Cown Edge Way Part 3: Chisworth to Gee Cross

Published 9 August 2017

A gate on Werneth Low, with a view of Manchester and its suburbs in the background
A gate with a view, on Werneth Low

The Cown Egde Way is an 18 mile walking trail that is named for, and visits, Cown Edge, on the edge of Manchester. Over two days. I set off to walk its route. On day one I walked to Chisworth (see parts one and two). But for logistical reasons, it took a couple of months before I could return to Chisworth to finally complete the trail’s last few miles to Gee Cross.

In my early teens I collected bus timetables. Not in the way you might collect stamps, diligently collecting old ones and saving them for prosperity. Oh no. I collected them because they showed me a plethora of places that public transport could take me. Locales with exotic names as Heyrod, Hey Farm and Haughton Green. Of course, they’d undoubtedly just be large areas of suburban housing and a few shops if you were lucky. But having never seen the reality, all I had to go on was the fact that they were written in big letters on the front of a booklet obtained from the bus station information office.

The finest timetables were those published by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive, whose other roles included maintaining bus stops, and subsidising bus services that couldn’t be run commercially. They were great leaflets, designed to be clear and easy to read. Each one included a detailed map of the bus route, and contact details for the various operators who ran the services.

So good is the design, it has barely changed in decades. A bus user from thirty years ago would instantly recognise the modern equivalent. Yes the font has changed, and the logo on the front is now that of the GMPTE’s successor body, Transport for Greater Manchester, but the layout is pretty much the same otherwise.

One of the things that the timetables helpfully include on the cover is a little sentence that explains why the timetable has been republished since it’s last version. This can include such messages as “Change of operator” or the rather brief “some journeys retimed”. On occasions, the changes are more dramatic. The copy of the 394 timetable I had said, rather bluntly, “All Saturday journeys are withdrawn”.

Houses on the edge of Chisworth
Houses on the edge of the small village of Chisworth

The 394 is not exactly the busiest bus service in the world. It predominantly exists to take people from a variety of small villages and towns, to their nearest major hospital, and then back again. It does this six times a day in each direction. For many of the communities it serves, it’s the only bus they get. The 394’s orange and white mini buses rarely get busy, which is why the service is subsidised by Transport for Greater Manchester and also by Derbyshire County Council, whose territory the bus also passes through.

As the latest timetable alludes to, up to 2016 it also ran on Saturdays. But money problems got in the way. For a time it was the weekday service that was under threat, but in the end it was the Saturday buses that were axed in order to pay for the route to keep operating Monday to Friday. Those needing to get to Stepping Hill hospital at weekends would need to make alternative arrangements.

Thankfully I didn’t have any particular problems getting to the hospital, however the lack of a 394 on a Saturday did cause a problem for returning to Chisworth. And return I needed to do for despite having done the main attraction, I still had a few more miles to walk on the Cown Edge Way.

So that meant I needed to walk on a weekday, and that required a day off work. And one where the weather was good. Well, okay, reasonable. And that proved elusive. One day on annual leave coincided with a massive storm. On another the weather was good, but the day in question was on the week between Christmas and New Year, when a Saturday service was supposed to be running on all routes. And, of course, there is no Saturday service so that was out. (You can imagine the curses when I was out and about that day and saw a 394 go whizzing past me as I was heading to the shops.)

So it took just short of six months before circumstances worked in my favour. But when they did, the boots were on, the bus ticket was purchased and finally, oh finally, I was back in Chisworth.

Kinderlee Mill - now converted to residential use
Once a place of industry, Kinderlee Mill in Chisworth is now housing.

If there is a problem with the Cown Edge Way, it is that it’s too short for a two day walk, but just that bit too long for a day hike. And if you are using public transport, it is very difficult to split it into two equal sized chunks. Which is why when I finally did get back to it, I had just five miles left to walk.

I started next to the old mill in Chisworth, now converted into flats and small town houses that appeared to be ideal for those seeking a rural location and the benefits of not having a garden.

A muddy track led me round the back of the village, and then back to the main road next to a bus stop two stops along from where I had alighted some twenty minutes earlier.

The return to the road was just a brief interlude as the Cown Edge Way plunged downhill towards another Scout camp. Like Linnet Clough, I had stayed at Boarfold in my youth, but this time the Cown Edge Way just passed by, depriving me of the chance to discover whether it too now featured a go-kart choose, and a second hand bus that had been converted into a caving experience.

Werneth Low, seen from Chisworth
Wernerth Low in the distance

Instead I got to admire a few farm buildings before another muddy path led me down to the Etherow river. Crossing the river also saw me pass back into Greater Manchester, this time into the borough of Tameside where I had grown up.

The trail was leading me to Werneth Low; a large hill that stands tall between the town I grew up in, and the one I live in now.

With its grassy sides, and extensive gorse bushes, the path up the Low’s eastern flank reminded me of the South Downs, and was a firm contrast to the well made paths and tracks that weave across the hilltop.

