Dan O'Connell, our Project Coordinator for Greater Manchester, lives in Ashton-under-Lyne.
Like many towns, Ashton's streets are quieter than usual at the minute. Without people, all that remains are the town's bones - the buildings, roads, canals and pockets of green space.
In the absence of all the usual distractions, an eerie calm has descended upon Dan's walks.
I’ve been a life-long resident of Greater Manchester and for the past 16 years I’ve resided in Ashton-under-Lyne, a market town in Tameside which lies around 10KM to the east of Manchester City Centre.
As Ashton is somewhat equidistant to Manchester city centre and to the edge of the Peak District, I am normally drawn to one or the other for socialising, entertainment or work (Ashton’s location was a key reason for moving here!).
My visits to Ashton town centre normally have a very specific purpose: to buy groceries, catch a tram or bus, grab a bite to eat or perhaps a swift pint and under ‘normal’ conditions Ashton is full of the hustle and bustle of daily life.
Never before have I experienced such silence during sunlight. I feel I can hear for miles as the background noise of road traffic has dissipated. The streets are the cleanest I’ve ever seen them, and the odours of diesel fumes have floated away.
5:30pm – peak rush hour - and I’m wandering Ashton town centre’s deserted streets. Never before have I experienced such silence during sunlight, I feel I can hear for miles as the background noise of road traffic has dissipated.
The streets are the cleanest I’ve ever seen them, and the odours of diesel fumes have floated away.
Having no specific purpose to my journey, other than maintaining my permitted daily exercise, and in the absence of the usual ground level distractions of the town, my mind and feet are free to wander.
I find myself looking up at the building tops, reading the signs next to statues (Uncle John the Pie Man – donated his pies to the poor and needy during the cotton famine), and admiring the beauty of what remains of the buildings that once entertained the people of this town: the blue plaque on the sadly closed down Hippodrome reminds me of Ken Dodd’s visit in 2004 to celebrate its 100th anniversary, and the glorious iconic 1920s Majestic Picture House brings back childhood memories of watching Indiana Jones there with my parents and brother.
My feet carry me a little further and I’m then reminded of how beautiful buildings can be as I see Ashton Old Baths – a vast Victorian swimming pool that stood empty for over 40 years but was rescued and transformed into a vibrant work space in 2014.
I enjoyed this ghostly meander of my town so much that I went back the following day to explore more (this time with my camera and hunting out ‘ghost signs’).
Walking my town during lock down has evoked wonderful memories, my attention has been allowed to be drawn towards things I’d previously missed, and I’ve been inspired to learn more about the town’s history. That’s said, I can’t wait for the people to return!
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