From the birthplace of the Co-operative movement and Gracie Fields to the sweeping hillsides and tranquil waterways around Littleborough
Our Lakeline journey begins at Rochdale’s £11.5m transport interchange, opened in 2013 and with a wide choice of bus and Metrolink tram connections. The facility was Europe’s first to be partially powered by a hydro-electric turbine situated in the nearby River Roch. Rochdale has a proud heritage as one of the world’s great cotton producers, and as the birthplace of the Co-operative Movement: the Rochdale Pioneers Museum on Toad Lane tells its story in the building where the Rochdale Equitable Pioneers Society began trading on 21 December 1844 – just in time for Christmas! Or walk past the statue to famous singer Gracie Fields, born above a Rochdale fish and chip shop in 1898, to the Touchstones Rochdale museum, art gallery and café, in a stunning Grade II Listed building on The Esplanade.
Back on our Lakeline bus, we leave the town and pass through Smallbridge on the Halifax Road: prior to the opening of the M62 motorway in the early 1970s, this was one of the busiest Trans-Pennine routes carrying heavy traffic between the North West and Yorkshire.
This is where our two Lakeline routes go their separate ways: if you’re on a 457 bus, your journey continues directly to Littleborough, while our 458 begins a steady climb to the moorland village of Wardle, the most northerly settlement in Greater Manchester. The village square is preserved as a place of historic interest, while half a mile to the north, Watergrove Reservoir is the largest of several in the Borough of Rochdale, able to hold an impressive 720 million gallons! Walking trails around the reservoir reward explorers with spectacular Pennine views, bird watching and fishing.
We return from Wardle via Birch Hill: look out on your left for the imposing Victorian clock tower of the old Birch Hill Hospital, which closed after 136 years. Housing now occupies much of its site with the clock tower retained as a local landmark.
Our Lakeline 458 crosses the Halifax Road and passes through the suburb of Smithy Bridge, once part of the arduous packhorse journey across the Pennines before canals and railways changed the face of this corner of Greater Manchester. At the bottom of Smithy Bridge Road, we turn to our left and the views change as to our right, we get our first sighting of Hollingworth Lake.
Covering 130 acres, Hollingworth Lake was originally built as the main water source for the Rochdale Canal, a function it still has today, but also developed as a tourist resort from the 1860s, helped by the arrival of the railway in 1839 and becoming known as “the Weighvers’ Seaport”. At the height of its popularity in the late 1800s, three lake steamers plied the waters and thousands of visitors came here from Manchester, Bradford, and Leeds. But it was not to last – by the start of the 20th century travel further afield became easier and by the start of World War One, the area became an army training camp.
After the war the lake was used for sailing, but it was Rochdale Council’s decision to create a country park here in 1974 that saw its popularity rise again, and today visitors can enjoy boating, a nature reserve, events, play and picnic areas – plus a great selection of walks for all ages and abilities.
Our first stop as we travel along the shore is Lake Bank, which offers a choice of places to eat and drink, while travelling on to the Rakewood Road stop takes us to the Hollingworth Lake Animal Centre, a new home for the Rochdale and District RSPCA at the former visitor centre featuring a larger café, reception, and information area with amazing views across the lake to the Pennine hills beyond, due to open in Summer 2022. The footpath circuit around the Lake is a popular family walk covering approximately 2.4 miles/4 km and is fully accessible.
Our Lakeline bus then climbs away from the Lake and crosses the 32-mile Rochdale Canal, opened in 1804 to transport coal, farming produce and materials for the textile industry. The canal needed many locks to cross the Pennines, creating a demand for water that led to the building of seven reservoirs: but commercial traffic faded away and it closed by the early 1950s. The Canal reopened fully between Manchester and Halifax in 2002 and is now popular with visitors.
We arrive at journey’s end in Littleborough, which grew due to its location at the junction of two ancient routes over the Pennines. The town has a history of cotton and woollen industry, and its centre is a conservation area with many fine buildings. Don’t miss the Coach House Heritage Centre on Lodge Street which hosts regular exhibitions by local artists, with information on local attractions and a café.
Many popular attractions offer money off admission fee or your bill with your bus ticket as part of our #TransdevTreats programme. Check here for our up-to-date list of our partners. Ask your driver to print you a Transdev Treats voucher and just show them at the destination to get your discount.
Photo credit to Scott Poole for main photo