For a family walk that’s packed with history, but not too taxing on the legs, Barrow Bridge is hard to beat.

Nestled within the expansive Smithills Estate – the largest Woodland Trust site in England – picturesque Barrow Bridge is a charming destination for an excursion.

Its story began with John and Robert Lord, who established a cotton mill powered by the Dean Brook's waters.

Barrow BridgeBarrow Bridge

Their innovation led to the construction of 13 cottages for their workers. By 1830, industrialists Thomas Bazley and Richard Gardner had acquired the site, demolishing the old mill and replacing it with the impressive Dean Mills—twin six-storey steam-powered structures located at the village entrance.

Bazley and Gardner transformed Barrow Bridge into a model village. They built rows of cottages, a shop, and an educational institute on the hilltop, accessible by a flight of stone steps. Managers' houses were constructed nearby, overlooking the brook, adding to the village's structured layout. Despite the mill's closure in 1877 and eventual demolition in 1913, many of these historical buildings still stand today, offering a fascinating window into the past.

Today, visitors can enjoy a variety of scenic walks through its historical landscape. One of the most popular features are the famous 63 steps, which mill workers once climbed daily to reach their jobs. Today, these steps lead walkers up to the stunning West Pennine Moors, providing breathtaking views and a rewarding climb.

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Barrow Bridge in Bolton in April, 1945

The Barrow Bridge Trail, a short 30-minute trek, takes you through beautiful woodland areas. This walk is perfect for all seasons: spring and summer bring vibrant wildflowers, while autumn and winter reveal an array of fungi. In winter, the old-fashioned street lights in the village give it a cosy, Narnia-like feel.

Walkers will be following in the footsteps of some notable historic figures. In 1840, Benjamin Disraeli visited the village, drawing inspiration for the fictional Millbank in his novel Coningsby. And on October 11, 1851, Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, gave it to royal seal of approval when he spent time there.

The Barrow Bridge Chimney, built in the 1860s as part of the Halliwell Bleach Works, is a landmark that’s hard to miss. Bolton’s Fred Dibnah climbed the chimney in his youth, and later helped secure its Grade-II listing by Historic England.

In recent years, plans to transform the Barrow Bridge Chimney into a 60-foot-high house have garnered attention. Approved by Bolton Council over a decade ago, this ambitious project includes an elevator to a glass structure housing multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, and living areas with 360-degree views.

Natural attractions include Dean Brook, which is perfect for a leisurely stroll along, and the tranquil High Shores Clough.

Whether you're a history enthusiast or a nature lover, Barrow Bridge has it all. So, this weekend why not lace up your walking boots and embark on a walk where every step tells a story.