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Ski Club of Manchester, A Summer Stroll Down The Ashworth Way - 21st August 2014

Reporter: Ian Harford

We'd been meaning to go on one of the Ashworths' week day walks for some years, but one reason or another had conspired to prevent us from joining. This time the only problem was that Lindsay's dental appointment meant we would be a wee bit late. "Never mind", said Pat, "just turn up, we'll be enjoying some sandwiches in our kitchen before we set off."

On our arrival a large spread and the sandwiches were still there, so we were well prepared and fed by the time we set off at a cracking pace from Highfield Road, led by Harry. A quick left and a right turn followed and then we were on a ginnel between the houses, overgrown with perfect blackberries at every turn. Lindsay, Jonquil and Bill were already planning some harvesting on our return journey!

Across another woodland path and we were away from the houses, only to find ourselves walking beside a huge electricity substation. "Yes, we've seen a lot of development since we first came to live here. The land's all owned by Peel Holdings", said Harry. This is the same company that consolidated its control of the Ship Canal with all its land holdings in 1987 (worth about £200 million), after securing a deal from Manchester Council at a cost of about £10 million! They can afford us a few blackberries, I thought!

Pressing on, we soon dropped down via Millbrook Bank and through the woods of the steep clough to Coal Bank. We were in a different world, with the remains of mills and other machinery reminding us of the rapid spread of industrialisation and textile manufacture in the early years of the 19th century. With a footpath descending into the Naden Valley here from Blackpits Road, you could sense what life must have been like for the hundreds of workers employed here in the different mills.

After a quick photo stop at the wooden curved bridge high above the stream, we headed south down the right hand bank of the brook into Ashworth Wood. A few locals were here, mostly with their dogs, but otherwise we had the valley to ourselves, with only a few sections of muddy or crumbling paths or fallen trees to contend with.

This was a walk on the wild side as we made our way down towards Gelder Clough. The dogs were in their element as well as the blackberry croppers. Poking our noses into a riding school yard with its wooden sculpture of a hiding fox reminded us that a handful of people did still live here in one of Rochdale's least frequented valleys!

By now we had almost reached Bury and Rochdale Old Road, but we were soon heading back to Norden again in a northerly direction past Cheesden Brook up to Ashworth Fold and Ashworth Hall Farm. Some steep cliffs were evident as we walked back, with notices indicating the dangers. After a while we joined the narrow Ashworth Road, which climbed steeply in its final section up to Duckworth Farm and Chapel Lane, where we turned west to take us back to Coal Bank Bridge and home for a scones and cream tea.

This small area around Norden remains a remote part of Rochdale in a crowded mostly urban environment. The graveyard in the local chapel we passed with its fine gravestones and memorials was a reminder however of the area's former industry and wealth.

Many thanks to Pat and Harry for organising the event and the delicious cream tea for our small group of eight walkers with their four dogs. If you are interested in doing the walk yourself, the Geographers' Manchester A-Z Page 25 provides a fairly good overall picture of the walk.

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