GM Ringway Stage 9: Greenfield to Newhey

Published 17 July 2022

The Huddersfield Canal heads under the Uppermill Viaduct, near the start of Stage 9 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. By February 2022 I’d made it roughly a third of the way round for a day that would include Pennine Moorland, lots of snow, and a bit of a calamity…

A short walk along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal from Greenfield, sits the village of Uppermill. It would be, perhaps, lazy to describe it as picturesque. But it’s an attractive looking place full of nice looking pubs, restaurants, and shops. The canal runs through the village centre, alongside the River Tame. It’s a place I have fond memories of. Of the small museum that I visited with my grandad when I was a child. And years later, of standing on the high street with friends, beer in hand, watching the annual Whit Friday brass band contest.

In my mind, Uppermill’s a wonderful place. Although some relatives recently went for a Saturday night out there. They found it all rather too boisterous. And they live in a small city full of students.

Uppermill. A Saddleworth Village.

I wasn’t convinced that going out for a walk the day after Storm Eunice, was the best idea I’ve ever had. Less so when I slipped on ice on the pavement near my house. Still, Greater Manchester had been hit badly by one of the worst storms to hit the country for decades. And I did have a free day to do a walk. And, well, a walk is a walk after all. And now I was following the GM Ringway along the canal, seeing nothing to dissuade me that Uppermill was a lovely place.

A walk on the side of a canal is a nice walk for a slightly bleak February Saturday morning. But there was more to the GM Ringway ahead of me. Once again the moors would be a key part of the day, with a stretch on the Pennine Way. Then it would duck down near the village of Denshaw, before ending at Newhey. It wasn’t the best time of the year to be walking the section, but I was still looking forward to it.

The centre of Dobcross – once full of shops and banks, now mostly houses.

At the northern edge of Uppermill, I left the canal and went up a steep alleyway, to the village of Dobcross. It’s part of Saddleworth, an area of villages including Uppermill and Greenfield. Each village is separate and distinct, but all huddle up together as if for warmth. Like many areas the GM Ringway goes through, it was an area that filled with mills during the Industrial Revolution.

These days you won’t find that much industry in Dobcross. The village centre has a pub and a post office-cum-village shop. But there wasn’t much else.

There were signs that Dobcross was once busier. One house featured a faded sign for the Saddleworth Bank above its front door. Across the road, a rather newer sign declared the building to the ‘The Old Cooperative’. But it was its nearby neighbour that took the crown. A sign in the window declared the building was the ‘Butcher’. It was complemented by an elaborate window display including a statue of a pig. Dobcross was quite a place.

As with its neighbour, the music of Dobcross is undoubtedly tied to the brass band. But for me, Dobcross will be forever linked to the folk song The Last Train to Dobcross Has Gone. Written by Stanley Accrington, it’s a lament to the railway line that closed to passengers pre-Beeching, in 1955. As well as passengers, the line carried coal and materials to the mills. But the decline of the mills saw the line closed. Now everything goes by road, and the railway is but a memory.

In the Saddleworth hills on a crisp autumn day,

A plume of smoke still lingers on.

But I’m dreaming out loud, sure it’s only a cloud

The last train for Dobcross has gone

The Last Train to Dobcross Has Gone, Stanley Accrington

Harrop Edge in the snow

Long Lane in Dobcross isn’t exactly long. It seemed to be over and done within a mile. Still, it took me to Harrop Edge and that was fine by me.

On a good day Harrop Edge will reward you with fine views across Saddleworth and the Pennines. Alas for me, there was little to see but a few houses appearing in the distance, lurking in the gloom. Clouds covered everywhere with their grey blanket, as sleet fell down from the sky.

Only few other souls had ventured out on this less than ideal morning. A pair of fell runners zoomed past me. Some dog walkers too, whose hounds got very excited as I passed by it. Perhaps it was the chocolate brownie I’d picked up at Dobcross.

The A62 Huddersfield Road.

By the time I reached the A62 though, the crowds had gone. Even the road was quiet. A major route connecting Manchester, Oldham and Leeds, it’s normally a busy road. But it’s not the best place to drive in bad weather and the snowy road conditions seemed to be putting people off driving. On the plus side, this meant it was a doddle to cross.

On the other side sat a small hamlet marked on the map as Bleak Hey Nook. A cluster of houses and farms for those wishing to live in wilder surroundings. Although even here, on the fringes of the Pennines, an Asda delivery van was doing the rounds.

