East Cheshire Walk - The Middlewood Way

CHE May Middlewood Way

CHE May Middlewood Way - Credit: Keith Carter

It’s less hike and more bike for Keith Carter this month as he saddles up to take a ride on the Middlewood Way which follows the former rail route between Macclesfield and Marple.

The upsurge in cycling as an activity hard on the popularity of the Olympics and the stunning Sky Team success in last year’s Tour de France has led to more and more people taking to two wheels to keep fit and enjoy the open air. Cycle trails are a great attraction especially for families because using the roads brings its own hazards, especially if you’re trying to marshal young children safely.

Cyclists come in all shapes and sizes and fall into a number of clearly defined categories from the lycra-clad racers in team colours to those wearing what is really walking gear wobbling along in an unaccustomed attempt to appear adept. My wife warned me that if I wore Lycra I’d be arrested, but these days there seems no way in which ‘inappropriate clothing’ is relevant and the rule seems to be wear what you want.

CHE May Middlewood Way

CHE May Middlewood Way - Credit: Keith Carter

Once you get back on the bike you start obsessing over accessories and improvements, a weakness to which I began to succumb until the man at my local bike shop gave me some good advice: just get on your bike and ride it. The wisdom of a sage.

CHE May Middlewood Way

CHE May Middlewood Way - Credit: Keith Carter

With this in mind what started as a sunny day saw us getting the bikes out with the idea of tackling the Middlewood Way, a cycling, walking and horse riding route between Marple and Macclesfield. It’s about ten miles long but you don’t have to do it all, bearing in mind that it is a linear route so the option of making it into a round trip is not really on the cards. The Way follows the route of an old railway line so is level and traffic-free apart from the occasional obstacle of a horse taking up the path and making passing it difficult unless the rider kindly moves to one side.

CHE May Middlewood Way

CHE May Middlewood Way - Credit: Keith Carter

The surface is mainly hard-packed earth or stones and can be quite muddy at times. The railway that ran along here was the former Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple line which opened for the first time in 1869 principally for goods traffic. The towns in those days had their own speciality of manufacture, Macclesfield for silk, Bollington for quarried stone and Stockport for hats and to this you can add coal from Poynton and of course passengers. The line took trade from the Macclesfield Canal which runs north/south at times less than a hundred yards from the railway line. The railways were the death of canals, like supermarkets crowding out the corner shop.

You can join the Middlewood Way at a number of points along its route, cycle for as long as you want then retrace your route to your start which for us was the crossing point of the A6 Buxton Road near High Lane. A convenient lay-by allows you to take the bikes down steps to the trail where you start by turning right to head towards Macclesfield or left towards Marple.

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We took the right and were soon cycling across the bridge above the Manchester-Buxton railway where trains stop at Middlewood Station. The Ladybrook Valley Interest Trail is crossed here but we continue to the disused platform where some picnic tables provide a convenient stop. This is the Nelson Pit centre where you will find a pub (The Boars head) a coffee shop and an information centre with toilets. To our disappointment the coffee shop was closed on the Tuesday on which we did our ride but in summer you can expect to find it open.

The cycling is easy on a track that is divided into two, a wider one for riders and the narrower one for walkers, although the rule seems to be flouted without anyone saying anything. A glance to convey the message ‘you are on the wrong side mate’ is all that is necessary. The Way passes through belts of mixed woodland with rough vegetation and in places water has collected into pools where the drainage is poor.

There are several interpretive panels in places describing the surroundings quite well with information on the flora and fauna to be seen locally but I would comment that there is an absence of views from the Way, railway lines tending to run through cuttings with banking either side.

As we approach Bollington we meet the viaduct that carried the railway over the valley of the River Dean in which the town sits and you can look down on the roofs and chimneys. The viaduct became redundant when the line was closed in 1970 and it was not until 1985 when the old line was developed for recreation that a new purpose was found for it.

Cycling the Middlewood Way you meet a variety of other users, the majority walking the dog but with walkers and cyclists aplenty. The etiquette seems well established as cyclists and dogs meet, their owners calling them to heel to avoid the frenzied barking that bikes seem to provoke in some dogs. Nobody seems to use a bell, modern bikes aren’t fitted with them any more and mudguards seem to be regarded as old-fashioned too. As you come up to a group of walkers on your side of the track a loud clearing of the throat is all that is required. There’s room for all. I would recommend the Middlewood Way for family cycle rides and for those just getting back into cycling again. It won’t be of interest to the touring fraternity, being much too tame, but for a gentle spin in traffic-free conditions it’s just the ticket.

Compass points

Route: The Middlewood Way, East Cheshire

Distance: 10 miles one way.

Time to allow: Take as long as you like

Map: Excellent route map published by Macclesfield Borough Council, www.macclesfield.gov.uk

Wheelchair/pushchair possible? The Middlewood Way is suitable for wheelchair users and pushchairs although it can be muddy in places.