Walking in the Cheshire Panhandle

Higher Swineshaw Reservoir. I was lucky to reach this spot during a brief glimpse of winter sunshine which set off nicely the surrounding area.

Look at an old map of the County of Cheshire and there is a tract of land that juts out in the top right hand corner which looks almost like a handle. If the rest of Cheshire forms the ‘pan’ then this bit of the county resembles a ‘handle’ so hence the phrase.

My walk is starting in Stalybridge, and on first impression this is just another typical town in the Greater Manchester conurbation, but dig a little deeper and several interest features come to light. Man first settled in the area during Neolithic times and two cairn sites have been identified on nearby Hollingworthhall Moor as Stalybridge Cairn and Hobson Cairn both of which I will be visiting on this walk.

The town really came to prominence during the Industrial Revolution and was a forerunner of the cotton industry with many mills springing up, but the town suffered too during the cotton famine. An unusual claim to fame is that the town has pubs with the longest and shortest names in the country. The ‘Q’ Inn is located close to the railway station, whilst the ‘The Old Thirteenth Cheshire Astley Volunteer Rifleman Corps Inn’ is located in Astley Street but is now unfortunately closed. Outside the Old Victoria Market Hall is a modern bronze statue to Jack Judge who over a five shilling bet wrote one of the most famous songs associated with the First World War. ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary’. The words to the songs were written in the long gone Newmarket Tavern in Corporation Street during one evening in 1912 after he was challenged to write, compose, and produce a song in just one night.

Having found ample parking in a side street in the town I am setting off along the towpath of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal running northeast from the town. The canal runs twenty miles and connects Ashton under Lyne with Huddersfield. The canal construction was quite a feat of engineering and took many years to build with many setbacks. Over its twenty mile length there are seventy four locks and the canal passes through the Standedge Tunnel which at 5,700 yards is the longest canal tunnel in Britain.

Walkerwood Reservoir. The lowest of a chain of reservoirs in this area.

Hollingworthall Moor. This views looks towards Lower and Upper Swineshaw Reservoirs. On the 24th February we will hopefully get this view on the walk and will be following the ridge on the right of the photograph to the far reservoir. The path along the ridge seen on the right in the foreground should hopefully be good underfoot.

Leaving Stalybridge on a dull winter’s morning it certainly isn’t the most exciting of places to walk with an embankment on one side and industrial units on the other. I leave the canal towpath at Grove Road and head into Millbrook where I cross the B6175. A path is soon joined into what is called Stalybridge Country Park but this area is full of thickets crisscrossed with paths. It isn’t far before I join Brushes Lane, a lane cum track running along the southern edge of the country park. I had hoped to walk to the southern side of Walkerwood Reservoir but the path isn’t clear and instead I end up walking via the road across the dam. The so called lane on the far side is more of a track and an icy one at that. I ascend on this track passing the smaller Brushes Reservoir and then Lower Swineshaw Reservoir. By now, the brighter skies of earlier have clouded over and it looks almost as if it might rain. After a steady ascent, I reach Upper Swineshaw Reservoir and time it just nicely as a brief sunny interval sets off the landscape against a dark sky. It feels quite cold up here so I don’t linger, but press on across the dam and continue with the stony track on the far side.
I am now aiming for Wild Bank Hill and soon turn right on a rough path. I have to look out for another path on my right which will take me up onto Hollingworthhall Moor. In the event, it turns out, that this seems to be the most defined path anyway. In the meantime, some showery rain brushes the area but thankfully it doesn’t last long. For now, the going underfoot is reasonably good but the approach to Wild Bank Hill is muddier. The top affords fine views over Manchester and beyond and I can even pick out the Wrekin in Shropshire, some sixty miles away. This is the site of one of the two pre-historic cairns mentioned earlier with the other one lying a short distance to the east. The trig point isn’t the place to hang about today and I soon set off south over Shaw Moor and later take a rather squelchy path down to Roe Cross. I cross the A6018 here and take a good path along the eastern flank of Harrop Edge and later stop at a sheltered spot for lunch with a view down to the slow traffic on the A57.

Wild Bank Hill. the trig point stands on a pre-historic cairn. The location is noted for its far reaching views from the 399 metre summit.

With the going underfoot good so far, things are about to change to the near on impassable. I want to get to the hamlet of Matley which involves crossing several fields. The first field is squelchy and slippery but this is nothing compared to the second field which had been churned up by cattle and is near on impassable to cross. I inched my way through a very wet area expecting to get a boot full of icy water at every step but escape unscathed to almost the edge of the field where the way ahead to the stile is just simply too wet to proceed. I divert a bit up the field to find a spot where I can cross the barb wire fence. The next field is better but very squelchy and slippery. I walk through Matley and turn left onto a lane before taking another squelchy and slippery path, and again I have to walk carefully to avoid any slips. The path continues across a golf course which I think is possibly closed due to the greens being churned up by countless golf buggies. Eventually I guess my way around and up to a very wet track.

Hough Hill. Another hill top  overlooking Stalybridge but we will not be visiting this 244 metre top on the walk on the 24th February.

I have time to visit the trig point on Hough Hill but I am unsuccessful in finding the path shown on the map. In the end I decide to cross a fence and head up over pastureland and around gorse bushes. It means crossing a wall further up and here I veered around to the right to get my bearings and head to the summit. Again the ground is muddy and slippery as I make it to the trig point which thankfully stands outside a reservoir compound. For the return I find the path which zigzags down through woodland and would have been easily to miss from the bottom. The woodland track towards Stalybridge is full of leaves and mud and I have to keep along the edge to avoid the worse of it. I later enter the top edge of Eastwood Nature Reserve, which apparently was one of the RSPB’s first nature reserves, and as I near Stalybridge so the conditions vastly improve into parkland. I have a little road walking at the end of my walk which takes me back to the car.

I am leading this walk in reverse on Saturday the 24th February. There are several variations to the walk described here and we will not be going via Hough Hill and I will vary the route after Matley to avoid a very muddy and squelchy area. The hill section of the walk is reasonably good underfoot and from Wild Bank Hill we hopefully will get some very good views. So join me and come along to discover some history of Stalybridge and its environs.