Cattleshaw. A cluster of farms and houses, right on the edge of the Pennines

And then it was to Millstone Edge and the moors. For a short time the GM Ringway joins the Grandfather of British long distance walks, the Pennine Way. It was the bit I had been looking forward too. Although now I was up here, I was feeling less convinced. I’d looked at the weather forecast, seen the words ‘sleet showers’ and assumed it would be a day of wet and mud. But the Pennines do things differently.

I should have thought this was possible. If it’s going to snow anywhere round Greater Manchester, it will snow on the moors round here. Still, I’ve walked in snow before, and I’d been here before. And even in the snow, the paths were obvious. All I needed to do was look for the bits where clumps of grass weren’t sticking out. Oh and follow the line of rocks. For this is Millstone Edge, a row of gritstone stones. It’s dramatic looking in normal times, and even more so when the dark rocks are covered in bright white snow.

Standedge moorland escarpment in the Pennine Hills – right on the border between Greater Manchester and West Yorkshire.

The snow was really coming down. Big flakes the size of a 50p coin landed down on me as I walked along the edge. It was a joy to walk on the snow; my boots crunching and scrunching as I put my feet down. Yet it wasn’t cold. There was little wind and the temperatures seemed almost mild. Or maybe it was the fact I had five layers of clothing on on the upper half of my body.

Walking through all this, it felt hard to believe I was walking within the confines of one the UK’s largest urban areas. That the West Yorkshire town of Marsden was only a few miles away. It felt like I was in the middle of nowhere; a feeling amplified by the absence of people. I had all this moorland completely to myself.

The Standedge Trig Point on the GM Ringway, and indeed the Pennine Way.

The GM Ringway’s dalliance with the Pennine Way was brief but wonderful. After a mile it was all over and the GM Ringway now headed west to follow the Oldham Way. Just as the GM Ringway is an orbital trail round the edge of Greater Manchester, so the Oldham Way is a walk round the borders of the Metropolitan Borough of Oldham. Much of the GM Ringway’s route comes by re-using existing walking trails, and the Oldham Way was the latest, and would lead me most of the way to Newhey.

The moorland path carried on over Castleshaw Moor. It should have provided me with a good view towards a Roman fort a few miles away. The grey cloud and snow was having none of that though. Still, there was a easy to follow path. Although not an easy one to walk.

For the most part it was fine. But every now and then I’d put a foot down on the snow and find that underneath was a big patch of slippery mud. My foot would slide off in a weird angle, as I stumbled to keep myself upright. I’d walk a little further and the whole exercise would start all over again. The pure, pristine white snow, became a smooth patch of mud. Mud that would soon be covered up by the ever falling snow, ready to spring its surprise on the next walker.

Cattleshaw Moor – on the way to Denshaw

The more pressing problem was what to do about lunch? My rucksack contained a cheese sandwich, and the aforementioned chocolate brownie (made with Saddleworth cream none-the-less.) Supplies weren’t a problem. What I needed was somewhere to eat them.

Ideal world, there would be some sheltered spot. But on the moors, that wasn’t particularly likely. The next best thing would be a large rock to sit on. None were to be found. Besides, I’d get blasted by the ever increasing snow.

And then, right on the edge of the moors, when the path joined a dirt track named Moor Lane, came the most promising spot for ages. Perhaps, all day.

The gate leading off the moors – also a good spot for lunch on snowy days.

Next to the gate leading onto a lane was a stone wall. And on the ground, a long, rectangular stone of some sort. An old, weathered gatepost or something. It was hard to tell what it once had been, but what is was was a perfect seat and well sheltered. I heaved myself down, my waterproof trousers meaning I had no qualms about sitting on a snow covered stone. When I stood up later, the compacted snow provided the perfect outline of my rear end.

The GM Ringway doesn’t go through the Saddleworth village of Denshaw. Instead it follows – with the Oldham Way – a series of paths to the north of it. On the map it looked straightforward. When Moor End met at a five way junction, all I had to do was pick the second path to the right. Not the first path. That would lead to the wrong end of New Years Bridge Reservoir. No, the second path was what I needed. That would take me to a main road, where I needed to follow until finding a public footpath on the other side of the road. Simple enough.

I arrived at the junction, spotted the first path to the right, ignored it, and took the second. This led me down the lane to Wham Farm and Wham Lane; a popular place with lovers of 80s pop music.

At the end of Wham Lane was a main road. And down to the left, a signed footpath on the other side. Excellent.

Wham Lane in Denshaw

Well not excellent. The path was utterly awful. A car wide track, there were two parallel rows of paved slabs going down hill. These looked treacherous. Water was flowing down them and they looked ridiculously slippy. There was an paved gap between them so I picked that, finding it had its own issues. My foot went through the snow and disappeared without a trace into a deep, very deep, patch of wet mud.

