The weather forecast was terrible, so only the hardy turned up for this East Lancs LDWA midweek walk that I’d volunteered to lead. Five Plodders and a rather jolly couple from Glossop.
As it turned out, the weather was fine and sunny. Most of the time.
The route started along the Bridgewater Canal in Stretford, where new signage for the Bridgewater Way glinted in the sunlight.
Here’s the view towards Sale - no barges today.
We set off under the bridge, towards Manchester, in an area where Canadian geese rule the towpath and the swans are used to being fed. After passing under the A56 road at Gorse Hill, a small canal basin with newly built houses was negotiated before reaching the canal junction in Old Trafford. Here we waited for a while as Bernard had failed to make the 10 am start time and might have rushed headlong to Worsley if we hadn’t paused to guide him over the bridge and onto the unrefined towpath that heads into central Manchester, linking the Bridgewater Canal with the Rochdale Canal. He soon joined us, perspiration from his valiant efforts to catch up dripping from him like a Chinese wrestler’s jock strap cooked in chip fat on a greasy afternoon.
The onward route normally passes containers stacked high in Trafford Park, as well as a large stadium, but currently a footpath diversion forces the towpath walker onto the busy roads of Trafford Park where, every May, the Manchester 10km race takes place.
The diversion did enable us to take a glance at some Trafford Park sculptures. Entitled "Skyhook" this is one of two 17 metre high hook and chain sculptures, unveiled in 1995 as part of the regeneration of the Trafford Park Industrial Estate.
The diversion re-joins the canal shortly before the towpath passes under, then over, Throstle Nest Bridge. I used to live very close by, with The Throstles Nest being our local watering hole.
Trams to and from Eccles rushed past as we continued relentlessly towards the city centre.
Beside Pomona Docks, only the graffiti gave away the fact that we were viewing an industrial, not a rural, scene.
Water, perhaps from the River Medlock, gushed from a culvert and under the canal, entering the River Irwell/Manchester Ship Canal.
The towpath headed under freshly painted bridges and over a lift bridge that must have seen much use over the years, towards Castlefield, where the canal basin is now overlooked by the Beetham Tower, and Merchants Bridge introduces a modern take on bridge architecture.
This area has been cleaned up quite impressively, and a heron was seen fishing from below the balcony of a new apartment block.
After a tea and cake break we made our way slowly past Dukes 92 (named after the lock number), and through the long Deansgate Tunnel, with the Beetham Tower slowly coming to dominate the aerial scene, overlooking the ubiquitous sight of a brightly painted duck house in the garden of a local MP.
New and renovated buildings in Manchester city centre are passed as the towpath approaches Oxford Road.
Behind Whitworth Street we passed an old mill chimney that has avoided demolition, then the towpath is briefly impassable as the canal proceeds through Manchester’s Gay Village.
The historic site of Sackville Gardens, with its modern ‘Time for Action’ sculpture, is soon reached, just near the old main building of UMIST, home to much scientific innovation and early computer development.
The towpath recommences at Minshull Street Bridge, built in 1806, and follows a trail of patterned bricks through the centre of Manchester to the horrid squalor of an underground route through Piccadilly.
The canal now divides, with our route on this occasion heading towards Ashton and leaving the Rochdale Canal to the Canadian geese.
Less restoration has taken place on the Ashton Canal.
But there are some new buildings, and a restored lift bridge, before the towpath passes attentive fishermen under the shadow of the City of Manchester Stadium.
Soon after passing under a water pipe, the provenance of which Reg would no doubt have expounded upon had he been present, we left the Ashton Canal and headed into Philips Park, 'one of Manchester's finest green spaces', opened in 1846 as one of the world's first municipal parks.
Here today’s team comprising Bonnie, Neil, Don, Bernard, Barbara, Clyde, and Martin (pictured above), lunched on some children’s picnic benches. No children were disturbed or photographed.
Philips Park witnessed our first encounter with the River Medlock, firmly confined within a deep culvert.
We traipsed through a massive multi-denomination cemetery across the river, before returning to the south side of the Medlock, where Philips Park gives way to Bank Bridge Meadow.
The towpath was no longer there to guide us, but there were plenty of footpath signs. Who knows where they all led to…
New singletrack mountain bike routes are also well signed, but I struggled to explain that they are forbidden to walkers. Mountain bikers should enjoy a visit. Parking and bike washing facilities are available at the nearby Velodrome (National Cycling Centre).
Beyond Clayton Vale, narrow paths full of leaf litter continue beside the railway line, above Medlock Vale.
Our route took a strange turn in Clayton Vale, where only Bonnie and Barbara followed the correct path.
Others got stuck on what they thought was a giant roundabout controlled by a midget plumber.
Our path continued high above the river above Medlock Vale, and views towards our destination opened out.
Another canal was reached - the Hollinwood Canal, which links the Ashton Canal with tram roads from the Oldham coalfields.
The Hollinwood Canal has not yet been restored, though in places the towpath and canal are pretty much intact. Elsewhere, there are major obstacles to restoration. The M60 motorway, for example.
Berries glinted in the sunlight.
After crossing the motorway by a high footbridge, we were welcomed into Daisy Nook Country Park, where drinks and ice creams are always available, of which facilities we availed ourselves.
I should have paid more attention to the signage, as shortly after the Visitor Centre, with the distraction of Clyde’s intent on showing me how unlock the mysteries of my Satmap GPS unit, I took an inadvertent diversion to Crime Lake, when we were heading for Park Bridge!
Here, after the minor obstacle of the M60 motorway, the Hollinwood Canal continues on its merry way.
We passed a sculpture masquerading as a footbridge, or was it the other way around? And approaching journey's end, as the weak light faded, the River Medlock seemed to widen as we proceeded towards its source!
The light was just adequate for this final photo of woodland near Bardsley, on the edge of Oldham.
Then, with some of the team members showing signs of wear, (or should that be weary?) we joined a cycle route for the easy walk to Alexandra Park, before ultimately gravitating to the delights of Oldham Mumps Metrolink Station, by which time all bar Bernard and Barbara had peeled off onto alternative routes home.
The route - excluding diversions it's 24 km, but the GPS showed 28 km.
An excellent day out in surprisingly clement weather. Thank you, everyone, for coming along, and please accept my apologies for the Crime Lake diversion, which can only be described as a *****.