During the 1960s over 5,000 miles of railway lines were axed following The Beeching Report.
Since then, many of these disused railway lines have been converted into traffic-free cycling and walking trails that we can enjoy up and down the country. We're rounding up the best in our Lost Railways series, and this week’s ride takes us through Cheshire where we were grinning all the way from Macclesfield to Marple!
Words: Maria David
The Ride: Middlewood Way, Cheshire
Where: Macclesfield to Marple
How far: 11 miles
Back in the 19th Century this railway line, originally commissioned by the Mill owners, ran between Macclesfield, Bollington and Marple transporting trains carrying cotton, coal, and silk until its closure in 1970. Some 15 years later the route was developed for recreational purposes and nowadays it transports mainly people, wearing lycra, leather and denim.
"There are often two paths makes it really user friendly for cyclists, walkers and horseriders together."
Ruth Taylor, who rides for the Boot Out Breast Cancer racing team that supports Podium Ambition Pro Team, regularly rides along the Middlewood Way. She told us: “I ride the Middlewood Way normally in the winter months on my cyclocross bike. It’s part of one of my favourite loops that combines the trail with the others near the canal.
"The trail is great even in bad weather as the surface is really good and the fact that there are often two paths makes it really user friendly for cyclists, walkers and horseriders together - we can all get out of each other's way! Sadly the trail is a little too close to home for me to have tested out the cafés – but I have heard good reviews!"
Getting to the start
Whether you start in Macclesfield or Marple there is a train station nearby. Macclesfield train station is practically opposite the trailhead at Waters Green, while Rose Hill Marple station is three-quarters of a mile from the northern end. Middlewood station, which is around two miles from Marple is right on the route, with trains from there going to Manchester or Buxton. If travelling by car there are access points with parking at Marple, Macclesfield, Bollington and Poynton.
Our ride starts from Waters Green, Macclesfield where the path is tarmacked. At this point you pass the urban surroundings including the busy Silk Road. However, the path is so well secluded that the landscape still retain a countryside feel, particularly as you can see the surrounding hills not far away.
Once past the Silk Road you pass rural villages like Tytherington, Kerridge and Bollington which have access points to the Macclesfield Canal, which runs parallel to the Middlewood Way.
After Bollington the trail surface becomes compact gravel and mud tracks with only small sections of tarmac. Hybrids, mountain bikes, cyclocross and gravel bikes are better suited from here, though I did spot a few people on road bikes and they didn’t have any difficulty.
The Middlewood Way, like many converted railway lines, has kept a few relics from its "glory days". For instance a milestone in the shape of a train wheel, numbered overhead bridges, and the remains of platforms such as those seen at the picnic spot in Nelson Pit, Poynton.
There are also other ornaments like carved wooden sculptures of animals along the way, and a stone labyrinth in Bollington. One area I particularly like is Ladybrook Valley with its lush woodland and a little waterfall beneath the trail.
There aren’t as many picnic spots as you might find on other rides - such as the Tissington Trail. However, there are lots of ramps and steps along the way that can take you off the track to reach different villages, most of which have a country pub or farm shop.
Having completed this route, also known as Route 55 of the National Cycle Network, you can explore the area near Marple, including the beautiful Lyme Park or catch a train into the Peak District.
After more traffic free riders along the axed railways? Check out the series here for more examples...