the Orangery, Farm Centre, and play area. We take the footpath to the car park and Dower House and it’s bees. Here we can see and begin to follow the banks of the reservoir. Near to the St Margaret’s Road entrance are Water Board Buildings and at the side of them are the ?Aqueduct pipes. This position coincides with what is shown on the 1909 map as the Aqueduct entering the reservoir. The path curving to the left away from here, leading to Bury Old Road, is shown on the 1909 map to be the way the Aqueduct reaches the reservoir from the Bury Old Road.
Turning right onto St Margaret’s Rd we reach the Reservoir banks, the Reservoir being hidden from view. Turning right on Heywood Rd we come to the Reservoir Pump House. This rather ordinary building is listed on account of the impressive mural that depicts the piping of water through an underground aqueduct, the Haweswater Aqueduct. Three engineers are shown turning a huge valve. This panel also gives important names, facts and dates in the story of the project to bring water from the Lake District to Manchester. The panel was designed by the famous American Sculptor, Mitzi Solomon Cunliffe, and has been described as ‘a remarkable piece of public art on........a mundane industrial building’. Until the 1950’s there were serious water shortages in Manchester. Thanks to the two aqueducts Manchester now enjoys a plentiful supply and some of the best mains water in the country.
Just beyond the pumping station there is a wall which allows one to walk with ease up to the point where the Reservoir is visible. It is a pity it is not possible to walk around the Reservoir, as it is a beautiful stretch of water with panoramic views of the surrounding hills. There is considerable bird life too.
We take the bridleway which follows the Reservoir boundary and this leads to the northern perimeter wall of Heaton Park. After half a mile there is a break in the wall allowing access back into the park. Heading for the Transmitter Tower we climb in the direction of Heaton Hall passing Highland cattle in the nearby fields. Just beyond are public toilets and a little further on benches or a ha-ha to take a short refreshment stop.
We now head to the Lakeside cafe, temporary fun fair and onto the Grand Lodge. A small detour takes us past the very impressive Colonnade which was formerly the front of the Manchester Town Hall. From the Lodge we head for the road junction and cross to Scholes Lane. Take the third road on the left, Sedgley Park Road, and walk down to the junction with the A56, the Bury New Rd. As we walk down Sedgley Park Rd, a Jewish District, we pass on the left a most impressive building, formerly a convent training school for nuns, but now a police training centre. [Now rather unkempt.] Turn right along the A56 and left up Chandos Road (second left).
Walk to the end of Chandos Rd and left past the red postbox onto Bland Rd and immediately right into Circular Rd. Continue along Circular Rd until house number 41. Turn right immediately before number 41. Proceed down to next ginnel on the right and down to George St. Turn right down to Fairway Lodge. Walk in front of the hotel, through the car park, and turn left and down to a broad track at the side of the golf course.
Continue down this broad track to the T junction and turn right, uphill to the first path on your left (not onto golf course). Follow the path to Heathlands Drive. Left along the road to the road junction. Turn left and then immediately right onto the Playing Area. Follow the path immediately in front to Chapel Rd. Turn left down Chapel Walk and onto Halliwell Rd. Note in the distance (on a clear day!) Winter Hill and it’s masts. Hopefully by the third section of the walk we will be very close to Winter Hill.
At the end of Halliwell Rd there is a curve. Turn left down a passageway between houses 16 and 14. Turn right at junction and follow the track to a derelict area (site of former public house). Walk to main road, A6044 or Hilton Lane at Rainsough Brow, turn left and walk down to Agecroft bridge. The ornate bridge conveys two aqueduct pipes across the River Irwell.
From the bridge continue along the road, passing the site of the former Power Station and also now the entrance to Forest Green Prison. Stay on the left hand side of the road to reach the bridge over the former Manchester to Bury/Bolton Canal. Walking down to the canal side allows good views of the two aqueduct pipes as they cross the canal. Walking along a little further we see the pipes as they cross the existing Manchester to Bolton railway line. Be mindful of walking on the road verge as this is a busy road. Before the motorways Peter remembers lorries on their way to Liverpool Docks being nose to tail for miles along what at that time was the main route from Yorkshire to Liverpool. Continuing along the road we pass the site of Agecroft Colliery, now a retail park, forward under the railway bridge (line to Wigan) and up to the A666.
Cross road and into Ranelagh Rd. Note inspection hatch on left on the grass verge. The Aqueduct continues forward beneath the grass verge and on to run alongside what was Pendlebury Children’s Hospital. From here the Aqueduct is below the A6 and continues to be so until it reaches Walkden, where it takes a right turn along the A575 (Bolton Road) and then goes cross country through some modern housing estates. It is particularly mindful here to remember that when the Aqueduct was constructed most of these estates were green fields.
To avoid considerable road walking along the A6 we have sought to shorten and take the most direct route to Blackleach Country Park.
We continue along Ranelagh Rd to the junction with Hospital Rd, turning left then across the road to a footpath on the right. Continue along footpath passing recreation ground on right and along to Swinton Hall Rd. It was along this footpath on a previous expedition with East Lancs Senior Scout, ’Stormin Norman’ that like a blast from the past Norman remembered spending many ‘social hours’ in a Miner’s Recreation Centre just off the footpath, with Neil Smith. Stopping the first member of the public, a local native woman, it was confirmed his memory was correct. The Centre was demolished several years ago. Be prepared for two miles of very urban road walking. Towards the end of Swinton Hall Drive is Morrison’s and the prospect if you so wish of a cuppa in the cafe. [Or a pint in the nearby Weavers Arms.]
At the junction with Station Road turn right, over the bridge and left into Cromwell Rd. Walk the full length of Cromwell Rd to junction with Cemetery Rd, turn left and walk down to A6. Cross to left hand side and right up to the railway bridge. Aqueduct pipes are visible as they cross to Moorside Station. Continue along the A6, passing eventually under the motorway bridges. Cross over to the right hand side of the A6, passing Linnyshaw Farm, and up to the bridge over a disused railway. Here you will see a wealth of Aqueduct memorabilia, pipes, inspection hatches and what would have been your first gate. Unfortunately someone very recently has removed the iron gate, the stone posts remain. We had said to the water board after our previous explorations that they should protect (adopt was the advice we gave) this special gate as the first one people doing the walk would see!
Relief is at hand as you walk the semi rural old railway track bed for 1.5 miles to reach Blackleach Country Park. On reaching the reservoir take the track immediately on your left which follows the side of the reservoir to reach the Information Centre, where hopefully if open there are toilets and possibly as in the past the chance of another brew. From the Information Centre, leave the Park and via Hill Top Road cross the A575 to the bus stop for the number 37 and onto Bolton for transport to further destinations. [Or don’t cross the road if you are heading for Manchester!]
The distance is around 12-13 miles.