Walking the Mersey: from Stockport to Sale

This leg of the walk along the Mersey from its source to the sea was a pleasant surprise.  For here the river winds its way through one of the densest stretches of conurbation in Britain – a tangle of suburban housing, power lines, industrial estates, pullulating arterial roads and motorways, and railway lines. Walking here, where it was possible, any time from the 19th century to the 1970s, would have been to follow a polluted river past the smoking chimneys of grimy cotton mills and the clamour of railway marshalling yards.  Until only recently, the vista that greeted the walker would have been the depressing one of a river brutalised by flood barrier works of naked concrete and edged by a wasteland of industrial dereliction and waste tips.

Instead, what greeted me minutes from the centre of Stockport was the bucolic scene above, the river flowing between thickly-wooded banks.  Today, from Stockport to Sale, for a distance of about 12 miles, the Mersey and its environs has become a great green belt of Manchester, a pleasure ground where nature is restored.

I set out from the town centre on one of the rare days this summer when the sun was shining and the mercury rising.  After emerging from its culvert beneath the Merseyway shopping precinct, the Mersey passes beneath the railway viaduct before heading west out of town on a course parallel to Chestergate and Brinksway.  From King Street I turned onto the surfaced path that forms a signposted stretch of the Trans Pennine Trail, following the north bank of the river past low rise offices where workers hunched over computer terminals looked out impassively at the passing walkers and cyclists.

A bit further on stands one of the distinctive Trans Pennine Trail mileposts that I’ve seen in Liverpool where the trail comes through Sefton Park.  There are 1000 of these, funded by the Royal Bank of Scotland that are actually markers on the National Cycle Network.  For walkers this stretch of path can have its perils – bikes, fast approaching from the rear.

The riverside path emerges briefly into the hurly-burly of the M60 junction at the start of Brinksway.  An old pub, the Woolpack, stands here by the bridge over the river, suggesting that this was a trade route out of town long before the arrival of motorways.  But the most dramatic sight here is the Stockport Pyramid, a six storey structure clad in blue glass, completed in 1992.

Extraordinarily, the pyramid is the only fragment that remains of a 1987 plan which failed – to erect five pyramids along the banks of the Mersey on a site to be given the grandiloquent name of King’s Valley. But only one was ever built after something like the Curse of the Pharaohs struck and several developers and builders went bust.  In the early 1990s the developers went bust while this first pyramid was being built.  The developer’s bank, the Co-op, took control in the hope of finding tenants when it was completed in 1992.  But the eye-catching building stood empty until 1995, when the bank cut its losses and occupied the property itself, from where it operates its telephone banking centre.

A few yards further on I pass the first of several weirs found along this stretch of the river – usually built by late 18th century mill owners who needed power for their spinning machines. Interestingly, these Industrial Revolution weirs, coupled to 21st century technology, could revolutionise the way the former mill towns along the Mersey and other rivers in the North West get their power: not from some distant fossil fuel or nuclear plant, but from the rivers at their heart.

I saw this on the last stretch of the walk at Otterspool bridge where two massive Archimedean screw turbines have recently been installed.  Before that, an Archimedean screw eight metres long and two and a half metres wide had been  installed alongside the weir at Torr Mill in New Mills to channel some of the Goyt’s flow across the drop in water level, turning the screw as it would a turbine and generating 70kw of power in the process.

There are steps down to the river, here almost in its original state, apart from the inevitable dumped shopping trolley and, visible just beneath the water, dozens of abandoned tyres.  I have to say, though, that such sights were extremely rare along this stretch.  Along the bank wildflowers provided splashes of vivid colour – clumps of blue tufted vetch, bird’s foot trefoil, yellow ragwort, purple knapweed, willow herb, buddleia, and gorse were all encountered along a short stretch of the path, along with blackberries ripening nicely in the in the warm sunshine that has been so rare this summer.

Here, on the far bank, rise sandstone cliffs for, like Liverpool, Stockport stands on outcrops of this red rock.  Beneath the summer’s tree growth it wasn’t possible to see any signs of the Brinksway caves, set high above the river.  They are man-made and thought to date back to 1670, though their purpose is unknown.

