BL Walk 3.                Whaley Bridge to New Mills (Newtown)

The Route:    Whaley Bridge station, Canal Street, Canal Basin, Peak Forest Canal towpath, (optional visit to Bugsworth Basin), canal towpath, (optional short route to Furness Vale station), canal towpath, Chapel Street, Albion Road, Newtown station.

Starting point:        Whaley Bridge station. (G.R. SK 010815)

Distance:     4.7 miles (7.6 km) (including visiting Whaley Bridge incline and Bugsworth basin).  Shorter route, finishing at Furness Vale station is 3¼ miles (5¼ km)

Ascent:        None worth recording.

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

How to get there:  Daily train service to Whaley Bridge and New Mills (Newtown) from Manchester, Stockport and Buxton

The Walk:     From Whaley Bridge station cross the main road and then go down the signed route to the canal basin, down Canal Street, passing the post office on your right.  At the canal basin, take a few moments to look round this historic site.
The canal warehouse lies to your left.  It was opened in 1801 as the terminus of the Whaley Bridge arm of the Peak Forest Canal.  In 1831 it became a transhipment warehouse between the canal and the newly opened Cromford and High Peak Railway, the first trans-Pennine railway line.  Canal/rail traffic continued until the closure of this section of the CHP in the 1950’s.Quite a complex of railway sidings developed over the years, some taking traffic to the canal but latterly most freight went up the Whaley Bridge incline to join the main line railway just east of Whaley Bridge station. 

The Whaley Bridge incline is walkable and lies to the east of the canal basin.  Worth a look if you’ve time.  Locomotives were never used either on the canal side tracks or to take the waggons from the top of the incline to the mainline, as there was a very low bridge that precluded their use.  The incline itself was also worked by a horse ‘gin.

From the canal basin, follow the towpath, soon crossing the overflow weir and then passing numerous moored boats of various shapes and sizes.  You pass under the access road to the Tesco supermarket and soon reach the junction with the Bugsworth arm of the canal.  A footbridge spans the Bugsworth arm.  Don’t attempt to continue on the east side of the canal at this point as the path only serves the moorings.  A horse tunnel dives down to the right and passes under the Bugsworth arm, though this must have made for a tricky manoeuvre for horse drawn boats coming to or from Whaley Bridge.  Bugsworth Basin is well worth a visit.  In its day it was much more important than the Whaley Bridge arm as you’ll see.

Whaley Bridge canal basin
Photo by Martin Smith

Follow the towpath to Bugsworth basin for one of the great waterways sites in England. 

This was a massive complex of wharves, each served both by a canal arm and by siding from the Peak Forest tramway.  Forget any notion of an electric tramway like that in Manchester, Sheffield or Nottingham.  The Peak Forest Tramway dates back to the 18th century and was always horse worked, using L shaped rails rather than the modern “edge” rail used on today’s mainline railways or the grooved rail used on street tramways.  None of the tramway is now extant, but there are numerous interpretation boards, which explain how the tramway operated, and the various industries that were dependant on the canal and its associated tramway.  The last tramway traffic ceased in the mid 1920’s after which the tramway was removed and the Bugsworth basin became more and more derelict.  Heroic efforts and no little injection of cash have managed to bring the basin back to life, and on the occasion of the recce for this walk there was a rally of canal boats going on, which gave an impression of what the place must have been like in its heyday.

Retrace your steps back to the junction with the Whaley Bridge arm and continue along the towpath, passing under the A5004 and then the A6.

A gentle walk now follows, and a surprisingly quiet and rural one at that, given the proximity of the A6 and the Buxton branch railway.  On the opposite side of the valley is the Sheffield-Manchester main line.
You very soon pass under the road leading to Chinley and shortly afterwards a white bridge spanning the canal means that you have reached Furness Vale.

If time presses or if the difficulties of this walk(?)have exhausted you, leave the canal here and go up to the railway station where there are trains to Buxton, Stockport and Manchester.

Otherwise, continue along the towpath where you soon encounter the Furness Vale marina. 

Furness Vale marina
Photo by Martin Smith

Here the boats must be numbered in the hundreds – and what a myriad of shapes, sizes and colours they are.  The names too seem to indicate some amazing flights of fancy, though some boats look as if they haven’t moved in a very long time.  Each boat has to be registered with British Waterways and has a unique number.  Quite how the numbering system is structured is not obvious, but it surely cannot be the case that there really are in excess of 550000 boats registered on The Canal and River Trust, which is what the numbering would imply.  Any offers of an explanation?

Still musing on the boat numbering problem, continue on the towpath.  You will pass accesses on the right leading to the Tors Riverside Nature Reserve, but unless you are heading for Central station rather than Newtown, you should ignore these. New Mills marina lies on the far side of the canal and ahead is the bridge carrying Albion Road over the canal.  Unusually, there is no access to the road from the canal at the bridge.  Instead, about 100 yards before the bridge, go right and then left along Chapel Street, which soon joins Albion Road.  Here turn left and go up the road, over the canal and so reach Newtown station.

Albion Road Bridge, new Mills