An involved way to cross a county boundaryWednesday, April 8th, 2009
Whenever I get to plotting an outdoors outing, I almost invariably turn to maps for ideas. That’s not to say that guidebooks don’t get perused as well but there’s something very immediate about casting one’s eye over a map. Scotland’s enlightened access legislation means that any track can be fair game but more care is needed south of the border. In fact, I have had enough experience of the English and Welsh rights of way network that a growing distrust needs to be confronted but I use any path. I need to be careful not to overdo things but anything that looks unpromising could be left for another route. The sorts of things that leave a poor impression are rickety styles, poor waymarking and overgrown paths. A somewhat unpleasant experience last year has got me very wary about complex route finding too near habitations on other people’s land.
Anything that’s part of a long distance trail should be fine but there is a part of the Pennine Way proceeding through fields in North Yorkshire that looks like yet another unloved part of the rights of way network. Saying that, seeing the attention lavished on the Gritstone Trail reassures me more then just a little. The mention of the GT brings me to Staffordshire’s moorlands. Yes, there are some neglected parts and I came across them while I was out hiking on Sunday but a good deal of care is apparent too. I passed along part of the Staffordshire Way but the moniker “Staffordshire Moorland Walks” is one that is seen a lot on maps for where I was wandering.
These are Staffordshire’s answer to Ireland’s Looped Walks and have been conceived, very nobly, as a network of self-guided walks by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council. You will not find them highlighted on OS Landranger maps but they are given the same level of prominence on Explorer maps as point-to-point long distance trails. That might have the potential to confuse just a little and some may decry the idea of cluttering up mapping but they remain very useful. Good waymarking makes them more user friendly too. As it happened, Sunday saw me traversing portions near Biddulph, Rudyard and Leek but a previous escapade saw me rounding Tittesworth Reservoir with a side visit to Hen Cloud too.
What took me onto those looped walks on Sunday was a yomp from Congleton to Leek. It was meant to be other way around but for my own muddling and a missing bus delayed my start as well. It also meant a change from my initial plan of going from Leek to Rushton Spencer by way of Rudyard Reservoir and then following the Gritstone Trail for most of the way to Congleton, possibly with an ascent of The Cloud included for good measure. However, the onset of summer time has granted us longer evenings so sufficient daylight time was available for me to complete the walk. The walk out of Congleton to reach another part of the Gritstone Trail, a section shared with the Biddulph Valley Way, certainly took long enough to bring home to me the size of the town and how far its train station is from the town centre.
My patience on the exit from Congleton was rewarded by a peaceful amble among woodland along a now disused railway line that once ran between Congleton and Biddulph. That embankment was left to pick up part of the Staffordshire Moorlands Walks loop that goes around Biddulph. That stretch took me across the A527 and over the fields to The Talbot in Poolfold. Another road crossing followed and another exit into green fields was found in the said pub’s car park. That proved temporary and I found Country Landowners Association signs bearing waymarks and welcoming caring walkers around The Moor House, perhaps a reassuring touch.
The hotchpotch of public footpath and road walking was set to continue after I left the Staffordshire Moorlands Walks waymarks after me to cross High Bent. My journey took me around by Boons’ Meadow Farm on tarmac before I again crossed fields to reach a byway called The Hollands. After another road crossing, I was following field boundaries again. There were copious views at this point with the familiar sights of Croker Hill and Shutlingsloe visible in the northern panorama. Looking east, I could just about make out The Roaches beyond Gun. There was enough cloud in the sky to ensure that unbroken sunshine was a pipe dream and my photographic exploits were attenuated as a direct result.
With all of the twists and turns taken by my route, I would have been forgiven for tiring by the time that I reached Halfway House. As it happened, I must have missed the footpath for Birch Trees Farm. However, I had mixed feelings about following a right of way through a farmyard so I wasn’t sorry to have passed it and I knew where I was in any case. It may have meant that I needed to contend with motor vehicle traffic for longer than I might have liked but no major perturbation was felt on my part.
Reacliffe Road was found soon enough at a switchback bend and, a short downhill stroll later, I reached the second loop of the Staffordshire Moorlands Walks for the day. I was bound for Leek but this is where you would be going for a circuit of Rudyard Reservoir. The quiet wooded lanes and paths were an agreeable way to reach the dam of the said reservoir before I dropped down to follow its outlet stream for much of the remainder of the walk. There was another uneventful road crossing too but I was on the lookout for the junction that would see me go along a path that take me under the old Macclesfield-Derby railway line and on to the A523 on the outskirts of Leek. Perversely, the centre of Leek sits atop a hill and, by this time, my legs were telling me that they had done enough for one day as I made for the bus station.
Though the day had its moments of sunshine, they were limited throughout the walk but that also meant that I wasn’t to be scorched by the strengthening sun, never a bad thing. Because of circumstances, the route followed was a tricky one but it was dispatched with only one unscheduled diversion and that was far from being a hardship. All in all, I enjoyed a good few hours and revisited somewhere where I hadn’t been for a while. Many stretches were quiet too, which helped for a spot of relaxation along the way. Hopefully, the short outing can act as a springboard for other excursions.
Service 38 from Macclesfield to Congleton. Service 18 from Leek to Hanley followed by service 25 from there to Stoke train station for a Virgin train to Macclesfield. There is a service 108 connecting Leek and Macclesfield but that is irregular and the last one had long gone by the time that I reached Leek.