Brinksway caves: photo by Stopford lad (http://bit.ly/P9fBd6)

During the Second World War, tunnels were dug here as air raid shelters for civilian use.  Work started on the tunnels in 1938 and the first set of shelters was opened on 28 October 1939. Stockport was first bombed on the 11th October 1940.  The tunnels were 7 feet wide and 7 feet high and had electric lighting and wooden bench seating.  There were toilets, a warden’s post, a first aid store and a tool store.  As the threat of bombing receded in 1943, it was decided that the tunnels no longer needed to be open every night.  After the War, the tunnels were sealed up and left virtually as they had been.  There are atmospheric photos of the tunnels as they appear today here, and a fuller account of Stockport’s tunnel shelters can be read here.

When I passed through Stockport on the last leg of this walk, I mentioned Helen Clapcott, a local artist who, in recent years, has recorded Stockport’s urban landscape in distinctive paintings.  In ‘Brinksway’ (above) she visualises the sandstone cliff at Brinksway in almost epic terms, with mills and people illuminated by the glare of a coruscating sun.

And so, onward through arcadian scenes, dodging frequent cyclists and joggers and past horses in a paddock, before arriving at Mersey Vale Nature Park, created from land previously contaminated by industrial use.

Now turned by Stockport Council into a riverside park, this area in Heaton Mersey was once the site of a derelict bleach
works, refuse tip and railway sidings.  It was a place where people felt unsafe and anyway had no inclination to linger because of the dereliction. Then, in 2000, a joint project between Stockport Council, Mersey Basin Campaign and the local community reulted in thousands of tonnes of soil being used to create new open spaces, with access to the coast-to-coast Trans-Pennine trail, two canoe access points to the Mersey, a wildlife pond and children’s play areas.

Aerial photo of Heaton Mersey bleach works in the early 1950s

Before the industrial revolution this was farming country: the name Heaton Mersey means ‘the high farmstead beside the Mersey’. Then, in the late 18th and early 19th century the Mersey attracted industrialists who built cotton mills along the banks to harness the power of its water.

But it was Samuel Oldknow (whose works I encountered earlier in the Goyt valley) who, in 1785, with his brother Thomas, transformed this place by establishing a bleachworks on the north bank of the Mersey. Here, bleaching, dyeing and printing of cloth were carried out. Although best known for his industrial and canalbuilding activities around Marple and Mellor, Samuel Oldknow was involved in pioneering industrial  development in both Stockport and in what was to become Heaton Mersey. The ready supply of water from the Mersey provided both power via a waterwheel and water for the washing and bleaching of cotton cloth that took place here. By 1790 Oldknow had begun to  experiment with chemical bleaching.  The Tithe Map of 1848 (below) shows the development of the industrial village around Vale Road and the string of fashionable villas along the spur of the ridge above the Mersey valley.

A map of Heaton Mersey in 1848

The bleach works is just one reminder of the Mersey’s industrial heritage, one of over 100 textile production and finishing units that sprang up along the river between the late 18th and early 20th century in Stockport alone.  The result was that fifty years ago the Mersey was one of the most polluted rivers in Europe.  Michael Heseltine made this astringent observation in 1983:

The river is an affront to the standards a civilised society should demand of its environment. Untreated sewage, pollutants, noxious discharges all contribute to water conditions and environmental standards that are perhaps the single most deplorable feature of this critical part of England.

Today, following an intensive clean-up operation by the Mersey Basin Campaign, water quality has improved so much that fish, including salmon, are thriving.  Salmon are fussy about water – they prefer it clean, so their return reveals something important.  This is symbolised in a salmon sculpture sited just by the weir at Heaton Mersey where there are also canoe and fishing platforms.  Atlantic salmon are returning to the Mersey catchment and, although in low numbers, successfully moving upstream to potential spawning areas (their progress somewhat impeded by those weirs, unfortunately).  Recent survey data confirms that salmon are successfully spawning in both the Bollin and Goyt.

