Countryside Wanderings

It's amazing how things develop. After all, this blog started out as a news section for the rest of the website. With encouragement from readers, it has become a place for relating my countryside wanderings and musings about the world of outdoor activity. Walking, cycling and photography all are part of what I do out of doors and, hopefully, they will continue to inspire me to keep adding entries on here. Of course, there needs to be something of interest to you, dear reader, too and I hope that's the case. Thanks for coming.

Category: England

Hiking the Sandstone Trail

Saturday, February 10th, 2018

2007 saw me complete the Gritstone Trail but it took me until the summer of 2010 to follow up on its western counterpart by purchasing a guidebook. After that, it was not until December 2015 that I got to walking along any part of the Sandstone Trail. The 34 mile or 55 km length is similar to that of the Gritstone Trail it links Frodsham in Cheshire with Whitchurch in Shropshire by means of a crossing of the sandstone escarpment that divides Cheshire.

Getting There and Away

One of the things that forestalled any explorations of the Sandstone Trail for real was lack of knowledge regarding public transport arrangements. Other causes such as the wearying intrusions of life were responsible too but the transport arrangements puzzle was to be solved using Monday to Saturday bus services 41 and 41A running between Chester and Whitchurch. Calling points such as Tattenhall and Hampton Heath were to prove invaluable with the latter avoiding any need to set foot in Malpas, though it would make a pleasant spot to visit.

With the bus transport puzzle solved, the railways were to play their part. Frodsham, Delamere and Whitchurch are well served while Chester became somewhere from which to catch onward bus connections. For train travel, the Cheshire Day Ranger ticket proved invaluable for getting to my starting points from Macclesfield without having to depend on single tickets. Stations where changes of train were needed such as Crewe, Stockport and Manchester Piccadilly were covered, which added to any peace of mind.

A Purposeful Division

The length of the Sandstone Trail is such that it is possible to walk it in two long days if you are pressed for time. That makes it a possibility for a weekend though it hardly is best to be rushing a countryside hike. Runners proceed at a different pace and should be able to complete it in a single strenuous day and I know of some who have done the same with the Gritstone Trail.

Sandstone Trail Milepost at Manley Common, Cheshire, England

My own pace is a much gentler one than this and it is curious that I walked the Sandstone Trail during autumn and winter. This meant shorter hours of sunlight and light had faded to darkness by the time some of my walks came to an end. It shows that possession of a headtorch is no excessive load during such months.

Apart from the first piece between Delamere Forest and Frodsham that I completed on the first Monday in December 2015, the others were done on the Monday, Wednesday and Friday of the same week in 2017. That made travel connections a little bit easier and meant that I started during the last days of October and finished in early November. This also was the mid-term break for schools in the Cheshire West & Chester borough so there were family groups out and about in some parts of my route.

Strangely, the idea of walking south from Delamere to Whitchurch in one sweep came into my head but good sense prevailed and I left the trail near Peckforton to reach Tattenhall in the dark. The same thing happened with the next stretch that returned me to the trail from Tattenhall before better reason got me to the bus stop at Hampton Heath after a great day of elevated strolling. It was just as well since navigation needed care between Hampton Heath and the Llangollen Canal.

With my four part route splitting explained, I will describe the walks themselves. The first section preceded a time of unfulfilling work combined with much to sort in Ireland while the rest happened during a much needed career break. In its own way, the Sandstone Trail book-ended a tumultuous time in my life.

Delamere Forest to Frodsham

Towards the end of 2015, I have outstanding annual leave to use. The prospect of legal works in connection with my late father’s estate was the cause of my hoarding the remaining days and there were two separate weeks away from work as a result.

The first was in November and the days were used to facilitate an elongated weekend spent around Warwick, Stratford-upon-Avon and Bath as well as a day trip to York. In between these, I had time to address such things as a mobile phone upgrade and the purchase of a new laptop computer. The second week facilitated a trip to Ireland and that was preceded by my first encounter with the Sandstone Trail.

It was a bright Monday after a run of grey days that saw me head to Delamere Forest Park by train. Still, sunshine was not ever present so it did not become a day for much in the way of photography. Passage through woodland limited things further as it so often does. Nevertheless, the need for a day away from ongoing cares overshadowed any possibility of disappointment.

