Distance 6 miles (10 km)
Time 3 hours
Words and picture by Neil Coates
The Cheesden Brook cleaves a twisting gorge into the sandstones of the West Pennines; this natural power was harnessed by Georgian and Victorian engineers to power the many textile mills and works that crowded this narrow valley. Now closed for a century, their evocative remains add a haunting presence to this fascinating upland walk.
Walk up the stony track beyond the parking area. At a fork, keep right and continue through to a tarred road beside houses at a bend. Turn left and remain with this, past a gate and onwards along the roughening road to pass a transmitter mast. Beyond this, the way becomes a walled track; a further gate leads to open moorland at the lip of the glorious Cheesden Gorge. To your right, thick woodland clothes the spectacular defile; mills once thrummed in this most unlikely spot. Keep ahead and a view opens out to include a lone chimney rising above woodland on the valley floor; the moors beyond are dotted with vast wind turbines at Scout Moor. The chimney is your target: in 200m, fork right on a braided path that drops steeply via stiles into the valley. The chimney is at Washwheel bleachworks, the last of the valley’s mills to close, in 1919. About 100m before reaching this however, fork left up a thorn tree-lined greenway to regain the lip of the gorge. The track presently descends again, becoming a cobbled road through woodland. This improbable feature is explained by the tumbled ruins in the trees, the remains of the Deeply Vale Print Works, where calico was finished and printed. Bear right in front of the millpond and then left along the wide track, passing left of another lake at Deeply Hill. This area was an industrial village with terraces of cottages, a school and a tramway; now only tantalising ruins remain.
At the top of the bank turn left, use a gate-side stile and walk the cindered track to a rough lane, along which turn right. Pass by the former Buckhurst School and keep right into the rough track. Immediately on the right, take the waymarked gap stile into rough pasture and follow the path down into the shallow valley. The way is well-walked, threading along the edge of Cheesden Brook past a string of ruins and old lodges, presently the striking Cheesden Lumb Mill, which processed cotton waste and ended its days in the 1890s as
a lampwick mill.
Put your back to the façade and look for an old walled track, rising ahead-right beneath thorn trees. Take this and go ahead on the rough road. Continue past Buckhurst School, remaining on the track as it becomes a tarred lane. Beyond Cob House it becomes a walled bridlepath, then a tarred lane back to Birtle.
Lanes, tracks and paths. Muddy after rain and likely
to be marshy in wet periods near Cheesden Lumb.
How to get there
by car: St John’s Church, Birtle (sometimes marked
as Bircle), is off Castle Hill Road, Fairfield. Follow the prominent signs for The Church Inn from the B6222 about 2 miles east of Bury, and park in the parking area on the rough lane beyond
St John’s, above the pub.
By public transport:
Frequent buses pass Castle Hill Road, Fairfield, ½ mile from the start.
0871 200 2233
The Church Inn
Castle Hill Road, Birtle, Bury, Lancashire BL9 6UL
0161 764 2857
Ordnance Survey Explorer Maps OL21 & 277.
Grid ref: SD 829 123
The East Lancashire Railway operates a largely steam-hauled service up the Irwell Valley between Heywood, Bury and Rawtenstall.
0161 764 7790
The Met Art Centre,
Market Street, Bury BL9 0BN
0161 253 5111