The successful river clean up required the engagement and participation of many different organisations, authorities and communities. The Mersey Basin Campaign broke new ground in British administrative practice with its uniquely collaborative programme. In 1999 it became the inaugural winner of the International Thiess River prize for best river system clean up. The citation read:

A combination of massive investment in the water infrastructure by a privatized water company, tough environmental legislation, and major sewage upgrades made the difference.  The remarkable transformation  was made possible by the work of many organisations and individuals  working together. The Mersey Basin Campaign  was a pioneer in partnership. Today the Mersey and its tributaries are cleaner than at any time since the end of the industrial revolution. Water quality has improved and fish have returned to formerly polluted stretches of the river. For the first time in living memory, juvenile salmon have been found in the upper reaches of the river near Stockport.

Strangely, this was a consequence of the Toxteth riots of 1981, because the Mersey Basin Campaign was one of the projects instigated by Michael Heseltine, then Secretary of State for the Environment, in the aftermath of the riots. Heseltine recognised the relationship between environmental improvement and economic regeneration. By improving water quality in the Mersey Basin, he saw that derelict land beside the river could stimulate regeneration.

After Heaton Mersey the riverside path is wooded for a while before emerging into open landscape south of East Didsbury traversed by power lines.  Cheadle bridge (below) marks the point where the river enters a succession of serpentine meanders around three suburban golf clubs, with West Didsbury to the north and Northenden to the south (work that one out!).

Somewhere along here I stepped down to a stony beach where the dull roar of traffic from the M60 – not visible but audible from where it hugs the south bank – was displaced by the sound of rushing water from the fast-flowing river.

The smooth, rounded pebbles of red ochre that peppered the beach were, I realised, chunks from the broken bricks that lay on the river bed.  An urban river, for sure.

The reaches from south of Stockport to Carrington, notorious flood fields, mark one of the . The flood danger protects it from planners for only the foohardy would attempt a planning raid here

I paused here awhile in this bucolic setting, in this great green belt for Manchester – open to all to walk, cycle or canoe – and thought about George Monbiot’s astonishing news in yesterday’s Guardian that

The UK now has a natural capital committee, an Ecosystem Markets Task Force and an inspiring new lexicon. We don’t call it nature any more: now the proper term is “natural capital”. Natural processes have become “ecosystem services”, as they exist only to serve us. Hills, forests and river catchments are now “green infrastructure”, while biodiversity and habitats are “asset classes” within an “ecosystem market”. All of them will be assigned a price, all of them will become exchangeable. [...]

Land ownership since the time of the first impostor has involved the gradual accumulation of exclusive rights, which were seized from commoners. Payments for ecosystem services extend this encroachment by appointing the landlord as the owner and instigator of the wildlife, the water flow, the carbon cycle, the natural processes that were previously deemed to belong to everyone and no one.

But it doesn’t end there. Once a resource has been commodified, speculators and traders step in. The Ecosystem Markets Task Force now talks of “harnessing City financial expertise to assess the ways that these blended revenue streams and securitisations enhance the ROI [return on investment] of an environmental bond”. This gives you an idea of how far this process has gone – and of the gobbledegook it has begun to generate. [...]

Rarely will the money to be made by protecting nature match the money to be made by destroying it. Nature offers low rates of return by comparison to other investments. If we allow the discussion to shift from values to value – from love to greed – we cede the natural world to the forces wrecking it.

We’ve been here before: with the Norman Conquest there was a profound change in the concept of land ownership.  Where once before folk could pretty much wander around the countryside as they pleased, now William made all land the property of the Crown, and then parcelled it out to his barons.  Just as profound was the impact of the parliamentary enclosures of the  late 18th and 19th centuries, viewed as a tragedy by John Clare:

The freshen’d landscapes round his routs unfurl’d,
The fine-ting’d clouds above, the woods below,
Each met his eye a new-revealing world,
Delighting more as more he learn’d to know;
Each journey sweeter, musing to and fro. [...]

There once were lanes in nature’s freedom dropt,
There once were paths that every valley wound, - 
Inclosure came, and every path was stopt;
Each tyrant fix’d his sign where paths were found,
To hint a trespass now who cross’d the ground:
Justice is made to speak as they command;
The high road now must be each stinted bound:
- Inclosure, thou’rt a curse upon the land,
And tasteless was the wretch who thy existence plann’d.
-  from ‘The Village Minstrel’

Clare’s thoughts recalls those of Jean Jacques Rousseau:

The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying ‘This is mine’, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows, ‘Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody’.

