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Tintwistle - the High Peak village dreaming of a traffic-free future

PUBLISHED: 00:00 25 August 2016

Cottages in Old Road

Cottages in Old Road

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Derbyshire Life travels to Tintwistle at the lower end of the Longdendale Valley in the High Peak

In 2001, the Human League released ‘Secrets’, an album that featured a track called ‘The Snake’, a song about the Snake Pass, the serpentine road over the Pennines which is almost always the first English road to be closed in winter due to snow. One verse of the lyrics identifies two alternative and less hazardous routes across the hills: ‘Come and join us/The way to Hyde, the sixty-two or six-two-eight/ Will do if you cannot be late/ Sometimes the only choice to make/ In wintertime’.

In fact, drivers of heavy goods vehicles travelling across the Pennines between the Manchester conurbation and the towns and cities of South Yorkshire invariably choose to travel on the A628, regardless of the weather. Otherwise known as the Woodhead Pass, this preferred route slices through the villages of Mottram, Hollingworth and Tintwistle before heading for the hills.

Conducting an unofficial census on one recent weekday morning, I estimated that no fewer than 45 per cent of all vehicles passing through Tintwistle were heavy goods vehicles. For at least half a century, residents living in the three villages plagued by this daily blight of noise, pollution, congestion and risk to personal safety have campaigned for a by-pass, but without success.

However, High Peak Member of Parliament Andrew Bingham, who has given his full weight to their campaign, was recently able to tell his constituents: ‘The Government announced in December 2014 that they had committed £170 million to a relief-road scheme. I also received a reassurance from David Cameron at Prime Minister’s Question Time that, if a Conservative Government were to be elected in May 2015, the scheme would definitely go ahead.’

A heavy goods vehicle travelling along the A628, with electricity pylons marching across the moorsA heavy goods vehicle travelling along the A628, with electricity pylons marching across the moors

Unfortunately, the money that is being made available is only sufficient to pay for a spur that will bring some relief to Mottram and the town of Glossop. It seems that Tintwistle and Hollingworth will have to wait until funds can be found for an extension to the scheme. Determined to keep up the pressure on the Government, Andrew secured a parliamentary debate on the area’s traffic issues and brought Transport Minister Andrew Jones to see the intolerable situation at first hand.

The A628 splits the village of Tintwistle in two. The Grade II-listed Christ Church stands alongside the road, as does the Royal Oak public house, whereas the ground of Tintwistle Cricket Club sits below it and Amy Foster’s hairdressing salon is located at its junction with New Road, which leads to Hadfield. New Road contains Tintwistle’s well-stocked village store and provides access to a children’s play area and to the residential streets of the lower village.

The older and higher part of Tintwistle stands on the opposite side of the A628, alongside a long loop known as Old Road, which mercifully by-passes the ever busy main road. Old Road is flanked by picturesque old stone cottages, many of which have been beautifully restored. Some of the cottages form a photogenic group on the edge of a sloping green, creating an unexpected vision of archetypal ‘Old England’. The green contains a set of ancient stocks and a war memorial dedicated to the local men who died in both World Wars and in more recent conflicts.

In addition to fine old cottages, Old Road has several significant buildings. One of these was purchased and restored in 1998 by Tintwistle Brass Band, which has been a fixture in the village for over 120 years and enjoys ‘Division One Status’ in the highly competitive brass band world. Last year the band entered the famous Hardraw Scaur Contest for the first time and came second in a prestigious annual event that takes place in a natural amphitheatre below a spectacular waterfall.

The remote and abandoned chapel at WoodheadThe remote and abandoned chapel at Woodhead

In 2002, the Daily Telegraph carried the headline ‘Brassed Off’ to introduce a story about some younger members of the band who had formed a splinter group called Arnfield Brass and had managed to secure the spot in the Glossop Victorian Weekend that had always been occupied by Tintwistle Band. This splinter group, which often features singers in its performances, has continued to flourish and was seen recently playing and marching in the traditional Whit Sunday Walks.

Cooperation, rather than rivalry, governs the relationship between Tintwistle’s two churches. The United Reform Church, housed in an imposing building in Old Road, enjoys a good relationship with Christ Church. As Revd Annette Haigh, a member of the Reformed Church’s team ministry, explained: ‘In months that contain five Sundays, we have a joint service with the members of Christ Church, using the two churches as alternating venues. And our organist also plays at their church.’

On the day of my visit, the Reformed Church was hosting a lively play session with a large number of babies, toddlers, parents and grandparents. In former years, there was a second non-conformist church, the Ebenezer Chapel, which occupied a building further along Old Road. With its array of Gothick windows, this impressive structure has been beautifully converted into a private residence.

Another attractive building in Old Road is the Bull’s Head, run by Jane and Mick Reigate. Mick describes the Bull’s Head as ‘a traditional British pub where you can strike up a conversation with a stranger, make new friends and sort out the world’s problems.’ The pub has open fires, cask beers, including those from the local Howard Town Brewery, and home-cooked food prepared by Jane, who is also a hard-working parish councillor. There are weekly quiz nights and musical evenings, and there is an August Bank Holiday ‘Bullfest’, which includes food produced by some of the villagers.

The War Memorial with Christ Church in the backgroundThe War Memorial with Christ Church in the background

Old Road commands fine views of the dark, bleak moors of the northern Peak across the Longdendale Valley, through which the A628 makes its long ascent after leaving Tintwistle. As the road rises, it passes a succession of reservoirs before heading for high land under which three railway tunnels were constructed between 1845 and 1965. No trains use them now, but one of them carries cables for the National Grid. The overgrown churchyard of the isolated and abandoned church at Woodhead contains graves of the construction workers who tragically lost their lives whilst working on the first tunnel.

The Longdendale Valley is disfigured by gargantuan pylons that march across the moors like the soldiers of an invading Brobdingnagian army. In 2014, the National Grid announced a plan to remove ugly pylons from all our national parks by re-siting them underground. Unfortunately, the removal of the 12 kilometres of pylons in this area has not been identified in the first tranche of the scheme.

Despite the intrusion of reservoirs and pylons, the moors of the northern Peak are popular with lovers of the great outdoors. During my visit, I encountered Annette Clarke and Dave Thompson, who were on a three-day backpacking trip from Edale to Hawes as preparation for a more gruelling assault on the same route over the shorter period of 48 hours.

Many backpackers, as well as campers and caravanners, use the excellent facilities at the Caravan and Camping Club site at Crowden, a few miles beyond Tintwistle. Three wooden pods, described by warden Ritchie Stevenson as ‘hard tents with electricity’, have proved to be a very popular addition to a site that Ritchie calls ‘a place that enables people to live alongside nature’. Above the camp site, there is an outdoor education centre, used by school and youth groups.

The kind of access that visitors now enjoy to these remote moors owes much to the direct action in 1932 of the ‘Mass Trespassers’ on Kinder Scout. Just as I began this article with the words of a song, it is fitting I should end it with some lyrics from ‘The Manchester Rambler’, the battle hymn of the Mass Trespassers: ‘I’ve been over Snowdon, I’ve slept upon Crowden/I’ve camped by the Wain Stones as well/I’ve sunbathed on Kinder, been burnt to a cinder/And many more things I can tell.’

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