HVL Walk 1.                Marple to Strines

The Route:    Marple station, Station Road, Marple locks, Peak Forest canal, Turf Lea bridge, Strines, Whitecroft Farm, Strines station.

Starting point:        Marple station. (G.R. SJ 962893)

Distance:     3 miles ( 4.9 km)

Ascent:        265 feet (81 metres)

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

How to get there:  Daily train service to Marple from Manchester and Sheffield.  Check train times as there are some lengthy gaps in the Sheffield service on weekdays.  Make sure you check your train times for Strines as it has a much less frequent service than either Marple or New Mills Central.

The Walk:     From Marple station, turn right and go up Station Road.  Almost at once, there is a footpath signed off to the right.

(If you have time, go along this path and soon join the Peak Forest canal towpath.  It is worth continuing down the flight of locks to the fine Marple Aqueduct, one of the triumphs of 18th century canal engineering.  Construction began in May 1794. By 1799, the arches were keyed in and water was let into the channel in 1800.  The aqueduct is 103 yards (97 metres) long. There are three arches over the River Goyt, the highest being 100 feet (30.5 metres) above the river. Records indicate that the aqueduct contains around 8,000 cubic yards (6300 cubic metres) of masonry. The piers are constructed in red sandstone and are oval in section.  The upper courses are in a white, dressed stone and are pierced to reduce the weight of the structure. The paralleling railway viaduct is also rather fine.  Having visited these two structures, retrace your steps up the lock flight, but don’t go along the footpath back to the railway station (unless you’ve already had enough of this walk), instead carry on up the flight of locks to Station Road).

Carry on up Station Road to Lock No. 9 on the Marple Lock flight.

The Peak Forest Canal was sanctioned by an Act of Parliament in 1794.  This authorised a canal from Dukinfield (junction with the Ashton Canal) to Chapel Milton, plus a branch to Whaley Bridge.  From Chapel Milton the Act authorised construction of “railways or stone roads” to Load’s Knowle (Dove Holes).  It soon became clear that to get the canal to Chapel Milton would involve a further number of locks and the canal was terminated at Bugsworth.  Beyond Bugsworth the canal company constructed the Peak Forest Tramway. The canal, tramway and aqueduct were designed by the Canal Company's consultant engineer Benjamin Outram.  The resident engineer was Thomas Brown.  There are various dates given for the opening.  It is recorded that canal was opened in 1796 or 1797, except for the Marple locks, but records show that the Marple aqueduct wasn’t in water until 1800.  Likewise the Peak Forest Tramway opening dates are variously given as 1796 and 1800.  The Marple lock flight was completed in 1803, prior to which date an inclined plane had been used to link together the two sections of canal.  In 1803 also, the Peak Forest Tramway had been doubled.

Lock No. 9
Photo by Martin Smith

In 1846 the canal and its tramway were taken over by the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway company, along with the neighbouring Ashton and Macclesfield canals.  As such, these three canals and the Peak Forest Tramway passed through various railway hands, finally ending up with the London and North Eastern Railway in 1923.  The tramway closed in the mid 1920’s, horse worked to the end.  The Peak Forest Canal continued to carry cargo until just after the nationalisation of the railways and waterways in 1948.  The railway owned canals became part of the massive organisation that was the British Transport Commission and then, when that was dissolved, part of the British Waterways Board and now the Canal and River Trust.

There was now little traffic on the Peak Forest Canal and the Marple locks and aqueduct were starved of repair, to the extent that the locks became semi derelict and a section of the aqueduct collapsed in the winter of 1961/2.  It was at this point that a campaign really got under way to reopen the Peak Forest and Ashton canals in order to recreate the Cheshire Ring of waterways.  The Inland Waterways Association held its National Rally at Marple in 1966 and campaigning continued.  Five years later, in 1971 BWB decided to refurbish Marple Locks and the Ashton Canal.  The work was completed by May 1974 when there was a grand reopening ceremony. 

Cross the road with care and make your way up the towpath alongside the various locks. Between Locks 9 and 10 note the restored warehouse on the far side of the canal. At Lock 13 a flight of steps goes up to the road.  However, to avoid crossing the road on the level, you can either use the horse tunnel or an even narrower path right beside the canal and then up another flight of steps close to the bottom gates of the lock.  Once over the road, carry on along the towpath, soon reaching the top lock of the flight and the junction with the Macclesfield canal.  A bridge carries the towpath over the Macclesfield and onto the upper section of the Peak Forest canal.

This is a grand place for watching the antics of boaters.  Here you are at one of the key junctions on the Cheshire Ring of canals.  It is hard to believe now, as you watch the almost constant procession of boats up and down the Marple flight, that not all that long ago, this magnificent flight of locks was virtually derelict and there were suggestions of closing the Peak Forest canal entirely.

Marple Top Lock
Photo courtesy of www.penninewaterways.co.uk

What follows is now a gentle stroll along the towpath.

Just beyond the marina, there is a view across to Mellor church on the hillside and beyond it to Cowms Edge and Rocks.  Bridge 19 is a roving bridge, built with a spiral approach ramp to enable towing horses to pass from one side of the canal to the other without having to release the towrope. 

Go over the bridge and follow the towpath, which now continues on the north side of the canal. 

At Bridge 21 note the use of old railway line as a means of protecting the stonework from towrope abrasion.  Even the steel rail has grooves in it where the ropes have rubbed.  Just beyond this bridge a signpost seeks to lure you to The Sportsman pub and offers a route to Hyde (Gee Cross), via Werneth Low.  None of these are of any use to you, though it might be worth remembering The Sportsman for future occasions.

Continue on the towpath to Turf Lea lifting bridge, which, like a number on this canal, boasts a large STOP sign.

It would take a particularly blind boat operator or a very poor judge of bridge heights not to see these bridges or to misjudge the clearance. 

A couple of hundred yards beyond the lifting bridge, the canal goes over a substantial bridge across a ravine.  Just before this bridge, there is a flight of steps on the left.  Go down these, leaving the canal, and thus join a cobbled lane.  Turn left here and follow the lane down, passing a delightful row of cottages on the left, until you reach the main road.  This is the great metropolis of Strines.  Cross the main road with care and go down Station Road opposite.

Just beyond the new housing development on the left, the road narrows and signs proclaim that it is no through road beyond this point.  A narrow bridge spans the River Goyt and there are inscriptions in both parapets. 

Turf Lea lifting bridge
Photo courtesy of www.penninewaterways.co.uk

The inscription on the western parapet refers to the construction of the original bridge in 1834 by the Strines Printing Company; the destruction of that bridge in a flood in 1872 and its reconstruction in the same year.  Perhaps appropriately the name of the builder of the new bridge was one J Mason.  The inscription on the eastern parapet refers to the strengthening of the bridge in 1957 by New Mills Urban District Council.  The current county boundaries at this point show the bridge as being firmly in Greater Manchester County (Stockport Metropolitan Borough).  The boundary was altered in 1974, but even before that the inclusion of this bridge in Derbyshire must have been an anomaly as the only means of access to it by road was through Cheshire.

Continue along the lane, noting the pond and its attractive dovecote on the left.  As the lane swings left, you pass Whitecroft Farm on the right.  Shortly afterwards the lane begins to rise and is surfaced with cobbles.  Ahead you’ll now see the signs for Strines station. 

This is an unusual station for a PTE, though at least Strines is accessible by road - just.  Like Middlewood, it is only just in the PTE’s area.  Indeed it is a moot point whether the Sheffield bound platform is actually in Derbyshire, because as soon as one gets under the railway bridge the road signs are Derbyshire’s.