GM Ringway Stage 8: Broadbottom to Greenfield

Published 26 June 2022

Broadbottom – setting off point for Stage 8 of the GM Ringway.

The 186 miles long GM Ringway is Greater Manchester’s very own orbital walking trail. It’s a perfect walk for someone who wants to explore more about the Greater Manchester area. After starting it in January 2020, I’ve been slowly making my way around the trail, with what has turned out to be a rather slow speed. Just over two years after starting, I arrived back at Broadbottom to tackle a stage of isolated houses, and wild moorland.

Neither of my parents had any brothers or sisters, so I didn’t have any aunts or uncles when I was young. As such, my sister and I had a series of “fake aunts and uncles”. Family friends who filled the gap. One set lived in Buxton, and school holidays would often see us driving over to visit them. We’d head over the hills and moors from our home on the edge of Greater Manchester. And every drive would take us through Broadbottom.

I don’t know why we always went that way. It wasn’t the most direct route. But it was my parent’s preferred one, so that was what we did.

Broadbottom was a contrast to the 1970s housing estate I grew up on. Next to the border with Derbyshire, it seemed to consist of little more than terrace houses. It looked nice. It seemed cosy. It felt like a village where everyone would know everyone.

The village of Broadbottom.

I still like Broadbottom. Whilst we never considered it seriously, it was lurking in the back of my mind as somewhere to live when we moved north from London. It has a cracking pub. There’s a railway station to whizz you off to Manchester. There’s a lovely independent garden centre that has an excellent farm shop and restaurant. And the children’s play area has a giant musical instrument with large planks set out like a keyboard. Step on one and it makes a hooting noise. Step on the next one and the hooting is in a slightly different key.

Broadbottom has its flaws. Traffic being one of them. It’s not that far from the M67, and the whole area gets clogged up as motorway traffic goes from three lanes to one. Broadbottom’s main road is now lined with speed bumps, making any drive through it a very bouncy one. I don’t know if my parents still drive to Buxton this way. But I wouldn’t.

Still, it’s a lovely place, and one I am always more than happy to visit. Which is handy given the GM Ringway Section 8 starts there.

Looking out from the path towards the Peak District and Glossop.

Broadbottom sits on the side of a hill. So the GM Ringway inevitably leaves the village by going up. Up a rutted track known as Hague Road that leads to farms and an old manor house. Broadbottom was once dominated by mills. The terrace houses near the main road where, presumably, those occupied by the mill workers. And if the workers lived down there, surely the managers and the owners lived in prime locations like. More space, views across the valley and quite literally the ability to look down on their workers.

Hague Road led to Little Hague, a cluster of farm buildings and old cottages. Here the lane ended at a sizeable metal gate locked shut. It looked like the kind of security you’d put round an industrial estate. Definitely what you would put there if you wanted to keep people out. Not that they could stop everyone. The lane may end for motorists but beyond the gate is still a public footpath. Walkers may, however, be a trifle puzzled on arrival. How do they get through? What they need to do is be observant. If they’re not, they’ll miss the small white, broken footpath sign lying on the ground near the foot of the gate. It points to a narrow pedestrian gate, hidden by overgrowing bushes. A sign may warn you that CCTV is in operation, but don’t worry. You’re in your rights.

No, seriously, there is a footpath there.

Going through it led to nothing more sinister than some farms. And then another metal gate, this one a bit smaller, and a field with a corker of a view towards the Peak District. Perhaps I am biased by living nearby, but it was hard to imagine how the western side of the GM Ringway could ever compete with days like this.

The A57 through Mottram is no doubt what my parents were trying to avoid by driving through Broadbottom. I understand why. It’s horrendous. Four lanes of traffic flow in through here. The road connects with the M67 to the west, with two key cross-Pennine routes. And in Mottram there’s parts where all the traffic has to merge down into a single carriageway. Some of the most congested pieces of road in the country are round here. HGVs thunder along. Traffic jams are frequent. Delays plentiful. And then there’s the noise.

The road’s lined with houses. Yes, people do live here. For decades residents have been crying out for a bypass to take the through traffic away. The campaign started in 1971. That’s six years before I was born. And they’re still waiting.

Four lanes of the A57 to cross in Hollingworth.

For the GM Ringway walker, the A57 creates a challenge. There’s four lanes of traffic to cross, and next to no pedestrian facilities. Locals wanting to get to see their neighbour on the other side of the road need to take their life in their hands. There are traffic islands in the middle, but that assumes you can get there. And that’s easier said than done. There is little letup. The traffic keeps on coming. It took me several minutes until there was a gap big enough for me to safely cross. I say safely. It was more run and hope for the best.

