Saddleworth, near Manchester, is one of my favourite areas of England, with stunning scenery and lots of great things to do. I’ve lived in and around the area for the last decade and absolutely love it here.
In this post I’ll tell you about the best places to visit in Saddleworth and my favourite things to do in Uppermill, Greenfield and the other Saddleworth villages.
Where is Saddleworth?
Saddleworth is a collection of villages to the east of Manchester in the South Pennines, right on the northern edge of the Peak District.
The villages were historically in the West Riding of Yorkshire and look and feel very much like villages on the other side of the Pennines, but they’re now part of the Oldham district of Greater Manchester.
Is Saddleworth worth visiting?
Saddleworth is a fantastic place to visit and makes a lovely day trip from Manchester, Sheffield or Leeds. For such a small area, there’s a surprising amount of things to do in Saddleworth, and an astonishing number of festivals and events.
I moved here because every time we drove through Uppermill and Greenfield there was something fun happening; one time it was a man on stilts in the car park by the Saddleworth Museum; another time we had to wait for some Morris dancers to finish before we could get to Dovestone Reservoir.
In the 10+ years I’ve lived here I’ve seen a lot of changes; more places to eat and drink have opened (particularly in Uppermill but also in Greenfield and Delph), some popular attractions have come and gone (the Weavers Factory gallery will be missed for a long time) and Saddleworth has got more and more popular as a place to visit, which means knowing a few insider tips is more important than ever.
What villages are in Saddleworth?
There are 13 main villages in Saddleworth:
- Uppermill, the “capital” of Saddleworth and the most popular village to visit
- Greenfield, the only village with a train station and the closest one to Dove Stone Reservoir
- Dobcross, the prettiest Saddleworth village
- Delph, my personal favourite village in Saddleworth
Some villages are more interesting for visitors than others. If you’re looking for things to do in Saddleworth, then most of the attractions are in Uppermill, Greenfield, Delph and Diggle.
Dobcross, Lydgate and Friezland are worth visiting as they’re particularly pretty.
In this post I’ve also included a couple of things to do in neighbouring Mossley, which is just outside Saddleworth proper (although parts of Mossley used to be in Saddleworth). Mossley is within walking distance of Saddleworth and has lots of interesting things to see and do. Purists, please forgive me!
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1. Visit Dove Stone Reservoir
Dove Stone Reservoir (known locally as Dovestone or Dovestones) is in a beautiful setting just at the point where the countryside that surrounds Greenfield meets Saddleworth Moor and the Peak District.
The area around the reservoir is an RSPB nature reserve and there’s a lovely 2.5-mile walk around the edge, taking in the main Dove Stone Reservoir dam, the dam of the next reservoir up (Yeoman Hey) and the most famous tree in Saddleworth.
The full circular walk is actually closed at the moment for some work on Yeoman Hey dam but it’s expected to reopen at some point during Spring 2023. There are lots of hiking trails across the moors and up to the other reservoirs.
Dove Stone is probably the most popular place to visit in Saddleworth, and it does get extremely busy on sunny days, weekends and bank holidays. There’s a car park at the base of the dam but it gets full really quickly and there aren’t many other places to park nearby. If you can’t get parked at Dove Stone, you might want to consider trying one of the other things to do in Saddleworth in this guide, then trying again later in the afternoon.
Alternatively, you could get here by public transport – trains from Manchester and Leeds stop in Greenfield which is only a 2-mile walk from the dam through the village then along a pretty wooded lane. Buses from Manchester, Ashton and Oldham stop even closer.
People live in the houses up here and have to put up with a lot, so if you do visit Dove Stone, please be considerate, don’t let dogs off the lead, don’t light fires or BBQs and take your rubbish home.
2. Climb up Pots and Pans
Pots and Pans is a rock formation at the top of the hill between Uppermill, Greenfield and Dovestones, named because if you squint, it looks a bit like some pots and pans. There’s also a war memorial at the top of the hill that can be seen from miles around.
The last part of the walk up is a bit steep, but once you’re up there, there’s a fantastic view across Saddleworth and even all the way to Manchester if you visit on a clear day.
My favourite walk to Pots and Pans is up Kinders Lane in Greenfield, up the hill then a short walk to the other side where you can see a stunning view over Dove Stone Reservoir.
3. Take a canal walk through Uppermill
One of the loveliest short walks in Saddleworth is along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. If you have a bit more time then I’d recommend the walk from Scout Tunnel in Mossley up to Standedge Tunnel in Diggle, but if you’re only looking for a short walk then the stretch through Uppermill is particularly scenic.