My legs soaked, I reluctantly tried the paved slabs only to immediately slip and fall into the water cascading down them. In a desperate attempt to stave my fall, I put my hands out. My gloves – which had been battling to stay even close to dry in the snow, were as drenched as my feet

Somehow I stumbled to the end of the lane; a short walk that took forever. At the bottom a bridge needed to be crossed. And looking around, everything seemed wrong.

I’d had a niggling feeling something wasn’t quite right ever since I joined that bit of path. But now it was definite. My hazy memory of my map – tucked away in my pocket – was that I only needed to go straight on for some time. But there was no path straight on. The path ended. I could turn left to a big field or right to some houses.

The village of Denshaw – definitely not on the GM Ringway.

Other than that I was near Denshaw, I had no idea where I was. I fumbled in my pocket for the map. It was damp and the ink was beginning to spread. My map consisted of some print outs of the Ordnance Survey’s mapping website. Printed on standard A4 paper, it didn’t stand a chance, especially given I’d forgotten my map case. And the ever falling snow was making it worse everytime it was out of my pocket.

That’s okay, I thought. I have my phone and it has the route on it. A backup.

But my phone had given up. Presumably it had got too wet.

This didn’t bode well for the afternoon.

Trying to keep my map as dry as possible (an almost impossible task), I spotted where I’d gone wrong. The lane I’d walked down from the junction was not the second path from the right but the third. I should have gone north west to walk to the north of Denshaw. I’d gone a mile west and was now at the south of the village.

I was well off route. Picking up from where I’d left the trail would require a major detour. But I could follow the Rochdale Road out of Denshaw, then pick up the trail again a mile outside the village. It would mean missing about two miles of the proper route, but it would be a lot easier. And once back on the GM Ringway/Oldham Way, I should be fine as long as the route was properly signposted. I’d seen a lot of Oldham Way signs since joining it, so there was a chance.

And so I walked through Denshaw village to another five way crossroads, with a pub sat at the junction.

The sensible thing would be to go into the Junction Inn. To order a drink, pull up a chair. To let my phone and my maps dry out. Rest. Warm up. Then, revitalised, head back to the great outdoors.

Which is why I walked right past the pub and on up the Rochdale Road, damp map and non-functioning phone and all. And, obviously, failed to find the turn-off I needed. My map was no use. It was now a soggy, ink splattered mess. There were a few public footpath signs, but nothing for the Oldham Way. I could follow one of the paths but what were the chances of me going the right direction? For good measure, it was getting foggy.

There was nothing for it but to keep on the road. I would miss out a good chunk of the afternoon’s walk, but it would be better than getting lost in cloud. The road would take me to Newhey.

Assuming I was actually on the right road.

Trying to find the GM Ringway, and failing.

Not that I had a way to check.

I began to feel nervous. Was I actually doing something stupid like walking on the road to the M62 and then Halifax?

Only a big sign welcoming me to Rochdale soothed my nerves. It arrived as the cloud got heavier; the hills to my left becoming almost invisible. It arrived just before the pavement became a big squishy, muddy verge, hidden under a good layer of snow.

Walking several miles along the A640 is hardly the most exciting walking even on a nice day. I’ll spare you the gruesome details. But I will say the point I saw a sign saying ‘PW Greenhalgh & Co. Newhey Bleach and Dye Works’ was a happy one. That meant somewhere nearby was the tram stop. Moments later, my phone burst back into life.

Entering Newhey having missed quite a big chunk of the GM Ringway.

Into Newhey village I went, past an appealing looking pub called the Bird in the Hand. And another a short way on called The Bird in Hand. Two pubs, 200m apart with almost identical names? There’s a story there, isn’t there? Don’t worry though. I’m not going to tell you it, as I didn’t manage to find it.

For good measure, both pubs are even owned by the same company: The Samuel Smith Brewery of Tadcaster. But the good people of Newhey didn’t need to choose. Sam Smiths had done that for them. The Bird in Hand was boarded up. If you wanted a pint of Old Brewery Bitter, then you needed to walk to the Bird in the Hand.

Newhey Metrolink Stop – end of the GM Ringway Stage 9.

The bright yellow sign for Manchester’s Metrolink system came into view down the road. The tram stop was nearby. After a rather failed ending to the day, it was time to head home.

Later I poured over the map to see what I’d missed. Compton Moor. A trig point. A view of Brushes Clough. A waterfall. It seemed a shame. I’d made it to Newhey but felt like I’d missed out. What I was going to do about that, I wasn’t sure.

My crumpled, stained, soggy map, post walk at the end of my GM Ringway walk.

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