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Rochdale Canal

Home > Manchester > Nature | Walks
by David Keyworth (subscribe)
I’m a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. keyworthdavid@gmail.com https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83 My debut poetry pamphlet is available at www.wildpressedbooks.com/david-keyworth.html
Published September 14th 2019
A short nature walk in the city centre
If you said you were going into Manchester city centre to commune with nature, you might be answered with a sardonic laugh or remark. That said, around the Oxford Road station area, there are some hidden gems, or at least examples of the stubborn persistence of plant life.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history
Rochdale Canal towpath

"Amidst concrete and clay and general decay, nature must still find a way" sang The Smiths in 1985. They might have been alluding to Rochdale Canal, built two hundred years earlier.

Walking from the direction of the Hacienda apartments, parallel to Bridgewater Hall, Manchester's subculture is at your feet. Sadly, this includes the sleeping bags of the city's rough sleepers.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history
Rochdale Canal towpath


But even by the Rochdale Canal, flora is determined to show off its glad rags. Rainbow coloured flower-boxes decorate the towpath - brighter than a drag queen's dress on Canal Street. A painted duck house and bird box further animate the view.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history, Cambridge Street India Rubber Works, Mackintosh Mill
Rochdale Canal towpath


Spiders angle their webs to glisten beneath strip lights - to entice a frenzy of flies, like a trance beat from an abandoned warehouse luring ageing ravers on their way home from the office.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history
Rochdale Canal towpath


Elsewhere artists have collaborated with the natural world. Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse - a life-size sculpture woven out of willow - stands as a reminder that animals carried their share of industrial weight.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history
Bess the Shire Horse by Juliette Hamilton


The Hotspur Press (formerly a mill complex) is now decorated with graffiti. Its doors warn 'Danger Keep Out' and a redundant intercom waits for long-gone callers.

The adjacent River Medlock was once a convenient depository for waste from the manufacture of waterproof coats.

These days Mackintosh Mill is an apartment complex. But the rivers and canals are still infiltrated by microplastics, let alone the ubiquitous polymer of thrown-away bottles bobbing on the water. It seems as though the arteries of the city will always be labouring twenty-four hours a day to cleanse themselves of chemicals.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history, Cambridge Street India Rubber Works, Mackintosh Mill
Cambridge Street India Rubber Works, Chorlton-on-Medlock, Manchester. Owned by Charles Macintosh & Co. by David Dixon, CC BY-SA 2.0, commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=48423604


Further up a constant stream of commuters and tourists flow in and out of Oxford Road station. How many would take the time to watch leaves behind the car park shake in the wind? Do magpies cough as they make nests in the trees which absorb a daily fix traffic fumes?

Sadly, few of us would distract ourselves by admiring the industrious dance of flora and fauna, even if our train was chronically late.

As the old saying goes: nature - like graffiti - abhors a vacuum. Oxford ragwort may have been replanted from Mount Etna, to Oxford University's gardens but in the early nineteenth century, it started bedding down on railway lines.

Beneath the bridge where buses stall their engines before leaving Oxford Road, there is a vertical woodland and rain sweats through the moss on Bridge Col/55A.

It's an urban waterfall in slow motion which will outlive our hurried lives.

Rochdale Canal, city walk, Juliette Hamilton's Bess the Shire Horse, River Medlock, Manchester history
Side of Oxford Road Station
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Why? Escape the traffic fumes and train delays for a stroll by the canal
Where: Rochdale Canal Manchester city centre
Your Comment
A great article David illustrating that beauty can be found in the most unlikely of places.
by Gayle Beveridge (score: 3|7176) 27 days ago
Thank you Gayle. This came from a nature walk I did at Manchester Writing School (MMU) summer school. It made me notice things I normally pass by.
by David Keyworth (score: 1|85) 27 days ago
Foodi Photoh Classie
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