Half the fun of these bus jaunts is in the planning. Well, maybe not half, but if you factor in daydreaming about what Gamesley or Broadbottom will look like, then somewhere in the region of 10-15 per cent sounds fair.
As you’d expect, our timings today (Eleanor is with us) have been measured to the millisecond. An atypically long ten minute wait for a 192 and the usual charade while catching the 330 have all been factored in, but two sets of roadworks on the stretch between Woodley and Hyde haven’t. It threatens to throw our afternoon’s plans into a vortex of chaos.
“We’re not gonna make this bus are we, Gingerface?” El says, despair set deeply into her green/brown/hazel eyes, as the clock ticks down while we’re sat at a set of temporary traffic lights on Stockport Road.
“It’s gonna be tight,” I reply, “but don’t worry, I’ve got an idea…”
You can’t have a travel itinerary without a backup plan, and although there’s no way we’d be able to make it to Hyde bus station in time for the 341’s departure, we could definitely head it off at the pass. Or, more precisely, at the top of Market Street. Even if we do miss it, we can pop around the corner to El’s parents for a brew, so all wouldn’t be lost.
We arrive at the stop with seconds to spare. Naturally, the bus is five minutes late, but at least we kept our end of the bargain.
We join half a dozen pensioners who are already onboard, all with bags of shopping tucked between their knees. One couple hobbles off at the very next stop, outside Ricky Hatton’s eponymous boxing gym. It was here that Pat, my father-in-law, jostled to catch a glimpse of Muhammad Ali when he paid a visit in the summer of 2009.
“Here you go,” he said the day after the event, pointing to a clump of dots on his camera’s viewfinder, “I’m pretty sure that’s the top of his head there. I waited bloody hours for that and he’s pixellated to buggery.”
Practically next door is a housing estate, walled off from prying eyes on the site of the former James North factory. At one stage, the world’s largest manufacturer of protective industrial clothing, North’s played an unsuspecting hand in kitting out the planet’s sex dungeons after they patented the PVC glove in 1947. Sadly, the peccadilloes of fetishists weren’t enough to save them from oblivion, and the old brick building had been pulled to the ground by the end of the 1990s.
The 351 ventures uphill towards Gee Cross, turning left at Lilly Lane and onto Mottram Old Road. Werneth Low rises and blocks the sun away to our right, and although we’ve got a sweeping vista over the whole of Greater Manchester to our left, for a couple of minutes at least, it feels as though we’re almost into the wilderness. After the morass of traffic jams and awkward connections, it’s great to be out here, especially with new leaves sprouting from branches and daffodils, hung over after their St. David’s Day celebrations yesterday, adding bucketfuls of colour to wherever you happen to stare.
This pastoral fantasyland abruptly comes to a halt as soon as a British Gas call centre ushers us into Hattersley.
Hattersley had a rural landscape up until the 1960s, when Manchester City Council identified its patchwork of fields as the ideal place to dump its soon-to-be displaced citizens from the slum clearances. Parachuted in with the bare minimum of amenities, usually miles from their families, friends and workplaces, it became a scaled-down Manchester beyond Manchester. Even now, the Hattersley accent is closer to my inner city Gortonian brogue than Eleanor’s softer Hyde tongue.
We pass the crumbling remains of a playground and basketball court, which once stood beneath a block of high-rise flats that have long since bitten the dust. While there are plenty of sturdy homes on the estate, some were essentially cobbled together with bits of MDF, sticky-back plastic and a thin lick of concrete. The town planners couldn’t seriously have expected them to last, and sure enough, they were taken down before they fell down after barely 40 years of service.
They’ve been replaced by rows of brand new accommodation with sporty Minis on their drives, directly facing pebble-dashed houses with bangers parked half on the pavement. It’s a sign of change being afoot; not in a social mobility way, but a wider expectation that being fobbed off with ‘it’s got an inside toilet’ isn’t good enough anymore.
There are still portions of scrubland where the footprints of old housing blocks are still visible, but despite Hattersley not being able to shake off all of its troubles (the youth club has been suspended for the time being “due to the actions of a small minority”), The Hub is a well-used community focal point, and the Tesco which towers over it means that residents at last have somewhere local to do a big shop. Not that Tesco is ever in it for any altruistic or philanthropic reasons, mind you. They’ve got a captive market.
Hattersley ends abruptly, the sudden shift to sandstone buildings meaning that we’ve crossed into Mottram. The village seems an unlikely place for violent outbursts, but machinery was destroyed here during the Luddite rebellion in 1812, with the population up in arms again 30 years later, when mill owners reduced wages en masse and prompted the Plug Riots.
You can sit on a bench next to a statue of L.S. Lowry, who spent the final three decades of his life here, while just over the road you can admire the UK’s worst Christmas tree. Nicknamed ‘Twiggy’, it came to prominence in 2014 when the flimsy pine was planted on the village green. Its spindly branches were barely able to hold the weight of the tinsel which was draped over it, never mind baubles or fairy lights. However, in the best spirit of sticking up for the underdog, what was once considered an embarrassment has now been fully embraced, and there’s an annual carol service next to it each Christmas to give it a morale boost.
