Natural Beauty, Industrial Archaeology: The Bollington Walking Festival

On #GetOutdoorsDay, Katie flags-up why we should definitely grab our boots and head to Bollington
September 25, 2022

There are few better ways to conclude an eleven-mile walk than sitting on a leafy riverside patio eating a homemade macaron.

This was where I found myself after my first participation in the 12th Bollington Walking Festival. Around me my fellow walkers chattered excitedly about grass-roots environmental organisations and the best local yoga studio. The staff at the Bridgend Centre brought us tea and coffee and congratulated us on a walk well done.

The walk in question was Just Like Hebden’, a ramble that took us all over Bollington and the surrounding hills. We climbed beautiful old streets lined with stone cottages, found narrow paths hidden behind gardens, and strolled through remnants of the town’s industrial past. Our guide, Stephen Smith, has years of experience leading for the Manchester and District (MAD) Walkers, but this was his first time taking part in the Festival. The idea came when he went for a walk with the Bridgend Centre manager Rebecca Lea and kept exclaiming, “this is just like Hebden!” every time they passed an old chimney or renovated mill.

The comparison is apt. But of course the Bollington locals among us were keen to point out the unique aspects of their town - with good reason. There aren’t many places where you could be walking along a canal one moment, the next climbing a fell side between drystone walls, only to round the corner upon a vista of tree-covered plains with the Manchester skyline hazy in the distance. 

This variety is what makes Bollington a truly superb venue for the Walking Festival. As a lesser-known part of the Peak District, it may not be a destination you’ve stumbled across before. But the town is keen to encourage more walkers to visit - in fact, that’s why the Walking Festival was founded! With thirty-seven guided walks spread over nine days, it’s a fantastic way to explore everything the area has to offer.

The following weekend I joined the East Cheshire Ramblers for ‘Wandering through the Western Peak’, a gentle six-mile stroll through the countryside. We met in the nearby village of Rainow and headed out across green fields - and a large number of stiles, everyone a different shape and size. There were plenty of helping hands for the less agile members of the group, and soon we were out into the hills. This was a walk of hawthorn hedges and wooded valleys, fields and streams and a real witch’s cottage!

Where the first walk had kept up a brisk pace (although not brisk enough for the collie-labrador cross who joined us!) this was a much more laid back excursion. The group included a wider range of ages and fitness levels, and our leader Maggie did a fantastic job of making sure no one was left behind.

The organisers at the Bridgend Centre have made a real effort to make sure people of all ages and abilities can be included in the Festival. This year’s walks ranged from a half-mile stroll to a twenty-mile hike. The East Cheshire Eye Society provided a sensory walk with a trained sight guide, and the Bollington Dementia Action Alliance hosted a dementia-friendly walk. There was even a bear hunt for the little ones among us, who I’m sure weren’t scared! And for those who prefer an evening at the pub to a day on the hills, there was a pub quiz and raffle at the Poacher’s Inn.

What really struck me, sitting on that patio at the Bridgend Centre, was the amount of energy and enthusiasm being poured into this event. The Bridgend Centre is an independent charity, which works to provide community support in the heart of Bollington, and that ethos shows in the organisation of the Walking Festival. It’s a warm and welcoming event, which accounts for different people’s needs while encouraging everyone to try something a little outside their comfort zone.

I’m sad to have missed out on the tour of the Random Apple Company’s presses, the ‘Folklore and Phantoms’ walk, and the visit to Alderley Edge to discuss Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, one of my favourite childhood stories! Ah well. There’s always next year.

If you’re looking to explore a new part of the North, I would highly recommend using the Bollington Walking Festival as your excuse to visit! It’s held every autumn, keep an eye on the website for next year’s dates: