A walk on the wild side: Celebrating 25 years of Stalybridge Country Park

Correspondent editor Tony Bugby joins a special walk to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Stalybridge Country Park.

Paul Nethercott with the original country park leaflet from 1992

THANKFULLY Storm Brian had passed by 24 hours earlier as 10 hardy walkers, myself included, celebrated the 25th anniversary of Stalybridge Country Park.

But the remnants remained in the form of blustery and bitterly cold conditions and rain-sodden ground as country park volunteer Paul Nethercott retraced the steps from that first event held on
October 18, 1992.

It was a nine-mile circular route from Carrbrook village taking in wild moorland and offering panoramic views, and thankfully the forecast rain held off.

Paul and Phil Shaw, another of the volunteers, were both on that initial walk that was led by Carl Barron, the country park’s first ranger.

After leading guided walks in the locality for 25 years, Paul, the last of the original volunteers remaining, has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the area and its fascinating history.

That included how the country park was created after locals joined forces to fight development in Millbrook and Carrbrook, including some on the fringe of Brushes Valley.

Paul Nethercott, right, talking about the route

There was also plans originating in the 1960s to create a vast landfill site in Brushes valley, one that happily never materialised.

It was suggested a country park be created with Paul explaining that Cllrs Ivy Robinson and George Hatton – sadly no longer with us – were the driving force as the country park linked the two villages by moorland paths.

Initially the park was managed by Tameside Council and North West Water that later became United Utilities.

When the water company came out the agreement, management was taken over completely by the local authority and now comes under the jurisdiction of Tameside Greenspace.

As walkers assembled in the car park opposite Buckton Vale Institute for a 10am start on Sunday, October 22, it was clear the miserable weather forecast had deterred many walkers.

The climb out of Carrbrook

Paul revealed there have been occasions when nobody turned up while the largest turnout was 98. And after a couple of late arrivals, our group numbered 10.

And my initial observations were that the majority were retired. How nice it would have been to have some younger ones taking an interest in their locality.

We began with a whistlestop tour of the four conservation sites in Carrbrook village and a look back at its history to the days when Calico Printing Association, CPA as it was known, employed 1,000 people at its Carrbrook operation.

While the country park is council owned land it is flanked by moorland managed by Stamford Estate, otherwise known as Stalybridge and Enville and Bissell estates and some of the paths over their land are concessionary and can be closed for shooting.

Phil Shaw, left, and Paul Nethercott who were both on the 1992 walk

Our route took us initially around Harridge Pike, where white hares are often seen (we spotted a couple of rabbits) to Higher and Lower Swineshaw Reservoirs, constructed in 1799 to supply water to the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. They are part of a series of four reservoirs, the other two Walkerwood and Brushes.

And we were also able to see the railway line that was built to take away silt dredged from the reservoirs.

As we passed the remains of an old farmhouse on the path leading to Wild Bank, Paul pointed out it was the birthplace of Jethro Tinker, a well-known botanist whose life and work is recognised by a blue plaque in Stamford Park.

The route took us along the ridge to Wild Bank that lived up to its name as it was blowing a gale and it was a struggle as it was a head wind for much of the climb.

Climbing a stile en route to Wild Bank

At 1,310ft, Wild Bank is claimed to be the highest point in Tameside and it was remarkable how fierce the wind was yet in Carrbook only a couple of miles away it was benign and a completely different world.

The descent from Wild Bank took us past Brushes Rifle Ranges that were used during the Second World War to train soldiers stationed by Ashton’s Barracks and also the Armoury. The three terraces are still visible and you can still find bullets. The ranges were used until 1961 when National Service was abolished.

It was then down to Walkerwood Reservoir with Brushes Reservoir adjoining. And Harridge Pike again provided an imposing backdrop.

The home stretch was along the bridlepath into Carrbrook with views as far as Jodrell Bank and the power station at Fiddlers Ferry. On an even clearer day we were told you can see the two cathedrals in Liverpool and the North Wales hills.

We’ve made it: the group at the trig point on Wild Bank

And after almost six hours it was journey’s end after a moderately difficult hike – the ground was sodden and boggy in places after recent deluges to sap your energy even further. It was also a step back in time and lesson in the history of the area.

Here’s to the next 25 years when Paul joked, if he is still leading the walks, he will be 79 years of age.


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