We make the long descent towards Broadbottom, a linear settlement whose name I feel a certain kinship towards, even if it does pertain to a wide valley rather than a tubby arse.
I’ve been pestering El to come here since Christmas when a friend told us about The Harewood Arms. A free house with its own brewery, we practically skip down the main street as it comes into view, only to be sucker punched by the news that it doesn’t open until 2pm, which is still an hour-and-a-half away. Tears streaming down our parched cheeks, we carry on down to the banks of the River Etherow, where we spy what looks like an astronaut outside Lymefield Garden Centre.
We edge closer, but rather than Tim Peake holding a careers seminar for budding space explorers, it’s actually a beekeeper pointing the way to a Sheffield Honey tasting session which is setting up inside. It doesn’t look like he’s brought a hive with him as far as we can tell, but it sparked an interest in me that I didn’t know I had, so I’ve bought a little bee hotel for our back yard and would like a bee suit for my birthday, please.
Even Barbie has got in on the apiarist act, although she wears her outfit more stylishly than I ever could, with even her portable hive looking more like an oversized Birkin bag.
We top up on bird food, buy an assortment of sunflower seeds to plant and relax with a couple of pork pies from the excellent on-site deli. Before you know it, we’re hiking back up to the main road for the next 341.
The first headwinds of Storm Freya have swept in by now, carrying a spatter of cold drizzle with them, so when the bus finally appears almost fifteen minutes behind schedule, our extremities are near enough frost-bitten.
“Daniel, move out of the man’s way, please.”
Daniel is about three years old and definitely doesn’t like sitting still on buses, even if it is to go and see his nana. He flits quietly from seat to seat, trying to find something to take away the tedium. As we cross into Derbyshire and climb towards Charlesworth, he points to a sign by the door.
“What’s that say, Mummy?”
“Please give up these seats for elderly or disabled passengers.” She says patiently through naturally pursed lips, although the cigs which have made her voice deeper than Barry White’s may have helped on that front.
The rest of the seats are occupied by the bus pass brigade, one of whom is a septuagenarian lady in huge glasses with thick white rims and a Picasso approach to the application of lipstick. I catch El’s gaze and we both wrinkle our nose.
that smell?” she whispers.
“I’m not sure,” I reply, “but I think it’s mothballs.”
Whatever it is, it’s filling our nasal receptors with every inhalation and we have to implement emergency mouth breathing for the duration of the trip. Not that it helps much.
We’re soon on the approach to Gamesley. Another Manchester overspill, it turned 50 last year and is supposedly the smoking capital of the UK. It’s not the only time people have been dropped off at the top of this windy escarpment against their better judgement, either. It was also the site of Ardotalia, a short-lived Roman fort built around 75 AD which was likely constructed by a unit from Braga in Portugal, which was occupied until the end of the 2nd century.
Ardotalia is better known as Melandra Castle these days thanks to the romantic whims of 18th century Stockport clergyman and antiquarian, John Watson. It lends it name to the road which encircles the entire estate, where curiously, all of the houses and pavements are enclosed off to the left, but the street lights are almost entirely placed on the other, pavement-less side. Seriously, who designs this stuff?
All the street in Gamesley are named after places in the Peak District: Eyam Mews, Grindleford Gardens, Youlgreave Crescent, although people who live in the latter village will no doubt have something to say about the spelling.
The world’s smallest car boot sale is wrapping up in a lay-by. A couple milling around a trestle table while being lashed by a gale and horizontal rain are manning the last stall standing. Its awnings flap frantically with the howling gusts as their final unsold items are hurriedly placed into the back of their blue saloon before getting drenched.
Daniel, his mum and baby sister get off by a row of shops, which leads a man who was sat just behind them to say in admiration, “By ‘eck, she’s got some stamina.” The bus nods in full agreement.
The steep drop down into Dinting shows just how far up the hillside Gamesley is. It’s like the entire place has been kettled and been left to get on with it, with this hourly 341 being the only service on Saturdays, and shamefully, it has none at all calling on Sundays.
The traffic into Glossop is always snarled up at weekends, which makes for a tortuous crawl up the High Street. Seeing as we were planning on going there anyway and the stench of mothballs is only becoming more intense, we dive out just before The Globe. As with every other time we’ve attempted to pop in during past decade, it hasn’t opened yet.
Undeterred, we cross the road and head for The Oakwood, where on the way we meet the most beautiful dog either of us has ever seen. I’m no expert on breeds, but at a guess, I’d say it’s a ginger Afghan hound crossed with a dressage horse. It must’ve won a rosette at Crufts this past week.
It has a dainty bouncing gait and I can’t help but grin a big “Hello, doggo” to it in that voice reserved for pets and babies. Its owner gives a weary half-smile, but it’s only when someone leans out of a car beside us to shout, “That’s a lovely dog you’ve got”, followed by another compliment a few yards later, that we realise she probably resents the thing and dreads taking it for a walk.
[PS. We made the pilgrimage back to Broadbottom later in the day and can confirm that The Harewood Arms is indeed top notch.]