GM Ringway Stage 7: Marple to Broadbottom

Published 29 May 2022

300 yards to Apple Street on 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. In September 2021 I set off from my home in Marple and headed to the lovely village of Broadbottom. Along the way there was industrial history, yet another corker of a viewpoint, and a secret nuclear bunker.

There are lots of smaller walking routes around Greater Manchester. One or two day walks exploring beauty spots and visiting local landmarks. It was inevitable that at some point, the GM Ringway would encounter them, and – at times – share their route.

The GM Ringway’s journey between Marple and Broadbottom is one such example. It follows a good chunk of the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way, a 15mile/25km walking trail between Stockport and the Longendale Valley. It’s named for the Rivers Etherow and Goyt. The Etherow joins with the Goyt, which later merges with the Tame to become the Mersey. Do keep up, I’ll be asking questions later.

I’d walked the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way some years earlier. And whilst the GM Ringway has a couple of subtle deviations from the route, I knew all the paths well. The thought occurred to me that I could tick off the section without actually walking it, as I’d already done it all. That – instead of writing this now – I could write it all up from memory and illustrate it with old photographs.

That, of course, would be cheating. Besides, it was a nice walk. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend a Friday in September than walking its eight miles. Well okay, I could. But I was going to walk it anyway.

A nice walk along the Peak Forest Canal, past lock 8 in Marple, to start the day.

Those who can cast their minds back to section 6 of the GM Ringway will remember that it ends walking the Peak Forest Canal in Marple town centre. And that the canal in Marple features sixteen locks.

Stage 6 ends at Station Road next to lock 9. It can be a particularly tricky lock. If you don’t use all the locks properly, lock 9 can end up overspilling and start flooding the road. I’d seen it do that. The water overspilled the side of the canal, and went gushing down the road in a big hurry. It continued to do so until a local resident rushed out with one of those big metal handles for opening and closing locks, and started resetting the thing.

A few years later, I walked past the same lock and noticed the water level was especially high. Within a few centimetres of the side of the path. It looked like a repeat performance was due. A canal barge was heading towards it so I politely told the person on the barge approaching of the situation. For my pains, I got a withering look back, as if to say “what the hell do you know, land boy?” I’d like to tell you his barge later got stuck and upended, and all his belongings soaked. But I didn’t bother hanging around. Well, what would I know?

On the other side of the road is where Stage 7 picks up the baton; the towpath leading to locks 1 to 8. None of which I’ve ever seen flooding, but which do have a lovely towpath next to the town’s large wooded park. And near lock two is the bollard I fell onto when I tripped in 2016, cracking my ribs. It was one hell of a day. About half an hour earlier I managed to crunch my car against a truck in the car park. That evening a drunken idiot vandalised all the cars on the street, including mine. He ripped off the wing mirror, and then sat in the road waiting to be arrested.

Ah, fond memories.

Marple has the highest brick built aqueduct in England. The railway viaduct is in the background.

Near the last lock – or to be accurate, the first – stands Marple Aqueduct. Built in 1800 it’s the highest canal aqueduct in England, and the tallest brick aqueduct in Britain. I know what you’re wondering. And the answer is the highest canal aqueduct in Britain is Pontcysyllte Aqueduct in North West Wales. Marple’s is 30m high, and it’s Welsh counterpart 8m higher. Pontcysyllte Aqueduct is also the highest in the world, the longest in Britain, and is made of sandstone.

But I wasn’t in Wales. I was in Marple, England. And it was time to leave the canal, join the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way, and to walk underneath this mighty structure.

I’ve done it several times. The path goes right under the aqueduct, as well as a neighbouring railway viaduct. Both are impressive in themselves. Together they form an amazing sight. One of those marvels that shows how humankind has tamed our landscape. Need to move canal barges and trains over a valley? Fine. We’ll build massive dock-off bridges. Sorted.

Going under the aqueduct and the railway viaduct.

I love the literalness of some place and building names. Here I was walking through the grounds of Upper Watermeetings Farm after all. It tells you two things. Firstly that it’s higher than the nearby Lower Watermeetings Farm. Secondly, nearby there’s a meeting of water. The confluence of the Rivers Goyt and the Etherow. The confluence isn’t viewable from the GM Ringway. But you can hear the water gushing along as you walk along the wooded path into the village of Compstall.

