After the Eccles Line was completed, Manchester’s Metrolink went on to its most ambitious and far-reaching expansion, phase 3. This was divided into two stages, both dealing with the simultaneous construction of three additional lines. The ultimate destinations of those three lines were Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne and East Didsbury (and the last of these was intended to be the basis for an extension ultimately to Stockport).
Stage 1 took the three lines initially to Oldham, Droylsden and St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton (an address I have always had my doubts about given that the Satanist’s primary festival, Walpurgisnacht, draws its name from St Walburga…) The completion of these sections them formed the basis for the current lines.
Try as I might, I can’t find out online the order in which the three lines were completed, either in Stage 1 or Stage 2, so I’ve had to take other factors into consideration when deciding which to take first, in this case Rochdale.
The far north-east of Greater Manchester is not an area I know well. My experience of Rochdale is limited. Attendance at the County Court a couple of times, no more. Two visits to Spotlands, Rochdale FC’s home, for widely-separated FA Cup First Round ties, supporting different non-League teams, both won. And a couple of months going out with a psychiatric nurse (our last date was a New Year’s Eve Party. The next day, I took the coward’s option and wrote to her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. Two days later, the day my letter would have been delivered, I received a letter from her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. It made me feel a bit better.)
I’m watching a very cheap DVD boxset on eBay that doesn’t finish until 12.40pm so I can’t leave before then, but I get myself ready to go immediately (yes, I won it: the Complete Blackadder remastered for £1.99).
A 203 goes past the end of my road as I walk down it (I swear I am going to save that senytence into a Word Document so that I can just copy-and-paste ever after). I’d taken the gamble of coming out in jeans and a t-shirt and from the way I started burning up waiting at the stop, it seemed I’d done the right thing. Two stops away, the bus sits and waits. That’s only the 4th stop out of the Town Centre but the drivers always take a five minute break there, against the strictures of the journey. When it eventually condescends to collect me, it’s slow going all the way down Reddish Road. The traffic is busy and every stop sees the bus trapped and unable to pull out for traffic sliding past us.
On the other hand, we fairly fly down Hyde Road and I’m at Piccadilly Gardens for 1,40pm. There’sa scrawling message that services on the East Didsbury – Rochdale Line are liable to delay due to a fault. Checking on the possible impact of this, reveals an absence of planning on my part: that line doesn’t go through Picadilly Gardens at all!
I could walk down Market Street but it’s hot so I hop on an Altrincham tram as far as St Peter’s Square, change platforms and get the Rochdale tram there, also relieving myself of the need for a separate, small Expedition to cover the short stretch through Exchange Square. It may not be as hot as Bury three weeks ago, but the ladies have responded in like manner.
Leaving Victoria, we follow the Bury Line route until diverting off to the right, on a gentle gradient, heading initially for Monsall. I don’t know this quadrant of Greater Manchester at all well, except to drive through to somewhere else, and North Manchester has always been considered a sort of backwards cousin to South Manchester (but as I’ve lived in South Manchester since the end of 1966, I may be showing a degree of prejudice here). On the other hand, I am seriously impressed by the fantastic flyover canopies that distinguish Central Park Station (wherever that is in real life).
The further we travel, the more I enjoy the ride. There are a lot of woodlands from when this was a rail line, whilst clearer spaces introduce old mills and factories, and the backs of terraced streets. We descend into South Chadderton Station, after which we continue at a lower level.
On the approach to Oldham, the line goes through a loop that sees us bend left and return right to straighten out, which was unexpected because on the Metrolink map, it’s represented as doubling the opposite direction. There are three stops in Oldham. I know that only a little more than Rochdale, mostly for visits over many years to the excellent Oldham Colisseum Theatre. These Expeditions are primarily about travelling the entire Metrolink Network, but I will come here and look round once they’re done.