Starting where the A670 crosses over the canal near Saddleworth Museum, head east along the towpath. Cross the pretty bridge at Moorgate Street, pausing to take in the view, then carry on along the towpath which is now on the other side of the canal.
After around half a mile you’ll come to Uppermill’s lovely railway viaduct. Underneath, there’s a lock which takes the canal onto an aqueduct over the River Tame. At this end of the walk you can enjoy a drink and a cake at the Limekiln cafe or explore the Brownhill Nature Garden.
You can make it a circular walk by either walking back along the road through Uppermill village or heading up Brownhill Lane, then back to Uppermill along the Pennine Bridleway (an old railway line).
4. Walk the Delph Donkey
The Delph Donkey is another old railway line through Saddleworth which has been turned into a bridle path. The Delph Donkey ran from Oldham to Greenfield, then branched off again just before the viaduct in Uppermill to finish its journey to the village of Delph.
The Delph Donkey gets its unusual name from a (probably unfounded) claim that the first trains were pulled by a donkey. Passenger services ended in 1955, but one of the last passengers on the line before it finally closed to goods as well in 1963 was the Queen Mother, who enjoyed an overnight rest stop in Saddleworth in 1960.
You can join the walk at Mow Halls Lane; from there it’s a level 1.2-mile walk to the old station at Delph which is now a private house.
Along the way there are lots of pretty views, information boards showing the history of the railway and the occasional frogspawn-filled pond in spring.
5. See the Roman fort at Castleshaw
High up in the hills above Delph, near the Saddleworth Hotel, you’ll find the tiny hamlet of Castleshaw and Castleshaw Roman fort. These days, it’s a peaceful, isolated spot with more sheep than people, but the hills once echoed to the sound of centurions’ feet.
Castleshaw was on the Roman road between Chester and York via Manchester, and the fort was built here in AD79 to defend the route. The garrison of 500 men were here for around 15 years before moving on, perhaps to Hadrian’s Wall.
If you’re visiting Castleshaw expecting to see Pompeii or the Forum in Rome then you’ll probably be disappointed, but you can clearly see where the fort’s ramparts were, and the informative boards help bring the site to life.
Castleshaw also has two reservoirs which are a more laid-back alternative to Dovestones. Cavallo Coffee Box serves hot drinks, milkshakes, drinks and toasties from a cute converted horse box just 5 minutes’ walk from the reservoir car park.
6. Watch the brass band contests on Whit Friday
It’s just one day of the year, and before I moved here I would have been hard-pressed to tell you when it is, but in Saddleworth Whit Friday is pretty much as important as Christmas.
Whit Friday is the Friday after Pentecost and usually falls between the middle of May and the middle of June. On Whit Friday, each of the Saddleworth villages holds its own brass band contest. Bands from all over the UK, along with lots of international bands come to Saddleworth and try to compete in as many contests as they can.
At each contest, bands perform two pieces, one marching down the village’s main street and a second show piece, performed in front of a judge, who marks their performance without knowing who they are. The band could be prize-winning legends like Brighouse and Rastrick, or it could be the band from the local school – anyone could win.
The Whit Friday contests are a fantastic spectacle and a brilliant community event. If you get a warm evening there’s nothing better than watching brass bands (don’t miss the amazing Chav Brass) with a beer in your hand and a party atmosphere all around. My favourite villages for band contests are Greenfield, Lydgate and Delph.
In 2023, Whit Friday will be on 2 June 2023. The contests start at around 4pm and last until around 11pm.
7. Visit Saddleworth Museum
Saddleworth Museum is a small but very interesting museum in the centre of Uppermill with exhibits on the landscape and history of the area.
Like Saddleworth itself, there’s a surprising amount to see here; displays include the Roman history of the area, the development of the weaving industry, transport and how Saddleworth people got involved in politics. There’s also a gallery with regular exhibitions and an excellent shop.
The museum is open from 1pm to 4pm every day except Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day.
8. Visit a record-breaking gin bar with over 1500 gins
From the outside, the Old Bell Inn in Delph looks like a normal village pub, but inside it’s hiding a secret. The pub is the proud recipient of a Guinness World Record for its Gin Emporium, which sits in a snug near the main bar and boasts an astonishing 1559 types of gin.
9. Go for (bottomless) brunch
One thing that Saddleworth does really well is brunch. There are tons of options, from locally-sourced full Englishes with a view at Albion Farm Shop to Uppermill cafés like Café Grande Abaco, Kobe and Weaver & Wilde who serve up breakfasts fancy enough to rival any Manchester Northern Quarter coffee shop.
