Ambles within sight of The CloudSunday, October 8th, 2017
There are many walks that could fall under this ambiguous title since so much of Cheshire lies within the sight of this hill. It is one of those landmarks like Shutlingsloe or Croker Hill (distinguished by its radio broadcasting station) that overlook so many of my strolls and cycles near where I now call home. These not only extend towards the Cheshire Plain but the landmark can be identified from among the hills that lie between Macclesfield and Buxton so those following the Gritstone Trail will see the hill long before or long after crossing its summit. There was a temptation to add Leek to the preceding list of towns but that may be going too far.
Calling a hill a “cloud” looks incongruous to modern eyes until you realise that it is a usage dating from old English as much as calling a valley a “hope” much like what happens in north Derbyshire and south Yorkshire. The latter has been know to trap the unaware like a new vicar in Oxenhope as described by Simon Armitage in his book “Walking Home”. Sometimes, place names can be a last redoubt for older meanings so it is best to keep that in mind as we saunter through countryside, even or especially when following the route of the Pennine Way.
Not at all far from The Cloud is another town that I have yet to mention: Congleton. It may not sound like a starting or an ending point for walks but it has been both for me over the years and some of these have been described on here already. One took me to Leek via Biddulph and Rudyard Lake and Congleton was my destination on a walk along part of the Gritstone Trail that started from Langley.
The Macclesfield Canal passes by Congleton too and very handily is next to the town’s train station. Sometimes, life can way us down so much that we can fail to engage in activities that offer momentary relief. Anything that makes it easier to get out for a walk has to be helpful. Simpler often is better so what can be easier than trotting along a canal towpath? Certainly, that helped to get me walking between Macclesfield and Congleton in the dying months of 2012 and the first one of 2013 while there was quite a lot on my mind. This was the start of emotion consuming events that have carried on over the last few years even though there have been episodes of release too and it was during one of these that I walked along the canal in bright spring sunshine in April 2015.
The lure was the prospect of getting pleasing views of The Cloud, particularly on the section between Crossley Hall Farm and Bosley Locks. For a time, I was relieved of the cares of life as I passed numerous familiar sights. It is difficult to anything very new about those and there is one section of the canal that I have yet to walk that goes south from Congleton until I am lead again onto previously trodden reaches on the way to Kidsgrove where it connects with the Trent & Mersey Canal. That opens the prospect of a cycle along its wide towpath that may lead me from one train station to another if I went far enough.
The main linchpin of this piece is another walk, one that I did at the start of November 2015. However, it was not what I had in mind for that day. Only for a late train, my preference was for a walk commencing from Disley. What is somewhat lost to memory is the route that I wanted to follow. In March of this year, I did follow the Gritstone Trail as far as Kerridge before following our paths on the rest of the way home so it could have been that. There was another option that was just as likely: a circular stroll around Disley and Lyme Park.
Instead of sticking with the disruption of a delayed train journey, I caught a bus to Congleton. My next port of call was Astbury Mere and I followed part of Route 573 of the National Cycle Network to get to it. It might have been the spontaneity of my choice of destination that caused me to overlook a section the Dane Valley Way in favour of a discovery from an evening cycle during the summer of 2015. Encounters late on those days probably inspired me to consider a midday visit when light would be more plentiful for photography.
Astbury Mere Country Park is surrounded by residential areas despite its name so folk were to be found pottering about on that mild November day. Everyone still had plenty of space to themselves though and I enjoyed my walk around the mere before leaving it to get to Astbury.
Once I made my way along some streets, a public footpath called Stony Lane then took me most of the way to Astbury. The village has been a calling point on numerous cycles but this was the first time that I arrived there on foot. With a curious church and lines of cottages leading to it from the A34, it is a photogenic spot so I lingered a while before retracing some of my steps while walking to the Macclesfield Canal.
Following the canal towpath, I crossed through Congleton before dropping into Dane-in-Shaw Pasture where I found a public footpath leading to Brookhouse Lane. Then, I took to following the Gritstone Trail for the rest of the way to the top of The Cloud. Though unseasonably warm, it was getting late in the day by this point and the sense of the whole exercise might be questioned by some if they knew what I was doing. Nevertheless, I stuck with my plan and climbed through woodland as I did so. It did not take long to come out of the tree cover to take in amble views over the Cheshire Plain and whatever else I could see in the late afternoon light.
It was sensible not to delay either so I started on my descent of Cloud Side to reach a lane that would start me on my return to Congleton. That meant going around the hill again but the views made it worth doing and I was to stick to lanes anyway given the now fading light. Further lanes that I was to use included Tunstall Road, Pedley Lane and Middle Lane as I passed Key Green to come under the streetlights of Congleton before too long. Freed from any chance of getting benighted, my main concern was getting to where I needed to be to catch my bus back to Macclesfield after a very satisfying day.