GM Ringway Stage 9 Revisited: A Denshaw Circular

Published 4 December 2022

An old stile that isn't attached to any fence and that can easily be walked round.
Passing through fields near Crompton Fold

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. But in February 2022 my attempt to do stage 9 went a bit wrong. Heavy snow, soggy maps and a malfunctioning phone saw me get rather lost and I ended up missing out on much of the section. So later that year, I headed back to the village of Denshaw to see what I had missed.

There was a driveway on the left. Recently mown, and looking very tidy. An obvious thing to walk down. A rusting, and firmly closed, metal gate in the middle leading to some overgrown area full of weeds and nettles. Completely impossible to ever imagine it ever having had a use, yet alone being a public right of way. To the right, another rusting gate leading to another driveway. This one had a Private sign. The footpath definitely didn’t go down there.

The sign was no help. The left and middle options went in pretty much the same direction and the signpost could have been pointing to either of them. I took the driveway option. Decided it all looked too neat, and went back to the road and stared again.

A view of hills and fields around Denshaw village
Denshaw, Saddleworth. Home of a nice village and lovely views.

“Any idea which way the footpath goes?” I asked a dog walker, who was seeing my puzzlement.

“It’s through the gate,” he replied. “It’s pretty overgrown but it opens out.”

I thanked him, opened the rusting gate, and went along the overgrown path. It was overgrown. Very overgrown. Within a few metres I was battling my way through a patch of waste high nettles. No one in their right mind would come down this way. Especially not wearing shorts.

I stared at my bare legs, and sighed.

A rickety looking stile appeared on the left. I checked the map on my phone. It was the way I needed to go. It led me to cross the driveway I’d retreated from. I’d been within metres of it when I’d initially walked down it. No one would have noticed if I’d used the drive instead of the path. And my legs would have been much more thankful for it. I’d still be feeling the nettle stings twelve hours later.

A sheep standing in a field with hills in the background
A sheep stands in a field near Denshaw.

My last attempt to walk the GM Ringway hadn’t gone that well. My walk from Greenfield to Newhey had started well enough. But on the edge of the Saddleworth village of Denshaw, I’d made a navigational error. Not the end of the world except that started snowing heavily. I’d forgotten the map case and soon my paper map was a soggy, unusable mess. Which would have been fine because I had the route plotted out on the OS Maps app on my phone and I could use that. Except that my phone decided it had got too wet and opted not to turn itself on until a bit drier. Which would be been liveable with had the GM Ringway being way-marked. But there’s no signs for it anywhere and I had no idea where I needed to go.

Which is why I ended up walking in heavy snow along the A640 road, thus missing out much of the afternoon’s walk. And this left me with a dilemma. Should I go back and see what I missed? Or just carry on on the basis that I’d got to Newhey and that was that.

If the section I’d missed had looked boring on the map, it would have been easy. No contest. Skip it and get on with the next bit. But it didn’t. The route went up Crompton Moor, and looked like it would have some splendid views. It looked like it would be worth a visit. But the missing section wouldn’t be easy to tack onto the next section of the walk. To revisit would need a special trip.

So looking at the map, I hatched a plan. I’d drive to Denshaw, park up, and do a circular walk following the GM Ringway to Newhey. Then I’d walk back to the car using a different route. I’d skip a few lesser important parts of the GM Ringway. But I could live without doing a detour round the edge of Denshaw village, and a few roads near Newhey tram stop.

An Oldham Way sign, with an arrow and the words 'Oldham Way' repeated three times
Oldham Way Oldham Way Oldham Way.

And that’s how I found myself getting stung by nettles on an overgrown footpath, north of Denshaw. I could only hope that this wasn’t some kind of indicator that I shouldn’t have bothered returning.

Most of the GM Ringway’s route towards Newhey mirrored the Oldham Way. As I walked through overgrown field after overgrown field, I kept a sharp eye out for signs for that trail. Signposts, waymarks, that kind of thing. Why? Well I wanted to answer a question. Was this section navigable without a map? If I hadn’t lost the GM Ringway on my last visit, could I have got to Newhey given I’d been mapless and phoneless. The answer seemed unlikely. There were a few Oldham Way signs dotted around, but often placed where the walker would fail to spot them. Many were old and faded. One was almost white. I wouldn’t have liked my chances.

It was almost a relief when I arrived at the A640. The first mile of my walk had been a bit lacklustre to tell the truth. And now I had half a mile on the pavement of a main road. When your key sights are a derelict hotel and a fenced off car park for a former pub that had been converted to housing, well you know you’re not in the most exciting of places. But near the road’s summit, close to the Oldham-Rochdale border, the GM Ringway headed off the road, and restored the spring to my step.

A sunken track, surrounded by heather.
The track up to Crompton Moor.

A sunken track led uphill to Crompton Moor. The most visible landmarks were the radio and communications masts, and a trig point. But it’s also a stretch of land covered with bouncy heather and loads of moor grass. Oh and great views over to Oldham, Manchester and the Pennines. There can be few places where you can see the skyscrapers of the city, old mills, and heather moorland dotted with wind turbines, surely? The eastern section of the GM Ringway continued to feel like it was a series of stunning panoramic viewpoints, linked together.

I was surprised that I had the place to myself. Here I was, alone, on a hilltop with a corking view. This seemed wrong. It wasn’t as if Crompton Moor was that hard to get to. Yet there was no one here. As is so often the case, this wasn’t always the case in years gone by. To the west of the transmitters, near a raised mound that provided the best viewpoint for surveying the local area, was a fenced off enclosure. Coal mining took place here for centuries, and the hillside is riddled with old mineshafts. Not only that, but for decades sandstone was quarried nearby too.

The view from the top of Crompton Moor, looking down on Oldham, Manchester and much more.
Oldham, Manchester and beyond, seen from the top of Crompton Moor

Descending the hillside took me to a woodland in an area called Brushes. There was even a busy car park, although where all the drivers were, was beyond me. True, lower down there were now more people out and about, but not that many. Most were noticeable near one particular old quarry where a stream of water poured down as I stood. It wasn’t exactly an elegant location, but the sound of flowing water make it feel more enchanting than it looked.

Yet I seemed to be the only one enraptured by it. Other walkers passed by. Was it not interesting? Or were they people who lived nearby and had seen it all too many times before. Yes, that must be it. Surely?

A view of a former quarry
The remnants of an old quarry at Crompton Moor.

Top O’The Hill Farm isn’t on top a hill. Not by any means. On T’Side O’The Hill perhaps. But definitely not the top.

Those doing the full stage 9 of the GM Ringway would now walk down roads to Newhey tram stop. But for me, this was where I needed to turn round and head back. And I’d do it by following the Rochdale Way.

The Oldham Way I’d followed up to now tours the boundary of the Borough of Oldham. The Rochdale Way is similar but for the Borough of Rochdale. And the pair handily meet up at Near T’Bottom O’T’Hill Farm.

Lots of trees in fields.
More than a few trees in Newhey.

At first, it offered little more than a series of rather unspectacular fields, filled with sheep. But on the eastern edge of Newhey, near the PW Greenhalgh & Co. Newhey Bleach and Dye Works, a sign pointed me in the direction of “Reservoirs”.

The map showed me passing by Ogden, Kitcliffe, Piethorne and Rooden reservoirs, which all sit in a row. Originally built by Oldham Corporation, they’re now owned by local water company, United Utilities. But their role remains the same. To provide local residents with water.

Although the Rochdale Way follows a road, I’d assumed there would be nice watery view to enjoy. For most of the time though, the reservoirs were hidden by houses, and then the Piethorne Water Treatment Works. And even when you could see them, it was notable that something was missing from the reservoirs. Water.

Ogden Reservoir appeared to be almost empty. It was a year of drought, and whilst the North West of England had escaped the worst of it, water stocks were still low. On the day of my walk United Utilities’ website declared its Pennine reservoirs had a collective stock of only 37.2% of capacity. In an average year, they’d be at 73.3%. You could almost hear the water managers praying for rain.

I carried on past the buildings to Piethorne reservoir, which seemed the least affected of all the ones I had seen. Perhaps the water was being concentrated in one spot. Even here though, levels were lower than normal. Up the hill at Rooden Reservoir, things were a similar picture. Local birds did their best to float on its surface, but it was obvious things weren’t right.

I now went uphill, giving a much better view of Piethorne Reservoir

It felt a rather depressing way to end the walk as I headed back to Denshaw. A sign of the challenges in water supply that we’d have the next year. An indicator to the problems of climate change. Yeah, this didn’t feel like a great ending.

Then I realised I was heading back to the same path I’d started off on. And that I’d be compelled to walk through a big patch of nettles again. And that I was still wearing shorts. And that kind of took my mind off the issue for a short while.

An overgrown path near Denshaw.
An overgrown path welcomes me back to Denshaw.

Back at my car, my legs still tingling, I pondered the walk. Had it been worth taking the time to revisit the end of stage 9 of the GM Ringway? Well, for the most part, yes. There’d been some great points. Fantastic views. Enchanting waterfalls. Yes, I decided. I’d made the right decision. I could move onto the next section of the GM Ringway without any feelings of guilt, or worries that I’d missed out.

Although, perhaps trousers would have been very much the order of the day.

Back near the start of my walk.


Vic Flange

4 December 2022 at 8:40 am

I never wear shorts for hiking. Trousers give better protection not just against nettles, brambles and anything else that might scratch but the real issue for me is ticks (Lyme’s disease).

That said, my usual walking trousers are the Craghopper ones with zip-off bottoms so they can be converted into shorts if desired. I did that once when wading across Gillan Creek on the SW Coast Path…here:

Happy walking, Andrew!

Christine Harrison

27 April 2024 at 8:39 pm

We are up to stage 9 but it is too long for me.
please can can you help.
if we walk from Greenfield to Newhey could we break it up and come off at Denshaw.
We could hopefully then get to Oldham.
Please can you help

Andrew Bowden (Rambling Man editor)

28 April 2024 at 1:51 pm

Hi Christine – yes you can. There’s an hourly bus from Denshaw that runs to Oldham.

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