We spent this weekend in Rochdale, where my parents live, and where I grew up. I wanted to walk to a special place – somewhere I’ve been meaning to introduce to Tom for a very long time. It is always lovely to have a walk with my Dad.

The Roch valley, crisscrossed with canals and railways, dotted with mills and factories, is the landscape of my childhood. Shaped by the industrial revolution, and decimated by Thatcher, the mills and factories are now mostly demolished, though some have found new life as distribution centres. Behind my parents’ home runs the Rochdale canal.

I used to play around these towpaths when I was a kid. Not all of the paths were accessible then, as parts of the old waterway had been in-filled and diverted. There were stagnant pools, and shopping trolleys. But there were also foxes and wildflowers. On one legendary occasion, a brave pal went swimming in the canal behind our house, and came out covered in leeches. About a decade ago, the canal was extensively restored, and is once again fully-navigable, by boat or by foot. There are new loch-gates and walkways. . .

It was wonderful to see the canal looking in such good nick, but this wasn’t the point of the journey.

I wanted to climb up from the valley to the beech woods behind Tandle Hill. These woods, planted in the early Nineteenth Century, and now managed by Oldham Council, are where I first discovered my love of walking. They were a beautiful space in which to potter about, and were far enough from home to feel like a real adventure. As one got older, one’s circle widened: you could walk right through the woods, and follow the lanes all the way across to Royton. You could take a tent and camp up there (although you weren’t supposed to).

I remember feeling, as a teenager, that these woods had a cathedral-like majesty, with their grand columns of mature beech forming leaf-lined aisles. They still look like that to me today.

They are at their best in the Autumn, of course, when the hollow behind the hill becomes a shadowy symphony of bronze and gold. But I like it here at any season. My Dad (who keeps a wonderful garden) waxed lyrical about leaf mould. And there was plenty for Bruce to do.

I had always loved Tandle Hill. Then I went away to university and got interested in the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries. I didn’t know, until then, that Tandle Hill was where the radical weavers of Middleton and Rochdale famously assembled.

(view from Tandle Hill, North, toward Rochdale)

In the words of Samuel Bamford:

“When dusk came, and we could no longer see to work, we jumped from our looms and rushed to the sweet cool air of the fields, or the waste lands, or the green lane sides. We mustered, we fell into rank, we faced, marched, halted, faced about, countermarched, halted again, dressed, and wheeled in quick succession and without confusion; or, in the grey of a fine Sunday morn, we would saunter through the mists, fragrant with the night odour of flowers and new hay, and, ascending Tandle Hill, salute the broad sun, as he climbed from behind the high moors of Saddleworth”*

Looking out from Tandle Hill, Bamford saw the promise of political reform on the Southern horizon

(view South, toward Manchester)

“And, lo! what a world is before me spread,
From the fringed dell to the mountain head!
From the spangled turf, whereon I stand,
To the bend of heaven and the verge of land!
Like an ocean cradle deep it lies;
To the right, to the left, dark hills arise,
And Blackstone-Edge, in his sunless pride,
Doth York from Lancaster divide;
Whilst, on to the south if away we bear,
Oh! what shall bar our progress there?
Nought, save the blending of earth and sky,
Dim, and afar as eternity!”**

Three months after writing these verses, Bamford, and six thousand other working men and women from Middleton and Rochdale, marched South to Manchester, and Peterloo

We had a great walk: just under six miles, 200 metres of ascent, and an awful lot of memories for me. It was chilly and uneven underfoot, but my leg held out reasonably well.

*Bamford, Passages in the life of a radical (1843)
**Bamford, “View from Tandle Hill, May, 1819” (in Homely Rhymes, 1864 edn)

P.S indeed, yes, that is the most amazing scarf! I intend to tell you about it later.

44 thoughts on “Tandle Hill

  1. That is a lovely post. I came to Australia over 40 years ago after living in Eccles as a young child. My granddad was Bernard Moylan, a Manchester councillor.


  2. Kate, I work in Newhey and every summer our class 5 (year 5 and 6) go to Tandle Hill for the day, after the SATS and just have fun getting muddy and running and being children, they love it. I loved this post.


  3. Some tainted memories for me… I hid my swimming bag in the privets once and walked up to Tandle Hill without asking. I was grounded for a week once my dad realised my cossie didn’t smell of chlorine! Wonderful afternoon though.


  4. What wonderful writing. Sometimes, reading your blog entries is like opening a book and falling into an unknown world. The trees and woods are magnificent, and the landscapes take my breath away. When I read about the, “night odour of flowers and new hay,” you took my back to my grandmother’s farm in Tennessee, where the open windows would let in her flowers’ fragrances, and the smell of fresh hay was plentiful around the pastures and barn. Wonderful memories of childhood is what you brought me today. Thank you, ever so much.