There’s not much chance of any of this land being enclosed for profit (unless, god forbid, rare earth metals, the lifeblood of smartphones, iPads and the rest, were discovered here).  There’s a simple factor that prevents it. Look at this stretch on the Ordnance Survey map and you notice that the river carves a clear mile-wide belt through Manchester’s urban and industrial sprawl.  Even the M60, Manchester’s outer ring motorway, though it follows the Mersey valley from Stockport to Stretford, mostly stays about half a mile clear of the river – for a very good reason.

For centuries the Mersey flooded areas of Sale, Northenden and Didsbury after high rainfall. As development and increased population led to land being built on closer to the river’s edges, the old flood banks and measures such as widening the river channel were less and less successful.  The last major flooding here was in 1965 because since then flood defences have mitigated the effects of rising water on the river.

These photos shows how the riverside landscape was transformed by the flood defences put in place in the 1970s.  Levees were constructed to raise the banks on either side.  From now on the river would be ‘cribbed, confined, bound in’ between concrete embankments. Thankfully, these barriers, although they don’t look natural, are now thickly covered in grass and flowering plants (I noticed great swathes of comfrey along one stretch).

Simon’s Bridge (below), where the river winds close to the southern fringe of Didsbury, is an old iron bridge constructed in 1901 with money provided by Henry Simon. It was built to improve access to Poor’s Field, from which the church collected rent to pay for blankets and clothes for the poor of the area. Before the bridge there was a ford here, the site of a skirmish between locals and Charles Stuart’s army who were ambushed as they were retreating north to Scotland in 1745.  A line of trees and mounds visible on the golf course marks the graves of the unfortunate Scots.

The ford at this point would once have been one of the main crossing points of the Mersey, as there was no bridge over the Mersey between Sale and Stockport. Packhorses carrying loads of salt would have been a common sight in mediaeval times, since the route was probably one of the ancient salt ways from the Cheshire salt fields into Lancashire.  Northenden, on the southern bank, prospered in medieval times from the packhorse trains that crosssed at the ford.

The river loops twice beneath the M60 at Northenden, the motorway pillars heavily graffiteed.  But there has been some sympathetic  riverside landscaping with a sculpture of a heron by Philip Bew installed in 2010.  Northenden has the distinction of hosting the largest Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall in the area in a former 1930s cinema. I passed it on the bus returning to Stockport, my attention drawn by a spectacular display of red begonias outside the church.

Towards West Didsbury there is a pretty stretch, with weeping willow, rows of tall poplars, and flocks of Canada geese dozing along the riverbank.

Where the main road to Chorlton-cum-Hardy and Moss Side crosses the river there were signs of how high and powerful the recent flood waters had been.

Beyond this bridge, the river enters a highly-engineered reach, hemmed in by the levees (seen above at Barlow Moor), and with several sluice gates (below) that can be opened to release water when the river is rising to threatening levels.

Where does the water so released go?  For the answer I had to climb up over the levee to explore Chorlton Water Park which lies adjacent to the river on the north bank.

It’s an idyllic spot today, but has very mundane origins.  In the 1970s, when the first section of what is now the M60 motorway was being constructed, gravel was excavated from the site and used to construct a raised embankment to ensure that the motorway was clear of potential floodwater from the Mersey.   The gravel pit was later flooded, creating the lake that is the centrepiece of  the Water Park today.

As the trees have grown and the grasslands developed, the Park has become increasingly valuable for wildlife.  The lake is stocked with fish and has developed into a popular fishery, and in the winter months is a nationally important refuge for wildfowl.

Leaving the lake, I returned to the riverbank where, in the warm sunshine, large brown dragonflies – Brown Hawkers, I think – were active.  The scene ahead was dominated, though, by the sight of the bridge being constructed to carry the new Manchester Metro tramline out to the airport.