Ah, Compstall. These days a quiet place. But like many towns and villages in the area, mills had once dominated here.

Demolition of old mills in Compstall.

Not so much now. The few remaining mill buildings are mostly being cleared for housing. The businesses that recently occupied them, relocated elsewhere. The demolition crew were busy on the old mill site next to the path as I walked by; scores of metal girders and bricks piled up to be taken away.

At Compstall the trail entered Etherow Country Park where the GM Ringway took a short detour from the route of the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way.

Once a millpond, now a country park. Indeed Etherow Country Park is one of the first country parks in the country.

One of the first country parks in the country, Etherow’s most noticeable feature are the huge millponds that used to power the nearby mills. There’s three paths. One on the left side of the millponds, one on the right, and a third that goes right up the middle. The Etherow-Goyt Valley Way takes the left path, but the GM Ringway takes the middle. It’s usually filled with men with fishing rods dangling into the water, waiting for a bite. If one ever comes. It’s funny but in all the years of visiting Etherow I’ve never actually seen anyone catch a fish.

Being near to where I grew up, Etherow’s a place I’ve been many times. I know its paths well. Could almost do them blindfolded. I knew exactly where I was heading. At the end of all the paths stands a a stepped weir that always marked the end of our childhood walks; the water crashing loudly down it. As a child it looked huge. Less so now, but it’s still a sight and a half.

The weir in Etherow Country Park, on the GM Ringway.

When I’d walked the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way it had been April. The woodlands at the back of Etherow Park had been filled with bluebells. I always meant to come back in April time. But this was September, and it was trying to rain. Oh well, I thought, and huddled in a handy wooden shelter until it passed.

Near the shelter was the junction where the GM Ringway left the country park on a side path towards the hill of Wernerth Low. The path started with a reassuring sign. No, hang on. The other thing. Not reassuring.

Danger on the GM Ringway.


A torn piece of plastic tape fluttered in the breeze. Why was it torn? Was it redundant after repair work? I had no idea. What I did know was that there was no real alternative path I could take. Any diversion would add another couple of miles and be a huge detour. I decided to risk it and found a huge hole in the path half way along. Danger? I wasn’t sure about that. A nuisance, maybe. But then a sign saying “A NUISANCE. FOOTPATH DAMAGED!” would likely to have less of an impact.

I made it across the hole relatively unscathed and along a number of quiet lanes connecting houses and farms on the hillside.

Looking towards Marple from the side of Werneth Low.

On Werneth Low, the GM Ringway diverges from the Etherow-Goyt Valley Way once again. The latter potters around on southern side of the hill, enjoying views towards the Pennines. Instead the GM Ringway heads off towards a car park. For good reason it must be said. But before I tell you about that, I needed to check out the remains of something that dated back to the cold war.

A few months earlier I’d been perusing OpenStreetMap. If you’re not aware of OpenStreetMap, it’s map website like Google Maps. But instead of all the maps being created and owned by a private company, the maps are compiled by volunteers.

For reasons I forget, I was looking at Werneth Low on the map. Specifically the Hare and Hounds pub that sits on top of the hill and that has been attracting diners and drinkers who like a view for decades.

How many times have I been in this pub? Well not today for it was a little too early.

As I looked, something stood out. A label for a structure on the edge of the pub’s car park.


Well I’ve been to the Hare and Hounds many times in my life as a child and an adult. I couldn’t even begin to count how many times. And I had never noticed a Cold War Bunker. Although the pub’s not on the GM Ringway route, it was only a short stroll away. I decided to go and check it out. And what I found was a small concrete rectangle, with a rusting metal lid on top.

This was the above ground remains of Hyde ROC Monitoring Post.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, 1,563 such facilities were built across the country. A 3m deep hole was dug for each, and an underground bunker built, lined with thick concrete walls. Each could house three volunteers from the Royal Observer Corps whose role was to detect and report data relating to a nuclear attack.

Secret cold war bunker on Werneth Low.

