GREAT CANAL WALKS: MACC MOSEY
Take a six-mile stroll along the Macclesfield Canal, treading the line between the Cheshire Plain stretching out on one side and the beginning of the Pennines rising up on the other side
Come with us along the Macclesfield with its fine stonework, aqueducts and far-reaching views
This month’s walk starts at Congleton railway station, conveniently placed where the railway crosses the Macclesfield Canal. It was just as convenient for the landlord of the Navigation Inn in 1848, who could see which way the wind was blowing and changed the name of his pub to The Railway Inn on the day the line opened! It’s still open today, as is the Queen’s Head on the other side of the canal.
Those arriving by train should take the smaller exit by the southbound platform; those arriving by road can park in the station car park and cross the footbridge to reach the same point.
From here, a pedestrian access leads down to the towpath of the canal, which is in a cutting at the lowest level of a series of bridges – the railway bridge spans the canal, the old road (which used to cross a level crossing) also bridges the canal; the whole lot is overshadowed by a high-level 1960s bridge carrying the modern main road.
Leaving these assorted transport routes behind and heading south-west, the canal establishes its identity as a ‘modern’ canal from the latter years of the canal age as it passes through a straight cutting, largely hidden from Congleton’s housing estates.
Soon you will reach a characteristic feature of the ‘Macc’, and one best appreciated by walkers: a towpath turnover bridge. Many canals feature these ingenious bridges, whose design enabled the path to switch sides without the need to detach the towrope, but the Macclesfield ones are particularly fine, the sweeping curves of the stone walls
‘On a really clear day, you may even be able to see beyond the Peckforton hills to the Clwydian hills of North Wales’
earning them the nickname of ‘snake’ bridges.
Another feature of the Macclesfield is aqueducts, and you’ll soon find yourself crossing a fine cast iron example which spans Canal Road (known as Dog Lane before the canal was built; this name is still sometimes applied to the aqueduct). A former wharf and another turnover bridge follow, as the canal heads out into countryside with views opening up on both sides.
You’re following the very edge of the Cheshire Plain as you walk southwards: the first hills leading up to the Peak District and Pennines rise to your left, while on your right the plain stretches into the distance, where glimpses of the Peckforton hills some 20 or more miles away are visible through gaps in the towpath hedge in clear weather. In fact, on a really clear day, you may even be able to see beyond them to the Clwydian hills of North Wales.
You probably won’t even notice the next waterway structure of note: a country lane passes under the canal in a tiny aqueduct – more like a tunnel, and with only 8ft 6in headroom for vehicles, but once again displaying the canal’s characteristic fine stonework.
The canal continues south westwards, accompanied by the railway a few hundred yards away, and crossed by a series of minor roads on stone humpbacked bridges. Away to the left, on the top of the ridge of hills, you will clearly see Mow Cop Castle – not actually an ancient ruin, but a folly built to improve the view for the squire at the nearby Rode Hall. If you’re feeling energetic, turn off south east at Bridge 85, bear left, cross under the railway and follow a footpath up the stiff climb to the top of the ridge – on a fine day you will be rewarded by a splendid view over the whole of Cheshire.
Half a mile further along the towpath comes another chance of a diversion – a footpath on the opposite side leads to Little Moreton Hall, a famous Tudor half-timbered manor house open to the public. Not open to the public, but an impressive nonetheless, is Ramsdell Hall, whose gardens the canal skirts.
At Kent Green you pass the remains of a couple of former Macclesfield Canal features: a narrows marks the site of one of over a dozen wooden hand-operated swingbridges which were once spread along the canal’s route, of which only a single example near Macclesfield survives in original condition. The building alongside it was once the Bird in Hand, a legendary canal boaters’ pub
which survived into the 1980s with no real bar, a beer-only licence, and drinks brought up from the cellar in jugs.
Technically, Hall Green Stop Lock marks the end of the Macc, with the canal beyond there built, owned and operated by the Trent & Mersey company as a branch of their canal. That explains why the shallow water-controlling stop-lock is situated here, rather than at the physical junction. As you pass the lock, look out for a couple of unusual features: the double-length chamber (it was built as two locks, one facing each way, to cope with a water level difference in either direction), and the rare combination of a single bottom gate but double top gates.
A lengthy cutting approaching Kidsgrove is followed by an embankment pierced by two more aqueducts. The canal first spans a main road, and then bridges the Trent & Mersey Canal, before turning left to run parallel with it. A couple of locks on the T&M bring it up to the same level, and the two canals meet under a towpath bridge at Hardings Wood Junction.
From here it’s just a few hundred yards to Kidsgrove Station (with a set of steps leading up from the towpath) – but do carry on just a few yards further for a quick look at Harecastle Tunnel before catching your train back to Congleton.
Passing Ramsdell Hall’s lawn
A typical fine stone bridge
Road, rail and canal at Congleton
The unusual Hall Green Stop Lock
Aqueduct over the Trent & Mersey Canal
The T& M top locks, seen from the junction