GM Ringway Stage 10: Newhey to Littleborough

Published 2 July 2023

A white painted trig point stands on a large boulder on Blackstone Edge
The trig point on Blackstone Edge – on the stage 10 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. I starting walking it in January 2020 with the intent of doing it in 12 or 18 months. And I’ve been going on at rather a slow speed ever since. Still, two and a half years in and after stage 9 went a bit haywire, I returned to Newhey to try and get back on track.

I didn’t look at the map of the tenth stage of the GM Ringway before doing my Denshaw loop. Had I done, I would have spotted that the next stage of the GM Ringway went round Ogden Reservoir. The same reservoir that I’d walked round a few weeks earlier.

It was a bit of a lack of foresight. Still, at least last time I’d walked on the southern side, and this time I’d be on the northern. So that’s something.

And hey, the church bells were peeling as I alighted the tram in Newhey. They were, of course, ringing only to welcome me, and not for any other reason. Like it being Sunday morning or anything. I couldn’t help but wonder how they knew I was coming back. But it was nice of them all the same.

Shops and houses line a roadside in Newhey.
Newhey High Street – the start of stage 10 on the GM Ringway.

Section ten of the GM Ringway goes from Newhey to Littleborough, a town north east of Rochdale. It’s another of those GM Ringway sections that’s far from direct. You can walk between the two in four miles. But then that would see you spend most of your time walking through fields and down roads. This is why the GM Ringway takes a little over eleven miles. It wants you to see something.

What it wants you to see starts in the Piethorne Valley, to the east of Newhey village. There you’ll find all those reservoirs I’d seen before. Don’t screw up section 9 and you won’t have the same problem.

Back to the bleach works I went, past the small graveyard, and up to the tiny car park near the base of Ogden Reservoir. It’s a popular little spot for walkers, who were all out and about. Also it has a toilet block. As someone who had spent two hours on buses and trams, this was something I was looking forward to.

A reservoir near Newhey.
Ogden Reservoir

The sign on the door had other ideas.

“Closed due to repeated vandalism.”

Good work everyone. Thanks very much.

Very much unrelieved, I waddled back to the path, over the Ogden Reservoir dam and up to bridleway full of eager cyclists and horse rides. It was a rather lovely route, far preferable to what I’d done last time. For good measure, the sun was out. Even the bleach works managed to look like an enticing location in the bright light. A perfect autumnal day seemed to be on the cards.

A view of Kitcliffe Reservoir, from a fenced off Bridleway.
Kitcliffe Reservoir

After initially staying away from the water, the path came down to the edge of Piethorne Reservoir. Here it forked. One track went over the dam, allowing people to head back towards the car park. The other carried on along the northern shore of the reservoir. It was the latter than the GM Ringway followed.

There was only one problem. Another sign. One that said “No public access. Fishing members only.”

Well this was a conundrum. There was a path to follow. And it where the GM Ringway wanted me to go. But a sign said no.

I hung around, wondering what to do. I could go over the dam and up round the other side, but it would take longer. I could follow the route, but the sign…

Sign on gate saying 'No public access'
A clear sign that this path ain’t to be used, yet everyone seems to use it.

In the end I decided, sod it. And went into the forbidden land. It was a decision made when I saw a man and his dog come through the gate. Neither of them had any finishing equipment.

I walked through the gate, wondering quite why this was restricted turf. And whether I’d be accosted by some patrol from the water company or the fishing club to demand why I was there. What I got instead was several groups all walking in the other direction. Not one was holding a fishing rod or wearing a pair of waders either. The level of respect for the signs was not high.

Even so it was a bit of relief that I got to the end of the forbidden zone and back onto a declared public footpath.

A fell runner heads up the path between Binns Pasture (right) and Turf Hill (left)
A fellrunner runs between tumbledown walls on the GM Ringway.

I was once again heading towards the Pennine Way. The GM Ringway seemed to have a bit of a thing about joining up with it for a few miles, then heading off again. Not that I was complaining. You might as well include the grandfather of all walking trails if you can.

And I was going to join up near one of the most iconic structures on the whole of that trail. But more on that later.

First I needed to get there; a task undertaken by following a stony track along along the moors, along Windy Hill. Or perhaps Windy Hills. The Ordnance Survey map was unclear. It offered two neighbouring points both named Windy Hill, and to the south of them had another label for Windy Hills for good measure.

A burnt out car on Windy Hill, with Holme Moss Transmitting Station viewable in the distance.
Remote moorland, check! Burnt out vehicle, check!

Up ahead stood the giant Windy Hill transmitting station – now apparently used for mobile phone signals. Probably a good mobile signal to be had, although phone calls would struggle with the thundering noise of traffic crossing the Pennines.

And there were other noises too. That of off-road motorbikes, who thundered down the lane I was walking up, at regular intervals. I’d say they were destroying the peace, but you know, M62 nearby. Although, the noise of the motorway was more of a constant drone, and the bikes were stop start, so were far more disruptive.

The closer I got to the transmitter, the more litter there seemed to be. That and parked up vans, presumably used by bike owners to transport themselves and their vehicles to this remote spot. There was even a burnt out off road vehicle. I mean, we may be in wild moorland, but that’s not to say we couldn’t enjoy the site of burnt out metal!

The Pennine Way footbridge over the M62 motorway
The Pennine Way footbridge over the M62 motorway

Finally though, I was close to the Pennine Way. And now I could walk over that most famous of structures. The Pennine Way M62 footbridge.

