GM Ringway Stage 6: Strines to Marple

Published 22 May 2022

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, a certain Covid-19 pandemic did its delay me walking it (and other factors delayed me writing about it.) But in March 2021 I travelled the few miles from my home to Strines to walk the sixth stage to Marple.

Following the most direct route, a walk between Strines and Marple is two and a half miles long. There’s two options. One is to follow the footpath alongside the River Goyt. It’s a nice footpath. Very relaxing. Quite pleasant. The other option is the road. Not quite as pleasant. But a tiny bit more direct.

The GM Ringway’s route is less direct. It’s far from direct. It heads around between the two in a shape that looks a bit like the number 5 scrawled by a toddler. It’s all shaky and wavey, and all over the place.

Part of the reason is this part of Greater Manchester is close to the Peak District. And I knew for a fact (because I live nearby) that the route was going to take me to a viewpoint at the edge of the village of Mellor. From there you can see Kinder Scout, the highest part of the Peak District. If I was designing a walking route round Greater Manchester, I’d include that viewpoint. Without a doubt.

But there are also lots of are other exciting things in the area. The Roman Lakes. Marple’s flight of locks on the canal. And a very old bridge. To try and cram all that in, whilst also starting and ending the day at a railway station, is not easy. Hence the day’s route looks like an unsteady hand has tried to cross something out in anger.

Still, at least there’d be a good view.

Seriously, no cars allowed.

A rough track near Strines station lead uphill. Signs warned drivers no cars were allowed. Bigger signs declared “DO NOT FOLLOW SATNAV”. I couldn’t imagine any sensible driver ever wanting to drive up this lane. But then people don’t put up big yellow warning signs for no reason.

As it went uphill it got steeper, bumpier and narrower. Anyone foolish enough to drive up here would have got very, very stuck. And would – I was sure – have received a multitude of rolled eyes from the walkers using the track.

It was a popular route. The busiest section of the day. And it was leading to a cluster of houses, and a cracking little pub.

The Fox Inn, Brookbottom – a cracking pub.

Tucked away, way off the main road, Brook Bottom feels like an almost forgotten rural hamlet. It’s the kind of place you’d never intentionally go to, because you’d never have heard of it. Which is a shame because it’s pub, the Fox Inn, is enchanting. A proper little country pub. I’d popped in a few years earlier when walking the Goyt Way. It was lovely. And I’d been meaning to go back ever since.

Not this day though, for several reasons. It was March 2021 and the country was in a Covid-19 lockdown. All pubs closed. Even if that hadn’t been the case, it half ten in the morning. Too soon for most pubs to be open. So I had to pass with a sigh and carry on past the cluster of old houses that make up the rest of Brook Bottom.

I was heading towards Mellor Cross, another of those local landmarks that the GM Ringway was keen for everyone to visit. Even if that did require going along the world’s muddiest path near a farm-cum-stables.

View from above Brook Bottom on the GM Ringway.

What’s Mellor Cross you ask? Well, it’s a large, wooden cross set on a hillside. Why? Well because the local churches decided that this would be a good idea. According to a document written to support their planning application in 1969, they gave three reasons:

a) To be a visible testimony of the values for which the Sign of the Cross stands i.e. the supremacy of love and selfless concern for others (sentiments to which other than Christians subscribe.)

b) To proclaim that Marple is a community here these values actively exist.

c) To be a consolation and inspiration to all who in time of need would find comfort and courage in all it stands for.

A fascinating research piece would be to see how many people it’s given consolation and inspiration to. But we’ll leave that as an open question for anyone wanting to pick it up.

Mellor Cross. It’s a cross. In Mellor.

Whether the success metrics been met aside, the cross has been a landmark in the area since it was put in place in 1970. Although it has always struck me that despite the fact it’s on a hill top, I’ve never actually seen it from the valley. In contrast, elsewhere in Mellor there’s a tree on a hilltop with a small bush next to it. You can see them clearly for miles around. I kid you not.

The current cross isn’t the original. Storms in 2015 saw the top of the cross blow off, and after finding the original structure was decaying, a replacement was planned. The new cross – made of timber clad galvanised steel – was put in place in 2018. Ready to do its job of whatever it was they wanted it to do in the first place.

You realise from places like this how flat Greater Manchester is.