Having made it in one piece, I followed the GM Ringway up Coach Lane, and towards the moors. It would take a while to get there though. First were the farms, lined up along the road. Well I’d assumed they were farms when I had looked at the map. On the ground it was unclear how much farming went on up there. At Hardtimes Farm metal sheds had now been given over to an enterprise supplying “barn dried logs”. Cage after cage after metal cage stood stacked up, each full of wood. Further along the lane, stone built barns and stable blocks had been converted into housing. Farming seemed to be of far less importance.

Hidden houses in the back of Mottram.

Slowly but surely the lane became a track. The track became a path. The grass went from a luscious The lane became a track. The track became a path. The grass went from a luscious bright green, to a muted, faded yellow. I was near the edge of one of the UK’s larger urban conurbations, and about to walk over heather moorland. If it hadn’t been for the distant rumble of traffic on the A57, it would have felt like I was in the middle of nowhere. As I got further away from the road, and the noise began to fade, it feel even more so.

Soon the only sounds were sheep baaing in the distance; a response to a farmer and his shrill whistles to his sheepdog. And then, every so often, the garbling sound of a red grouse flying off, upset to be sharing their small section of the moors with a human being.

Moorland path.

Behind me, the views of the hills and towns nestling of Glossop and Hadfield, nestling on the edge of the Peak District, also began to disappear as the route led continued uphill.

I was heading to Chew Reservoir, a spot I’d thought may be useful as a lunch stop. But it felt like it was taking forever to cover the few miles to get there. To begin with, the moorland path had been dry and provided easy walking. But as I got further on, the path was getting progressively narrower and boggier. My speed began to slow, as the land became more and more of a morass.

Squelching on the boggy moorlands surrounding Greater Manchester.

Poor conditions underfoot meant huge detours from the route. Had it not been for a series of cairns, then wooden stakes hammered into the ground, it would have been easy to get completely lost. The lack of any sight of the reservoir I was supposedly heading towards, didn’t help my confidence levels. This was quite unlike any previous part of the GM Ringway. A sharp contrast to earlier stretches wandering round parkland and fields. A testament to the sheer variety of walking available in the area around the city of Manchester.

After what felt like an age, I finally got a glimpse of Chew Reservoir. I did a small dance of celebration, and then another as I found myself back on the firmer ground of a well made path. Even better, there were dry spaces I could sit down on and rest for a bit.

A glimpse of Dovestone Reservoir, on the GM Ringway.

My lunch break long overdue, I perched on a large rock, munched a sandwich and then set off towards the reservoir again. It sits on the hill, feeding water into the Dovestone reservoir in the valley.

Whilst created to provide drinking water to local towns, the reservoirs also provide recreational activities. The areas around them are like magnets for walkers. At a weekend the local car park can be so full that people resort to parking on the road, blithely ignoring the double yellow lines. Even on a gloomy Friday in January, there were many people on the lane connecting the two reservoirs. Fewer people head up to Chew Reservoir, but many more do the circuit of its larger neighbour.

Chew Reservoir.

Perhaps aware of its popularity, the GM Ringway takes a detour on quieter route. It avoids Dovestones itself, joining instead the Oldham Way as it heads to the village of Greenfield. As it did, the dramatic, rocky moorland scenery faded away. Instead GM Ringway contented itself with wandering through Chew Piece Plantation, a patch woodland that looked almost mystic and magical. If trees walked and talked, they’d end up here.

I wondered if JRR Tolkein had ever been here. Whether the Ents of the Lord of the Rings, the talking trees that reside in Middle Earth, were inspired by this one small patch of woodland, seems unlikely. But it felt like the kind of place Tolkein had in mind. you never know.

Greenfield’s enchanted woodland. Ents can be found here.

Another plantation followed. This second more like commercial forestry. All trees lined up in a rigid and regimented formation. Where birds tweeted and leaves rustled in Chew Piece, this unnamed mini-forest felt rather lifeless. Silent and still.

And then I was at the edge of Greenfield, one of a cluster of villages that make up the Saddleworth area. I wandered along through a housing estate, then alongside a stretch of river, then some canal. Crossing a busy stretch of road led me to the only railway station in the area, and so the only place GM Ringway Stage 9 could consider ending.

Soon a sleek silver train whisked me back to Manchester and then another for home. It seemed rather curious. Strangely wrong. To have been so remote and isolated yet to so easily slip back into the normal world. As the train pulled out the station, I wasn’t entirely sure I was ready for it yet.

A quick stretch on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal in Greenfield.

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