Lancashire Walks - Ashworth and Heywood

Footbridge Naden Brook

Footbridge Naden Brook - Credit: Keith Carter

Keith Carter finds unexpected beauty in a walker’s paradise at Heywood

Gelder Clough

Gelder Clough - Credit: Keith Carter

I have to confess to an unfamiliarity with Heywood, my wanderings having seldom if ever taken me to that neck of the woods but by good chance my route-finding instincts got me to where I wanted to start my walk with unerring accuracy. A senior resident in carpet slippers was taking the air and in reply to my question ‘where am I’ replied ‘you’re in Ashworth Lane, Heywood.’ I asked him if he could read a map and showed him my OS Explorer.

Naden Brook

Naden Brook - Credit: Keith Carter

‘Read a map? I should do considering I was in the Langdale Mountain Rescue Team for years!’

I had met my match. I asked if he’d like a walk but he grimaced ruefully at his legs. ‘They’re held together by plastic and stainless steel,’ he replied. ‘I wouldn’t get 20 yards.’

This took place at the entrance to Gelder Clough Residential Park Home which is precisely where this month’s walk begins. You can park at the roadside just beyond the bridge. A neat row of chalets has a footpath running between them leading to a wooded path along the Naden Brook whose waters flow into the River Roch.

Entering the shady woodland river valley admits us to another world as though we have passed through a portal to a parallel existence. We find ourselves in a world of dappled sunlight, birdsong and babbling streams, a delightful place that immediately established itself among my top ten secret places. What a discovery! I had no idea such a lovely spot existed only a few miles from the centre of Bury.

In places the path has been eroded and has had to be reinforced by walkways including one in green steel like an urban gantry but for most of the walk along the wooded valley we are on firm ground. At a three-way signpost we keep right and come to a house and barn conversion in a sylvan glade, a perfect spot. I was reminded of the French Pyrenees whose trails I have explored in the past, wooded byways, dappled sunlight and steep banks carpeted in wild flowers.

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At a fork in the path take the left leading up a rake to a house and pass it through its gates to meet a road, School Lane. The right-hand path on the riverside leads to a ruined mill but except in periods of drought the stream has to be crossed and may come over the top of the boots.

Turn left onto School Lane and in 50 yards take a footpath on the right where a Quiet Lane sign has been put up. Follow a broad path used by riders judging by a sign warning ‘No Cantering’. You will see an elegant curved footbridge crossing the stream but don’t cross it, however tempting. At a second much smaller footbridge, cross it then climb a bank by a series of irregular steps to emerge from the wood into an open field. Proceed with the wood on your right then go into the trees again by squeezing between two posts.

Our next fork in the path offers the option by keeping right into a dip and up the other side of a pit stop if you happen to be doing this walk on a Sunday or Bank Holiday since there is a tea room at the top open only on those days. At other times don’t take the right but keep ahead to where a gate bars the way. Look to the left and there’s a path. We follow its enclosed way descending by stages to a stream with a footbridge over it. Cross here, climb up the other side and we come to some renovated properties and the simple unadorned church of St James, Ashworth. St James is the patron saint of pilgrims and is usually depicted with a staff and cockle shell, the origin of the famous coquille or scallop shell carried by pilgrims through the ages.

Turn right on the lane here. A notice on the open gate of one of the houses bore the unsettling warning ‘Beware. German Shepherds Running Free’. I had a sudden image of a troupe of nymphs and shepherds skipping around in pastoral glee but I don’t think it was the kind of shepherds likely to be running free hereabouts. I judiciously quickened my pace.

At a T-junction, turn left and descend the lane, soon passing the end of School Lane on the left. Don’t take this turning but carry on down to the cluster of buildings that constitute Ashworth. Look for an opening on the left past the first barn and take the footpath that leads us back into the wooded valley once more. We come to the three-way public footpath sign passed earlier and turn right, following our outward path back to Gelder Clough.

This has been a super walk in an unexpectedly appealing area, one that I hope to return to for a future walk. I shall persuade my editor to let me come back here since it has a lot of potential. But those who know it will justifiably say: ‘I knew that!’

Compass points

Area of walk: Ashworth near Heywood

Distance: Four miles

Time to allow: Two hours

Map: OS Explorer 277 Manchester and Salford

Refreshments: None, other than Millcroft Tea Rooms on Summer Sundays and Bank Holidays.

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