I parked my backside on a stone wall behind some trees and ate a sandwich whilst preparing myself for a phone call. I’d had an email from a podcast aimed at children, who wanted to talk about walking. I can’t say I was massively keen on doing it. I’m always worried I’ll end up saying something that makes me sound completely stupid. I’m not great at speaking off the cuff. I prefer to rehearse pretty much everything so I know what I’m going say. But here, I knew nothing about what I was going to be asked, and it was making me a tad nervous.

But sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone. Well that’s what I told myself. So I’d said yes. After all, encouraging children to get outdoors was a good thing. And doing a call about walking, from a hill whilst on a walk, seemed perfect. I checked my phone at the agreed time for the call, noted I had mobile signal, and waited for it to ring.

It didn’t.

Whittle! Shaw Farm and Brook Bottom! Please control your dog.

I waited a bit longer.

Still it didn’t ring.

How long to wait, I wondered?

I gave it a few more minutes. Then spotted an email from the podcast presenter couldn’t get through to me. Odd. I had signal. My phone said so. And I’d received his email. But trying to make a call myself, failed. My idea of appearing on a podcast from a rural hillside suddenly fell apart. My mental psyching up had come to nought.

Apologetic emailing following, suggesting a time I hoped I’d be somewhere with a better signal. And then I immediately got on my way to make sure I would be there in time.

The 375 at its terminus at Mellor Shiloh Road

On the plus side, I was soon heading on Shiloh Road. A road named after an ancient city in Samaria mentioned in the Old Testament. It’s not an obvious name for a rural road on the edges of Greater Manchester that mostly leads to farms. But whatever. Anyway, Shiloh Road is an important place. It’s the terminus of the 375 bus route from Mellor to Stockport. For its off peak journeys, the bus trundles up the road through Mellor village, goes way beyond the houses and turns down Shiloh Road. A little way along, there’s a layby the bus reverses into so it can turn round

There’s no bus stop sign. A road sign warns you of turning buses but otherwise you’d never even know the bus came here. It’s the most unexpected bus terminus in the whole of Greater Manchester. And I’m convinced it’s the best.

What the driver of thr 375 bus gets to look at when they’re parked up on Shiloh Road.

Remember that view of Kinder Scout I mentioned earlier? That’s on Shiloh Road. And the best place to see it is from across the road from where the 375 parks up for six journeys a day. Seven on Saturdays.

As I walked down the road, the bus arrived. It was empty. Well we were in lockdown, and official guidelines told everyone to avoid public transport if they could help it. Even so, in normal times few passengers make it this far. The driver did a swift reverse into the lay-by, and sat there enjoying the view. Or reading the paper. I don’t know. I didn’t bother checking.

The closest bit of the Peak District to my house.

The GM Ringway went off down a car wide track behind the bus. But there was something I wanted to check out first. Some months earlier I’d looked at the boundaries of the Peak District National Park. And for good measure, I’d worked out where it was the closest to my house. As it happened, that point was the south-western corner of a field a quarter of a mile away where I now stood.

I had to have a look, so strolled casually down the road and found the field corner. It was on the other side of a stone wall at a road junction. There was no way to get into the field. No public access was allowed. But it was only a small field and the neighbouring one had a footpath going through it, accessed by a gate with a Peak District National Park sign on it. Obviously I had to go through it. And so it was that I stood in the Peak District for no real reason other than for the hell of it, with a small smile on my face. With that done, I wandered on back to the bus stop.

View from St Thomas’s Church, Mellor

St Thomas’s Church in Mellor sits on a hillside overlooking the village. I feel for any infirm parishioners who have to climb the hill to get there. Still, the church has a fine vantage point from which to survey Greater Manchester. Not that there hadn’t been several of those on this stage of the GM Ringway already.

Next door to the church is also something curious. In the garden of the old vicarage is a former archaeological site. The dig revealed remains were from the Roman and Bronze Age eras. The holes that were dug still remain, and a walkway allows visitors to look into them. You won’t see much, although some interpretation boards give you an idea of what they found.

The archaeological site next to Mellor Church

That’s not the only history Mellor offers. In a nearby field is a replica Iron Age roundhouse, built some years earlier by local students. Such wags, eh? It’s not an entirely accurate reproduction. It was built with mud walls, although later research showed Mellor’s roundhouses had stone ones. Still, it gives an idea of how people once lived. A whole family in a small, circular building with no windows, and a hole in the roof for the chimney. It must have been very draughty on windy nights.

