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Britain’s most incredible art hike — Irwell Sculpture Trail

Robert Wade (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Britain’s most incredible art hike — Irwell Sculpture Trail

Hiking Collection by Alex Foxfield

3-6

days

3-6 h

/ day

46.6 mi

2,025 ft

2,825 ft

Following the River Irwell from the atmospheric Rossendale Moors to the bustling Salford Quays in Manchester, the Irwell Sculpture Trail is Britain’s largest and most incredible art hike. It features more than 70 works of art by internationally, nationally and locally renowned artists on what is a superb 33-mile (53 km) route full of scenic, cultural and historical interest.

The art works are invariably inspired by either the beautiful landscapes, proud industrial history or the people that call this region home. From the rugged moors of Rossendale and its mill towns to the modern architecture and dockland heritage of Salford Quays, the sculptures along the way allow you to delve deeper into what it is that makes Manchester and the Irwell’s towns and villages so special.

After exploring the Pennine grandeur of Rossendale, the Trail shadows the river south into Greater Manchester, to Burrs Country Park and on to the market town of Bury. After this, you follow the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal’s towpath to the town of Radcliffe and discover dozens of art works in the surrounding country parks. Finally, the Trail winds south to a marvellously revitalised Salford, where the Irwell meets the Manchester Ship Canal.

The sculptures are officially grouped into 13 clusters: Bacup, Stackheads, Rawtenstall, Ramsbottom and Irwell Vale, Burrs Country Park, Bury, Close Park, Radcliffe, Whitefield, Outwood Country Park, Clifton Country Park, Chapel Street and Ordsall. Many of the sculptures — in some cases, entire clusters — are a short deviation from the main Trail.

In this Collection, I have plotted an itinerary to visit every cluster so that no artworks are missed, which brings the total distance to 47 miles (75 km). Detours to outlying sculptures and clusters are usually out-and-backs, meaning you still walk the vast majority of the main Trail. I have split the route into five stages of between 5 and 13 miles (8 and 21 km), each ending at either accommodation or at public transport links to Manchester City Centre.

How you decide to experience the Trail is up to you. There are enough public transport and accommodation options along the route to allow for endless permutations. A great alternative is starting in Salford’s urban sprawl and enjoying the gradual shift from urban to rural as the Trail ventures upriver to Rossendale.

This is a walk for all ages and abilities, with little by way of elevation to deal with. The walking is mostly on riverside paths, towpaths, through parkland or on pavements. You are never far from amenities, as the majority of the Trail explores an urban environment. It is an itinerary for all seasons.

The start point, on the moors above Bacup, is mostly easily accessed by car via the A56 or A646. By public transport, the best option is the 464 bus from Manchester City Centre, which takes around 45 minutes. Salford Quays, at the end of the Trail, is a short ride on the Metrolink to Manchester City Centre.

For a Collection featuring the Rossendale Way, a long-distance trail that circumnavigates the moors above Haslingden, Rawtenstall, Whitworth and Bacup, see: komoot.com/collection/1095887.

On The Map

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Irwell Sculpture Trail

35.0 mi

725 ft

1,950 ft

Last updated: November 23, 2021

Plan your own version of this adventure in the multi-day planner based on the stages suggested in this Collection.

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Tours & Highlights

  • Map data © OpenStreetMap contributors

    Stage 1: Bacup to Rawtenstall — Irwell Sculpture Trail

    Difficult
    05:39
    12.5 mi
    2.2 mph
    1,175 ft
    1,675 ft
    Expert Hiking Tour. Very good fitness required. Mostly accessible paths. Sure-footedness required.

    The first stage follows the Irwell on its journey through the picturesque Rossendale Valley. It visits clusters of sculptures in Bacup, Stackheads and Rawtenstall, before deviating from the main Trail to visit Halo on the moors above Haslingden.

    The Trail begins on the moorland above Bacup and makes

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:19
    10.3 mi
    2.4 mph
    275 ft
    500 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The second stage continues south, exploring the town of Ramsbottom before venturing deeper into Greater Manchester. A trio of sculptures await at the regenerated Burrs Country Park, before you end in the market town of Bury and its cluster of artworks.

    From the station, the Trail ventures south alongside

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    03:02
    7.32 mi
    2.4 mph
    200 ft
    175 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    This stage explores three separate clusters at Radcliffe, Whitefield and Close Park. In the park, Mark Jalland’s stainless-steel origami figures are a real treat, while the artworks on display in Radcliffe are an interesting mix of text works, neon signs and sculptures.

    The Trail takes a break from the

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    04:32
    10.9 mi
    2.4 mph
    250 ft
    375 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The penultimate stage visits two lovely country parks before making a beeline for Salford City. Three clusters are explored at Outwood and Clifton Country Parks and the Chapel Street region in the buzzing centre of Salford. You could start this stage by returning to Whitefield, but it makes more sense

    by Alex Foxfield

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  • Intermediate
    02:17
    5.53 mi
    2.4 mph
    125 ft
    125 ft
    Intermediate Hiking Tour. Good fitness required. Easily-accessible paths. Suitable for all skill levels.

    The final stage is all about Salford Quays, the recent regeneration of which is a triumph. Today a world class centre of art, culture, media and sport, it is a magnificent place to explore and a fitting climax to the Irwell Sculpture Trail.

    There’s so much to see on top of what is covered by the Trail

    by Alex Foxfield

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Questions and Comments

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Collection Stats

  • Tours
    5
  • Distance
    46.6 mi
  • Duration
    19:49 h
  • Elevation
    2,025 ft2,825 ft

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