Walks Around Heywood

The ever-present Knowl Hill



When I first moved to Heywood in 2018, I said to my partner (a Heywood lass born and bred) that the place had little to offer on the walking front … boy, how wrong I was!

To atone for my ignorant comment, I have put together a series (not exhaustive) of summer walks that circumnavigate the town … each one is around 7 miles and is laced with a heavy dose of history!

I have followed a familiar Blue Fox format … the routes are on 1:25k maps (enlarged x 2 for ease of identifying specific details) or ‘Streetmaps’ where appropriate. Each one is accompanied by several points of interest and supporting pictures.

Oh yes … every walk has a suggested pic-nic/break stop and, of course, pub-stop factored into it!

Heywood can trace its roots back to the Anglo Saxon period. The Saxons cleared thickly wooded areas into ‘Heys’ or fenced clearings in which wild animals were driven for easy capture … likely giving

the area its name. The Anglo-Saxon word “haga” means a hedge, thus Heywood possibly means ‘the wood surrounded by a hedge.’ At one time Heywood was spelt as ‘Eywode’ which points strongly to its derivation being from the Anglo Saxon ‘ea’ meaning water – thus ‘the wood surrounded by the stream’ is another possible source of the name.

Originally part of the township of Heap, Heywood grew to be the town we know and love due to the Cotton Trade. With excellent transport links, thanks to the M62 and M66, Heywood to-day has become the centre for the distribution of goods.

It’s not known exactly when Heywood first got the nickname “Monkey Town” but the term was being used as far back as 1857. Bob Dobson in ‘Lancashire Nicknames & Sayings’ states that the nickname originated from Irish immigrants pronouncing ‘Heap Bridge’ as ‘Ape Bridge,’ and believes that the name ‘Monkey Town’ derived from this. With the nickname came the stools with holes in them – supposedly for the monkey’s tails. In fact the holes were for carrying the stools!

The railways are inextricably linked to the area’s industrial past, providing vital links to the country’s network of import, export, raw material, and, most importantly, workers. The East Lancashire Railway is now a 12.5 mile heritage steam line, running between Heywood and Rawtenstall, with stations at Ramsbottom and Bury in between.

WALK No.1 –

Simpson Clough & Bamford ~ 6.8 miles / 850 feet ascent


Start/finish point: St.Luke’s Church, town centre


WALK No.2 –

Roch Valley & Birtle ~ 7.5 miles / 800 feet ascent


Start/finish point: Sports Village, Back o’th’ Moss

WALK No.3 –

Castle Hawk & Crimble ~ 7.9 miles / 500 feet ascent


Start/finish point: St. Luke’s Church, town centre

WALK No.4 –

Ashworth Valley & Deeply Vale ~ 7.5 miles / 1100 feet ascent


Start/finish point: ‘Tractor’ blue plaque, town centre

WALK No.5 –

Rochdale Canal & Hopwood Woodlands ~ 7.6 miles / 400 feet ascent


Start/finish point: East Lancashire Railway, Hopwood

WALK No.6 –

Summerseat to Heywood ~ 7.7 miles / 1150 feet ascent


Start/finish point: East Lancashire Railway, Hopwood


Hollins Vale Nature Reserve & Pilsworth ~ 7.3 miles / 500 feet ascent


Start/finish Point: St. John’s Church, Heap Bridge


Springfield Park & Queen’s Park ~ 7.4 miles / 650 feet ascent


Start/finish Point: Queen’s Park, Heywood North


Walmersley & Chesham Woods ~ 7.4 miles / 1000 feet ascent


Start/finish Point: St. John The Baptist Church, Bircle

WALK No.10

Healy Dell & Pennine Bridleway ~ 7.1 miles / 1200 feet ascent


Start/finish Point: Catley Lane Head, Rochdale

NOTE: These walks were researched and reconnoitred in beautiful sunshine! … when the paths were bone-dry and streams a mere trickle. Please be aware that large areas could be prone to heavy mud and it is highly inadvisable to attempt any riverside sections in times of spate. Although much of each route are mere strolls, there are still some parts suitable for the sure-footed only. Every walk includes a DIFFERENT pub for you to enjoy along the way, or an alternative pic-nic/break stop if preferred(?). You can alter the start and finish points to suit yourselves (eg if you want the pub at the end). Knowledge of map-reading would be advantageous to yield the most from this project.