If you’ve ever driven along the M62, you may have noticed it. It’s quite a bridge seen from the road. A narrow, arch supports the bridge deck that takes walkers over the motorway in safety. It’s quite unlike most motorway bridges. It doesn’t look functional. It looks artistic. Graceful. You could almost call it peaceful and tranquil were it not for the fact that one of Britain’s busiest motorways runs underneath. Of course the best view of it is from the road. But I wasn’t going to stand on the hard shoulder to photograph it.

The bridge crosses the M62 a short distance from the motorway’s highest point. At 372m above sea-level, the M62 is the highest motorway in the UK. You can see the highest spot from the bridge as you cross. It’s quite easy thanks to someone having had the foresight to build a junction on the very place. Junction 22. It has slip roads and everything. Now that’s forward planning by someone.

Impressive and interesting rock formations on Blackstone Edge
Blackstone Edge’s rock formations

I crossed the bridge, reached the other side, and headed along the Pennine Way to Blackstone Edge. This grit stone escarpment is full of large rocks and boulders, interspersed with dark pools of peaty water. When I’d first walked it in May 2008, it had been a wet and dreary day, making the rocks slippery. The whole area had felt dark and oppressive. It hadn’t done the area any justice at all.

Fifteen years later, everything looked far better in the sunshine. I could admire the view off into the distance and everything. And I did just that.

A weathered stone pillar known as the Aigin Stone
The Aigin Stone – on this spot for hundreds of years.

The Aiggin Stone looks like a random grit stone pillar. Nothing special. Although that’s not why I almost missed it. It’s easy to miss it as – from the direction I was walking from – it’s hidden behind a huge cairn. Only if you spot the nearby stone plaque marking the stone, would you even known it’s there. And that would be a shame as it’s over 600 years old. It used to be over two metres in height, although now it’s a little over half that.

But there’s even greater history there as it’s next to the stone that the Pennine Way meets an old Roman road. A “road” that I now needed to follow to the town of Littleborough.

I picked my way off the moors, heading towards a road and then a series of small lanes as rain began to fall. Littleborough railway station – the end of the day’s walk – was but half a kilometre away, but the GM Ringway wasn’t heading there yet. Oh no. It wanted me to walk through a golf course. It is compulsory for all long distance walking trails to traverse at least one golf course.

Hollingworth Lake and the path round its edge.
Reservoir, country park, tourist resort!

Why do this? Why, to take walkers to Hollingworth Lake.

The Lake’s actually a 53 hectare reservoir, built in 1800 to feed the Rochdale Canal. But over time it gained an additional role as tourist attraction.

Amusements were installed, and boating facilities added. Visitors could row boats on the water, or board a paddle steamer. A rowing club opened, and a regatta was even held in 1862. Hotels catered for weekend visitors, and day trippers arrived onboard newly built railway lines.

You could have your fortune told. See a magician. Gasp in wonder at the camera obscura. Huge crowds would gather and, despite the cold water, many enjoyed open water swimming.

Ice Cream Parlour, Milkshake Bar and a Fish n Chips Emporium at Hollingworth Lake
Fish and Chips, Ice Cream and Milkshakes – all you need at Hollingworth Lake.

Of course it couldn’t last. Early in the 20th century, the resort went into decline as longer distance travel became easier. But it continues to have a resort-esque feel. You may be forbidden to swim in the Lake’s water now, but you can get fish and chips and ice cream. There’s amusement arcades and cafes. Everything you’d expect from some sort of seaside resort, all at a reservoir near Rochdale.

I wasn’t seeing it at its best. The earlier sunshine and blue skies had, by now, been replaced by cloud and rain. A few boats pottered around the lake, but there were few takers for the fish and chip shop. Everyone had retreated indoors. But it didn’t feel right to pass through this place of revelry, without giving myself a little treat. It was, a tad too cold for a celebratory ice cream. However the cafe attached to the amusement arcade offered a wide range of excellent looking homemade cakes. They all looked delicious and I could have gorged on any of them. But I restricted myself to one, stashing a brownie into my rucksack to enjoy on the way home.

Rochdale Canal near Littleborough
Approaching Littleborough on the Rochdale Canal.

It wasn’t long before I wished I’d eaten in the cafe. There’d been enough seats, after all. The heavens really opened as I picked my way along a farm track to the Rochdale canal that would take me to Littleborough station.

Head down to keep the rain out of my eyes, I trudged down the canal and then to the train station where it turned out I was only minutes away from a ride home.

It had been a slightly lacklustre ending to what had been an interesting and varied day. Reservoirs, moors, a motorway, another reservoir and, of course, a canal. The GM Ringway was definitely a walk for someone who liked a bit of a variety, and no mistake.

Oh and the cake was very nice as well.

A very wet main road right with cars driving down it, near Littleborough railway station.
Arriving into Littleborough as the heavens really open.


Vic Flange

2 July 2023 at 10:32 am

Thanks for the write-up. Quite evocative, especially the interleaved references to the changeable autumn weather.

Note that Piethorne Valley is east of Newhey. You’re not alone: I always have to explicitly think it through as I invariably get east/west mixed up (but not north/south) in spite of being able to visualise the map. The wrong word just comes out. :-(

Did you really mean Holme Moss transmitter? The one adjacent to junction 22 is Windy Hill transmitter, though I’m sure Holme Moss is visible being about 8 miles south-east of J22.

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

3 July 2023 at 10:13 am

Thanks Vic – I did indeed mean Windy Hill. Always get those two mixed up. I suspect my confusion with the Piethorne Valley came about because I was felt like I should be walking west!

Have your say