GL Walk 1.                Broadbottom to Hadfield

The Route:    Broadbottom station, The Hague, Melandra Roman fort, Trans-Pennine Trail, “Royston Vasey”, Hadfield station

Starting point:         Broadbottom station. (G.R. SJ 990937)

Distance:      3.7 miles (6 km)

Ascent:         520 feet (158 metres)

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

How to get there:   Frequent daily train service to Broadbottom and Hadfield from Manchester and Glossop. 

Disley Station

The Walk:  From Broadbottom station, go up the station approach, passing the Etherow centre on your right.  This was originally the goods shed.  At the road, turn right, following the Trans Pennine Trail sign and go down through the village, passing the Harewood Arms and noting, on your right the reuse of the goods yard as a riding area for disabled children and then, a little further on, the remains of the coal drops.  Just before the viaduct, turn left up Gorsey Brow and then almost immediately, bear right onto Hague Road.  Despite its name, this is little more than a rough lane and is clearly signed as a footpath only, though the OS map shows it as a bridleway.  The lane swings left, away from the railway and through a substantial rock cutting, high above the Etherow.  The noise of the weir far below can be heard clearly and you can also catch a glimpse of the Etherow viaduct through the trees.

A short distance along the lane brings you to a substantial house known as The Hague.  This does not correspond with the place name “The Hague” on the OS map.  From here you can look back and see the Etherow viaduct spanning the gorge.  Also from this point there is a view across the valley to the site of Melandra Castle and the hills of the Peak District, with the houses of Gamesley estate intervening.

Middlewood Way Sign
Photo by Martin Smith

About XX yards (xx metres) further on you reach a collection of buildings, which the OS refers to as The Hague.  Here the track forks, but the way ahead is clearly to the left as the others are all obviously private.  At another junction, although the map seems to indicate a route straight ahead, the footpath is firmly signed to the left, through a gate and then the farmyard.  The exit gate was fastened with rope when the walk was recce’d and, being a very wide gate it was not the easiest to open and close.  Once through this gate, turn right, along a rough road, which appears to be heading straight for a set of high ornamental gates.  Just before the gates there is a signpost directing you to the right for Melandra castle and sure enough, the lane does swing right and begins to descend towards the river.

Note the stone lined well on your right.  Don’t lean too far over, especially if you have anything about your person that is likely to fall off, as recovery could be problematic!

The lane ends abruptly in the courtyards in front of a house, but ahead there is an archway cut into the hedge and your route lies through this.  Here you rejoin a rough lane, which looks suspiciously like the one you were following before you were diverted through the farmyard.  Go left and follow the lane, from which there is a view across the valley to Melandra Castle, the earthworks of which are very obvious. A quick descent soon brings you to a junction of paths adjacent to the water treatment works.  Go straight on, across the bridge and thus enter Derbyshire.  You are now on a tarred road and will remain on this for some time.  Its one merit is that it’s flat and sees little traffic.  The lane runs alongside the former sewage works, which are now derelict and rapidly developing into woodland.  The hillside on your right rises steeply and you can begin to see why the Romans chose this site for their fortress.

As you pass the recycling site on your left and approach a bridge, look out for a stile on your right.  From here a path goes steeply (and muddily) up to the fortress.  (If you miss the stile and reach the bridge, turn sharp right here (not along the Trans Pennine Trail route) and follow the made path to the first hairpin bend then strike up the hillside on the path already mentioned).

Macclesfield Canal nr High Lane
Photo by Martin Smith

The fort is rather a disappointment.  There is no obvious interpretive material and the concrete blocks at each “gateway” are either devoid of information or merely tell you that the place is in the care of the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works.  As this government department no longer exists (and hasn’t done so for many years), this is scarcely useful information.  The walls of the fortress appear as raised earth mounds and form a complete rectangle in the classic “playing card” shape, enclosing an area of about 3½ acres (1.42ha). Whatever the fort’s function was in Roman times, nowadays its major usage seems to be as  “doggie” walking territory for the residents of the Gamesley estate, which borders the southern edge of the site.  In the centre of the fortress further structures can be discerned, including the foundations of the fort’s main buildings, but there is no descriptive material on site.

The name Melandra does not appear in any Roman records so far discovered and its origin is a mystery, though it is thought likely to have been coined by John Watson, the then Rector of Stockport.  He visited the site in the early 1770’s.  At this time substantial stone remains existed and it seems likely he witnessed the demolition of the ruins of the fort’s bath house.  It would seem that the Romans called the fort Ardotalia. The derivation of this name is obscure but it is thought to come from an ancient Celtic word “talia” meaning “steep hill” so the full meaning would be the “place of the high, dark hill”.  However, other scholars have suggested that the fort and the river ETHEROW both derive their names from the winding, heather covered valley of Longdendale.

The Archaeology Department of Manchester University has done excavations at the fort and it is from this work that much of the information about the fort has been derived.  The fort was built around 78 AD, initially of turf and wood.  This was the period when Agricola was Governor of Britain and was in the process of expanding Roman influence northwards.  (He eventually reached as far north as Inverness and in AD 83 fought and won the Battle of Mons Graupius near Aberdeen, against the Caledonian tribes.  This marked the high water mark of Roman expansion in Britain). 
Victrix, based in Chester.

Leave the fort by your approach route and descend to the bridge over the Glossop Brook.  Follow the Trans Pennine Trail signs towards Longdendale, soon passing the confluence of the Glossop Brook and the River Etherow.  Continue along the trail, mainly beside the river, until you reach the A57.  Cross at the pelican crossing and go up the path on the far side of the road.  You are now on the former Waterside branch railway. 

This line left the Glossop branch just west of Dinting viaduct and descended quite steeply before crossing the Glossop Brook on a substantial steel viaduct and then the A57 on a bridge. The single-track branch was 2 miles 16 chains long (3.54 km).  It opened in 1879 and the last portion of it closed in 1964, though a date in 1965 has been mentioned.  Other than the occasional special, it never carried a passenger service, its sole raison d’etre being to serve a series of mills and factories.  Unlike the Woodhead and Glossop lines it was never electrified.  In retrospect, it is a shame that passenger services were not introduced, as an electrified railway serving the lower part of Hadfield, Hollingworth and Tintwistle would have been a great asset now.

Macclesfield Canal nr Barlow Ho
Photo by Martin Smith

Follow the course of the former railway, soon reaching and crossing Woolley Bridge Road.  There used to be a level crossing here.  The Trans Pennine Trail continues ahead, passing one of the formerly rail-served mills on the left and then coming close to the Etherow again.  Where the river swings to the left, leave the river bank and go up the track to the roundabout at the end of Graphite Way and thus onto Woolley Bridge Road.  The Roman Catholic church dedicated to St Charles Borromeo is to your right.

Go up Woolley Bridge Road to the mini roundabout at the bottom of Station Road and there turn right.  If you are a fan of the League of Gentlemen television series, you will recognise this street, for it was here that many of the scenes were filmed.  See how many of the locations you can distinguish.  Unlike the fictional town in the series, Hadfield is easy to leave, with a half hourly train service and plenty of bus routes too.  It can however be a bit disconcerting when you see a bus coming towards you with the destination blind displaying “Royston Vasey”.

Stroll up Station Road which, not surprisingly takes you straight up to the railway station and the end of this walk.