This rewarding dérive reveals the B side of our heritage and culture, an antidote to the country walk, and one which for many folk is right on their doorstep. It explores the unique post-occupancy landscape of a Northern town where the rot has set in, viewing iconic heritage sights from the relative safety of the pavement.
Calculated time is computed with the distance, the height difference, and an average speed of 2.2 mph. For an intermediate walker, this time includes small breaks.
(D)Stockport Railway Station makes a good start to this perambulation, giving access directly to London, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool amongst many. Whilst unlisted, the station has some interesting features such as the two elegant but plastic windowed signal boxes at either end. Exit the foyer to view “The Exchange” development, 45,000 sq ft of vacant office space, a Holiday Inn Express and an NCP multi storey with large surface car park next to it. All this can be avoided by heading Left (North) down Station Road, past the swimming pool and McDonalds drive thru(sic) to the A6, then Left (North) to the vacant Postal Sorting Office with the red brick and domed Library opposite. A short diversion can be made here continuing along the A6 to the Hatworks Museum in Wellington Mill, with flats above and views out over the bus station to office blocks.
(1)Back at the Library enter St. Peter's Square, a large modern piazza fronted by mostly vacant offices and the barren "Stockport Village". Turn Right (South) up Duke Street, past the vacant Regal House, Jobcentre and Victoria House. Keep straight on at the roundabout to Piccadilly, past the well designed but empty Hilton House prominent behind a temporary car park site. Before the red brick Magistrates’ Court (which was saved in 2016 from redundancy by petition), turn Right (West) through a gap in the 1975 Stopford House, with its bush-hammered concrete panels. Head diagonally across its Piazza, spectacular but unloved over a multi storey car park, and via John Street back on to the A6, turning Left (South) uphill.
Pass the lush Town Hall and more sober War Memorial Art Gallery, followed by a string of vacant 1960's office buildings opposite Stockport College. The columns of the core college building have been painted orange, a jolly reference perhaps to the town’s 1970’s bus livery. To its left is the new workshop extension, to its right a large disused 1970’s teaching block. A diversion may be made Right (West) at the end of the college down Charlesworth Street to view the Workhouse, now the mostly derelict site of the college's failed expansion plan and the setting for covert urban exploration. Returning to the A6, turn Left (East) along Longshut Lane, with its continuation St Mary’s Way ever widening in the name of easing congestion. Diversions can be made to the residential areas around St Mary’s Way, but these are mostly unrewarding, and the highway itself is hostile to the un-motorised. The vista South up Hillgate from here is closed by St George’s Church, a fine Gothic Revival work by Paley and Austin, worth visiting when unlocked.
(2)Turn Left (North) again off Longshut Lane, to follow Hillgate back down to the town centre. Although technically a Conservation Area, Hillgate and its hinterland is characterised by redundant buildings, vacant sites, and permanent “temporary” car parks. And closed pubs; the once infamous Hillgate Crawl would sadly leave many drinkers quite sober these days. Higher Hillgate is dominated by the flats of Lincoln Towers, and also loudly visible is the HSS tool hire centre next door. Set back along the cobbled Holt Street is the auditory church of St Thomas, by George Basevi who designed the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, looking in much need of love. Further on past Edward St is the restrained but abandoned Police Station, its occupants relocated to the town’s periphery, closer to their ‘client’ base. To the East of Middle Hillgate lies the Hopes Carr quarter; new housing to its East and Northwest corners offers some hope for life in the town, but most of this large site remains vacant. Opposite, Stockport’s first “block of flats”, Covent Gardens, is Scandinavian-Germanic in inspiration, but empty.
Pass Robinsons Brewery on your right and continue down Lower Hillgate into Little Underbank, under the ornamental St Petersgate Bridge to the White Lion Hotel, taking care to avoid buses, vans and cars on this pedestrianized street. Until recently (2017) an image of the White Lion appeared next to the town map when Google-searching “Stockport” – although listed it has been closed since 2009. Vacant shops in this area have painted trompe l’oeil interiors on their boarded up frontages, complete with (absent) shoppers.The Rhode Island cafe here does coffee. A diversion Left (South) can be made into Great Underbank to visit the Air Raid Shelters, or to view the stone bulwark of High Bank Side with its zig-zag paths and concrete bridge, a dramatic instance of the use of levels in the town.
(3)Back at the White Lion, go North into Great Underbank, past the Natwest Bank, which is fronted by a half-timbered 16th century former manor house and followed by a long-term gap site and more vacant buildings. Turn Right (East) steeply up Bridge Street Brow to summit in the Marketplace. On your left is Castle Yard, site of the town’s castle motte on a sandstone spur, levelled in 1775 and now the entrance forecourt to Sports Direct. In the terrace to its right is Staircase House, a medieval house with interesting later additions rebuilt in 1987.
Pass through or around the fine Market Hall, in 2016 saved from a future as food franchise by public petition. Emerge opposite St Mary's Church and a vista up Churchgate, past car parks to the former Rectory, now a Hungry Horse pub. From the Market Hall head Left (East) down Millgate, passing Asda service yard, its car park entrance and the well proportioned but vacant 19th century offices opposite with views over Newbridge Lane car park, Matalan and the gasholder site managed by United Utilities (£400,000 fine in 2014 for methane leakage). The Arden Arms survives on the corner here.
(4)From Millgate roundabout follow the Matalan car park drive, past another Asda car park entrance, over the River Goyt, to a pedestrian gap Left (North) across the Peel Centre car park. Turn Right (East) along Portwood and Left (North) on Avenue St, into a quarter of disused and derelict industrial buildings, scrap metal yards and vacant sites.