Hyde’s bunker was opened in 1962. It lasted a whole six years until a reorganisation that saw about half the monitoring posts. Needless to say, it never detected any nuclear attack data, and it was sealed up and mostly forgotten.

Externally it didn’t look much. Most wouldn’t even notice it. But it was a bit of history. A time capsule looking back to another time. And now I’d seen it, I headed back to the car park, and back to the GM Ringway.

When it comes to walking the top of Werneth Low, there’s a route that’s rather traditional. Perhaps, dare we call it, the “classic” walk? The definitive Werneth Low walk experience. I know because I’ve done it many, many times over my life; the result of growing up in the town of Hyde that Werneth Low towers over. If you can describe a hill that’s 279m above sea level as towering over anything.

The Cenotaph, Werneth Low – made from the Cornish Granite from the same quarries that provided the Cenotaph in London.

It starts at the car park in an old quarry near the summit of the hill. Not that the walk goes to the summit. The summit is a boring place on the road, next to some radio transmitters. No, the path goes to the Cenotaph, Hyde’s war memorial that stands on the hillside at a point that provides a stunning view of the area, and much beyond it. On a good day you can see the mountain tops of north Wales. Squint and you may be able to see the sea.

Then the walk continues to Windy Harbour, for many years home to a tea room and then later a pub and restaurant. It too offers stunning views. The AA thought so because in the 1980s they installed a metal plaque here pointing out what you can see. It sits there, rather forlornly now. In the 1990s the Harbour Lights pub closed its doors, and the buildings later razed to the ground. Now all you can see are the remnants of the car park, a few old lampposts, and a set of steps that once led up to the main door. Oh and that metal sign, standing quietly, almost forgotten.

An old viewpoint sign at Windy Harbour.

I headed down the side of Werneth Low and crossed Apple Street. Then the GM Ringway headed into some woods and, near Botham’s Hall, joined a track alongside the River Etherow. Near a cluster of houses going under the name of Hodgefold, the GM Ringway joined a lane as it approached the village of Broadbottom.

Like Compstall, it’s now a quiet village, but was once a hive of industry. The mills are mostly gone now, but if you know where to look, you can see remnants of them. Remnants like the old dye vats that stand next to the lane where cotton was once bleached.

In the trees at Leylands Lane.

Officially the GM Ringway Stage 7 is now almost over. All you need do is head up to Broadbottom railway station and wait for a train to whisk you back to Manchester. I, on the other hand, planned to catch an irregular bus service from a nearby village. It would get me home quicker. This meant I could carry on a little further through the Broad Mills Heritage Area where the huge Broad Mills stood. Thousands of people worked here until they closed in 1934. The buildings burned down in 1939 and now the area is grass, trees, and the remains of walls. Oh and a pond full of ducks.

It seemed an appropriate ending. Whilst Werneth Low had all been about the views, much of the rest of stage 7 of the GM Ringway had focused on industrial heritage. The 19th century nickname for the city of Manchester was Cottonopolis. It’s a portmanteau. The city was a metropolis. And it was the centre for the cotton industry in the 18th century.

Hodge Lane dye vats at Broadbottom – once used for dying cloth.

It was an industry that spread out into the neighbouring towns. The canals in Marple had been built to transport goods to and from the mills. Etherow Park sat on the site of a huge cotton mill. And now Broadbottom where once thousands of people worked.

How different it all once was to what is now. Industrials sites have given way to leisure. Goods don’t get transported on the Peak Forest Canal. It’s humans on narrowboats, walkers and cyclists on the towpath. The millponds of Compstall Mills are now where people walk around with their dogs. And the dye vats of Broadbottom… Well, they sit there doing not very much, truth be told. But people walk past them, some aware of the manufacturing heritage of the area. Many others not. Even Werneth Low kind of got into the act, with its quarry-cum-car park.

How did a cold war bunker fit in with the industrial story the GM Ringway had told, that I wasn’t sure. On the other hand, the bunker hadn’t actually been on the route, so that was all right. Not that it had mattered. What mattered was that I’d had a good walk. On that front, things had all ended rather well.

The war memorial at Broadbottom.

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