I set out today to visit the butcher by a different route to the usual. Heading out of Alsager towards Talke I got onto the A34. There is a long uphill stretch where this hedge is on the left.
Surprise number one was when I turned into the unadopted Clough Hall Drive which is behind this hedge and looks out over Bathpool Valley:
The track winds off into the valley and is definitely one to explore on a future occasion. Instead I carried on down Peacock Hay Road, which has a very fast descent followed by a stiff climb up Holywall Lane, which would be lovely if the loocals didn’t regard it as the place to empty rubbish from their cars.
Further up the lane is a good vantage point to watch dirt bikes doing spectacular jumps – unfortunately today it was empty:
The building in the background is my destination, A J Green the butcher.
I stopped to take a closer look at the ventilation shaft that pops up in a field from the Harecastle Tunnel below. This served the railway tunnel, not the canal tunnels built by James Brindley and Thomas Telford. I realised that I could see another ventilation shaft not very far away:
The shaft in the foreground is labelled Shaft 1 and I assume the one in the distance is Shaft 2.
Imagine my surprise (number two) when I got home, opened up Google Maps, and found that there is a Shaft 3. Now that is not surprising in itself, but the surprise was that Shaft 3 was in the picture I had taken of the biketrack! Scroll back up and you will see Shaft 3.
The railway tunnel was abandoned when rolling stock got bigger, ane the present line that runs through Bathpool Park was built. This does rather raise the question of why the line didn’t go that way in the first place – presumably land ownership problems forced the decision to build an expensive tunnel.
Some intrepid types have explored the old tunnel and posted pictures, of the interior:
This looks to me like a structurally sound tunnel that just needs some drainage, after which it could form part of a high-quality cycle route from Kidsgrove to Stoke-on-Trent.
This would be a fascinating experiment, because it would be a real commuter route used by hundreds if not thousands of people daily. In Derbyshire, the Manifold way was recently extended by reopening old railway tunnels, and this has led to a massive increase in visitor numbers, for a picturesque leisure route. My bet is that reopening the Harecastle tunnel for cyclists would see a big increase in commuter cycling between the two centres. The tunnel at the moment is an incredible resource going to waste!
So come on Stoke on Trent, flat routes between population centres are the future for clean transport. Get busy!
So what was surprise number three?
Well, cycling back from the butcher I got to the very steep descent down Acres Nook, and coming up gamely in the other direction was Sean:
To see a trailer is rare around these parts, and a trailer for two kids is almost unheard of. Unfortunately the kids weren’t in the trailer when I met him, but Sean tells me that he got the trailer at Go Outdoors and it was their first sale in three years! I am going to optimistically interpret this as the start of a new wave of cycling in the area!