Well, it certainly isn’t all flat…Sunday, September 12th, 2010
A few weeks ago, I finally managed to turn into reality something that I have been considering for a while: cycling from Macclesfield to Chester. Being a journey of 35-40 miles in length, it shouldn’t surprise you that I was well tired after it. However, I didn’t have to use any of the opportunities that I had for letting a train take the strain until the journey that took me home again. In fact, the prospect of cycling to Knutsford and catching a train to Chester from there was a lure in the first place though that clearly developed into something else…
Earlier in the year, I had gone part of the way in undertaking a cycle from Macclesfield to Northwich on a sunny day in March (I think!) with included an extra elbow to my route that allowed the use of NCN Route 573 from Congleton to Davenham though I did veer away from the itinerary from time to time, mainly around Goostrey. In truth, it was a tricky task to keep to a route while negotiating a rat’s nest of country lanes even if they also allowed for some relaxation so long as there wasn’t a passing car. Many of these lanes were new to me too as I glided around by Swettenham while a bit of extra time spent around Northwich ended up allowing me to sample its flashes and go around by Great Budworth among other places. All of this was to stand me in good stead for the full county crossing though I didn’t go around by Congleton and Astbury the second time around.
On paper, the journey from Macclesfield to Cheshire by bike should be around three or four hours. Whether it was because of the route that I took and my unfamiliarity with many of the roads that I travelled (route finding eats time too even if you’re using the road network), it ended up taking two hours more than that with the leg avoiding Northwich taking what felt like longer than intended. Now that I look back at the route that I took, I am inclined to think that I ended up adding some extra mileage and that’s especially when you get to comparing it with the Cheshire Cycleway. Of course, taking a little time over things is not a bad thing but you don’t want to be cutting out opportunities to exploration when the travel time is too long in the first place.
Rather than boring you with every detail of the route in the narrative, I have added the full lists of roads travelled and places passed near the bottom of the piece should you decide to trace it out on a map. Amazingly, every road in Cheshire seems to have a name and that’s more striking to someone like me who hails from a land where only urban roads are named. Returning to the subject of maps, I largely relied on OS Landranger ones for the ride and they got me around after a fashion. As it happened, there were some moments of quandary that might have answered by my Philip’s Cheshire Street Atlas had I brought it with me; that’s particularly true of my search for Chester’s train station or picking my way around the village of Norley. There’s nothing quite like a rat’s nest of country lanes and city streets for generating confusion and it doesn’t help when things aren’t how you remembered them to be either.
The last thing that I had to do before setting off westwards was acquire a Landranger for the western part of Cheshire from the local branch of Waterstone’s. That need fulfilled, I set off under cloudy skies to get beyond Macclesfield. All was familiar at this stage, every up, down, twist and turn. So it remained until I left the A537 at Chelford to pursue what I thought to be a more direct line though there were some deviations as I passed Peover Heath and Over Peover on the way to the A50. the sun came out from behind the clouds too and I really felt the strength of the sun. Nevertheless, the lanes were quiet and I could take any undulations in my stride.
One over the A50, it was back to quieter roads again and that especially was the case after Smithy Green and Lower Peover. It was from a quiet Plumley Moor Lane that I could gaze down on a bustling M6. Sun was in short supply at this stage and, given my feeling of its earlier strength, I wasn’t too sorry. In fact, I was please to pass Plumley’s train station after 90 minutes of cycling without having to go via Knutsford.
Northwich was ahead of me but I was set avoid that too. First, I needed to get across the ugly A556 to reach Linnards Lane and tranquillity again. Collections of houses like Higher Wincham and Higher Marston were passed as I commenced my circuit of Budworth Mere. It might have been nice to have had more sun at this stage though Great Budworth was catching some. As far as I could remember, it was largely gone again by the time that I reached Comberbach having met up with the route of the Cheshire Cycleway for the first time that way. Looking at its route again, I do wonder why I left it to stitch together my own course but I suppose that seeing Anderton Boat Lift might have been a draw for me. It certainly has a nice public park about it but it did look incongruous to see folk queueing up for a boat ride with chemical workings beside them. Northwich remains industrial, thanks no doubt to the salt that is underground.
Gazing at industrial scenes is not my way of spending a day so I continued my bumbling along country lanes. A misunderstanding landed me in Barnton but that was resolved and I got to sample the real peace of the lanes around Little Leigh before braving bigger roads to get to Weaverham and Acton Bridge. After those, it was onto more quiet lanes and it was staring to feel that I was leaving hustle and bustle after me more and more as I continued west. Still, mileposts reveals that it wasn’t so far away either with places like Warrington and Runcorn all within cycling range. Fordsham wasn’t far either and the banks of the Mersey are near there too. It was if a slower mode of travel was shrinking a world that train travel had made to feel a little larger.
