Ghost Riders in Stalybridge

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Where were we?

In Blog 58 I had reached Sale in Greater Manchester on my coast to coast walk from New Brighton to Spurn Point. At the end of April I resumed my slog through Manchester to reach the Pennine foothills in Saddleworth and was regularly informed, “This is definitely the worse weather we’ve had all winter.”  Gee, thanks, I would never have guessed.

Being somewhere that I had lived and worked for 20 years, Manchester was clearly going to be as much a social event as a learning experience, so many thanks to all who kindly met up with me, put me in touch with excellent contacts and bought me pints when I claimed to be too stiff to reach the bar.

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The platform buffet, Stalybridge: what every station needs

A fair bit of my walk appears to be homing in on community projects, wonderful buildings and inspirational people. Even if this wasn’t all going to go into a brilliant travelogue at the end of the journey, I’d still be having a great year. Ok, you may prefer the Med, Caribbean or wherever, and I’m more likely to “brown” through rust than sunshine, but this has been my idea of a good time. Apart from all that walking, of course.

I have just completed the second stage of my journey — that’s not “journey” in the sense of emotional self-awareness or, preferably, abasement like contestants on talent shows undergo, just “journey” as in, well, “journey”. I have slept in various hostels, a restored narrow boat and a pub and all were excellent. I am a little concerned that the lack at Manchester’s city centre youth hostel of a proper shower gel may have left me with “residues” in my hair follicles — and, as Mrs. Blog is frequently at pains to stress, there is nothing worse.

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No shower gel but at least you don’t have to sweep the dorm in the morning before you get your card back: Castlefield youth hostel, Manchester city centre

And there were no secure lockers at the Luther King House.  But what I say is, if you can’t trust your iPad with people staying at a Foundation for Religious Enlightenment, it’s a poor do.

I travelled on the Friday morning from Stockport to Stalybridge on the parliamentary, or “ghost” train. DON’T SWITCH OFF!  It’s really interesting. When train companies (what we used to call British Rail until it became a good wheeze to put taxpayers’ money into shareholder dividends than into, say, trains) want to close a line, they are faced with legal procedures and costs. In some cases these companies may find it simpler and cheaper to maintain a minimum service to satisfy “parliamentary” requirements than go through the necessary processes for formal closure – hence “parliamentary trains”. STAY WITH ME!


Minimum parliamentary service on a rural line in Wales

I turned up in good time for the 9.22 Stockport train to Stalybridge. You don’t want to risk turning up late – the next train along will be exactly a week later, at 9.22 on the following Friday. And did I say – it doesn’t come back. Ever. It runs one way only, and er, that’s it.

I looked round at the four other passengers who would be my travelling companions for the next 21 minutes. The young girl with the headphones and cell phone looked unlikely to be a “cult follower” of ghost trains but, a glance down at my own anorak, cardboard cup of coffee and grey beard seemed to provide me with a suitable uniform for engagement with the two chaps of similar age to myself wearing flat cap and woolly hat respectively. How those 21 minutes flew by as we bantered about ghost trains we had known (I made mine up). Of the three stations between Stockport and Stalybridge, two have just this one weekly train passing through – but the planters on Denton Station are nevertheless beautifully maintained by the Friends of Denton Station, which is the kind of organisation that makes you proud to be British.

The fifth passenger, a middle aged woman who just happened to be on that train en route to Leeds, indicated a degree of interest in what she was hearing. I suspect this was a fine balance for her between not wishing to upset three rather suspect old blokes and not wanting to invite more dialogue than was strictly necessary. On being informed that a single (it can only be a single after all) with senior railcard came to £2.65, she announced that this would make an excellent birthday treat for her husband….

Here for the curious (and you can take that any way you want) is a link to the website of the Friends of Denton Station:

And here is the website dedicated to all ghost trains and stations in the UK, run by my new friend in the woolly hat:


On this leg I have visited or met with (warning: long sentence) the Manchester Modernist Society (fond inter alia of brutalist concrete architecture), the Wooden Narrow Boat Society, the People’s History Museum in Manchester, the Portland Basin Museum (not a collection of bathroom fittings but an excellent museum on the social history of Tameside in a fine canalside warehouse), the Mikron Theatre Company (essentially plays – more social history — performed from a touring narrow boat), a Moravian settlement in Droylsden, the founder of the Landlife charity (devoted to reclaiming derelict and under-valued sites through planting wildflowers, and spawning Liverpool’s National Wildflower Centre), open days at Manchester’s Victoria Baths and Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, and the Manchester May Day Festival taking place in Sackville Gardens, which meant Alan Turing’s statue was seen to be bearing a “Cameron Must Go” placard.

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Manchester’s “Water Palace”, Victoria Baths — the water was cold when I used them, but the Turkish bath part was something else…

While every one of these proved to be stimulating and highly enjoyable, perhaps the place making the biggest impression on me was the last one I visited before returning home. I had come across “the Florrie” in a book on former sports grounds and facilities (you wouldn’t believe the bibliography that’s building up for this walk) called Played in Liverpool.

The Florence Institute for Boys was built in 1889 by a local philanthropist, magistrate and Mayor of Liverpool, Bernard Hall, who wanted to create ‘an acceptable place of recreation and instruction for the poor and working boys of this district of the city’ and named the building in memory of his daughter, who died aged 22. This magnificent building became a hub for nurturing Liverpool’s sporting heritage, while music was also a big part of The Florrie’s appeal. A young Gerry (“The Pacemakers”) Marsden learnt to play the guitar here before becoming something of a legend in the pop world with Ferry Cross the Mersey and football anthem You’ll Never Walk Alone.

The Florrie continued to serve the community for almost a century before closing in the late 1980s and falling into disrepair. After several fires the future of the Florrie looked increasingly uncertain until – and this seems to be emerging as a theme of my walk – a group of local people gathered together to raise the funds for restoration. The Florrie reopened for business in 2012 and I couldn’t wait to visit.

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The Florrie, before and after

I had arranged to sit in on a course on the history of Liverpool alongside a dozen mature students from the local area and around the city. The Florrie lies in Toxteth whose name has, since rioting in 1981, carried a degree of baggage. Over 30 years have passed and the city is fast becoming not only unrecognisable but an exciting place to be. I felt honoured to be greeted at the Florrie like an old friend – that’s Liverpool for you, embraced by the history class, given my own conducted tour and urged to return. If people like Gerry Marsden, footballer John Barnes and actor Ricky Tomlinson can give up their time gratis for the Florrie, I’m sure I can make the time.

You get way too much time when walking solo to ponder the big existential questions.

  1. On entering the village of Greenfield, the roadside sign indicated that it formed part of Oldham – or, to be precise, “Oldham: working for a co-operative borough”. Any idea? Me neither.
  2. Will it stop raining before the nights start drawing in?
  3. Watching couples battling with canal locks all through the week, would my marriage to Mrs. Blog survive a narrow boat holiday?
  4. When I get home, will Mrs. B have already watched the final episode of Line of Duty and want to tell me how it ends?


Many thanks to all who have sponsored me on this walk for the British Heart Foundation. There’s still plenty of time!







2 thoughts on “Ghost Riders in Stalybridge

    • Hi Vicky! Lots of nice things of course about living in the south too but I am majorly impressed by much of the regeneration and community enterprise that I’ve been seeing in the northwestern cities that I’m most familiar with. Busy people — often volunteers or very committed staff on short contracts — have been very generous with their time. And I assume there will be more to come on the other side of the Pennines. It’s been a rewarding and stimulating experience.

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