On leaving the train, I made for the Baker Way. This took me past a cafe and one car park to reach a lane leading to another one. Once beyond the latter, I was following a forestry track with no chance of any encounter with motorised traffic. Even on this weekday, there were folk pottering about without their presence introducing any sense of intrusion.

In time, I reached the junction with the Sandstone Trail and turned right since I was destined for Frodsham. It was to be the most of two years before I was take the left turning for a southbound hike. That was unknown to me in 2015 so I continued north through the woods.

Blakemere Moss was passed unperceived but I do recall the subsequent road crossing. All was quiet but I been along the lane before while cycling from Macclesfield to Chester in 2010. That was of a Sunday and I still remember the sight of numerous parked cars. It showed that Delamere Forest Park is a well used amenity that must be valued by many.

Delamere Forest Park, Cheshire, England

There was more tree-lined tramping to come on the way to Manley Common. The route may have been rambling but good progress was made nonetheless. In fact, there was plenty of time around aforementioned collection of houses before I got some road walking out of the way before crossing a field to reach yet another road from which I was released around Simmond’s Hill. Just a little way along a lane let to some off road walking that continued after another lane crossing.

Sign on seat near Alvanley Cliff, Alvanley, Cheshire, England

While pottering along the way past woodland surrounding Alvanley Cliff, everyday life intruded with a phone call from my solicitor in Ireland. Later in the week, I would need to meet him but that was pushed to the future as I continued on my way after surveying a touching sign on a bench that lay by the trail. It was getting late in the day and I needed to reach Frodsham.

After two more road crossings, I was under tree cover yet again. My journey was to take me through Snidley Moor Wood and around Woodhouse Hill. Feeling buried inside woodland, Frodsham felt much further away than it actually was. These are good places to linger since modern life appears so far away.

Though the map clearly showed the trail following the line of the escarpment, there remained scope for wandering off its line. Woodland can have this effect so it often is better to get your direction right and not worry too much about precision beyond that. It was an approach that would serve me well on the final stages of my walk.

Arriving at the War Memorial on Beacon Hill above Frodsham around sunset reduced any scope for photography but there remained pleasing views over Frodsham Marsh towards the Mersey and Weaver rivers as well as those of Helsby Hill to the west. After enjoying those, it was time to drop into the town and find its train station. All this was completed before light finally failed and my train home did not leave me waiting for too long. Though relatively gentle, the saunter had been a delight.

Delamere Forest to Tattenhall

Much of 2016 saw the continuation of important time-bound work in Ireland that often saw contacts made from over there late in the working day or even later than that again. Such intrusion often meant that resting after a day of work was not as easy as it once was for there was a continued sense of being on call. Seeing something at the end of the working week often felt dispiriting for having personal space at weekends was more sought than it ever was. Now that I look back at it, the problem was that my working life felt a chore anyway so leisure time was much needed while also being much reduced.

There was some such work ongoing during the autumn of 2017 too though it was far less pressured. Mainly, it pertained to paperwork though some improvements to a house in Ireland had been ongoing too. Maybe that is why I had been choosing Sundays for walks in the Dark Peak and the possibility of an Irish bank holiday was seized as an opportunity to take in another part of the Sandstone Trail.

It started with a return to Delamere Forest, much busier than it was on my previous visit. Because it was mid-term break time in Cheshire West & Chester borough, the woods were full of the exuberant sounds of children. During my reprise of the Baker Way from Delamere train station, an enquiry regarding the whereabouts of Go Ape came my way and I reckon that I sent them the right way though I stuck with continuing on my way without checking.

It might seem odd now but my quest was some peace and quiet. Simpler pleasures like walking in woods or through other parts of the countryside suffice for me so I have little need for activity-based attractions like Go Ape. Continuing away from noisier parts drew me to the junction with the Sandstone Trail where I turned left to pass Eddisbury Lodge.

Surroundings grew ever quieter as I continued towards a crossing of the A556. This was more like what I was seeking and I reckoned that the busy road would present a barrier to family groups too. More and more satisfaction was being earned all the while.

Getting across that road was a tricky manoeuvre that had me wondering if a bridge over it was in order like in other places. Fast moving traffic on a broad carriageway made the prospect feel more like crossing a motorway. Patience was much needed to find any opportunity for a crossing and fortitude then helped to complete the act. Doing so was passing a point of no return.