It was time to stop for lunch as I had reached my objective, the only pub actually on the riverbank between Stockport and Sale – Jackson’s Boat.  There has been a pub here for many centuries, the original name being ‘Jackson’s Ferry Boat’, signifying that for centuries this was where a ferry took people across the river.  The present brick building was constructed at the end of the 18th century, replacing an old wood house that stood on the site.  It was then that a local farmer named Jackson regularly ferried people across the river by boat, charging them a small fee. In 1814 the land came up for sale as ‘Jackson’s of the Boat’.

The ferry was made redundant in 1816 when a wooden footbridge was built over the river and a halfpenny toll charged to cross it on foot or one penny with a bicycle, and for many years the pub was known as the Bridge Inn. This bridge was washed away in a storm and was rebuilt in 1881 as an iron girder bridge which still stands today. It wasn’t until the 1940s when Manchester Corporation bought the bridge that the toll was finally abolished.

I joined the families, walkers and cyclists thronging the beer garden behind the pub to rest my feet and consume a cheese sandwich and a pint.  In the distance there was the constant thump of pile driving for the new Metro line.

Rested and refreshed,I set off on the short stretch to Sale. The afternoon was hot and muggy, and there were many people out on the river banks (there are paths on both sides of the river here).  Some were walking their dogs: I watched enviously as two black labradors leapt repeatedly into the river to cool off.

To the south of the river is Sale Water Park, another lake formed by flooding a gravel pit excavated to provide material for the motorway embankment in the 1970s.  The lake is 90 feet deep in places. If the water level of the river rises dangerously high, then a weir can be opened to allow water to flow from the river into the water park, where it can be stored until the floodwaters have passed. This is just one of a number of similar flood basins in the area: Chorlton Water Park on the north side about a mile upstream is another, along with areas within Didsbury and elsewhere. Monitoring the water level of the river and deciding when to open the sluice gates into the park is the responsibility of the Environment Agency.

It was here that, on the opposite bank, that some flood damage revealed how the flood embankments had been constructed from great sheets of concrete, reinforced by rough concrete boulders.  When new it would not have been a pretty sight!

Chorlton Brook, heavily culverted, enters the river here.  The brook flows through Chorlton Ees, an area of floodplain on the north bank of the Mersey once used as water meadow and pasture.  Gradually flood control measures were developed to reduce the disruption caused by periodic floods.

In the 19th century Chorlton Ees became a landfill site and a Sewage Farm was established on part of the site.  More recently the land has been cleaned up to create Chorlton Ees and Ivy Green Nature Reserve.

I puzzled over this unusual word: Ees.  On the OS map it crops up all along this stretch of river: Chorlton Ees, Sale Ees and Stretford Ees. It turns out that this is an archaic English term that harks back to the past use of these flood meadow as pasture. The names ‘Moss’ ‘Ees’ and ‘Carrs’, which are all associated with the river reflect its wetlands and periodic flooding.  Ees (plural of ee) means a piece of land liable to flood, or water meadow, and is derived from the Anglo-Saxon eg meaning ‘island’.

So, at least, I reached the point where I left the Mersey.  A mile from Sale, the Bridgewater canal and the Metrolink line to Altricham cross the river, the canal carried over the Mersey by an aqueduct.  This is like my O-level history coming to life: studying the Industrial Revolution, we learned how the Bridgewater Canal, built by Duke of Bridgewater to transport coal from his mines at Worsley to the industrial areas of Manchester, ushered in the golden age of canals which lasted from 1760 to 1830.

Officially opened on 17th July 1761, the Bridgewater Canal was the first canal in Britain to be built without following an existing watercourse and it revolutionised the nation’s transport.  By the end of 1761 the Canal had reached Stretford, and by 1765 was through to Castlefield Wharf in the centre of Manchester. One of the panels of Ford Madox Brown’s Manchester Murals in Manchester Town Hall depicts ‘The Opening of the Bridgewater Canal A.D. 1761′.

I walked down the canal into Sale, where I caught the X5 bus back into Stockport, where I alighted at the bus station, beneath the arches of that magnificent viaduct.

Local artist EE Smith placed the viaduct centre-stage in his 1906 painting ‘Stockport from Brinksway’.

