Industrial Manchester is all about canals and mills. But, says Mark Rowe, it was the Romans who got there first

Despite the architectural acclaim that has greeted Manchester's renaissance, the city remains rooted in its past. But while its more obvious foundations lie in the Industrial Revolution, its origins lie further back in Roman times.

This walk explores the city's small but important Roman legacy, along with its mills, warehouses, canals and cotton factories from the second half of the 19th century, when it was an industrial force and its canals linked it to all parts of the country.

We begin in the Castlefield area, once a maze of canals, warehouses, railways and viaducts. Four railway viaducts crossed it in the 1800s. Despite today's traffic pollution, the experience will be altogether more pleasant than in 1825, when the German architect Karl Schinkel declared that the new blackened buildings looked as though they had been there for 100 years.

Start the walk at Deansgate Station and head to Chester Road, just to the south of the station. Pass through a square underpass, through the Deansgate Quay building apartments on the right and under an archway, to the Bridgewater Canal. Britain's first man-made canal, the Bridgewater, opened in 1765 and linked with north Wales.

Follow the tree-lined canal to the left, crossing a wooden footbridge and then a modern, white footbridge over to Duke's Lock. It's a secluded spot, and I even saw a heron hunting for fish. Duke's lock marks the connection to the Rochdale Canal, which was the first waterway link across the Pennines. The wildlife, and the mixture of old warehouses, conversions and new-build offices, makes for a restful stroll.

From the bridge, turn left, following the signpost to the Roman Fort, passing under the viaducts and turn right to the modest fort area of Castlefield. The fort marks the spot where Manchester was founded as Mamucium by the Romans. You first pass the old Roman granary and then bear right to reach the main sandstone fort gates. The first of four forts here was built in 79AD. The process of industrial decline in the area was intensified in the 1950s as motorised transport overtook the canals. A major urban regeneration programme in the 1980s has turned Castlefield's fortunes around again, and the fort was rebuilt in 1987.

Walk through the fort gates to reach the Museum of Science and Industry, housed in the shell of the 19th-century Liverpool Road station. The white-wooded building is held to be where the railway age took off, yet by 1978 it had declined so badly that the council bought it for £1.

Turn right down Liverpool Road, with the striking, Lego-like Hilton ahead of you. Turn left along Deansgate, passing the old Great Northern Railway company's goods warehouse. Although this is now a shopping centre, the block, stretching for 150 yards, still bears the warehouse's original name. Admire the brickwork of the upper three floors. Built in 1898, the structure was once an interchange between canal, rail and road networks.

When you get to Bridge Street, turn left to reach the People's History Museum (on the left just before the bridge). The museum, formerly the Pumphouse People's Museum, is housed in an Edwardian hydraulic pumping station and has a recreated 1930s Co-op shop and exhibits from the suffragette movement.

Return to Deansgate and cross it to pick up Dalton Street past the Town Hall, where the road becomes Princess Street. Turn left at the crossroads with Portland Street. Opposite stands the old Princess Street Warehouse, now a hotel and further along Portland Street is the old Watts Warehouse. Once the largest drapery business in Manchester, the warehouse is now a hotel but it is also a monument to the cotton, textile, dyeing, weaving and spinning industries that were the city's lifeblood.

Portland Street leads to Piccadilly, where you turn right and then left down Ducie Street. Towards the end of the street, bear left across a gravel car-park to reach the Rochdale Canal. Turn right and follow the canal under two bridges. Cross the next footbridge on to Redhill Street, and the enormous mills. Redhill Street Spinning Mill once had 1,500 staff, and by the mid-19th century was the largest mill in the area. In front of you should be the Royal Mill, erected in 1797.

To end the walk, retrace your steps the half-mile along the canal and Ducie Street, where you can either turn left for Manchester Piccadilly station or right for the city centre.


MAP: OS Explorer 277 (Manchester and Salford).

This walk can be found in a booklet entitled Fifty Fabulous Walks in England's Northwest, published by the North West Regional Development Agency. For more information see

DISTANCE: Five miles.

TIME: Up to three hours, excluding visits to museums

Mark Rowe stayed at the Lowry Hotel (0161 827 4000;, with double rooms from £160 per night. Virgin Trains (08457 222 333; offers connections to Manchester Piccadilly from London, the South West and North.