Though passage through pastoral countryside lay ahead of me, much of this was by means of holloways that left one detached from the surrounding fields within a cocoon of tree cover. At least, that is how it felt as I passed through Primrose Wood with only occasional other strollers instead of the perceived throng that I had met earlier in the day. The added detached from that circumstance was reinforced when I finally reached Tirley Lane.

Height had been gained too so views had opened out over the Cheshire Plain where other obstructions allowed. My lot was the following of a well waymarked trail around fields and woods while crossing from lane to lane. As well as being pastoral, the countryside also was tilled. It was a point that passage through muddy fields of harvested maize brought home to me and there was even a field that was being ploughed and I crossing it.

All the while, I enjoyed the afternoon while pondering transport arrangements. Arriva Northwest was experiencing a strike that was resolved later in the year so leaving the trail to reach such places as Tarporley was not an option. As the day wore along, any daydreams about continuing as far as Whitchurch met a similar fate.

Beeston Castle in silhouette, Cheshire, England

Landmarks such as the A51 (thankfully easier to cross than the A556) came and went while conurbations such as Tarporley and Hand Green scarcely add themselves to memory. Near Hand Green, I crossed the Shropshire Union Canal and passed under a nearby railway line along which I often have travelled between Crewe and Chester. The countryside now was more familiar even if I had not trodden thereabouts before then. Beeston Castle lay ahead me after becoming more prominent as I got closer to it.

Though an English Heritage site, the hour of day meant that I was not stopping there. There was a halt though after my spotting a strand of wire left across my planned route. Uncertainty descended on me so I returned to the reassurance of a signpost. In the meantime, the reason for the obstruction became apparent. Young cattle were being driven from a farmyard into a field. The farm moving the animals shouted a “Thank you” in my direction so my discretion was rewarded. From my own upbringing on a farm, I know how the presence of a stranger can mess up such operations so staying back is best.

With the wire removed, I continued on my way to the lane that led me around the foot of hill on which Beeston Castle is built. Soon enough, that was left too and I was planning how to end my walk once I had got as far as the foot of Peckforton Hills. It was near there that I left the Sandstone Trail after me.

Staying on the lane and the the subsequent track took me all of the way into Pennsylvania Wood where I should not have gone by rights. In my gathering haste, a sign had been misread and a friendly estate worker helpfully put me right after asking where I was headed. Continuing into the wood brought me to another right of way that conveyed me to Wood Farm. Pheasants were roosting for the night so it was not ideal but I had permission to continue and was soon away from where I was spooking any nearby birds. Hopefully, they settled after my passing.

More careful navigation got me onto Wood Lane so I was on tarmac again and would be road walking for the rest of the way to Tattenhall. What was gathering in my mind was a sense of irritation at my earlier lapse of concentration. More pressing, light was failing so a headtorch was needed to light much of the way.

From Wood Lane, I turned left onto Birds Lane before eventually right onto Burwardsley Road for the final approach to Tattenhall. Despite the growing darkness, I still could track my progress and satisfied myself that I would be in time for the next bus to Chester. Thankfully, roads were not so busy either and I made my bus with time to spare. The walk had been a good one and any sense of embarrassment and bewilderment following my navigational faux pas was turned into impetus for finishing the trail.

Tattenhall to Hampton Heath

It was a sense of annoyance at Monday’s misnavigation that caused me to return to Tattenhall on Wednesday. There may have been emails flying around about tax affairs but there was space between these for attending to other things. An irritation had to be salved and a repeat visit was the cure. Episodes of sunshine were to brighten my mood as much as regaining a lost sense of navigational competence or being delighted by hilly surroundings.

Beeston Castle, Cheshire, England

The start was where the previous walk ended and, this time, I avoided road walking as much as I could. The advantage of having bright daylight meant that only map reading stood in my way and a first field crossing eased any nerves. Several more of these were needed before Dark Lane was reached and many had views of Beeston Castle as if to confirm that I was heading in the right direction. Crossing Burwardsley Lane brought me more field tramping until I reached Carrs Lane. My boots were well wet after all the plodding through damp grass and there could have been a blunder if attention had not been maintained for crossing from one side of the hedge to another was in order.

