GM Ringway: most memorable bits of the 186-mile trail according to one of the first walkers to do it all

The new leader of Trafford Council, Coun Tom Ross, has become one of the first people to complete Greater Manchester’s new long-distance footpath after walking it with his partner.
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A local politician and keen walker has become one of the first people to complete Greater Manchester’s new long-distance footpath - and has been keen to share his most memorable moments along the route.

The GM Ringway was recently unveiled as a 186-mile route taking in all of the city-region’s 10 boroughs as it forms a long loop around the area.

And Trafford Council leader and intrepid hiker Coun Tom Ross has become of the first people to walk the entire thing after taking on the challenge with his partner Chris Wills.

Coun Ross has now been sharing some of his favourite moments from the GM Ringway, which celebrates some of Greater Manchester’s most spectacular landscapes as well as exploring the area’s history.

What did Coun Tom Ross say were his favourite sections of the GM Ringway?

The Labour councillor, who lives in Stretford, took on the challenge of completing the GM Ringway with his partner in November 2021. They started doing the route’s 20 stages but realised the winter days were too short to complete some of the northern and eastern sections so waited until spring to don their hiking boots once more.

By summer 2022 they were making a concerted effort to tackle a stage each week and had completed all 186 miles by October 2022.

Coun Ross said there were numerous highlights en route, ranging from some of the more rugged and spectacular stretches passing through Greater Manchester’s remoter areas to unexpected urban gems and green wildlife havens.

He said: “Elements of the walk were fantastic. One that was particularly memorable was the broad track from Littleborough to Norden in Rochdale, which forms part of the Pennine Bridleway. It has stunning views and good paths.

Coun Tom Ross on the GM RingwayCoun Tom Ross on the GM Ringway
Coun Tom Ross on the GM Ringway

“Another favourite was the Little Woolden Moss Nature Reserve, within Salford, on the Leigh to Irlam stretch.

“What was fun was discovering new places. I loved the café at Irlam station and I’ve have been back a couple of times.

“We saw all sorts of quirky sights along the way including Highland cattle, donkeys and even an emu! You discover nature in reclaimed areas such as those used previously for coal mining. We read any information boards we found on the route and learnt so much about the region we live in.”

The sections of the GM Ringway which run through Trafford included some very familiar terrain for Coun Ross as the trail goes right past the borough’s town hall where he has his office.

Coun Tom Ross and his partner Chris Wills in Manchester city centreCoun Tom Ross and his partner Chris Wills in Manchester city centre
Coun Tom Ross and his partner Chris Wills in Manchester city centre

Coun Ross said he would definitely encourage other residents with a love of the outdoors to consider taking on the GM Ringway and shared some advice to help people along the route.

He said: “I’ve recommended the GM Ringway to so many people but I do stress you have to see it as a year-long project. Make sure you plan, take some lunch and enjoy it.

“What is particularly good is you don’t have to drive, and within 15 to 20 minutes you’re in the countryside from any point in Greater Manchester. It’s changed our mindset and we now use public transport far more. It means you don’t have to just do circular routes so you walk back to the car.

“It’s very rewarding to get to the end and complete it and we’ll definitely do it again. The GM Ringway is really special and you get a sense of achievement. We celebrated completing it with a Sunday lunch in the city centre after the final stage.””

Coun Ross and his partner Chris discovered their love of walking during the Covid-19 pandemic when exercise was one of the few reasons people were allowed to leave their homes. As lockdown eased they started taking on longer and more adventurous rambles and decided the GM Ringway would be their next project after walking the 55km Sandstone Trail which runs from Frodsham in Cheshire to the Shropshire town of Whitchurch.

What is the GM Ringway and what has been said about Coun Ross’ challenge?

The GM Ringway is a long-distance footpath for the city-region covering 186 miles as it loops its way all around the outer edge of Greater Manchester, taking in all 10 boroughs along the way.

It is divided into 20 stages, all of which can be reached by public transport. It makes use of existing footpaths, parks and open-access land and is roughly divided into four sections. The first takes walkers from the urban heart of Manchester to the edge of the Peak District, before the eastern leg traverses the hills above Stockport, Tameside and Oldham.

The northern section takes walkers across the rugged moorland and the dramatic peaks and valleys of Rochdale, Bury and Bolton before the western section rewards walkers doing the whole anti-clockwise route with a gentler finale passing through the wetlands, mosslands, farmland and canals of Wigan, Trafford, and Salford.

The GM Ringway was established by the countryside charity CPRE and The Ramblers with the help of a £250,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The route of the GM RingwayThe route of the GM Ringway
The route of the GM Ringway

And those behind the project were delighted to hear of the high-profile walker who has already tackled the whole thing.

Andrew Read, GM Ringway project lead, said: “It’s great to hear about Tom and Chris’s experience of walking the GM Ringway. The route has been designed to be easily accessible for anyone living in Greater Manchester.

“It’s also a fantastic way to discover other parts of the city-region and stop along the way at heritage attractions, cafes, pubs and restaurants. You don’t need to tackle the whole trail like Tom and Chris did, as each stage is a standalone walk that can introduce you to the wonderful countryside in our region.

“Walking is fantastic for health and wellbeing so we want to encourage people to get out and about and discover the rich heritage and stunning scenery we’re so lucky to have on our doorstep.”