See also

19 thoughts on “Walking the Mersey: from Stockport to Sale

  1. What a superb blog this is – an eclectic mix of art, architecture,environmment,local history,nature,photography, poetry,social comment et al, weaving a story as it descends down the Mersey. In other words there is something for every one here! This is the part of the Mersey Valley I know so well having lived and worked nearby for many years. Looking forward to many more installments all the way down to New Brighton!

  2. Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging
    on sites I stumbleupon every day. It’s always useful to read articles from other writers and practice a little something from other web sites.

  3. I live really close to the pyramid & am embarrassed to say I had no idea this walk existed until last week. Youve now inspired me to give it a whirl. Ive looked online for a map but struggling to find anything. Any tips? Thanks for the inspiration,

    • You need the Ordnance Survey Explorer map 277, Manchester & Salford, which shows the paths I followed – the Etherow &Goyt valley way and Trans-Pennine trail. I’m glad you have been inspired by my account. Enjoy your walk!

  4. Put some decent shoes on and start at the river at the pyramid and head west, it’s a great walk. You have to cut through the waterside hotel ‘briefly’ and then back to the river. It’s good to cycle as well and wildlife brilliant. There are sand martins and kingfisher at cheadle bridge. Buzzards circle over the fields looking for rabbits too and goosanders fishing (definite sign the fish stocks are healthy)! Parrswood refers to how it used to be, parr being a young salmon and the gravelly bottom suitable for the young salmon to put weight on before the big migration to the sea. I love the mixture of industrial heritage and wildlife it’s fascinating. No doubt it gets better year on year, as the wildlife claims it back! Happy travels. John

  5. Thank you Gerry for a really interesting post. I cycle/walk along this route regularly and feel that you have captured the essence exactly. I particularly was interested in the photo of the bleach works and the tithe map. Possibly of interest would be to look at the walk using a historic 1:25000 OS map. A copy can be found on the sabre website(road enthusiasts), under the section of historic os maps. I also understand from Keith Warrenders book Underground Manchester, that part of the flood defences are banks along the river set back from the edge of spoil from the building of Manchester’s secret nuclear shelter, Guardian telephone exchange. The spoil was dumped along the river banks at night so that people would not notice so much!!!!
    Steve Robinson

    • Thank you, Steve, for your generous response – and for the interesting information about the flood defences. Just as long as the spoil wasn’t radioactive!

      • This is an excellent, well put together blog which I found very interesting. As a boy born in Cheadle Heath in the 1940s, I lived only a short walk from Brinksway and the River Mersey and, if I could take you back to the Brinksway of my childhood in a time machine, the first thing you’d notice as we walked towards the area along Stockport Road is the smell of the river, which you could smell long before you could see it at the bottom of the sixty feet high sandstone cliffs at Brinksway. In those days, the Mersey was little more than a vast, flowing, open sewer, into which all the waste from the mills poured day and night out of big pipes. The cottages then along the river were not connected to the main sewers and all the waste from the chamber pots and middens in the cottages was thrown into the river. The River Mersey was also plagued with rats and there were no fish in it as it was so polluted. If you fell in, as many did, and you didn’t drown, you could pick up a nasty infection, such as Weil’s disease. Access to the cliffs on the main road side of Brinksway, opposite the Springmount Mill, was via two doors in the wall along the pavement, which led down steep paths cut into the sandstone to the front and back entrances of a little 18th century dwelling called Rock Cottage, which was built on a sandstone ledge halfway down the cliff and overhanging the river. By the early 1950s, these doors, which had a triangular danger sign and a tangle of barbed wire on top of them, were supposedly kept locked, to prevent children and anyone else from getting onto the cliffs, as there had been many tragic accidents there where children had lost their footing on the cliffs and plunged sixty feet down into the river far below and been swept away and drowned. As a six year old in 1953, I became the latest statistic when I managed to open one of the doors in the wall and get onto the cliffs. I was probably trying to get down to take a closer look at Rock Cottage, but I slipped and went over the edge, bouncing off the outcrops of rock as a plunged downward, screaming in terror. My life was saved by two very brave men, Jack Morris and Bill Howard, who were in the right place at the right time. Jack dived into the river and dragged me out unconscious and the pair of them got me onto a ledge just above the river and Bill gave me artificial respiration until I ejected the filthy river water from my lungs. Then, bit by bit, they dragged me back up the cliffs to the safety of Jack’s cottage on the main road at 122, Brinksway (now long since demolished). Another thing you would notice when visiting the area as it was over 60 years ago is the complete absence of trees and other foliage, which is now abundant all the way from Chestergate to Brinksway and Heaton Mersey and beyond. The river was too polluted to sustain trees, let alone wild life (except for rats). Today, 60 years later, the river has been considerably cleaned up and doesn’t smell any more. There are fish in the river now and ducks waddle on it and, along its banks, there are now kingfishers and otters. A huge difference to what it was like when I was a child.