All along the way, the ups and downs were continuing. The heights may not have been too striking but you cannot call the terrain flat. The reason for the Anderton Boat Lift has to be the height differential between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal. A steep sided dip near Little Leigh was sufficient to convince me of that. Well, it is difficult to forget gradients like those and one in Weaverhan left me wondering if my legs were starting to tire.
It was around Delamere Forest that the undulations really got going; the lane took on the aspect of an Irish bog road as it went though the woodland. There were ascents and descents before then too as I approached Norley, where the Cheshire Cycleway sorted a spot of navigational confusion for me. However, there is something about ups and downs in a unfamiliar area well frequented by folk and with a god number of cars about that seems to concentrate my mind all the more.
If the sun wasn’t being obstructed by cloud cover, I might have appreciated the tree cover around Delamere. In fact, it would have been nice to have stopped for longer but I was conscious of the time. One of the problems with just travelling through anywhere on a train, bus or car is that you lose all connection with what is there and what is around it. For example, I was surprised to see that Delamere was part of the Mersey Forest but Frodsham is of the order of five miles away, it is easier to see why. Amazingly, I hadn’t pieced together several parts of Cheshire until I cycled through the midst of them.
One past Delamere, all was quieter again. Mouldsworth, the penultimate stop on the mid-Cheshire line for Chester-bound trains from Stockport and Manchester, didn’t tempt me as a way of shortening the journey having done enough cycling. It was as if I have travelled so far that I wanted to finish off the job. There was height to be lost too and the gradients weren’t languid either. However, things did level out and I could relax since there scarcely was a car passing the way by then. It was early evening and I suppose that most had retired to their homes and the task of preparing for the working week.
Even the A56 wasn’t so busy when I was passing Bridge Trafford and Mickle Trafford. The sun had made some progress with lighting up the countryside too, which added to the lazy atmosphere that was to pervade for me for the rest of the journey though there was some anxiousness as I was finding my way around Chester. Strangely, it took until going under the M53 for there to be any admission that a city was nearby. It was as if places like Bridge Trafford, Mickle Trafford and Hoole Bank were all in denial about the proximity of Chester.
If I had arrived in Chester earlier, there may have been a chance for a little more photography after a previous visit there. That was not to be and I had to deal with an unfamiliar approach and that I was cycling rather than walking. That meant a more circuitous route to the train station than I would have liked and it would have helped if my recollections of the street layout weren’t tricking me into believing that what I was seeing wasn’t making that much sense. Having a tired mind as well as a tired body cannot have helped either. In the end, all of these were conquered and I boarded a train for home. That it was a later than I had in mind was immaterial; after all, I had crossed Cheshire under my own power and ended up relaxing along the way too. While there may be refinements that I’d apply to the route, they’re for another time.
Macclesfield, Mill Street, Exchange Street, Churchill Way, Great King Street, Chester Road, Broken Cross, Henbury, Monk’s Heath, Chelford, Peover Heath, Over Peover, Stocks Lane, A50 Holmes Chapel Road, B5081 Middlewich Road, Smithy Green, Lower Peover, Plumley Moor Road, Plumley, A556, Linnards Lane, Higher Wincham, Earles Lane, A559, Great Budworth, Budworth Lane, Comberbach, Warrington Road, Marbury Road, Marbury, New Road, Anderton, Hough Lane, Stoney Heyes Lane, A533, Little Leigh, Brakeley Lane, Church Road, Leigh Lane, Willow Green Lane, A49, B5142, Weaverham, B5153, Acton Bridge, Milton Rough, Onston Lane, Bag Lane, Norley, School Bank, Houghs Lane, High Street, Post Office Lane, School Lane, Ashton Road, Delamere Forest, Delamere Road, Station Road, Mouldsworth, Smithy Lane, Manley, Manley Lane, Morley Lane, A56, Bridge Tafford, Mickle Trafford, Dee Road, The Street, Hoole Bank, Mannings Lane South, Kingsway, Newton, Kingsway West, Brook Lane, Liverpool Road, Countess Road, Parkgate Road, Upper Northgate Street, Chester, Union Terrace, Leadworks Lane, City Road, Chester Train Station
Train journey back from Chester to Macclesfield with changes in Crewe and Stockport.