GM Ringway Stage 3: East Didsbury to Bramhall

Published 27 June 2021

Into the Ladybrook Valley goes 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. And handily I do… Having done stages 1 and 2 some months early, and had a bit of an enforced break, I was finally back for the third stage.

The last time I’d been at East Didsbury felt like another lifetime. Ten months earlier, if you’d said “furlough” or “social distancing” to me, I would have scrunched up my eyes and stared at you in confusion. The idea that I’d go for nearly a year without seeing my friends in person, was laughable. Yet that was what had happened. I’d met one friend one night, in a pub in Crewe. And that had been it.

But even when the world is turned upside down by a global pandemic, some things don’t change. Covid-19 or not, an underpasses near a school will definitely feature two teenage schoolboys playing truant. Oh and the tunnel will still have a smell linked to a certain kind of illegal substance.

Going under the road. Just me, that man, and two teenage boys in school uniform lurking suspiciously.

I hurried through it as fast as I could. Especially as I’d taken a photograph of the tunnel. I didn’t want two stroppy teenage lads to question why I had taken the photograph. I didn’t think the truth would be believed.

“Well I liked the composition of seeing you in the shadow in the distance. Looked rather artistic. Want it for my website. It’s about walking trails you know!”

Yeah, best put head down, push on past them. Get on my way. Leave East Didsbury as quick as I could, before anything happened. Before I was noticed. So I strode purposefully through a housing estate, past the high school playing fields, and then onto the path alongside the River Mersey.

No ferries crossing this bit of the Mersey.

Ah yes, the Mersey. But that waterway that had dominated my first day on the GM Ringway was to play only a bit part in this section. A few minutes later I was leaving it behind, and soon walking along the edge of a cemetery instead. Always a cheery sight for the eyes. And if that wasn’t a highlight, the path then went alongside the M60 motorway for a bit for good measure. Later I discovered that the most recent version of the trail bypasses both of them. It takes a more direct route to Cheadle village centre.

I was beginning to worry that the whole day would be like this. I wasn’t particularly sure I could take it. But the map suggested things would soon be better. And it would, a little way beyond the shops and cafes of Cheadle.

Most of stage 3 of the Ringway follows a brook. It’s a brook that changes its name a few times. Near its confluence with the Mersey, it’s known as Micker Brook. At its source it’s Bollinghurst Brook. For a bit it becomes Norbury Brook. But for a good chunk of it, it’s known as Lady Brook, and the valley it flows through, as the Ladybrook Valley. There’s a walking trail, the Ladybrook Valley Interest Trail, that runs for 15 miles from source to the end. And it was this that the Ringway Stage 3 would spend most of its time following.

Much of stage 3 and stage 4 of the GM Ringway features this waterway.

I met with Micker Brook in a patch of woodland, sandwiched between housing estates. A chunk of woodland oasis, in an urban jungle. One that follows the brook throughout much of its journey. There were times you’d hardly know you were on the edge of a major conurbation. It was peaceful and quiet. Me, the birds, and scores of dog walkers. At least until the path (and brook) met a main road and I was thrust back into civilisation again for a brief period. For once the road was crossed I was back in the trees and woodland.

There was a leisure centre. A golf course. And more trees. And then the path headed through an old mill, now converted into a home for small businesses.

A forlorn sign implored me to vote for Zahid Chauhan, the Labour candidate in a general election. The election had been eleven months earlier; the sign still in situ. The smiling photograph of the candidate hadn’t done its job. Zahid had come in a distant third, scraping only 12% of the vote. It’s possible that in the crushing disappointment of this, was the reason his campaign team had neglected to remove this particular poster. It just hurt too much. Either that or they were banking on another election happening on the same date in the future, so they could re-use it. Good luck with that dudes.

And still, the Brook flowed on, providing a green corridor between the houses. A piece of calm and tranquillity snuggled in amongst the suburban housing estates.

Now that’s a muddy field.

As I got closer to the town of Bramhall, the amount of greenery increased further. Playing fields were added – empty of this gloomy Friday morning. And after I passed under a substantial railway viaduct, I found myself in proper – and very muddy – fields.

I’d expected some of the brown stuff to slow me down. But perhaps not as much as the quagmire that impeded my progress. This was a patch of pure mud. No chance of escaping it. Every patch of dry ground had long done. You could so nothing to avoid running the risk of slipping and finding yourself coated in the stuff.

The end of November is arguably never the best time for good walking conditions. But I confess I’d hoped for a little better than this. The good news though was that better times were round the corner.

The duck ponds offer a rather a nice spot in Bramall Park.

Now as I mentioned, Micker Brook turned into Lady Brook. Why there was a name change, was unclear. I could see no rhyme nor reason for it. But when does Micker Brook turn into Lady Brook? According to OpenStreetmap, it was somewhere near that railway viaduct. The good people of the Ordnance Survey disagree. According to their Landranger map, the first point they declare Lady Brook to be is near the duckponds of Bramhall Park. Or, given I was walking against the flow of the water, should that be the last point?

Bramhall Park seemed a fitting point for the name change to happen. It’s a large park, all based around the Tudor era manor house of Bramall Hall (and in case you are wondering, yes it is spelt without a ‘h’.)

There’s been a manor here since the Anglo-Saxon era. At least. We know this because of William the Conqueror’s Harrying of the North. This (successful) attempt to subjugate the north of England, led to the destruction of the Saxon era building.

As usually happened, the land passed to one of William’s mates. In this case, the Davenport family who became significant landowners in the years after. It was that family that started building the current hall back in the 14th century. Extensions and additions followed in the 16th and 19th centuries. The result of all that is the hall that remains today: a grand timber framed building, decorated with black and white painted timber.

The Davenports sold the hall and its land in 1877. After a succession of owners in 1935 it ended up in the hands of Hazel Grove and Bramhall Urban District Council. The plan was to open the hall and the grounds to the public. And that’s exactly what happened. Now it’s owned by Stockport Council; considered the Crown Jewels of the council’s heritage portfolio.

Bramall Hall and a bench – the end of GM Ringway Stage 3. Especially the bench.

I’d often thought I should visit. A 14th century manor house not far from my house? Who wouldn’t? Especially as it had recently undergone a major restoration project. But I’d never got round to it, and this wasn’t to be the day either. For starters I could hardly go in coated with mud. But more pressing was that the country was still in its second national Covid-19 lockdown. The Hall’s doors were closed and bolted.

So I made do by sitting on a highly uncomfortable bench that overlooked the this mighty building. As I ate my sandwich I contemplated the next stage of the GM Ringway. As well as being where Lady Brook changed to Micker Brook, this was also where Stage 3 of the GM Ringway ended. Although I still had plenty of walking ahead of me before the day was done.

Note: in January 2023, this stage of the GM Ringway was re-routed to start at Didsbury Village tram stop, rather than East Didsbury.

Next time: all along the Lady Brook and other brookings, as the GM Ringway travels on to Middlewood.

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