East of the M60’s look at seven unusual ways of rediscovering Greater Manchester – by bus

A bus is for life, not just for schoolchildren. It is, like it or not, Greater Manchester’s most popular form of public transport. With Andy Burnham on the verge of re-regulating all of Greater Manchester’s bus routes, there is talk of a post-franchising revival.

Even with recent decline, there are still a lot of places in our city region that are accessible by bus. There are some drawbacks which could be rectified by purchasing an Any Bus Day Saver ticket. Such as one operator serving the same route as another one at a different time.

Supposing you had an enquiry from somebody new to Greater Manchester, s/he may be interested in tourist attractions in our city region. The first things to come from the top of your head may be the Museum of Science and Industry, The Lowry, intu Trafford Centre, National Football Museum, or Manchester Arndale. Or Greater Manchester’s footballing heritage from Manchester United to Stockport Georgians.

Away from the popular tourist traps, Greater Manchester has a few hidden gems that are worthy of greater recognition. Please note that italicised bus numbers detailed in this post only run on a part time or peak hour basis.

1. Discover artworks by local artists in Stalybridge

For many tourists, art and Stalybridge seldom appears in the same sentence which is a real shame. Stalybridge town centre has two art galleries. One is Tameside MBC’s Astley Cheetham Art Gallery which is open on Monday, Tuesday and Saturday mornings, and Wednesday afternoons. This has a collection of artworks from the gallery’s collection and occasional open art exhibitions.

The second art gallery is one which Andy Burnham says should be seen in every part of Greater Manchester, from Abram to Wythenshawe. Starting off a collection of paintings in Stalybridge Credit Union, The People’s Gallery is 20 years old. Situated in a former health food shop, its three floors have 500 artworks by local artists – many of which available for sale. It has regular art classes and temporary exhibitions. Due to the age of the building, there is limited access for wheelchair users.

Buses: 216, 219, 236, 237, 343, 348, 387, 389.

Trains: Transpennine Express services to Manchester Piccadilly, Mossley, Greenfield, Hull Paragon, Leeds, and Huddersfield. Northern services to Manchester Victoria, Ashton-under-Lyne, Bolton and Wigan North Western.

2. Visit an air raid shelter in Stockport

Stockport gets a fair amount of stick for its retail offerings and the popular yet ugly Red Rock complex. In spite of these issues, Stockport MBC has three historic attractions that are worthy of visiting. Staircase House is one; the Hatworks museum is another. If you only had time to visit one, the Air Raid Shelters should be at the top of your list.

Opened to the public in 1996, the town’s labyrinth of tunnels were carved into Stockport’s sandstone rock by the Second World War. Though designed for an optimum capacity of 3,850 people, they were extended with room for 6,500 people. Beds, flushing lavatories, sick bays, electric lighting, and wooden benches were added. No wonder locals referred to it as The Chestergate Hotel!

There are other tunnels in Edgeley near Brinksway Bridge that have been closed or blocked up. Accessed from Great Underbank, guided tours and self-guided tours are available.

Buses: several to choose from with direct links to Ashton-under-Lyne, Manchester, Buxton, Wilmslow and parts of South Manchester.

Trains: loads to choose from, if you don’t mind the walk from Stockport railway station.

3. Have fun with model trains in Urmston

Every Sunday, the Urmston and District Model Engineering Society have public running days on their model railway in Abbotsfield Park. Weather permitting, their model trains are seen in action on 670m of raised track. Covering 3.5″ and 5″ gauges, it is one of the largest sections of elevated track in the UK.

For your 670 metres of raised track, the single fare is 50p. Which is probably cheaper than a single fare from Oxford Road to Deansgate stations (both 550 metres apart). The service runs from 11am to 3pm all year round with a 4pm finish on summer Sundays.

Bus: 255.

Trains: Northern services to Manchester Piccadilly, Irlam and Warrington Central from Urmston and Chassen Road stations. Please note that only limited services are available from Chassen Road station.

4. Take a ferry across the Manchester Ship Canal

In its industrial pomp, the Manchester Ship Canal had four ferries between Barton Swing Bridge and the Warburton Toll Bridge. As well as a private workers’ ferry in Cadishead, there was also a vehicular ferry from Flixton to Cadishead. From Partington, prior to 1994, the Bobs Lane Ferry also took you to Cadishead. The sole survivor of the four ferries is the Hulmes Bridge Ferry.

