Left Ramsbottom on what promised to be a warm sunny day, no shops were open yet. Soon picked up better waymarking which persisted all day – different local authorities. Leaving the river for fields I found the path weaving between Rose Bay Willow Herb and Himalayan Balsam, the latter had not reached the popping stage which will be dramatic here.
A lovely long stretch of cobbled path took me to an old cotton mill at Brooksbottoms, no doubt this is the way the workers tramped to and from their employment. Then I walked close to the East Lancs railway and passed through Summerseat station….….before dropping down to the river and a climb into fields with views back to the prominent Peel Tower above Ramsbottom.
The walking maintained a high standard alongside the Irwell through Burrs Country Park.Actually found some sculptures in the old mill area of the park.
The stones came from an old bridge in Bury and the picnic table could be a ‘trap’ for tourists. Slipped out of Bury on Cycleway 6, an abandoned railway, past the Elton sailing reservoir and then along the overgrown and defunct Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal. All this was unexpected rural walking. Got chatting to an elderly man taking his daily walk home along the canal, his wife thinks he catches the bus, he was 92 after all.The canal took me right through Radcliffe where a butty bar provided tea. Further on field paths took me to rejoin the cycle way track which led for a couple of miles through remote feeling woods. This was the site of Outwood Colliery which closed in 1931 after a fire.
Further stone statues were in evidence –
After crossing the busy M62 motorway I entered Prestwich Forest Park, under the 13 Arch Old Railway Bridge, with well signed and used cycle and walking routes. I was walking alongside the Irwell but views were restricted by the abundant vegetation, another wild area where Giant Hogweed has established itself.After all this rural walking it was a shock to walk down the first busy road of the day. I did a rather pointless large loop with the Irwell, this is probably bypassed my most. It was only when I was alongside the Irwell in Salford that I started whistling Ewan MacColl’s Dirty Old Town. The 551ft Hilton Tower acted like a beacon to guide me through streets to near where the Irwell empties into the Manchester Ship Canal. I had walked 18miles today, an exploration of Salford docks can wait till another occasion.
Trinity Bridge over the Irwell linking Salford and Manchester.
Having been out on the bike for a few days I’ve come to realise that despite the good exercise nothing really happens. You don’t get to chat to many people and your way is fairly delineated, little variation in terrain apart from up and down and few decisions to make. Dare I say ‘mechanical’. To make cycling more interesting I think you have to throw in some exploratory options on a longer trip – maybe more of that later in the year.
So I found myself on a bus, on a train and in a taxi to get to the start of The Irwell Sculpture Trail above Bacup in the rather bleak Pennine Hills south of Burnley. Nothing to mark the start of the trail, you might have expected some waymarking or a sculpture. Anyhow the infant River Irwell appeared and was to be my companion for two days. Gritty moorland tracks took me down the valley with some careful and imaginative navigating. I passed one recognisable ‘sculpture’ – The Sentinel– basically a glorified cairn but incorporating some excellent dry stone craft. Bacup was a disappointment. Lots of good back to back housing, a period decaying Bingo hall [probably an old cinema] and no cafe. Onwards on the wrong route over Huttock Top, some scruffy walking through back streets and parks at least by the Irwell, an old railway tunnel [illegal] …. …. brought me to Waterfoot. Lots of industrial heritage, not necessarily preserved, in evidence throughout the walk. The Duke of Buccleugh provided a sit down, a half pint of Moorhouse’s Pride of Pendle with an illicit sandwich. Located another old railway track, no help from any waymarking which took me past a strange cave like structure without realising it was Spaces 9.XXXV’94 – ‘exploring the depths of the human-psyche and our relation to mystic natural forces’. Have I lost you there?
Coming back to the Irwell, now more of a river despite being hemmed in with urbanisation, a man was fishing for trout. A good sign that things have been cleaned up. More importantly there was a great little cafe tucked away in Lambert’s Mill, ‘cotton was king’ don’t forget in Lancashire. Have to give a shout for the very friendly Annie Peaches Tea Room! More old mills in Rawtenstall have been converted into flats and in one innovative case a Primary Care Medical facility. The cricket team were losing to local rivals ‘Rammy’ in the competitive Lancashire League as I walked past. A bit of dalliance at the East Lancs Railway followed to view the LMS ‘Crab’ steam locomotive 13065, but why oh why do they have to put a Thomas the Tank face on it ????? Once out of town there was some lovely countryside walking towards Ramsbottom. Passed a sculpture or two, the most impressive was In the picture framing the riverside fields. Through an industrial estate, they are never far away, and into ‘Rammy’ my attention was drawn to an apiarist calmly trying to get an unwanted swarm of bees from a fence into a box. By the Irwell bridge I was fascinated by the next sculpture called The River, an 88m stainless steel path meandering through a park with inspirational quotations inscribed into it. The next installation was the Vase directly in front of my lodgings for the evening. The pub bar was full of the local alcoholics when I arrived but I must say the room was perfectly comfortable and peaceful. Anybody who knows Ramsbottom will realise the extravaganza of eating establishments at your disposal. So I enjoyed a Thai meal at The Spice Garden.
In summary a good and enjoyable 13mile walk through varied scenery, poorly way marked [didn’t see a IST sign till the last couple of miles] and not really incorporating many of the sculptures in the valley. Tomorrows second stage?