Turn Right (East) at the M60 South abutment concrete wall and Left (North) under the motorway to the vast Tesco car park, immediately turning Left (West) alongside the graffiti-daubed North abutment concrete wall with a large site on your right, vacant since motorway construction in 1982. Whilst this is the longest car-free section of the route, the M60 thunders by just above your head, and the spray of cans, bottles and other debris at your feet is distinctly un-nerving.
Taking a Right (North) turn just before the Tame-Goyt Confluence, cross the footbridge to the right of the buzzing electricity pylon, with on your right a very large tract of vacant land below Lancashire Hill Flats leading to Tiviot Way. Continue up steps to Penny Lane, with its residual spaces from estate road planning, and onto Lancashire Hill, itself flanked both sides by more vacant land. A diversion could be made from here up to the Belmont housing quarter, with Nelstrops Flour Mill by the roundabout at the top of Lancashire Hill a truly remarkable survival.
(5)Drop down from Lancashire Hill back over the M60 and cross Great Egerton Street to Tiviot Dale, with its vacant and demolished pubs. Stockport's core shopping district is now traversed Right (West), initially along Princes Street with its large new NCP multi storey and cinema walling off views from the town of parkland to the North, then Merseyway, a multi storey with shops under. The two are linked by Deanery Way, where you can admire the concrete relief BHS Panels by Joyce Pallot and Henry Collins, commissioned in 1978 by a store which now lies empty; Stockport has the second highest vacancy rate of retail space in the UK. Beneath Merseyway runs the River Mersey, culverted in 1965, strangely and very briefly exposed to public gaze next to the British Heart Foundation charity shop at its Eastern end. Continuing to Mersey Square, this space with its tall lighting pylons and Art Deco Plaza Theatre is an urban void which appears to have always been little more than a tram/bus locus since its emergence in the late 19th century.
(6)From Mersey Square go Right (North) up the A6, passing Heaton Lane multi storey on your left, and a new spiral car ramp up to Debenhams rooftop car park on your right. Immediately after crossing the M60 bridge, you can peer down Right (East) to the former Tiviot Dale railway cutting, abandoned since construction of the M60. The valley here now welcomes 12 lanes of traffic, and the prospect from here of the A6 and M60 is undoubtedly dynamic, especially after dark, when urban space becomes elementally defined: halogen, argon, xenon, sodium, metal halides, mercury, and neon. Across the A6 amongst the vacant land between it and the railway embankment are the twin pubs, The Midland and The Magnet, defiant survivors both. The fine landmark spire of Christ Church can be seen ahead, its body torched and demolished in 1977, its five bells stolen the same year. Turn Left (West) at St George's Way after the redundant Wycliffe Congregational Chapel. The rear (West) wall of the chapel might be described as a contemporary example of what William Morris termed ‘pleasing decay’.
(7)Drop down between Decathlon and B&Q car parks to Travis Brow. Ahead lies a large scrubland site marooned between it and the M60, partly occupied by an ambulance depot. The footings of railway bridges to Tiviot Dale are a landmark at this point, with their robust materials and detailing. Bear Right (West),alongside the VW forecourt, and at the summit negotiate a series of crossings, bridges and tunnels which characterise the motorway junction to hopefully emerge at the end of Brinksway by the Audi forecourt. You should pass by The Pyramid on this traverse; originally designed to be Stockport's "Kings Valley", this metaphorical architecture was flawed by the bankruptcy of developer King & Co partway through its construction, but the blue glass pyramid remains, home to telephone banking offices. A burger van can often be found next to Brinksway Bridge on weekday mornings.
Turn Left (East) at Brinksway and follow this as it becomes Chestergate, passing industrial sheds interspersed with vacant sites and buildings. A large demolished mill site on the left fronts the river here, and diagonally opposite is the impressive but vacant 19th century Wear Mills, snugly fitting under the red brick Railway Viaduct. Turn Right (North) here along King St West, passing the bus depot, bus offices, fire station, chemicals warehouse and car wash to climb up towards Shaw Heath. After passing a large waste ground car park with narrow exit opposite Radnor House flats, turn sharp Left (North) between galvanized palisades down the beautifully cobbled and engineering brick walled Station Road to reach the West station entrance. Some negotiation may be necessary here to pass through the station underpass, a footpath gated in 2015 by a private railway operator, to emerge back at your starting point. There is a coffee franchise sometimes open in the station foyer serving drinks if you're in need.
D/A : mi 0 - alt. 230ft - Stockport Railway Station
1 : mi 0.26 - alt. 200ft - St Peters Square
2 : mi 1.02 - alt. 262ft - Hillgate
3 : mi 1.76 - alt. 177ft - Great Underbank
4 : mi 1.98 - alt. 177ft - Millgate roundabout
5 : mi 2.63 - alt. 217ft - Lancashire Hill
6 : mi 3.14 - alt. 157ft - Mersey Square
7 : mi 3.7 - alt. 171ft - Travis Brow
D/A : mi 4.97 - alt. 223ft - Stockport Railway Station
Objective dangers - drivers, especially of buses, taxis, lorries and white vans. Great care is especially needed crossing the A6. Many road works are constantly in progress which may affect your route. It is normal in the town centre to encounter cars, vans and buses on pedestrian streets and pavements, and for drivers to ignore lights, signs and other warnings, and to be using their mobile phones and/or cannabis. This walk is not suitable if you are sensitive to air or noise pollution, or emotional disorientation. For your personal safety this walk is not recommended after dusk.
Visorando and this author cannot be held responsible in the case of accidents or problems occuring on this walk.
There are many sights written in to the Route text above.
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