Following the closure of a bridge over the River Mersey, an Act of Parliament led to its replacement in 1885: a free ferry. At one time it was popular with employees travelling from Flixton to the Co-op margarine works. In 2009, sailor John McDermott passed away. For two years, the Hulmes Ferry didn’t run. After a campaign by the Trafford branch of the Ramblers’ Association, the ferry was reinstated.

Today, the ferry only runs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from the end of April to the start of November. To call the ferry, you need to ring a bell or bang a gong at the landing stage. From Flixton, access is gained from Daresbury Avenue. At Irlam, from Liverpool Road (A57) alongside Rhenus Logistics (Boysnope Wharf). Please note that both landing stages have stepped access which, alas, make the ferries inaccessible for people with mobility problems.

Buses: 15 and 245 from Flixton; 67 and 100 from Boysnope Wharf.

Trains: Northern services from Flixton station, 30 minutes walk from Flixton landing stage off Daresbury Avenue.

5. See a replica castle near Horwich

Many people are drawn to the joys of Rivington Pike and Lever Park due to its staggering views and fascinating gardens. If the climb to Rivington Pike is too demanding, there is a castle on the banks of Lower Rivington Reservoir.

A castle? Yes, Lord Leverhulme, whom the park is named after, commissioned a replica of Liverpool Castle in 1912. The original Liverpool Castle was built in the 13th Century, before its original fortifications were destroyed and demolished by the 18th Century. Derby Square and the Queen Victoria Monument stands on the site. With Lord Leverhulme’s replica, work was slow. Though intended as a part ruined folly, it became a partial part ruined folly due to his death in 1925.

If you fancy a ‘get away from it all’ outing that is a modest bus ride away, give it a go.

Buses: 516, 575.

Trains: Northern services to Manchester stations, Preston, Blackpool North and Chorley from Blackrod station. Thankfully, the 575 bus will take you to Lever Park.

6. Take in the views from Peel Tower

There are two monuments to Sir Robert Peel within Bury Council boundaries. One is in the centre of Bury whereas the other one stands atop Holcombe Hill. The Peel Tower, just outside the centre of Holcombe Brook village, was built by public subscription to the tune of £1,000.

On occasional Sundays (the third Sunday in the month), you can visit the Peel Tower itself. If you can see the flag on top of the tower from your 472 or 474 bus, it is open that Sunday. On a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower and North Wales. There is a modest fee which goes towards keeping the tower in tip-top condition.

To reach the tower you need to alight at the bus stop outside The Hare and Hounds public house. Then, walk towards Holcombe Old Road and Moorbottom Road until you see another path on your right hand side. This path should lead you to the tower properly. If you have a head for heights, please remember to take your camera and a pair of binoculars.

Buses: 472, 474.

Trains: the nearest station is Ramsbottom on the preserved East Lancashire Railway. You may prefer to take a tram to Bury and continue the rest of your journey on the 472 or 474 buses.

7. Watch restored steam engines in action

For our seventh and final way of discovering Greater Manchester with fresh eyes, we go to Milnrow. After staving off the threat of closure, Ellenroad Engine House is worth a visit. On the first Sunday of the month, the engine house has steaming days where Victoria and Alexandra strut their stuff.

Victoria and Alexandra aren’t your bog-standard turn-of-the-century steam engines: they are the largest in the world. Which is why this attraction deserved to be saved for future generations. As far as our industrial heritage is concerned, they should be up with Coalbrookdale village. As steam engines go, akin to the Great Pyramids.

On steaming days, admission is £5.00. On non-steaming days you can call in on Sundays and Tuesdays, and on Saturdays prior to a Sunday steaming. Donations are also welcome and there is also a café.

Buses: 58, 182.

Trains: the nearest station is Rochdale. You may continue your journey by tram to Newhey station, though this means a modest walk along Newhey Road and Bentgate Road.

Before I go…

Feel free to add some more quirky, offbeat, or unusual ways of enjoying Greater Manchester by bus. Feel free to elaborate on any of our seven featured attractions.

S.V., 05 July 2019.

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