According to local legend, the Saxons built Nico Ditch in one night as a defence against the Danes, who had sailed up the Mersey in 870 and were pillaging the area. However, even if it is true that Nico Ditch was simply a defensive earthwork, its sheer size means it could not possibly have been built in one night.
Nico Ditch would have been a formidable earthwork structure some ten feet deep and wide, with an embankment surmounted by a wooden palisade wall, similar to the contemporary Offa’s Dyke along the boundary of the kingdom of Mercia and Wales.
The surviving section, which gives the best idea of its size, is the stretch along Cornhill Lane as it crosses Denton Golf Course. Another smaller section can be seen alongside Melland Playing Fields in Levenshulme.
Like Offa’s Dyke, the Ditch could have been mainly a boundary marker. Traces of it run for several miles from Ashton-under-Lyne to Stretford in Cheshire.
First mention of the Ditch in historical land records is made about 1200 AD when it is called ‘Mykelidiche,’ which is Anglo-Saxon for Great Ditch. The word ‘Nico’ does not appear until later and is perhaps a reference to the Anglo-Saxon water spirit, Hinickar, who was said to drown unwary travellers. If you slipped in it this was a distinct possibility!