The Rochdale Way

This 49 miles / 6500 feet ascent long distance beauty is a route around the Borough of Rochdale … over moorland, through wooded valleys and passing historic urban sites. Blackstone Edge, Healey Dell, Knowl Hill, Queens Park, Tandle Hill and Piethorne Valley are visited or viewed along the Way.

Although waymarked throughout, it does have its shortfalls … particularly in places where you could really do with a helpful pointer! There is a contentious section near to Birch to negotiate too. All in all … this will test your navigational skills.

It is unlikely you will be able to do this in one hit, so in order to segment it, reliance on someone to drop you off and pick you up will be required. Alternatively, careful planning of public transport will be necessary.



Cycle Routes

Cycle Route ~ North

15.4 miles circular / 2200 feet ascent

Ashworth Valley > Shuttleworth > Nangreaves > Birtle

Cycle Route ~ East

16.0 miles linear / 900 feet ascent

Hebden Bridge > Castleton via the Rochdale Canal

Cycle Route ~ West

16.0 miles circular / 1400 feet ascent

Prestwich > Radcliffe > Moses Gate > Ringley

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Cycle Route ~ South

15.2 miles circular / 900 feet ascent

Castleton > Alkrington > Heaton Park > Bowlee



Heywood’s Hidden Treasures …

Heap Bridge Branch Line

Heap Bridge has a history with papermaking that dates back 300 years! The Heap Bridge sidings were a freight-only line built for Bridge Hall Mill (BHM), but was latterly and solely used by Yates Duxbury (YD) when the mill closed down in the mid 1920’s.

These modern-day pictures trace the line’s short journey ….


ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: my gratitude to Andrew Stocks for the photography and for assisting me with my research.


A masterpiece short film by Gandy Dancer Productions explains all …


The Bridge Hall mill was on the opposite side of the river to the branch line, access was achieved by using turntables … two tracks crossed the river on their own bridges at 90 degrees to the railway and river. They connected to two more turntables on the mill side, one bridge was used for incoming traffic, the other for outgoing.

Could this be one of the crossing points ~ an old nearby picture of the mill ~ a possible clue remains in a retaining wall on the right-hand side of the crossing??? …


CROSS REFERENCE ~ Walks 6, 7 & 9


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RAF Heywood (35 Maintenance Unit)

Heywood suffered badly during The Depression of the 1930’s and a solution to the demise of the cotton mills was sought … it came in 1938.

During WWII (and into the 1960s) Heywood had a huge RAF site. It was a maintenance unit for storage and repair, staffed mostly by civilians. To-day it is Heywood Distribution Park … a massive industrial estate.

One of its main purposes was to provide replacement aircraft parts to RAF bases throughout Britain and abroad. A massive transport operation was required to reach the bases and ports … many parts were moved by regular lorry conveys, often at night (to minimise enemy detection) and by women drivers … travelling alone, on unfamiliar roads and during ‘black-out!).

One of the few remnants of the RAF’s presence is the old guard-house for ‘5 Site’ on Manchester Road. It is still under government ownership in the guise of the Department for Work and Pensions, aka Heywood Stores … the huge warehouses store the documents for benefit claims!


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS ~ my gratitude to Roy Pickup for his historical information and for inspiring me to undertake this short project.

Further information regarding plans of the main site and several excellent newspaper clippings are available from Heywood Library – library reference: “B84”


CROSS REFERENCE ~ Walk 6 and Cycle Route South


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Heywood Branch Canal

The Heywood Canal was an arm of the Rochdale Canal. It ran for a level 1.5 miles from Trub, near Castleton, to a wharf adjacent to Sefton Street in Heywood, where a warehouse had been built.

