A few months ago I joined a walking group called the Wednesday Wanderers. It's Last of the Summer Wine Meets the Krypton Factor.
May I share with you some of our adventures?
Our loins suitably girded, we set off from the Ship Inn at Styal near Manchester Airport, at 9.34am, walking away from the pub and turning left towards Norcliffe Chapel.
This Chapel has existed since 1823, funded entirely by benefactor and local mill-owning tycoon Samuel Greg and built for the princely sum of £307 18s.
Despite his welcome beneficence, the tightwad was too mean to put in any heating.
Greg founded Quarry Bank Mill, a cotton mill, in 1784. By 1832 it had become the largest spinning and weaving business in the UK, employing more than 300 people.
Quarry Bank Mill
His descendants would inter-marry with the most important merchants and manufacturers of the time, including the Lyles (of Tate & Lyle).
In such a rural location Belfast-born Greg felt obliged to provide housing for his (slaves) sorry, workers and as a result the village grew considerably. The next step was to establish institutions to meet their educational, social and religious needs.
On 22 August 1822 locals were invited to lay a brick for the foundation of the new Chapel, which officially opened the following year.
Samuel Greg (who was a Unitarian himself and later married a Unitarian by the way) built the Chapel for the Baptists, as there was a strong Baptist cause in the neighbourhood.
One notable feature remains from the Chapel's initial use by the Baptists of the village. Under the floor, almost underneath the pulpit, is a full size baptismal tank. John Hewitt of Styal recorded how his father would work with other village lads each Saturday night to carry buckets of water from the nearest pump at Oak Farm. It has not been used for nearly 180 years.
Amongst the scant records there is an amusing account of the trials and tribulations of choosing the first minister. Samuel Greg's daughters favoured Reverend Halford Jones, a minister they had heard preach at Nuneaton. He was good looking and had a way with the ladies, (The Leslie Phillips of his day, maybe) but their father thought this would distract the congregation from the sermon.
Instead, a boring, ugly old f*rt called Mr Metcalfe from Bolton was invited to preach, but as soon as he stepped into the pulpit, his nose began to bleed profusely. He was forced to leave without taking the service, and the handsome Reverend Halford Jones got the gig and became the first minister at Norcliffe. He was granted £80 a year and a house provided by Mr Greg.
I wonder how many other careers have turned on such a whim of bodily function?
Gradually, the Baptist movement died out in Styal and the Methodists began to take their place. However, Greg, as owner of the Chapel, did not want it to be used by the Methodists. In 1833, part of an old barn in the village was converted to a Methodist Chapel and it was declared that henceforth Norcliffe should be Unitarian, as it has remained to the present day.
Talking of serendipity, in 1832, Greg was attacked by a stag in the grounds of Quarry Bank Mill. The injury led to his retirement. Greg never recovered from the assault and died two years later.
The Wanderers were soon entering Northern Woods and espied the River Bollin. We crossed a bridge and climbed some steps. Then immediately descended a further set of steps. The Bollin was on our right.
Norcliffe Hall is a large house standing to the west of the village and to the north of Styal Country Park.
It was built in 1831 for Robert Hyde Greg, the then owner of Quarry Bank Mill, and one of six sons born to the aforementioned Samuel.
It was designed by the Lichfield architect Thomas Johnson and constructed in orange brick in Flemish bond brickwork with pink sandstone dressings.
It is roofed in Welsh slates, and has octagonal brick chimney stacks. The architectural style is Elizabethan. It has an irregular plan, and is in 2½ storeys with a south front of four bays. It was designated as a Grade II listed building on 6 March 1975.
During the 20th century the house was used as a care home for the elderly. As of 2007 it was being converted into residential apartments.
We went up some more steps and down some more steps. The Bollin was now on our left.
Our leader, Mr Lawrie Fairman, then posed a question that might have come from the lips of Jeremy Paxman on University Challenge.
“What,” he inquired “is the difference between a nymph and a naiad?”
As every schoolboy almost certainly does not know…in Greek mythology, the naiads were a type of nymph (female spirit) who presided over fountains, wells, springs, streams, brooks and other bodies of freshwater.
They are distinct from river gods, who embodied rivers, and the very ancient spirits that inhabited the still waters of marshes, ponds and lagoon-lakes.
Naiads could be dangerous: Hylas of the Argo's crew was lost when he was taken by naiads fascinated by his beauty.
The naiads were also known to exhibit jealous tendencies. Theocritus' story of naiad jealousy was that of a shepherd, Daphnis, who was the lover of Nomia or Echenais; Daphnis had on several occasions been unfaithful to Nomia and as revenge she permanently blinded him. Salmacis forced the youth Hermaphroditus into a carnal embrace and, when he sought to get away, fuse.
Are we near the airport?
However, none of this mythology boll*cks answers Mr Fairman’s poser because he was basically talking biology.
In biology, a nymph is the immature form of some invertebrates, particularly insects, which undergoes gradual metamorphosis (hemimetabolism) before reaching its adult stage.
Unlike a typical larva, a nymph's overall form already resembles that of the adult. In addition, while a nymph moults it never enters a pupal stage. Instead, the final moult results in an adult insect.Nymphs undergo multiple stages of development called instars.
