A moorland walk to a temperance bar: Mr Fitzpatrick’s, Rawtenstall

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I love pubs and I usually enjoy a pint after a walk – but not always. If I’m driving a fair distance home, or I’m dehydrated and extremely thirsty, I know that a real ale is not going to make me feel great or allow a speedy recovery. While I applaud the coffee-drinking revolution, who wants a steaming cappuccino after a ramble?

In the lively town of Rawtenstall, south Lancashire, there is a genuine alternative: Mr Fitzpatrick’s, the last traditional temperance bar in the UK. Locally loved, regionally revered, it really should be nationally esteemed – and emulated. Not, I should add, because we need a moral revolution, but because a cool pint of dandelion and burdock is delicious and refreshing (though I have a friend who swears by sarsaparilla), and such abundant choice of alcohol-free drinks is not normally the hallmark of the British beverage sector.

Since temperance is a theme we associate with the 19th century, it’s fitting that this walk has a Victorian feel. It begins in Rochdale, a town that marks the northern edge of the Greater Manchester sprawl. It’s easy to reach by train, tram and bus, and is one of those formerly chimney-infested, clog-clacking milltowns. Rochdale grew on spinning, weaving and dyeing – and workers would look longingly at the surrounding hills on their way to the next shift.

It’s a mishmash these days, with the Seven Sisters tower blocks looming over a flatpack commercial centre, but my first few steps were uplifting. I passed the awesome gothic town hall, crossed the main square with its handsome historical edifices and found a ginnel up to the church of Saint Mary in the Baum. There are buildings here that commemorate the Rochdale Pioneers, who founded the co-operative movement in 1844. Above the beautiful Baum pub, a vintage sign insisted I “Eat Irlam’s Tripe”.

Sign saying You are Home Here by tower block
One of the Seven Sisters tower blocks in Rochdale.

The next hour’s ambling took me alongside mosques and churches, between the Rochdale Hornets/Rochdale AFC stadium and a disused asbestos plant, across streams, through parks and into housing estates with views over central Manchester. At Caldershaw I was thrust out on to the grassy skirt of the moors. The vista was immense, with Rochdale way down below, Salford and Saddleworth clearly visible and, hazy in the west, Fiddler’s Ferry power station with its cooling towers – sadly slated for demolition.

It was a steady climb up now, with a bit of zigzagging through fields of cattle and horses, to Woodhouse Lane – a road laid with stone setts. It can be used by cars, as long as the drivers are not worried about their suspension. I took a track north on to Rooley Moor, where a few mountain bikers passed me as they worked the gears and tried to slalom past scattered stones.

Rooley Moor Road crosses from the valley of Rochdale (easy to forget it has “dale” in its name) to Rossendale. Also made of setts, it’s a branch of the Pennine Bridleway and for part of its length is known as the Cotton Famine Road – not merely a commemorative name. During the American Civil War, the Union blockaded southern ports while the Confederates embargoed shipments of cotton. Because of the cessation of imports, Lancashire workers were laid off in their thousands. The Poor Law guardians decided to improve the road across Rooley Moor as a job-creation scheme during the cotton famine of 1861-65. It serves to remind walkers that many, though not all, millworkers in the north-west supported the anti-slavery cause – despite the hardship it caused them.

A standing stone north-east of Shawfield with Scout Moor windfarm in the distance.
A standing stone north-east of Shawfield with Scout Moor windfarm in the distance.

Long before then, this road “o’er t’top” would have been used by drovers and herders, and to carry wool up to the once-powerful Whalley Abbey. The Cistercian order owned vast tracts of land, including Spotland near Rochdale. The setts here were better to look at than to walk on, so I took a rough track off left towards a row of wind turbines. I almost got lost skirting the top of an abandoned quarry as I tried to hop around a morass, but there was, in fact, a very good track all the way to the top – and a cairn, as extra help. This was my highest point, and as I gulped up the cool, clean breezes I caught my first views of the north. There was a definite sense of leaving Manchester behind. Above me, the land was greener, hillier, as Pendle Hill and the Bowland Fells swung into view.

The climb from Rochdale was gentle but long – it took about three hours to get to the pass. I didn’t use my OS map (OL21) much, but I did note the landmarks: Whimsy Hill, Hail Storm Hill, Prickshaw Slack, Clegg Ding. Good northern names.

It was, as ever, a joy to have gravity helping me on the slightly more abrupt descent. The Pennine Bridleway segued into the Rossendale Way, passing another old quarry and following a long-extinct tramline used to ferry rocks to the bottom. I had several options for the final walk-in, but decided to go down to Waterfoot and see a bit of life before having my temperance tipple. After more than 10 miles, I could have done with some of Irlam’s tripe, too – perhaps it needs a relaunch.

The long walk was a classic Lancashire experience – gritty as well as pretty. In addition to the massive wind turbines, making their spooky whirring sound, there were lots of reservoirs, quarries, farms, random bits of ruination, and all kinds of roads, tracks and hollow ways. Rochdale-to-Rossendale is not as romantic as the Lake District or the emptier corners of the Dales, but it contains history and hope. Where would we be without the endeavours of our forbears, without footpaths and access? Where would we be heading without wind and water, without the alternative energies we need for our post-industrial revolutions?

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Google map of the route

Start Rochdale town centre

Distance 12 miles

Time Five hours with stops

Total ascent 600 metres

Difficulty Moderate

GPX track of the route

The bar

A man sweeps the pavement in front of Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall.
Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar in Rawtenstall.

Temperance has its roots in Nonconformism, Chartist arguments in support of the right to vote for (sober) workers and inspired by William Hogarth’s drawings of Gin Lane, which were used to alter the drinking habits of the British public in the 19th century. Joseph Livesey (1794-1884) of Walton-le-Dale near Preston, is usually regarded as the first serious temperance campaigner in England.

Mr Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar has been serving non-alcoholic drinks since 1899, though the original owner, Julia Fitzpatrick, started making elixirs in her native Ireland as early as 1836. This bar pays subtle homage to old-school temperance outlets, but has a bright, airy interior.

Drinks include classics such as sarsaparilla, cream soda and root beer, and trendy options such as lime and lemongrass, and lemon, yuzu and turmeric. These are cordials, so you can have them as sweet/strong as you wish, and mix with sparkling water if you like. Cakes, toasties and coffee are also available.
mrfitzpatricks.com

Where to stay

Chapel House B&B is just off the A681 at Cloughfold – very close to the walking route, a little way before Rawtenstall. The building, a former Wesleyan chapel (just the kind of place where imbibing soft drinks was favoured), dates from 1874 and has been tastefully refurbished. The three bedrooms have en suites, kettles and fast wifi.
Doubles from £80 B&B, cloughfoldchapel.co.uk.

The 464 bus connects Rochdale and Rawtenstall. To skip the Rochdale suburbs section, take the 467 bus up to Rooley Moor Road. Read about the Cotton Famine Road at rmnf.org.uk