The Middlewood Way

An extract from "Walking Northern Railways", (Vol Two, West) by Charlie Emett, courtesy of Cicerone Press.

Length: 11 Miles
Opened: For passenger traffic-2nd August, 1869 and goods traffic 1st March, 1870
Closed: For goods and passenger traffic- January 1970
O/S: Sheets 109/118 (Landranger) or Pathfinder 741/759

'No poetry in railways!' foolish thought
of a dull brain, to no fine music wrought.
Charles Mackay.

Plaque 30th May 1985'Tewiffic!' enthused Dr David Bellamy, jumping for joy at the new walkway. The occasion was the official opening of the Middlewood Way on May 30th 1985 at Higher Poynton station, now a beautifully landscaped picnic area. David, as the botanic man insisted on being called, unveiled a plaque there, further marked his presence with a tree planting ceremony and delighted onlookers and councillors alike by removing his shoes and socks and wading through a mucky pond. Bubbling over with approbation, bearded Bellamy was clearly impressed with the Middlewood Way and lavished praise on the Stockport and Macclesfield councils who, with D.O.E. grants of £1.3 million have done such a fine job reclaiming the derelict railway track and turning it into a nature treasure trail.

David Bellamy and friendsThe next day, together with Steven Barker, who has accompanied me on countless walks, I saw for myself just what made the Middlewood Way so special and learned something of the problems facing the North Staffordshire Railway and the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire when they combined to build the Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple line in the early 1860's.

As far back as 1849 the North Staffordshire Railway, (N.S.) having reached Macclesfield, found the way to Manchester blocked by the ever-jealous London and North Western Railway, (L.N.W.) The N.S. therefore suggested a branch to Whaley Bridge to link with the proposed Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway, (M.S.L.) from Hyde Junction; but nothing came of it. Throughout, the L.N.W. was obstructive and refused to allow any traffic to Manchester to pass via Macclesfield, insisting that it went via Crewe, thus ensuring a greater L.N.W. mileage.

In 1863 a Macclesfield businessman, Thomas Oliver, in an effort to give a fresh lease of life to Bollington, then an important cotton town suffering depression due to the American civil war, promoted a scheme for a local line to be built from Macclesfield to Marple via Bollington. The line would also carry Kerridge stone from local quarries and coal from the collieries of the Poynton area.

Both the N.S. and the M.S.L. were enthusiastic about the scheme, the N.S. because it could become a new route to Manchester independent of the L.N.W., which was becoming increasingly obstructive; and the M.S.L. who saw it as an other outlet to the south. The Macclesfield Courier and Herald proclaimed M.S.L.'s enthusiastic General Manager, Edward Watkin, to be the inspired leader of the scheme, second only to Thomas Oliver. With such support the scheme prospered and the line was authorised on 14th July 1864. The N.S. and the M.S.L. were both empowered to subscribe £80,000 for its construction and work it when open. Yet almost immediately the original purpose of the line to provide the N.S. with an independent route to Manchester was lost because the L.N.W., alarmed at the success of the M.B.M. came to an amicable traffic agreement with the N.S.

Bollington ViaductNow that the urgency had gone out of the scheme the construction of the line slowed considerably despite there being no major engineering problems apart from a low, 23 arch viaduct at Bollington and two deep cuttings on the approach to Marple Wharf Junction. When, at long last, it opened for passenger traffic on 2nd August 1869, the M.B.M. was single line only, on the 'up' side of a double bed. Four single platform stations, Marple Rose Hill, High Lane, Poynton and Bollington served it. Initially there were four trains each way on weekdays and two each way on Sundays. Goods depots were opened at Rose Hill and Bollington and a goods service began on 1st March 1870.

In 1871 the line was doubled throughout at a cost of £16,000 and second platforms were provided at all four stations. By 1872 a link had been made just north of Poynton station with Lord Vernon's colliery railway system, the line curving westwards in a wide arc to enter the colliery. A great deal of traffic was carried along this branch to and from the M.B.M. until the last colliery closed in 1935.

The original Macclesfield terminus was a temporary one sited close to the L.N.W. Hibel Road station. For two years the M.S.L. General Manager tried to persuade the L.N.L. to partner the N.S. and M.S.L. in building a station to serve all three lines but the ever suspicious L.N.W. refused to consider it. Faced with the L.N.W.'s interminable intransigence the N.S. and M.S.L. opted to go ahead without their problem rival. Together they built a link from the M.B.M. to join the N.S. main line a little south of Hibel Road station. It was opened in 1873 and the original terminus near the L.N.W. Hibel Road station became a goods depot. Still the L.N.W. remained obdurate and refused to allow any through N.S.-L.N.W. trains to use the new joint station, the Central. This decision meant that both the Central station and the M.B.M. line were deprived of much of the connectional usefulness; and the M.B.M. settled down to a purely local existence.