The day was passing quicker than was ideal while all this was done so I did not delay along Carrs Lane, Birds Lane and Wood Lane. Leaving tarmac behind me, I again frequented where I had gone the previous time. This time around, I skirted Pennsylvania Wood rather than passing through it like before. Passing where I made my previous error, I retraced my steps to reach where I had left the Sandstone Trail only two days before.

Rejoining it, I went through gates into the Peckforton Estate and enjoyed following a clear track with all the annoyance of Monday’s slight misadventure being exorcised. There were others ahead but they stopped to consider their plans and I overtook them. Height was gained and rewards enjoyed in the form of westward views over the surrounding plain. That added altitude was to be retained as I continued along the edge of the Peckforton Hills.

Bulkley Hill was the first of two National Trust properties that I crossed and it had collected more folk than I had encountered up to that point. Exactitude with route finding was overlooked in favour of keeping near the edge of an escarpment that offered eastward views over the Cheshire Plain. Tree cover was plentiful so paths were not so distinct.

Bickerton Hill, Cheshire, England

Leaving Bulkley Hill brought me out into more open countryside before I again reached a slither of tree cover that would accompany me to Raw Head, the highest point of the whole trail where I tarried a bit in spite of both the time of day and much farther I was to travel. Soon enough, I continued on my downhill way towards the A534 after which more road walking took me to my second National Trust property, Bickerton Hill.

Light was growing more golden by now as the sun lowered towards the horizon. That added to the enjoyment of my surroundings once more height was gained. Again, more folk were out and about but they were soon lost when I dropped down to pursue a course that would take me around the base of the hill. In between all of this, I passed plaques memorialising the lady whose loss caused her husband to give this land to the National Trust. These too were touching affairs drawn from fond memories.

Before I left woodland for pasture, there was a call from my solicitor about some business but it was no intrusion. The timing was as impeccable as my location and it was good news too. Crossing a field afterwards lost more height before a lane crossing saw me continue around by Larkton Hall and Manor House (with its own horse training facilities that needed negotiation) to reach Shay Lane.

Scotching a daydream about torch-lit continuation to Whitchurch, I again left the Sandstone Trail to get to where I could catch a bus. Malpas was in my mind as a plausible destination but I was to do better than that. Staying on tarmac, I followed Shay Lane and then Cholmondley Road before making a careful crossing of the busy A41. To my surprise, I was to find a bus stop that saved me needing to go to Malpas. Taking a calculated risk, I waited there in the knowledge that there was a later bus if my gamble did not pay off. In the event, it did and I was on my way home after a satisfying hike along one of the best parts of the Sandstone Trail.

Hampton Heath to Whitchurch

Though that Friday looked dull and largely stayed that way, the prospect of completing the Sandstone Trail proved too strong. From looking at my map, I knew that I would be walking through pastoral countryside anyway. That meant that there would not be so much to occupy my camera so the absence of sunshine would not cause much in the way of irritation.

After arriving at Hampton Heath, I found a better crossing point on the A41 so that proved easier than the one before it. Then, it became a matter of following lanes until I reached where I left the trail only two days before. Though I had intended otherwise, I ended up reaching Shay Lane by way of Ashtons-cross and it was not to matter much.

Once I was travelling how I wanted, Hampton Green was only a few field crossings away. A ploughed field made the way across it look less clear so my adherence to the intended line was less exact than I would have liked. As well as having a machine working there, there was a farmer inspecting the work so I set aside any inclinations towards exactitude and continued on my way. In any event, the farmer paid me no heed even if tried a quiet greeting so I got the impression that I was unwanted so I kept going.

Straight line progress conveyed me to the next lane crossing from where I went around Bickley Hall Farm on the way to Chads Farm where maize harvesting was in progress. Though the trail goes right through the farmyard, I opted for a diversionary concessionary path given how busy it was there and how I dislike passing through other people’s yards anyway. There may have been some reproach in my mind for doing this but that faded, partly because route finding took a little more effort and convinced me that attempting this in the dark might not have been the best of ideas. The undulating nature of the terrain and the weaving line of the route saw to that.

