Three lovely ladies were clearing litter from the tow path this morning. They do it twice a week and there is always bagfuls. To cover the optimum length they are riding bikes! A Canal and River employee is also walking the banks checking for any problems. So it seems that this stretch is well looked after but why are there no boats? Apparently the locks this side of the Pennines are difficult to operate, some moorings are unsafe and there is often low water due to reservoirs previously being sold off. That all seems a shame considering all the work and expense to reopen the Rochdale. The more you think about it the more audacious does the plan in the late 18th century to take water in a canal over the Pennines become.
Today’s walk had started by a side branch serving the town itself though only a short length remains. Close by is a fine bridge. A few more derelict mills and some housing developments are passed and then the countryside is reached through bridge 56 with the Pennines in the background.
This seems a popular stretch. Alongside runs the Manchester to Leeds railway with a boundary stone evident. The towered Firgrove Mill has workers cottages attached… … its redundant steam engine is in the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry, watch
Ahead at Clegg Hall there are some well kept former weavers’ cottages and a refurbished mill with apartments.I am heading towards Littleborough but my attention is drawn to a clock tower in the NW, it belongs to the closed Birch Hill Hospital which was built as a workhouse and opened in 1877. It had wards for ‘imbeciles’ and ‘fever’ patients, in addition to an infirmary block.The canal slides past Littleborough but I need a coffee so make the detour into a town bedecked with Lancashire red rose flags, maybe they don’t like being part of Greater Manchester. A busy little place and I find a great little cafe frequented by locals, Rebecca’s, for coffee and toasted teacake. Back streets lead me to the canal where new houses are being built.
I’m now heading for Summit the highest point of the Rochdale Canal by a series of locks in open moorland.There are bays where stone from the quarries was loaded and more mills, mostly derelict. I got chatting to a man who’d worked in Rock Nook Mill, originally a cotton mill but diversifying under Fothergills to high performance textiles. A fire in 2015 devastated the mill and it now stands forlorn and open to the elements.An abandoned mill further up is unexpectedly the base of a theatrical scenery production firm supplying the whole country.
A few more locks and I arrive at the west end of the Summit basin at 600ft. At the top lock there is a lock-keepers cottage and then the canal widens and contours through rough moorland for about about a mile to the first lock going down the east side of the Pennines.The train line has disappeared into a tunnel.
A little group of post war ‘prefab’ bungalows seem out of place. One of their owners, of a similar vintage, is proud they have lasted this long. Nearby are a couple of modern rabbit hutches – wonder how long they will last.At Gauxholme warehouses and boats appear and the canal passes under a cast iron railway bridge with Gothic abutments. More locks drop the canal down quickly passing back to back cobbled streets and then in front of you is ‘The great wall of Tod’. This massive wall of blue brick supports the railway high above, quite dramatic and hidden away from the rest of the world. How many millions of bricks? A Dipper, that iconic northern water bird, was passing up the canal, a Waterhen taking a lift on a plank and a Robin singing its heart out on this sunny day.
The canal entered busy Todmorden at the main street with an abrupt guillotine-like lock dropping it down on its way, without most of the tourists knowing its there.. I had a train to catch so exploring the town will have to wait.