Beyond Oldham we really sail out into open country for most of the rest of the way. The Pennines rear on the near horizon, the M62 into Yorkshire, one of the biggest holes through which the bloody Tykes get into Lancashire. There are old stone cottages mingling with looks-like-stone-but-is-brick housing estates.
We pass through Milnrow, which was the first place I ever visited in Richdale. In the Drought Summer of 1976 I did some summer work for the now-defunct GMC, supporting a massive survey on traffic numbers into and out of the County. Mostly we were making maps/directions for the surveyors but they weren’t quite geared up so, on my first day, two of us were sent on the bus to stand beside a Motorway Junction in Milnrow and count cars coming off.
By the time we reach Rochdale Town Centre, I am ready to stand up, drink and eat in that order. We crawl downhill to the terminus at what I later learn is known as Town Hall Square. Much refurbishment is going on and large areas are blocked off by high hoardings. I’m about to say that I don’t recognise a thing, when I suddenly spot the very place my Rochdale girlfriend asked me to meet her on our second date (at the end of which she let me drive her home so I knew where she lived and invited me in for a coffee that went stone cold because we started snogging instead, which happened every time I took her home, at first: things went well to begin with).
What I can see of the Town Centre looks like it’s a good place to wander round. The River Roch, which runs underneath her, has been exposed to view to an even greater extent than the Mersey in Stockport. There’s a splendid Memprial Gardens with a small amusement park and an impressive monument to the War Dead of the Town, plus it’s Market Day, but there’s bugger all shops selling things like food and drink, or pretty much of anything else. A Town Map shows me that I’m heading in the wrong direction if I want that sort of thing. It also tells me that I’ve missed the Gracie Fields statue, which is a shame because I’m going to have to walk back pass it and notice it (actually, I’m in luck: it’s behind hoardings and I can only just see the head).
I ewalk through the Market coming back. it’s compact and bijou and busy but it’s quite clearly a serious market, all clothes and cloth, bags and handbags and housegold products: no fun stalls. By now I need a loo so I reluctantly enter a Wetherspoons. Inside it’s cool, but the bar staff are a ramshackle bunch, the service is ultra slow and I lose all faith that they’re aware I’m there and won’t start serving the people who’ve come up behind me, so I deposit rather than consume and go elsewhere.
The Riverside Centre seems to be the next best bet. It backs onto the Metrolink Station but doesn’t seem keen on you getting in. Another long walk later, I plumb its secret depths. There are still no ‘fun’ shops, books, music or a local CEX but there is a Gregg’s from which I can finally slake my hunger and thirst.
What else there may be to find in Rochdale, further afield, I don’t know. It has not filled me with enthusiasm to roam further. Besides, I need to be home by a certain time for another eBay item being offered astonishingly cheap (I am outbid on this but really the winner still gets it ridiculously cheap considering that the next cheapest signed copy is four times dearer: I settle for an unsigned copy cheaper than my failed bid) so there’s no point in delaying when I’m not really enjoying myself all that much. Another time.
Besides, the vast majority of the girls in very abbreviated and tight shorts are so young that I feel embarrassed just noticing them in my peripheral vision.
Return journeys are unimportance squared unless you get a disaster like my Bury Expedition. I came, I saw, I made rough notes. Been there, done that, already had a t-shirt on.
The homeward run is uneventful. I got off at Exchange Square and walked up Market Street, re-re-re-re-re-awakening my visceral loathing of crowds. I just miss a 203 at its stop but for once this is no bad thing, because I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten to tap out my Concessionary Card when I left the tram, leaving me open to a £100 fine, and have to hitch over to Piccadilly Gardens and do it there.
The bus ride is untroubled to, until we hit an horrendous crawling queue about a mile and a half from my stop, the cause of which I never get to see. When i say crawl, I mean I could have walked it faster. Actually, I get off one stop early and whilst I can’t claim to beat the bus to my stop, it was neck-and-neck until the last five yards.
Four lines done, four more to do. Next Monday will be a bit different.