Once I got across Willeymoor Lane, it was not long before I found myself nearing the banks of the Llangollen Canal. Navigation duties were relaxed as I merely turned in the right direction and kept going. Shropshire was not so far away now and sunlight momentarily relieved what had been a grey November day. Others were out strolling too and increased in number, the nearer I came to Whitchurch. Each landmark was ticked off in an effort to assess progress as signage became more sparse. In fact, signs for the Shropshire Way were to take precedence over those for the Sandstone Trail.

Even so, I found my way from the canal into Whitchurch easily enough even though I did not find any indication of the end of the trail that I had been following. Having had my fill of walking, I resolved to continue into the town centre and find the train station from where I made my way home. News came from Ireland that some business was completed over there before the train arrived so that was another cause of satisfaction.

Possible Future Encounters

When I completed the Gritstone Trail in 2007, it did not stop me traipsing the countryside in its vicinity. In fact, some parts are so near my home that such a thing would be impossible. Following the entire length of the Sandstone Trail could have something similar because there are parts that are worth seeing again. Trekking along a route sometimes limits how long you stay anywhere and I would like to revisit Beeston Castle, the Peckforton Hills and Bickerton Hill again. Shorter strolls that allow more time for photography would be a bonus around these parts. Seeing more of Delamere Forest and the wooded escarpment near Frodsham would pay their dividends. Often, an initial encounter makes for future visits and this may happen yet with these locations. Much good walking was enjoyed in an area that was largely new to me and that is how good memories get made. There is much continual need for them.

A trot over Kinder Scout

Tuesday, January 30th, 2018

Last autumn, I got my hill wandering enthusiasm back and there were several trips to the Dark Peak around the Hope Valley (a tautological eccentricity if you know what Hope means in Old English but that’s what people call the place these days), Ladybower Reservoir and Stanage Edge. Other possibilities remain in mind and the Longshaw Estate may feature yet while there even is a thought of walking from Hathersage to Sheffield brewing. Though other walking destinations tempt me, this is a part of the world with which I have not finished yet. After all, I have not been around Kinder Scout since September 2015 in spite of a direct bus route linking Macclesfield and Hayfield. My last hike around there is the subject of this account.

The route that I followed was not so dissimilar to that which I followed in April 2013 but there were differences too and there are times when you get to pondering things like that. Aside from the deviation over the top of Kinder Scout, there were other contrasts such as the time of year and my personal situation. Winter 2012/3 continued late into the year so there were banks of snow still lying in April for me to cross. September 2015 still had its hangover from the preceding season as often happens in that month for my walk took me out on a warm sunny Sunday not untypical of a summer’s day apart from the more restricted hours of daylight.

Both hikes enjoyed bright sunlight and there was a difference in my mood too. Both 2013 and 2015 were marked by family bereavements but my reaction to these differed. The first left me feeling raw inside and unsure of the future while the second offered a sense of release before the bulk of the legal work of inheritance got going. 2016 proved to be both busy and tiring while 2017 was spent dealing with the aftermath of this and the reality of a day job that felt less fulfilling and less enjoyable than I would have liked. Those developments lay ahead of me so there was energy to use for happier things after a few months that saw me enjoy trips to Iceland and Switzerland. Work then was more suited to that sort of thing, a thought to retain for 2018.

Oaken Clough, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

After an arrival in Hayfield under blue skies, I set off to pick up part of the Pennine Bridleway. The kind weather understandably had drawn out others and I was keen to have my own sense of space as I always do. Getting away from the village helped with that as did leaving the long distance trail for a track leading through Coldwell Clough and Oakwell Clough. All the while, height was gained and the views open out more and more. The location was familiar and the sights a little new.

South Head & Mount Famine, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

Even with the additional height, it felt as if I was in a pocket of wilder countryside away from more human influenced parts. Even looking west and south did nothing to dispel such a notion. Such eminences as South Head and Mount Famine lay about me to catch my eye. What I really need to do is trot those aforementioned hillocks so that could be enough motivation for a return journey sometime.

Kinder Reservoir as seen from Kinder Scout, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

In common with the previous encounter with these parts, views of Kinder Reservoir were to feature and I was to see plenty. This time around, it would overhead views rather a crossing over the reservoir dam with attendant viewpoints on approach and departure. The west facing vantage point of Kinder Scout that I used was to do nothing to obstruct photography so the challenge was to stop myself making too many photos.