It opened in 1834, carried traffic until 1937 and was abandoned in 1952 … along with most of the Rochdale Canal (the latter fortunately has been restored).

No Act of Parliament was obtained to authorise construction, as the canal owners were able to buy all the land required without dispute. It was opened on the 10 April 1834 in a ceremony by the committee, who travelled along the new canal in a boat called ‘The Rochdale’.

When the Manchester to Littleborough railway opened in 1839, a packet boat for passengers ran from Bluepits Station at Castleton to Heywood Wharf. The service didn’t last very long, for Heywood got its own railway branch in 1841.

THE COURSE … the junction lies under the embankments of the M62 motorway. The old towpath ran on the north bank of the canal and was accessed from the main Rochdale Canal by swing bridges.

The course ran in a straight line, under the London, Midland & Scottish railway line and alongside what is now just south of the motorway. To-day the entire length is on private land and virtually no evidence of its existence is visible!

From the clubhouse of Manchester Golf Course, walk parallel to the railway (permission required) on a waterboard service road to the small treatment plant. From there, it is possible to head west along a track which is presumably used by the golf course maintenance team(?) … there is no need to encroach on the fairways. This runs for just under half a mile, where it abruptly ends at some barbed wire fencing and onto private farmland. Just beyond the fencing, the canal swung north-west to cross the motorway.

From the motorway, it reached a bridge at Hope Street. Ley Farm was situated below this bridge on the west side. Hope Street gave access to the towpath but did not continue any further once it had crossed the canal and onto the towpath. Just before Canal Street bridge, stood High Street Cotton Mill … this became Excelsior Works cabinet manufacturers by 1910. It was disused in 1937 and demolished in 1956. Between Hope and Canal Streets, the canal ran under what are now fields. It is possible to walk to the end of Hope Street, where the line of the canal can be determined. Also, the continuation of Canal Street is a footpath (The Rochdale Way) that crosses the old course.

Between Canal Street and Green Lane were located the cotton mills of Bridge Mill and Park Street Mill … still active in 1929, but cleared by 1937 and turned into garden allotments!

Opposite Park Street Mill (towpath side) was Sefton Mill, with Phoenix Brewery behind it. Green Lane Bridge has been lost after the road was widened although the road was never lowered, leaving a hump in the road!


CROSS REFERENCE ~ Walk 5 and Cycle Route South


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Haweswater Aquaduct

Although Heywood is likely to get its water supply from the Greenbooth/Naden Reservoir chain and Ashworth Moor Reservoir(?), this engineering gem definitely falls within our town’s radar and warrants more than just a mention.

The 72-mile Haweswater Aqueduct runs from Haweswater in the north-eastern Lake District, to Heaton Park reservoir in Manchester. It was constructed between 1935 and 1955. The first 9-mile section runs through a tunnel and then down Longsleddale to Watchgate Treatment Works, north of Kendal. This was built concurrently with the dam at Haweswater and completed in 1941. It allowed water to be drawn from the new reservoir and sent from Watchgate though a 1 1/4 mile linking pipeline into the existing Thirlmere aqueduct, and thus to Manchester.

Construction of the rest of the Haweswater Aqueduct started in 1948. Its 63 miles included six concrete-lined tunnels of 8 feet inside diameter, each with a low southwards gradient, totalling 31 miles of the length. The remaining 32 miles consist mostly of four pipes buried side-by-side in trenches across undulating countryside.

Haweswater is 800 feet above sea level, Watchgate is 650 feet and Heaton Park is 400 feet … allowing the water-flow along the whole aqueduct to be gravity-powered (after priming) with water being dragged along uphill sections by ‘siphon’.

My tribute comes in the form of an 11 mile walk that follows a section of the aqueduct (or nearest to it following mainly Rights of Way) … starting near to ‘Owd Bet’s’ pub on the Edenfield Road and ending at Heaton Park.

Some above-ground evidence (???!) …


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Deeply Vale Rock Festival


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Cheesden Brook: From Source To Confluence