Manchester’s eastern borough of Tameside has a story that is echoed across the region.
From the late-18th century a group of farming communities grew into mill towns for the textile industry, interlinked by canals.
Travelling west to east, the first hills of the Pennines hove into view, and settlements are built with the dark local sandstone.
Tameside has a top-notch local museum in Ashton-under-Lyne in a canal house by the junction of three waterways, while you can make trips to high points at Werneth Low and Hartshead Pike for views for miles across Greater Manchester.
The Peak District National Park is a bit further east, while in Tameside you can track down Medieval churches, charming Victorian parks and a whole preserved 18th-century settlement for Central European refugees from the Moravian Church.
1. Portland Basin Museum
There’s a knot of waterways to the south of Ashton-under-Lyne, where the Peak Forest Canal, the Ashton Canal and the Huddersfield Narrow Canal all meet at Dukinfield Junction.
Right in this very picturesque location, is the Portland Basin Museum at the restored 19th-century Ashton Canal Warehouse.
In these galleries you can get to grips with Tameside’s industrial history, finding out just what it was like to work in a mine, cotton mill or on a farm, and browsing a line-up of preserved machines.
There’s a recreated 1920s street where you can experience the sights and sounds of a town centre in the interwar years.
Children under five can get creative at the “Nuts and Bolts” play area, while you can unwind with a restorative cup of tea at the Bridge View Cafe, looking over to the Tame Aqueduct.
To continue your journey back in time you can book a narrowboat trip with the Tameside Canal Boat Trust.
2. Stamford Park
Among the finest Victorian parks in Greater Manchester, Stamford Park in Stalybridge is the result of a community fundraising effort in the mid-1800s to provide a place for cotton mill workers to relax and enjoy some fresh air on their day off.
The park opened in 1873 on land that was once a deer park for the Earl of Stamford.
Stamford Park is loved for its ornamental gardens growing evergreen shrubs in the winter, tulips and other bulbs in spring, and with a colourful herbaceous border in summer.
The Pavilion Cafe in the park is open seven days a week, while for youngsters there’s a play area complemented in summer by a boat lake, land train, bouncy castle/trampolines and a large water feature with jets to play in.
Elsewhere you can amble into the Dingle, a steep wooded valley, and admire the bird collection.
Stamford Park also has a Grade II-listed curiosity, a set of stone stocks dating to 1730, once belonging to the Ashton-under-Lyne workhouse.
3. Peak District
Tameside borders the UK’s oldest national park, founded in 1951 and encompassing the upland region at the southern end of the Pennines.
The Peak District is in two discernible parts: To the south is the limestone White Peak, while bending around the top end like an inverted horseshoe are the forbidding millstone grit moors of the Dark Peak.
In Tameside you can pick up the Trans Pennine Trail, for a trek into the Dark Peak.
The trail spans the North of England from Southport in Merseyside to Hornsea in the East Riding of Yorkshire.
Completed in 2004, the 207-mile course is remarkably light as it is plotted on entirely paved paths with a shallow gradient, at a cost of £60m.
The consistent surface makes the path suitable for wheelchair users and people with pushchairs.
4. Werneth Low Country Park
After the First World War these 200 acres on the northern and western slopes of the Werneth Low Hill (279m) in Hyde were purchased as a memorial for the 710 local men and boys killed in the First World War.
The memorial was unveiled at a spectacular vantage point in 1921, and sixty years later the surrounding land, a former farm, was declared a country park.
The cute former farmhouse here, dating back to the 17th century, hosts the park’s visitor centre, while around this building you’ll come across a picnic area, orchard and herb gardens.
Werneth Low is intersected by the 40-mile Tameside Trail and the epic Trans Pennine Trail, while the exposed hillside makes this one of the best places in Greater Manchester to fly a kite.
Surveying the landscape on a clear sunny day you should see Beetham Tower in Manchester and the Jodrell Bank Observatory.
5. Park Bridge
In the restful Medlock Valley, the Park Bridge Ironworks was founded in 1786 and was in business for almost 200 years.
At its zenith in the 19th and early 20th century this factory employed hundreds of people and forged the rivets for icons of the age like the Eiffel Tower and the Titanic.
The ironworks closed in 1963 and were demolished shortly after, but the beautiful landscaped ruins and greenery make for a cherished picnic location.
You can use Park Bridge as a stepping stone for walks, the Park-Bridge and Daisy Nook trail following the old railway line that served the works, and paths to hills like Hartshead Pike and Knot Hill.
There’s a heritage centre (open by appointment) and a tearoom in the old stables open Thursday to Sunday.
6. Fairfield Moravian Settlement
Many people drive past this site in Droylesden unaware that there’s a captivating little village hiding behind a row of terraced houses.
The Fairfield Moravian Settlement was founded by a community of Protestant refugees, fleeing what is modern day Czech Republic more than two centuries ago.
At its inception in 1785 this completely self-sufficient settlement stood alone in open countryside, and had its own council, inspector of weights and measures, fire service, schools and hospital.
This enclave around the long, cobblestone Fairfield Square is neatly preserved and is a go-to shooting location for period dramas like the BBC’s Peaky Blinders.
Nos. 15, 28 and 30 are Grade II* listed buildings, and the centrepiece is the church, built in 1785 and refitted in 1908.
7. Hartshead Pike
A stiff walk in Tameside, this 267-metre hill rises over Ashton-under-Lyne, Lees, Saddleworth, Mossley and Oldham.
When the skies are clear there are satisfying views west to the centre of Manchester.
As a prominent hilltop, Hartshead Pike was most likely used as a signalling station, starting in Roman times.