Back on the GM Ringway, I headed downhill to Mellor village, past the Devonshire Arms. Mellor doesn’t have much in terms of facilities. The local shop’s long gone. The Scout hut is empty. But there are a couple of excellent pubs, of which the Devonshire Arms is one. It would have been nice to pop in. But yeah, Covid-19 lockdowns and all that.

Covid-19 made its mark a little further on too. A narrow lane between fields was lined with faded signs imploring you to give way to other walkers. Consider taking a different route if you wished to keep more than 2m away from someone else.

To Brookbottom via Tarden and the Banks!

I wasn’t sure what other route could even be taken. Not that it mattered. There was no one about, and I got to the edge of Linnet Clough Scout Camp without meeting a soul.

Ah yes, Linnet Clough. As a Cub and a Scout I’d stayed here. As a parent I had driven here with my son.

The high wires at Linnet Clough. For Scout camp users only, alas.

Thirty years ago, I remember it being a grassy field, and a tuckshop. Today’s Scouts get a bit more of an experience. Linnet Clough is branded as a ‘Scout Camp and Activity Centre’. Today’s children can camp in a field. But also they can engage in archery, traverse high wires, speed down a zip wire, use go-karts, or go in the Cave-bus. A cave bus, you say? Yep. A single decker bus that once trundled the streets of London, has been converted into a mobile caving experience. Pop on a hard hat and you (well most likely a child) can pretend you’re caving deep under ground.

If all that sounds too fancy, there’s another Scout campsite nearby that offers a far more basic experience. But as it’s alas, it’s not on the GM Ringway.

Get a load of all that wild garlic on the left.

Leaning over a gate near the Linnet Clough campsite, I finally completed my podcast interview. I’d tell you how it went but I still haven’t dared up the courage to listen to it. So instead I’ll tell you I walked down the track past some farms, past a woodland absolutely overflowing with wild garlic. It took me to the rutted lane that is Lakes Road. Tucked in a narrow valley near the River Goyt, Lakes Road is a road that leads to some lakes. Go figure how they came up with the name.

I say lakes. The Roman Lakes are actually old millponds. This was once the site of Mellor Mill, built between 1790 and 1792 to spin cotton. By 1804 over 500 adults and children worked here, and it continued to be a major employer until the mill was destroyed by fire in 1892. It was never rebuilt. Now the loudest noise you’ll find is the sound of the occasional vehicle driving down to the Lakes car park. Or perhaps the faint sound of an archaeologist. A local group have spent several years excavating the area and have uncovered remnants of the old mills. They’ve also made the remains accessible to the public. The key sites being a matter of metres off the GM Ringway’s route, and being well worth a visit.

Roman Lakes. There’s absolutely nothing Roman about them.

Despite the name, there’s nothing Roman related about the lakes, nor the nearby Roman Bridge. This narrow packhorse bridge dates back to the 17th century, only getting its current name in the Victorian era to make it sound more romantic. Presumably it worked.

The bridge crosses the River Goyt, the river being one of two that combine together to form the River Mersey. It starts on Axe Edge Moor in the Peak District, passing through several villages and towns on its way to Stockport where it combines with the Tame. One of the villages it passes through is Strines. Ah, Strines. Such was the meandering route of this section of the GM Ringway, that I was now roughly a mile from where I’d set off from earlier that day.

Roman Bridge. Absolutely nothing Roman about it as well.

On the other side of the bridge, large stones next to the river provided a reasonable seating area. I sat down for a bit, musing on how one can spend several hours moving to not get that far at all. And also to eat a cake I’d carried in my rucksack all day. Well you have to have your priorities.

I walked up to the road connecting Strines and Marple, crossed it and joined the towpath of the Peak Forest Canal. It was the second time the GM Ringway had used its towpath. The previous section had used it to get to Strines. Now I was to go the opposite direction, the GM Ringway going along it through the town of Marple.

The Peak Forest Canal at Marple.

The GM Ringway finishes up at Marple railway station, beyond the town centre. It’s an easy walk. Simple to navigate. Follow the canal until you get to a main road and go down it to the station. You miss the town centre itself with its pubs and shops. But instead you get to the many canal locks. There’s sixteen in total, all visited by the GM Ringway – numbers 9 through to 16 being in this section, and the rest in the next. Traversing this section by boat is slow and faffy. It’s far easier on foot.

It’s a lovely walk. One I’d done many times. Well I did live nearby. There wasn’t much point in going all the way to the station. That could wait for another time. And with that I came off the canal and headed home.

I’d walked many miles to get not far from where I’d started. And it had been great.

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