BL Walk 1.                Disley to Middlewood

The Route:    Disley station, Lyme Park, Ryles Wood, Barlow House Farm, Middlewood Way, Middlewood station.

Starting point:        Disley station. (G.R. SJ 971845)

Distance:     2.8 miles (4½ km)

Ascent:        265 feet (81 metres)

Map:   OS outdoor Leisure No. 1, The Dark Peak

How to get there:  Daily train service to Disley and Middlewood from Manchester, Stockport and Buxton.

Disley Station

The Walk:      From the Manchester bound platform of Disley station, bear right and then locate the information board referring to the Gritstone Trail.  Follow the footpath up the steps through the wood to reach a lane.  Go up the lane to the T-junction and there turn right.  Ignore the signs saying that this is a private street because it is a public footpath.

Follow the lane, passing large houses either side, until, at a footpath sign on the left you catch a glimpse of The Cage, the former hunting lodge in the Lyme Park estate. Continue down the lane, which soon reaches the gatehouse to Lyme Park. 

This is National Trust land and also in the Peak District National Park.  Signs give details of opening times for the Park, usually 0800 to 2030.  There is no charge for entry at this gate.

Go through the gate, cross the main access driveway by the ticket booth and go along the lane towards Parkgate.  The lane dips to cross a bridge over Bollinghurst Brook, with a delightful cottage down to the right.  Continue up the lane to reach the cattle grid and exit gate.  A Peak and Northern Footpaths Society sign indicates that the route to Middlewood is straight ahead, to the right of the farm and through another gate.

Middlewood Way Sign
Photo by Martin Smith

Follow this path, with the field wall to your right until you come alongside Ryles Wood.  Keeping the wood to your right continue ahead, with a view back towards the Cage, until you reach a stile.  The path now passes through a strip of woodland, oak, holly, sycamore and beech being present, and descends quite sharply to a bridge over a stream, which was virtually dry when the walk was recce’d.  Go up the steps on the far side to a kissing gate and thus into open fields. 

There is a surprisingly wide view from here.  A range of hills can be seen ahead.  These must be Delamere Forest, whilst to the right there are hills in the far distance, including one with a prominent mast.

Keeping the fence/hedge to your left, go through the field to a crossing of paths and there follow the path signed to Higher Poynton.  The path hugs the edge of the field and at the bottom makes a sharp left turn over a stile.  At the next stile, turn right, ignoring the further stile on your left and  keeping the fence/hedge to your left. 

There were horses in this field when the walk was recce’d and indeed the last few fields seem to be given over to horse riding and grazing. 

Pass through a small gate and through the next field, soon skirting Barlow House farm.  A stile gives out onto the driveway and here you turn right.  Ahead of you, you will already have caught a glimpse of the Macclesfield Canal and the driveway/lane soon swings left, then right, to cross the canal.

The Macclesfield Canal was one of the last narrow canals to be built, not being authorised until 1826,  post-dating the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.  By the time the canal was completed the railway age was well under way.

Don’t go down onto the towpath on this walk.  Save that pleasure for the walk from Middlewood to Marple.  Beyond the canal, the lane is very narrow and merely two strips of tarmac.  There are ponds left and right, with the almost inevitable Canada geese in residence.  Soon the lane reaches another bridge, this time over the former Marple to Macclesfield railway line, which is now the Middlewood Way.  Turn right here and either descend to the trackbed, or keep on the path on top of the cutting. 

The way this railway route has been treated is an object lesson for any authority wanting to create a multi-user trail.  Wherever possible there is a footpath on the top of the cutting, which of course allows for views of the surrounding countryside.  Down on the former trackbed, the full width of the formation has been used and there is a median planted strip to segregate walkers from cyclists and horse riders.  Given the various comments about the recently opened sections of the Monsal Trail it is a pity more attention wasn’t paid to the Middlewood Way when considering how to accommodate different users.  Of course, despite the clear signage, it is obvious that some people can’t read, even though they might be fortunate enough to own horses, but nevertheless a walker doesn’t feel intimidated by larger and speedier users.

The Macclesfield-Marple line was promoted as an independent company in the early 1860’s.  It gained Parliamentary approval in July 1864.  From the outset, it was backed by the Manchester, Sheffield & Lincolnshire Railway and the North Staffordshire Railway companies, for complex railway political reasons that we won’t go into here.  By the time it opened in 1869, these two companies had already agreed to take it over, which they did, two years later. Originally built as single track, it was doubled in 1871 when it became the joint property of the two bigger companies.  The original stations were at Marple (Rose Hill), High Lane, Poynton, Bollington and Macclesfield.  Macclesfield station only lasted until 1873 when Macclesfield (Central) was opened (the present day Macclesfield station).  Closure of the Rose Hill to Macclesfield line came about on 5th January 1970, and the route was converted to the Middlewood Way, which opened on 30th May 1985.

Stroll along the trail under various bridges.

The first bridge you meet passes under Prince Road.  This formerly carried a colliery railway from  Horsepasture Pit to the Macclesfield canal.  It is shown as “disused” on the 1874 map of the area.  Mining is not one of the things you would immediately associate with Poynton but it was an important coal mining area at one time and the history of the Poynton collieries is a fascinating one.  The final mines closed down in 1935 and there is very little obvious sign of their existence now.

Beyond bridge 18 the two parts of the trail are more widely separated and the right hand path is signed to Middlewood station.  In a few yards the path forks again and there is an information board about the former Jackson’s brickworks, which occupied the site to the right.  Now completely reclaimed for nature, this is an interesting place to visit if time permits.

Macclesfield Canal nr Barlow Ho
Photo by Martin Smith

 It was near this point that on 25th May 1885 a curve was opened linking the Macclesfield line with the Buxton line at Middlewood.  Its use by passenger trains was never extensive, at best consisting of trains on 3 or 4 days a week, between Stoke and Buxton and even then usually only one train a day in each direction.  Not surprisingly the “service” was an early victim, ceasing on 1st October 1914, being restored in 1922, only to be withdrawn again in 1927.  The curve closed to all traffic in February 1955 and the bridges were demolished.  The embankments can still be traced in the woodland both south and north of the current Middlewood station.

Continuing on the main trail, a slight rise marks the site of the former Middlewood Upper station.

Middlewood (Upper or High Level) station was opened on 2nd June 1879 and closed in 1960.  The station house is still extant on the left hand side of the line, and the path that formed the station approach now joins the trail. 

Ahead you can now see the large girder bridge that carries the Middlewood Way over the Buxton line, and here too is the usual array of information signs that one gets at any station.  As you arrive at the top of the steps leading to the Manchester bound platform of Middlewood (Lower) station you pass imperceptibly from Cheshire into Greater Manchester.  The only things that betray this change are the different signs and, in particular, those on the station that show you are now in GMPTE’s territory.  A more unlikely PTE station would be hard to imagine as Middlewood has no vehicular access at all and, as the name suggests, it is literally in the middle of a wood.  You need to time your arrival here with care as there are some 2-hour gaps in the train service and, as will be all too obvious, no possibility of a taxi or a bus.

Middlewood Station Sign
Photo by Martin Smith

Middlewood Station Bridge
Photo by Martin Smith