Outside Uppermill, my favourite places for a great breakfast or brunch are Diggle Lock, by the canal in Diggle and The Allotment café in Mossley. I haven’t tried it yet, but The Bank in Delph has a bottomless option that sounds very tempting.
10. Go back to the 1940s at Yanks weekend
Another really popular annual event is Yanks weekend, which celebrates the 1979 Richard Gere film of the same name which was filmed in Dobcross (yes, really). Yanks weekend is two days of 1940s nostalgia in Uppermill with vintage cars and trucks, dressing up and tons of Glenn Miller tunes. Some years feature fly-bys with historic WW2 planes.
Yanks weekend was cancelled in 2022 but the organisers hope it’ll be back in summer 2023. Dates haven’t been announced yet but previous events were held at the beginning of August.
11. Enjoy the spectacle of Saddleworth Rushcart weekend
Rushcart weekend is one of the most fun things to do in Saddleworth. The weekend sees the Saddleworth Morris Men pull a cart stacked 4 metres high with moorland rushes around Uppermill, Greenfield, Delph and Dobcross. One of the Morris Men rides on top; the rushcart is always wonderfully decorated with a different theme every year.
At each village, they stop off to perform Morris dances, joined by other Morris dance groups from all over the country. The final destination is St Chad’s church above Uppermill, where the rushes would traditionally have been used to cover the floor to keep it warm in the winter.
Once the rushcart reaches the church on the Sunday of Rushcart weekend, there are lots of fun events outside the church, including a gurning competition, bare-chested wrestling and a bad singing contest.
In 2023, Saddleworth Rushcart will be held on the weekend of 26 and 27 August 2023.
12. See Standedge Tunnel
Standedge Tunnel is the UK’s longest, deepest, highest canal tunnel and a remarkable feat of 19th-century engineering, connecting the Saddleworth village of Diggle to Marsden, 3.5 miles away on the other side of the Pennines.
While the canal boat trips and Standedge Tunnel visitor centre are both on the Marsden side, it’s still worth visiting the Diggle end of the tunnel.
If you visit on a day when the tunnel is open for boats to go all the way through (in spring/summer 2023 these days are Monday, Wednesday and Friday), you’ll be able to watch boats come in and out of the tunnel mouth.
13. Visit picture-perfect Dobcross
Dobcross is one of the smaller Saddleworth villages but it’s absolutely the prettiest. With its flower-filled village square laid with rustic setts and surrounded by old stone houses and the village pub, it’s an idyllic spot.
Because Dobcross is close to several of the other villages, it’s an easy place to visit in Saddleworth. A pub lunch at the Swan followed by a stroll around the area is the perfect way to spend an afternoon. Parking in Dobcross is very limited so you could also park in Uppermill and walk to the village.
14. Go for an ice cream
Taking a stroll along the canal in Diggle is a wholesome, healthy activity, but there’s temptation waiting for you on the towpath.
Grandpa Greene’s is a Saddleworth institution, serving up interesting ice cream flavours like blackcurrant and liquorice, whisky and ginger and cinnamon, alongside the classics like chocolate and vanilla.
They have vegan options (of course) and a dog menu too. At the cafe, you can get ice cream sundaes, breakfasts, afternoon teas and toasties to eat at canalside tables in the summer and in cosy “igloo” domes in the winter.
15. Have fun crossing the stepping stones
Doesn’t everyone love some stepping stones across a river? Saddleworth boasts two sets of stepping stones across the River Tame within a short distance of each other.
The most popular stepping stones are between Uppermill Park and the canal towpath. They’re just challenging enough to make even adults feel a bit wary going across them, and by “adults” I mean me.
When it’s been rainy the river can get quite excitingly fast, and when it’s been really rainy they get covered over completely, so definitely don’t try them then.
The other set of stepping stones are near Saddleworth Viaduct and link the picnic area just off Mow Halls Lane with the Brownhill Nature Garden.
16. Go charity shopping
I love a good charity shop mooch. While Uppermill has a couple of charity shops, if you visit Saddleworth, you have to go to the huge Emmaus charity shop in Mossley.
Calling Emmaus a shop is really underselling it; it’s in an old mill and has two vast floors to explore, plus a warehouse. You can buy everything from furniture and electronics to clothes, books, and records, along with all the unclassifiable bits that make going round charity shops so fun. There’s also a café and the Mossley Heritage Centre is based in the same building.