Are you with me?
Nymphs of aquatic insects, as in the orders Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), Ephemeroptera (mayflies), and Plecoptera (stoneflies) are also called naiads.
Now even I am totally confused and beginning to regret even starting this observation.
I’ll quit when I’m behind.
The only other thing I can recall is Mr Fairman’s pronouncement that “naiad” is a useful word if you are ever compiling a crossword….or, I suppose, playing Scrabble or appearing on Countdown.
Talking of Countdown it’s worth retelling presenter Jeff Stelling’s tale about the bloke in dictionary corner who said he “had a six”…the word was “minger” (ming-er).
When Stelling told him he couldn’t have that word he replied “ok, I’ve got a five”.
The Wanderers had by now reach a road which led to the Holiday Inn (once known as the Valley Lodge, a place where men had to have a hunchback and halitosis not to pull on a Friday or Saturday night.)
We walked past the hotel onto the main road which we crossed and walked up a slight incline before taking a path to the right.
We crossed a field and Mr Mickey Barrett pointed out the rather modest home of Manchester City legend Mike Summerbee in the distance.
We stopped for a few moments (at 10.28am) while Mr Fairman checked his map.
We were on the right track…crossing the field and exiting via a (one-at-a-time) swing gate in the far corner.
We took a short path with conifers to our left. We passed the front of the houses (including Summerbee’s) and on the corner of the main road took a path to the right, following a sign to “Castle Mill”.
We passed some farm buildings on our right, negotiated a stile and crossed a field.
We picked up a path on our left and followed a sign to “Bollin Valley Way”.
We went over a stile onto a road and turned left at Bollin House.
There were no obvious signs except one saying “private, no access” but we ventured forward anyway along the side of the prestige residence and soon saw the familiar yellow arrowhead.
This brought us to a road where we turned left and then right opposite a house with a huge Monkey Puzzle tree.
We came to a lake. But our progress appeared to be halted by a gate with more locks than a Houdini tribute act.
As your diarist had just finished climbing over the gate Mr Colin Davison helpfully impersonated the escapologist and picked the lock, swinging the gate open.
We past Sylvie Cottage on the left and turned right onto a “bridle path to Moor Lane”. At a Y-junction we took a track on the right.
This brought us into Wilmslow and at 12.15pm to the prescribed half way hostelry, the Farmer Arms. Alas, it was shut. (Shoot the organiser).
We left the Carters at 1.11pm going to the end of the road and turning left.
At the end of that road we crossed Altrincham Road and went straight over into what looked like a cul-de-sac. However after 200 yards there was a footpath which we took.
We shouldn’t have…because the correct path was on the right so after a few strides we, too, retraced our steps and turned what was now left. This was Hawthorne Lane. We went straight on into a park where luncheon was declared at 1.35pm.
The one seat having been taken by Mr Davison and two others, Mr Malcolm Halley, our latest recruit, was forced to eat his snap sitting on the grass. He may have regretted this decision minutes later when he stood up to reveal a wet patch on his nether regions which might have been mistaken for a case of incontinence.
How we chuckled at the New Boy.
We left the lunch spot at 1.44pm, following the river and crossing a bridge to exit the park after passing some public toilets. We went over a bridge (above the River Dean) and went immediately left. We were back in the woods and soon crossed “Heron’s Pool Bridge”.
A few minutes further on we came across a film crew shooting for a new Channel 4 drama series called The Mill. Our advancement was temporarily halted by an assistant (could she have been a “Key Grip” or “Best Boy”?) who said we must wait a few moments.
Mr Fairman offered his services as an extra but she was not impressed. It is doubtful whether any Geordies were employed in the cotton mills of Cheshire and Lancashire.
The Mill, “a powerful new drama” , is being filmed by Darlow Smithson and is based on the real life story of Quarry Bank Mill and the machinations of the Greg family. So bizarrely, our walk had come full circle in geography AND history.
The TV show will tell how Quarry Bank recruited children as young as nine as unpaid apprentices from orphanages and workhouses and how migrants from as far afield as London, Ireland, Scotland and Norfolk flocked to Quarry Bank. So maybe there was room for a Geordie after all.
The hours were long and hard in dangerous and unhealthy conditions which would today be likened to a sweatshop, and for many of this emerging working class, this was a first experience of rules, regulation and employers to answer to. Hard work was rewarded but dissent was punished ruthlessly: runaway girls would have their heads shaved. Kinky.
Rooted firmly in the real history of the Mill, the characters and storylines in the drama will be based on the extraordinary Quarry Bank archive which comprises over 20,000 letters, wage books, contracts, diaries, rent books and interview transcripts.
We passed a few people in period costume and stepped onto what appeared to be a street of cobbles….incredibly they were all RUBBER!
A load of old cobble (r) s
By the way, Quarry Bank Mill is the only water powered Georgian cotton mill still operating in the UK today. It is home to the most powerful working water wheel in Europe and one of the earliest steam-powered beam engines.
We sallied on, came to a road and turned right to reach our cars at 2.20pm.
De-booted, we nipped in for a pint at the Ship, sitting in the warm sunshine outside.
Theakston’s was £2.65.
Perhaps you'll join me again on another wander.
“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche,
― Friedrich Nietzsche,