The current monument is a neo-Gothic tower built in 1863 and reusing elements from a previous 18th-century structure, also a reconstruction.
Proof of this eventful past con be found on an inscription stone, reused from the predecessor, reading, “This Pike Was Rebuilt By Publick Contributions Anno Domini 1751”.The hilltop has always been popular with walkers, and the tower even had a shop selling refreshments in the interwar years, closing at the start of the Second World War.
8. St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Mottram
At the very eastern edge of Greater Manchester, this endearing Perpendicular Gothic church is from the end of the 15th century, although the first church on this spot was recorded in early 13th century.
St Michael and All Angels’ is on high ground, commanding the landscape for miles around . This monument was restored in 1854-55, but has lots of riveting older details.
See the barrel-shaped Norman font from the original church, as well as the two beautiful early-15th-century recumbent effigies in the Staveleigh Chapel to the south.
Other must-sees are the painted reredos over the chancel arch, with panels evoking the Ten Commandments, the Creed, Lord’s Prayer, Moses and Aaron, as well as the splendid brass chandelier produced in 1755.
9. Astley Cheetham Art Gallery
The Tameside town of Stalybridge has the generosity of a mill-owner to thank for a couple of its amenities.
In 1901 he and his wife Beatrice Astley built a handsome Jacobethan lecture theatre as a gift to the town, and this later became the venue for the Astley Cheetham Art Collection, which was bequeathed in 1932. One of the stand-out pieces in this collection is The Virgin and Child with Angels and Saints by the Primitive Florentine painter Master of the Straus Madonna, active at the turn of the 15th century.
There’s also a great deal of 19th and early-20th-century art by the likes of the Symbolist George Frederic Watts, J. M. W. Turner and watercolourist George Price Boyce.
The gallery is free to enter and open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday.
10. Cheetham Park
A minute or two from the shops in the centre of Stalybridge is a serene park in a residential area.
As with the Astley Cheetham Art Gallery, Cheetham Park came about through a donation by John Frederick Cheetham and opened in 1932. Cheetham was ahead of his time on environmental matters, as he stipulated that the woodland flanking the stream on this parcel of parkland should become a nature reserve, one of the first in the country.
Cheetham Park features a wooden sculpture trail with woodland wildlife, while the “Time Line” will tell you all about Stalybridge’s industrial heritage.
In the last ten years a herbaceous border has popped up, and is a joy in mid-summer, while there’s also a community orchard growing pears, plums, apples and cherries.
11. St Lawrence’s Church, Denton
One of just 29 timber-framed churches still standing in England, and the only one in south-east Lancashire, St Lawrence’s Church originated as a chapel of ease in 1531. This was a place of worship for people who lived within the bounds of a parish but couldn’t easily get to the parish church.
The church was enlarged in 1872 when the transepts and chancel were built in a Mock Tudor style to mirror the 16th-century nave.
St Lawrence’s was originally dedicated to St James, until stained glass was discovered in the 19th century depicting the martyrdom of St Lawrence, and the name was changed.
This 500-year-old glass was refitted in a window on the south side of the sanctuary.
12. Huddersfield Narrow Canal
About five of the Huddersfield Narrow Canal’s 20 miles fall within Tameside.
This waterway opened in 1811, crossing the Pennines and beginning at what is now the campus for the University of Huddersfield and ending at the Whitelands Basin in Ashton-under-Lyne.
The towpath through Tameside will guide you through or close to a chain of green spaces, like Cheetham Park, Eastwood RSPB and Stalybridge Country Park.
As you approach the Pennine moors after Stalybridge it’s interesting to see how dark Pennine sandstone becomes the dominant building material.
On your way along the Tame Valley, look for the vestiges of the 15th-century Stayley Hall high on the hillside.
Mossley is a picturesque former industrial town, full of former mills.
Just before you get there you’ll pass through the Scout Tunnel, wreathed in lush broadleaf woodland and a treasured place to take picnics.
13. Museum of the Manchester Regiment
When this post was written in March 2019 the Museum of the Manchester Regiment was temporarily closed while Ashton Town Hall was being redeveloped.
When open, these galleries tell the story of the Manchester Regiment and its predecessors over two centuries from 1758 to 1958. You’ll find out about some of the people who served in the regiment, and discover all the places that the regiment was deployed, from Southern Africa in the Boer War to the Middle East in the First World War.
You’ll get to peruse thousands of objects, including weapons, field equipment, uniforms, medals and all sorts of mementos picked up around the world on tours.
14. Cockfields Farm
Best visited in spring and summer, Cockfields Farm is a family attraction where the animals are the stars.
Together with typical farmyard animals like donkeys, sheep, goats and pigs, there’s a collection of lizards, tortoises and snakes, as well as cuddly pets like guinea pigs and rabbits.
Every half an hour or so there’s a new scheduled activity at the farm, whether it’s coming face-to-face with snakes, grooming the rabbits, meeting the resident barn owl or bathing the tortoise.
Come in spring and there’s an Easter Wonderland, where little ones can bottle-feed lambs and kid goats.
Cockfields Farm also has a range of play areas, including an indoor role-play village, a beach area, a jumping pillow and a track for pedal tractors.
15. Longdendale Trail
Coinciding with some of the Trans Pennine Trail is the Longdendale Trail, which is just 6.5 miles long, on the route of the old Woodhead Rail Line.
The walk is sensational leading you through a majestic valley, beside a row of five reservoirs.
These were dug in 1877 and are flanked by high moorland.
When they were completed the reservoirs were the largest man-made expanses of water in the world.
As with the rest of the Trans Pennine Trail, this route has gentle gradients and paved surfaces to suit all walkers.