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The Villages of Saddleworth

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by Alli-jayne (subscribe)
Alli is a freelance writer and blogger who has contributed to the lifestyle sections of publications including The Guardian and The Telegraph. She regularly researches and writes articles for a local newspaper and happily reviews products and events
Published September 25th 2012
Meander the moors, drink in Diggle, unite in Uppermill
I would recommend that any one visiting Greater Manchester who is not familiar with the surrounding area should have a day out in Saddleworth. Nestling below the west side of the Pennines, only a 20 minute train journey from Victoria Station is a huddle of villages and hamlets that have a little bit of something for everyone. Board the Huddersfield bound Northern Rail service to Greenfield. The train service is hourly and an adult ticket costs 3.80 off peak. When you disembark you will be within walking distance of Uppermill, the main tourist village.

Saddleworth consists of the larger Pennine villages of Uppermill, Greenfield and Delph with smaller villages including Dobcross, Diggle and Denshaw higher up on the moors. The area also contains the residential areas of Grasscroft and other smaller communities such as Lydgate, Scouthead and Grotton. Ultimately the villages present a scene that has remained characteristically unchanged for many years with their stone weavers' cottages, old mill buildings and village squares.

Saddleworth's history can be traced way back to the Stone Age; there is evidence of Roman occupation in small forts at Castleshaw, above the village of Delph. Latterly, the area flourished predominantly on the woollen industry; wool being readily available as sheep thrived comfortably on the rough pastures. Many of the old mills that still stand have now been converted into trendy accommodation or business units.

Originally Saddleworth was part of the West Riding of Yorkshire, but in 1974, due to the Local Government Act 1972, it was incorporated into Greater Manchester. Many of the residents refuse to accept this and still say they live in Yorkshire. The Saddleworth White Rose Society continues to organise events every Yorkshire Day (1st August) to promote its argument that Saddleworth remains part of the West Riding of Yorkshire.

Saddleworth is also famous for gloomier reasons. One being the famous Moors Murders carried out by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between July 1963 and October 1965. The murders are so named because three of the victims were discovered in graves dug on Saddleworth Moor. Another gloomier reason being the Bill-O-Jacks murders in 1832 at the Moorcock Inn above Greenfield, when the Landlord and his son were bludgeoned to death. The case has never being solved but the victims lie within the graveyard of St Chads Church which can be found nestled within the hills of Uppermill. The grave is covered by a huge sandstone slab which has upon it a very intriguing and lengthy inscription.

Considering the rough and remote terrain of Saddleworth, its rail and canal links to other major cities must be particularly admired. The Railway Viaduct is a major feat of local engineering. Completed in 1849, this impressive stone structure has twenty two arches which follow a gentle curve and carry the railway over the Huddersfield Narrow Canal.

Boat trips are available on the canal but it can also be easily followed by foot. It ambles underneath and alongside the Viaduct continuing up to 'Tunnel End' in Diggle. 'Tunnel End' marks the start of the unique Standedge Tunnel which was opened in 1811; seventeen years after work had begun. The tunnel is 3 miles long, blasted through solid rock and is the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in the United Kingdom. It is not possible to walk through the tunnel as it is not wide enough for a towpath. Historically boats were "legged" through; it is said that expert 'leggers' could do the trip in 3 hours even with a full load. Meanwhile the horses were led over the hills to join the boat at the other end of the tunnel in Marsden.

Saddleworth has a number of customs that are worth witnessing. Possibly the most popular customs are those featuring around Whitsuntide. On Whit Friday morning, congregations from the churches of all of the Saddleworth villages hold their 'Walk of Witness' and congregate in Uppermill to take part in a religious service. Later in the evening, the Whit Friday brass band contests take place. Bands from around the world travel to the area to compete. Another popular event that takes place annually, on the second Saturday and Sunday after 12 August (the old Saddleworth "Wakes Week"), is the Saddleworth Rushcart. On the Saturday the Rushcart, built from rushes taken from the moor and arranged in a conicle shape upon a 2 wheeled cart, is pulled through the villages of Saddleworth by Morris Men from all over Britain. On the Sunday, the cart is taken to St Chads Church and after a service there is a festival with displays of, amongst other things, traditional dance and gurning (face pulling). The Saddleworth Morris Men are easily recognisable as they are the only Morris Men in the Country to wear fresh flowers in their headwear.

In addition to the opportunities to discover Saddleworth's history and culture the villages offer ample cafes, restaurants and public houses. Visitors can choose from a range of modern coffee bars to traditional pubs, all of which offer the chance to relax and enjoy good food and drink in a welcoming environment. Or, if you simply crave a sweet snack Uppermill has an authentic sweet shop that has proved very popular with children and adults alike. For those who would prefer to dine outdoors there are limitless beauty spots and open areas that are ideal for a picnic and most villages accommodate a children's play area with a park and playing fields.

Finally for visitors who require a little retail therapy there are countless delightful craft shops to meander and boutiques to browse.

Whatever visitors to Saddleworth decide to do and see what will be apparent to them is the solid sense of community that remains within the area. Saddleworth is no longer as remote as it once was but the villages have retained a flavour of traditional life that is now incorporated into the modern world.
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Why? It's a fascinating place to explore
When: All year round
Where: Saddleworth, Manchester
Cost: Variable
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