I didn’t really get it though. Why come all the way to Werneth Low in the first place? What really did it have to do with Cown Edge? There was no link as far as I could tell.

Cown Edge in the distance, seen from Werneth Low
From one side of Werneth Low can be seen a view of Cown Edge.

And then I looked back and saw. There it was. A mighty view of Kinder, Bleaklow and, of course, Cown Edge.

See, Werneth Low has great views of Manchester and it’s surrounding towns. When most people go up there, it’s the city that they towards. But look in another direction, you get to see another world. And that was why the Cown Edge Way was here; for a viewpoint that would show you where you had come from. A place to get a different perspective on the route you had just walked.

Yes it would have been easy to have skipped this whole section; just give up at Chisworth and end it there. But then there wouldn’t have been this view. So I think we can say it was all worthwhile.

The former car park for the restaurant at Windy Harbour
The former car park of the Harbour Lights restaurant, at Windy Harbour on Werneth Low

The Cown Edge Way reaches the summit of Werneth Low at a place called Windy Harbour where a large patch of tarmac, a set of steps going nowhere, and a broken lamppost are the only reminder that a pub-restaurant once stood here. Originally a farmhouse tea room, over time it expanded. But after a rather chequered history, the Harbour Light’s doors closed in the 1990s. Despite the hill being a popular destination, the Harbour Lights was just too much off the beaten track for most people, who generally headed to a nearby competitor that had the good fortune to be on the main road over the hill, rather than tucked down a side road. For a while there was hope someone else would take it on, but in the end the buildings fell derelict before being razed to the ground, leaving just a few remnants for future generations to puzzle over.

The old car park had a grand view towards Manchester but the Cown Edge Way wasn’t having any truck with that and quickly headed down a track on the Low’s south side so that the walker could continue to admire Cown Edge and Mellor Moor instead. It was also a place to be a little voyeuristic, allowing the walker to stare at the houses that line the top of the hill.

The Low’s fine views mean that property on it commands a not insubstantial premium compared to those elsewhere in the area. All this and a very long walk downhill in order to get to any local amenities. But then, if you can afford to live on the top of Werneth Low, then you can afford to drive. And given some of the cars that were parked up, well let’s just say that some of the residents can’t be short of a bob or two.

The suburbs of Manchester, seen from Werneth Low
From Werneth Low, you can see a long way on a fine day.

Some years ago I noticed that almost every walking trail goes over or next to, at least one golf course. The Cown Edge Way features several, including going over the one on Werneth Low.

I never understood why; golf courses are hardly the most exciting, note pleasant places to walk over. They are rather sterile and tend to be occupied by people with big metal sticks who see walkers as getting in the way. Werneth Low certainly had several golf-free routes that could have been used instead, so why bother? But then a theory was formed. What if this was all an elaborate plan to keep public rights of ways alive?

Many golf courses have paths on them. But what if people didn’t use them? WHt are the chances that at least some golf clubs would try to get the public right of way removed due to lack of use? And what better way to ensure that some people do use the path than by making a walking trail go over it?

That’s perhaps a slightly cynical thought, but it would work and I mused on this new theory a little more as I wandered to the Low’s public house for a spot of lunch.

Hare and Hounds pub, on Werneth Low
Wernerth Low’s sole remaining pub, the Hare and Hounds.

Unlike the Harbour Lights, the Hare and Hounds thrives to this day. A chain pub for as long as I can remember (and I remember going in there for Sunday lunch as a child), it’s currently part of the Chef and Brewer chain. And whilst chain pub grub isn’t always the best, Chef and Brewer are certainly on the higher end of the quality scale. Which is why, even on a dull Monday in March, the place was certainly busy.

One burger and two pints of an ale appropriately named “Manchester Skyline” later, and I dragged myself out of the door. I had barely a miles walk left, and it was finally time for that last push to Gee Cross.

Why end in Gee Cross? Who knows. You can’t even argue it was about getting a view of Cown Edge, as Gee Cross is on the wrong side of the Low for that.

Lots of mud in Gee Cross
So… much… mud…

What I do know is that that mile was one of the muddiest and unattractive I have walked for years. After staying relatively mud free all morning, at one point I put my foot down and found myself up to my knee in the stuff.

Fields, woods, mud, that was the next half hour as I slurped and slid towards a bus stop on a busy main road that marks the end of the Cown Edge Way.

At one time it ended next to a technical college, but the college moved to more modern facilities years ago and the site is now housing. There is a pub there in which to celebrate the fact you have completed the trail, but not one you would want to arrive in with huge clumps of mud stuck to your trousers.

The main road in Gee Cross where the Cown Edge Way ends
The main road in Gee Cross where the Cown Edge Way ends

Still there was a bus stop there too. True I had just missed two but it was a frequent enough service. And the Cown Edge Way was done. As randomly as it had started, so had it ended. Still, the bits in between eh? Well they were good. And that’s all you can ask for really, isn’t it?

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