      • Thanks, David for your kind remarks and your really interesting account of the state of the Mersey 70-odd years ago. The story of your fall into the river is truly terrifying. Were you badly injured?

  6. Amazingly Gerry, only badly bruised and shocked. As I was knocked unconscious by the fall, to this day, I retain no memory of either the fall or the dramatic rescue that followed and can only relate what I was told later by grown-ups who were there. I think they call it traumatic amnesia. So, over 60 years later, we’ll probably never know what I was doing on those cliffs on that Sunday afternoon in July, 1953.

    Six months after my own ordeal, another boy, eleven years old James Price, from Lomas Street in Edgeley, fell down the cliffs into the river at near the same spot. His life was saved by two Stockport policemen who entered the river from the opposite bank in front of the Ring cotton mill, and, aided by a third policeman shining his torch, they swam across the freezing river in the cold, afternoon darkness and located James who was crying out for help and trying to cling on to the rock face where the river was six feet deep. Then, with the help of Stockport Fire Brigade, they were hauled by ropes out of the water and back up the cliffs to safety. James was then taken to Stockport Infirmary suffering from hypothermia, but recovered. Not long after that, the doorways in the wall were bricked up and nothing remains of them today. The two policemen were later given bravery awards for saving James’s life. Well, at least it was a warm summer day when I fell in.

  7. I played by the river Mersey as a child in the mid 1970s and it was an exciting place that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up. You new that one mistake would result in you being swept away, you were never getting out, it was smelly deep water with swirling currents that pull could you down. People would fall in in Stockport and have the bodies dragged out in Liverpool. We used to climb inside the railway bridge and make our way across the river in the gantries with trains passing above our heads and the fast flower river metres below us, if we slip it was certain death. I was about 7 years old, one lad Stuart was only about 5 years old, crazy thinking back.

    • Just reading this, Mike, has made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up! We had childhoods, back then, hardly affected by risk assessments or health and safety considerations! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  8. I remember those two bridges over the River Mersey. We used to call one of them the Concertina bridge because of its trellaced design and I remember a tragic incident there in 1952 when a little boy fell from it into the middle of the river and was swept away and drowned. Although I left Cheadle Heath in 1954, when I was seven years old, I much later heard of another tragedy at Gorsey Bank, near the footbridge, around November, 1973, when a 15 years old girl named Deborah Grimley from the now long gone Gorsey Bank housing estate decided to go for a swim in the river and apparently was dragged under by the fast flowing current and drowned. I have always had a healthy fear of the river, especially after what happened to me in 1953.

  9. This is so informative! I’m familiar with the bridge having croswed it to get to Jackson’s Boat and the luttle nature reserve/wood. I used to live infront of the Mersey in Cheadle Heath and walk home along it. I’ve never thought of walking from one to the other oddly. I love the look of the ‘caves’, how cool.

  10. Very informative post Gerry… greatly enjoyed reading it. I’ve had it on my TTDL to take a photographic record of the Mersey from its source to the sea out at New Brighton and Crosby – one of these days I’ll get around to it! Thanks again. Cheers – Graham.

    • Cheers, Graham – it certainly makes for an interesting trail. I’ve not quite finished-still got the stretch from Warrington to Runcorn to do. Your own blog looks very interesting, I’ll have a nose around. Your latest post was a surprise – I didn’t realise that Eldon Gardens was still standing.

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