  5. Dear Lord, Kate, I do love your blog. My husband is English (Folkstone) and we visit the UK every year, sometimes twice a year. Seeing your photos makes me miss it a little less, but I still long to be there. Walking in England is nothing like walking in Ontario, Canada. Our history is so short there are few destination points and the land is not really conducive to walking, especially during the winter months when the snow can be 30 cm deep and the wind chill makes the temperature feel like -20C.
    Thank you for sharing all of your life with us. I’m suggesting at our monthly meeting tomorrow night that my Rowan Club knitting members click on to you.


  6. Oh Kate,
    I must confess that I read this with my heart in my mouth, just waiting for what I feared would be the final paragraph about how the woods are likely to be put up for sale and lost to us.

    As Joanna says in her comment above, we all need to do something about this.

    Beautiful photographs, as ever. X


  7. Kate, Love your canal pictures. From my perspective here in Lowell, MA, it makes me feel very connected to our roots in the European textile industry. Lowell was one of the first planned industrial cities in the US around a canal system, some of which has been restored and some of which is still a respository for shopping carts and discarded bikes. The canals are a mish-mash of ownership from the National Park Service to an energy company. We recently had an urban planner come in tell the city that it needs to rethink the pastoral flavor of our canals and re-landscape parts with a more urban flare ala San Antonio, TX. I think there could be room for both….


  8. Dear Kate, how lovely to see Tandle Hill park ! I live in Heywood and the park has been a regular sunday afternoon walk for my family for many years. We had a longish phase of setting out to walk all the hilltop monuments in this area, with the children before teenage non compliance set in, enticing them with a picnic at the top.
    Someone asked about the pike at the top of Tandle hill, its a first world war monument.


  9. Love the trees in those woods, and the lovely picture of Bruce and the way the light is coming in and lighting up the leaves. Love the history you share with us also. I bet your Dad LOVES walking with you too!


  10. A fascinating read today I knew nothing of Rochdale. How beautiful those woods are I can almost smell the leaf mould, I bet Bruce had a great time too. Love the scarf!!!


  11. Oh Kate, thank you for this post. I played in/on Tandle Hill all the time as a child. My little brother famously sledged there, a few days old, strapped to my mum!


  12. Thatcher decimated industry; now the ConDems want to sell off our woods and forests. I would urge anyone in the UK who identifies with the kind of attachment to woodland that Kate demonstrates in this post to contribute to the public consultation that began today – details on Forestry Commission website. Tell your MP how you feel too.


  13. I love your joy in walking! So glad you’re clearly getting stronger and stronger with every walk and able to enjoy it. And the scarf, of course, looks fabulous. Can’t wait to hear about it.


  14. Dear Kate,
    I am ashamed to say that I didn’t know very much about Peterloo and what I had known I had forgotten. Your post prompted me to go and read about it again. Thank you.


  15. Beautiful photos, thank you :) Makes me pine for home (West Yorkshire) though. I love Edinburgh but always feel so at peace when I can see and explore the rolling hills and fields of home.


  16. I look forward to each new post because you always offer introductions, or meditations, or thought/eye provoking material. Thank you for this latest one. It’s glorious, even without the enticement of a scarf-to-be-shared.


  17. What lovely woods! The path by the canal too. What is the monument on the hill? I don’t usually comment, but want you to know that I find your posts enchanting and inspiring. I only started reading you blog about a month ago, but am pleased to see how much progress you are making. (and I ordered VY for Caller Herring). Best wishes.


  18. fascinating, thank you. i keep trying to get into jenny uglow’s Mrs. Gaskell, as a way of understanding marx, or engels, and all that went down in 19th century manchester.
    to think of bamford and his thousands marching among the flowers. wow. i’m not sure that in america we have lovely planted forests such as these.


  19. Kate, your writing is lovely. I just want to read more and more and soon it ends. I always look forward to your posts. They are so interesting. Your pictures are beautiful as well. What camera do you use if you don’t mind me asking? Look forward to the story on your scarf. :) Sharon


  20. Oh to be in england (even though it’s only January)
    Lovely photos Kate.
    Glad you managed to have such a nice long walk in such beautiful surounds.


  21. The photos of your woods are truly magical. LOVE the snaps of the canal, too. Glad Tom and Bruce got to tag along on your journey as well. And the scarf looks absolutely perfect.


  22. Your blog really conjured up memories for me. Walking with my Dad in Styal Woods (Cheshire), the massive trees & the stillness along the river Bollin. The dank smell & the red sandy earth, which would erode into caves we’d play in amongst the tree roots. And the leeches we’d find when paddling in the river when we were doing school projects in the summer. Thank you! You brought back memories from my childhood long forgotten.


  23. Was going to ask about the scarf!
    Beautiful woods and walking indeed. Lovely walking companions as well.
    I needed a Kate post today.
    Thank you, Kate.


  24. Love this post and all your teenage and childhood recollections of the land around your parents’ place.

    I have a special fondness for canals and towpaths and liminal, murky areas outlying the egdes of towns, where people throw shopping trolleys in old ponds, and the paths run to brambles.

    There are many such places in Croydon, where I fell in love with walking.

    And I agree that Beech forests are most cathedral-like.

    …glad you got to walk there this weekend with Bruce and Tom and your Dad.


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