A bridge carried the M.B.M. line over L.N.W 's Stockport-Buxton line at the northern end of the L.N.W. Middlewood station. In early 1879 the M.B.M. authorities opened a station almost directly above the L.N.W. Middlewood station for the interchange of passengers. Earlier, in 1876, a curve connecting these two lines to provide better facilities between Macclesfield and Buxton had been proposed; but it did not materialise until 1885.Middlewood Way Path

It was an elaborate affair of the type normally only found at the most important and busiest of junctions. It contained a flyover, which carried the 'down' line from Macclesfield over the Buxton line to link with the 'up' line to Buxton, so avoiding problems with down Buxton trains. It was the only 'flying' junction on the south side of Manchester. High hopes were expected of it but the curve was not a great success and soon services along it were confined to the summer months. However, through goods trains used the curve regularly and exchange sidings were added. A daily early morning goods train from Macclesfield to Buxton used the curve. It was known as the 'knotty' after the nickname of the N.S. which used the Staffordshire knot as its company badge. It ran until after the Second World War and when it ceased the curve was used mainly for storing old coaches.

From Marple Rose Hill the M.B.M. flanked the Pennines all the way to Macclesfield. Its stations were all small and unpretentious. Initially Rose Hill, situated on the 'up' side of the line, comprised a small, one story brick building with a low pitched slate roof which extended to form a canopy. Inside were four rooms, all entered from the platform - the Porter's Room, the Station Office, a General Waiting Room - come - Booking Office and a Ladies Waiting Room and lavatory. A brick built gents, adjoined. As business expanded greater facilities were called for and a similar office block was built on the 'down' side.

When Rose Hill station was built the only house in site was the Railway Inn but soon afterwards houses began to be built more on the Rose Hill side of Marple. Not until after the first World War was the area around the station developed. High Lane was built on the Stockport - Buxton turnpike road half a mile away from the little settlement from which it took its name. It was surrounded by fields then: it remains surrounded by fields today. It really was out in the sticks. Gas lighting never reached High Lane and it remained oil lit until the 1970's. There were no houses at Middlewood, which really was situated in the middle of a wood, with no road access. There was little local traffic but a fair amount of toing and froing between the M.C.M. High Level and the L.N.W. Low Level stations.

Former Higher Poynton StationThe Middlewood Way is certainly one of the finest examples of skilful conversion of a derelict line that I have come across and much of the credit must go to the Macclesfield Groundwork Trust - motto: Linking Town… With Country - which provided so much expertise. In three brief years the line as far as Bollington has been transformed from an eyesore to a most pleasing trail which provides excellent walking, riding and cycling facilities well away from road traffic. Stout fences separate the bridlepath from the path used by cyclists and walkers. Within the sheltered cuttings there is a choice of routes for all but horse riders. You can either keep to the cutting bottom or, should you prefer it, take either of the paths built along the tops of the embankments from where right along the route, there are always fine views of the Cheshire Plain, the urban skyline and the The Adelphi MillPennine foot-hills. Bridges have been repaired, more than 28,000 shrubs and 8,000 trees have been planted and miles of ditches dug.

The five evenly spaced picnic areas attract a lot of people, many of whom are content to sit at the stout tables provided, eat their sandwiches, drink their beverages and watch the passing parade. Nothing much happens at these places but many people come and go. The walk attracts walkers and cyclists in roughly the same numbers. People on horseback are thinner on the ground. Yet because the Middlewood way slices through 'Horsey' country the bridle-way is seldom devoid of equestrians; and this is as it should be.

There are car parks at Rose Hill, High Lane, Higher Poynton and below the viaduct at Bollington.

The Macclesfield canal, meandering gracefully through the Pennine foot-hills roughly parallel to the Middlewood Way, makes an interesting divertisement. To the left or Bollington side of the bridge leading from Tinkers Clough wood stands the huge Adelphi Mill, a proud reminder of the town's strong association with cotton. Adjacent to the bridge, on the far side of the canal, two luxurious dwellings enhance the site of the converted mill, the Bee Hive. What a delight these superior houses are and how well they blend with their restful surroundings.

White NancyPerched on a hilltop overlooking Bollington is a white landmark, a folly, called white nancy. The origin of the name is obscure but the three likeliest explanations all have merit. (1) There used to be an ordnance column on the site and Nancy is a corruption of the 'nance' part of ordnance. (2) Both Mrs. Gaskell, wife of the folly's builder and her daughter were called Nancy. (3) The lead horse of a team of eight used to drag a heavy marble table uphill to be placed inside the folly was called Nancy. You can take your choice! The table is still there. Once access to it was through an oak-studded door but because of a very real fear that vandals would damage it, the folly's entrance was sealed with the table still inside.

Although the Middlewood Way, certainly from Marple to Bollington, looks complete, the Macclesfield Borough Council and Stockport Lyme HallMetropolitan Borough Council say that other facilities will be added as opportunities arise; and that, as with the work already done, in future work, the ranger and warden services will be the key to progress.

