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|Day 1||Bridgewater Way (BW)||9.4miles (16km)|
An easy day walk to aid recovery following a stay in hospital: a few weeks ago my lower left leg swelled up and I suffered stabbing pains on the left of the upper chest when trying to breathe in deeply. My doctor quickly recognized the symptoms, made a few phone calls, wrote a letter for the medics at A&E and told me to go there at once. His suspicions were correct: after some hours and several tests and a cat scan at A&E, they confirmed it was a DVT clot in the leg, part of which had migrated upwards and caused a pulmonary embolism in my left lung. The chief consultant organized a bed immediately, in the transplant unit no less, where I stayed for four days under close observation during treatment with clexane in case part of the clot reached the right lung. On discharge I was prescribed at least six months on Warfarin to help clear the lung damage, hence no mountain backpacks for so long.
This was the second time we have done this walk since discharge and the first time the entire BW towpath has been open all the way to Manchester with no path closures or diversions. Sections of the way have recently been upgraded to high quality grit surfaces. The southern semi-rural section contrasts with the industrial heritage in the urban northern part and there is much of interest to see.
We started the day with our well walked route through John Leigh park, small but well endowed with superb mature trees at its lower end. The BW is accessed at Broadheath on the eastern side of the A56 through a snicket adjacent to the Altrincham & Sale Sea Cadets building (aka T.S.Talisman after the Triton class submarine HMS Talisman) opposite Halfords. The towpath has recently been resurfaced either side of the bridge, mostly on the Sale side.
Rounding the first bend, the Sale stretch of the BW runs dead straight for 2.1 miles (3.4km) almost to Dane Road. Most of the narrowboats moored along here belong to Sale Cruising Club members, and we have often seen rowing teams from the clubs of Manchester University and Trafford. This stretch ends just beyond the King's Ransom canalside pub and the steps up to the centre of Sale, a favourite gathering place for the ubiquitous Canada geese and mallards.
The BW continues under the M60 and past the Society for Abandoned Animals. The northern urban section has extensive graffiti paintings, some of them exquisitely crafted as large murals, others not so much. The first two below the A56 bridge at Stretford are fine examples. The BW passes around three sides of the modern development enclosing the marina at Marland Way.
Shortly afterwards we arrived at the canal junction where we took the footbridge over to the eastbound arm leading to Manchester. The next 1.3 miles (2.1km) arc of the BW was opened only recently following a long closure, partly for the new upgraded towpath but mainly for the construction works of the 'Hotel Football'. The first sight of stacked containers heralds a section through the enormous Manchester International freight terminals with integrated rail lines, then comes a section flanked by the large expanses of Manchester United club car parks. This may sound depressing, but in fact the new BW path has been designed remarkably well and from the canal we felt little sense of alienation despite the industrial surroundings.
Next is the grand structure of MUFC stadium dominating the southern side above the canal and the tower of the 'Hotel Football' beyond.
Shortly after the hotel one must cross Throstle Nest bridge, thus named in large letters on the arch, to the eastern side of the canal where another section of the towpath past Pomona Metrolink station has recently been upgraded. A few more examples of fine graffiti murals adorn the columns supporting the Metrolink bridge.
Entering Manchester city centre under the rail bridges, the flanks of the BW have both old and modern architecture: new shiny apartment developments sit side by side with old brickwork and sections of cobbled path. The BW arrives at Castlefield Canal Basin and wharf, a metropolitan confluence of waterways, apartment blocks, restaurants and bars where commercial canal boats are moored and operate city centre cruises. The striking arc of the Merchant's Footbridge is the onward route to the continuation along the Rochdale canal. In the background the 47-floor Beetham Tower stands aloof from all else, the tallest residential building in Europe although the Hilton Hotel occupies the lower floors.
We stopped for lunch in Catalan Square and read the information board: the first lock on the Rochdale canal is numbered #92 but was the first one built. The numbering was reversed by the chief sponsor of the project who was a Yorkshireman but didn't want his canal to 'start' in Lancashire.
Here again the old and new architectures mingle and the new developments are almost all apartments. The BW undulates alongside several locks, full and overflowing the gates today, and past the fashionable venues of 'Deansgate Locks'. The rear wall of the Hacienda is on the path, bearing a series of engraved milestone events from the world of music associated with its history.
We left the BW via the steps up to Oxford Road opposite the Palace Theatre. After some shopping we returned to Altrincham on Northern Rail from Manchester Piccadilly station.