Emmaus is an international charity which offers a home, work and support to formerly homeless people. The Mossley Secondhand Superstore is more than just a shop, it’s a community and home for 26 people. Visiting Emmaus in Mossley is a fantastic thing to do near Saddleworth.
17. Celebrate Saddleworth’s Yorkshire heritage
Even though the Saddleworth villages were on the other side of the Pennine hills to the rest of Yorkshire, they (along with parts of Mossley) were officially in the White Rose county from the middle ages onward. That all changed in 1972, when the West Riding of Yorkshire was abolished and Saddleworth found itself first in Lancashire, then in Greater Manchester.
Lots of people in the area still feel very strongly that Saddleworth is, and always will be, part of Yorkshire. On the closest Sunday to Yorkshire Day (August 1), people gather in Uppermill by the statue of local poet Ammon Wrigley to drape a wreath of white roses around the statue’s neck, read the Yorkshire Declaration and listen to the local brass band play.
There’s then usually a march behind the Yorkshire flag to Uppermill’s King George V playing fields where there’s a festival with stalls, demonstrations of dry stone walling and more celebrations of Yorkshire life.
If you can’t visit Saddleworth for Yorkshire Day, you should still keep an eye out for signs of the area’s Yorkshire-ness. You might see white roses on house number signs, Yorkshire flags flying, and stickers on cars and houses calling for Saddleworth to be returned to Yorkshire.
18. See a show
Most of the attractions on this list are daytime activities which make the most of the area’s beautiful scenery and picturesque villages, but there are lots of things to do in Saddleworth in the evening.
Delph has its own theatre, the Millgate Arts Centre, where you can see plays performed by its own theatre company, the Saddleworth Players, along with concerts and film nights.
In Uppermill, the Civic Hall hosts all kinds of events. Over the time I’ve lived here, Martin Kemp has done 80s DJ sets, 90s bands Republica and Dodgy have performed there, there’s been gin festivals, lots of brass bands from all over the world – all sorts. Unfortunately, there’s no single place to find out what’s on at the Civic Hall so I recommend keeping an eye on the local newspaper’s entertainment section for updates.
The Royal George pub in Greenfield has a regular comedy night on the last Sunday of the month with a mixture of established standups and up-and-coming performers. Sarah Millican, Jason Manford, John Bishop and Jack Whitehall have all performed here!
Over in Mossley, the George Lawton Hall has regular musicals and concerts.
How to get to Saddleworth
You can get to Saddleworth by car, bus, train or by bike.
Uppermill is only a short walk from Greenfield railway station, on the train line from Manchester to Leeds. Trains run around once per hour in each direction. The larger villages in Saddleworth have a bus service; the number 350 bus is particularly useful as its route includes Mossley, Greenfield, Uppermill, Dobcross and Delph. There’s no Metrolink tram service.
The most convenient way to get around Saddleworth is by car, but parking can sometimes be difficult. Your best bet for parking in Uppermill is the long stay car park at the leisure centre on Springburn Way.
If you don’t mind a few hills, then cycling is a lovely way to get around Saddleworth. The canal tow path and old railway lines are ideal for getting off the roads, and there are lots of other cyclists around. Some of the roads in the area are even used for the Tour de Manc.
Where to stay in Saddleworth
There are surprisingly few places to stay in Saddleworth, and they can get booked up quickly, particularly around the Whit Friday Band Contests.
Dovestone Holiday Park is right next to the car park and dam at Dove Stone reservoir and has lodges, safari lodges, cottages and glamping pods for rent, some with hot tubs.
The Saddleworth Hotel is up in the hills above Delph, near Castleshaw reservoir. There are 16 rooms, including a suite with an enormous wooden four poster bed. The Saddleworth Hotel is particularly popular for weddings.
The Old Bell Inn in Delph has 18 rooms and is on the edge of one of the prettiest Saddleworth villages. The restaurant features in the AA Rosette guide as one of the best places to eat in Greater Manchester and the bar has a record-breaking 1500 gins on offer.
The White Hart at Lydgate has 16 rooms in a picturesque small village. On a clear day you can see Manchester and even across to North Wales. There are two restaurants and a big beer garden with its own bar which hosts Lydgate’s brass band contest on Whit Friday.
There are a few holiday cottages for rent, and self-catering is really easy with a big Tesco supermarket in Greenfield and plenty of small shops, particularly in Uppermill, Greenfield, Delph and Mossley.
The only campsite and caravan site in Saddleworth is unfortunately closed at the moment with no update on when or if it’ll open again.