Strong as is the Ways great appeal, it holds yet another valuable asset in the number of alternative routes and circular walks it provides. The Ladybrook Valley Walk bisects the Way at Middlewood station while close to Higher Poynton are to be found the old tramways of the Poynton colliery inclines. Still at Higher Poynton an interesting uphill walk to southwards along a quiet country road leads, after a couple of miles, to magnificent Lyme Hall in the middle of Lyme Country Park. Roaming this undulating parkland is a large herd of red deer. Close to Lyme Hall the Gritstone Trail begins its tortuous journey, skirting the Pennines roughly parallel to but much higher up than the Middlewood Way. Much closer to the Way and again roughly parallel to it is the Macclesfield Canal.

Special thanks to Charlie Emett and Cicerone Press for their permission to display this extract. The Web-Author would also like to thank Christopher Thompson of Hazel Grove, a railway walks enthusiast, who identified its suitability for inclusion on the site and followed through by contacting the author and publisher. The photographs of Bollington Viaduct, Adephi Mill, White Nancy and Lyme Hall are by Chris, the remaining images have been added by web-author, Mark Whittaker.

This book, about the line that used to run along the Way, comes highly recommended by Chris Thompson, here's what he has to say about it:

Railways of Macclesfield and the Line to Bollington, Poynton and Marple (Rose Hill)
Basil Jeuda / Publisher Foxline - 1995

Written to commemorate the 150th Anniversary of rail reaching Macclesfield in 1845, with over fifteen years of research, the author has attempted to portray not only the aspects of town life but also the railway's effect on the industrial prosperity of Macclesfield, Bollington, Poynton and Marple.

The book offers a historical and pictorial journey departing from Macclesfield's Hibel Road Station to Macclesfield Central then Bollington, Higher Poynton, Middlewood, High Lane and arriving at Marple Rose Hill. All stations on route are fully illustrated with various pictures taken between 1905 to 1970. Over 200 photographs guide you along a journey through time.

The last train departed from Macclesfield at 10.31 p.m. on Saturday 3rd January 1970 bound for Manchester Piccadilly. But you don't have to be mad about trains to enjoy this book! You might prefer to study the ever changing fashions, distant landmarks or even platform advertisements, timetables and tickets. Many buildings and housing estates are clearly visible in the background - will you recognise anything?

If you don't want to buy on-line and live local to Marple you can obtain a copy of the book from the bookstore at Brookside Garden Centre, Poynton (Please check availability). Alternatively you can contact the publishers directly, see below.

Chris also says about Foxline Publishing:
I have been searching for photographs of several dismantled railways in the area for a considerable time, with little success. Even specialist Internet web sites seem unable to obtain information and pictures of specific local interest.

I am now very pleased to be able to recommend a superb selection of books, published locally by Foxline Publications (Romiley, Stockport). Foxline offer an extensive range of railway enthusiasts' books containing rare photographs plus historical and local information provided by local authors. Whatever your interest, steam, diesel, nostalgia, or local "period" photo's, they will probably have what you require. If you are interested, then contact Foxline for details of other titles, postage rates for the UK and overseas etc. For a comprehensive list of all available titles please send a SAE or telephone…

Foxline Publishing (Telephone 0161 430 6834)
32 Urwick Road

Also by Basil Jeuda
Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple Railway
Foxline 1983

These are some other titles by Charlie Emett.

Bishop Auckland in Old Photographs Paperback
Century of Stockton on Tees Hardback
Durham Railways
Paperback / Published 1999
Eden Tapestry Paperback / Published 1995
The Eden Way Paperback / Published 1990
Family Walks in Upper Teesdale Paperback / Published 1994
In Search of Westmorland with Jean Marshall / Paperback / Published 1985
The Stockton & Darlington Railway Hardback
Stockton at Work and Play
Paperback / Published 1998
Stockton-on-Tees Paperback
Sunderland in Old Photographs
Paperback / Published 1998
Walk, Tour and Dine in Dumfries and Galoway Paperback / Published 1994
Walk-tour-dine in the Lake District with John Watson / Paperback / Published 1993
Walk-tour-dine North Yorkshire Moors and Coast Paperback / Published 1994
Walk-tour-dine Yorkshire Dales Paperback / Published 1993
Walkers Guide to the Eden Valley Paperback
Walking in the Wolds Paperback / Published 1994
Walking Northern Railways Vol 1: East
  Published 1986 (ISBN 0902-363-76 X)
Walking Northern Railways Vol 2: West Paperback / Published 1989 your local bookstore or search on for other titles available from Cicerone Press, who offer a variety of walking guides.

Chris recommends the following web sites, which will be of particular interest to railway enthusiasts

Steam Locomotive Simulator Download Drive a Steam Train without leaving you PC
TrainWeb Trains on the Web
Geoff's Rail Pages Railway pictures and links
The World of Miniature Steam

Mamod Steam Models Their Official Website.