The experience was reminiscent of another autumnal walk that took me this way while I still pursued film photography. If I remember correctly, I may have started from Edale before using a similar route over Kinder Scout and onto Glossop. However, the photographic results were not what I hoped so a return visit remained a possibility. Trying again with the added control of digital photography over the printing of negative film by a processing lab was another impetus. So long as you have confidence in your own competence and other like what you create, controlling things from start to finish cannot be beaten.

Mermaids Pool, Kinder Scout, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

Compared with 2013, I tried to avoid any early height loss that would add to what needed to be regained. All views of Kinder Reservoir needed no descent like that preceding hike and I even chose secondary paths for getting from Edale Cross to Kinder Scout. That made me need to trust my map reading and all the signs were that I was on the right track. With so many paths going here and there, you need to hike your own hike and route find as you see fit.

Gritstone Outcrops, Sandy Heys, Kinder Scout, Hayfield, Derbyshire, England

Such is the route of the Pennine Way nowadays that following the western edge of the plateau offers enough guidance unless visibility is really poor. Previously, the trail went straight across the moor so your map and compass navigation skills needed to be up to scratch; rough terrain ensured its redirection because of its infamy. The sight of Kinder Low’s trig point adds reassurance too so I carried on happily towards Kinder Downfall, a relative trickle after the summer months. Beyond that, I continued along the plateau edge until I found the way off, a steep descent that needed some care and I also needed to be alert to the passage of others. All the while folk were pottering about but that was the change once I got down to Mill Hill.

Kinder Scout as seen from Glead Hill, Glossop, Derbyshire, England

The clear track off Kinder Scout adds a dogleg to the route of the Pennine Way so I needed to follow it east to get to the Snake Road (A57). What I also had forgotten was how passing over Glead Hill added height and obscured views of Kinder Scout once I was past it. The lack of folk made me wonder what routes around Kinder Scout people tend to take for not many continue to Glossop. Progress over the paved pathway was steady but it still meant that it took longer to reach the road than expected, something that appears to happen to me a lot on this stretch.

Shelf Moor, Glossop, Derbyshire, England

Once across the A57, it was the left turn for the Doctor’s Gate footpath that I sought. After following gravel tracks, peaty paths and paved walkways, this was to bring over rougher ground. If there ever is a “Fix the Moors” footpath project in the Peak District akin to the Lake District’s Fix the Fells, this would be a candidate for attention. Quite how this keeps its bridleway status never ceases to amaze me for I would not bring a horse down there. Still, there are pleasing views to be enjoyed whenever you can stop, for doing otherwise before crossing Shelf Brook could cause an unwanted tumble.

There was an added obstruction too in the form of a missing bridge; storms had washed away the pre-existing wooden one. In fact, there was a sign advising that the trail was closed because of this but I decided to chance it anyway because I reckoned that I could resort to a stream crossing if necessary. Whether you decide this adventurous act was courageous, foolish or just plain contrary, I will leave to you. In fact, it turned out that the descent took up most of the ardour with some naughty deviations for sake of added safety. The reward for all that was a fording point accompanied by a rope slung between two posts.

Parish Church Tower, Glossop, Derbyshire, England

After that last obstacle, gaining more height took me away from the sodden surroundings of the clough and a little patience on this stretch was rewarded by reaching a good track near Mossy Lea Farm with plenty of daylight left. Though legs were tiring, the rest of the way would easier with time to survey surroundings in the late afternoon sunshine. The walking surface was again easy to stroll and the way embedded in memory from numerous hikes since my first encounter here around Easter 2002. Reaching the familiar streets of Glossop added more encouragement and I arrived at its train station with time to spare before my journey home could begin.

Travel Arrangements

Bus service 58 from Macclesfield followed by bus service 61 from Buxton to Hayfield. Train journey from Glossop to Macclesfield with a change at Manchester Piccadilly.

Incidental ambles

Thursday, January 18th, 2018

The start of a new year can be a useful time to take stock of life. January can be a month that some find too quiet but it has its uses as I am finding out for myself. A current career break means that I have added occasion to think over what I would like to do for a living. After five years of family bereavements followed by responsibilities added through inheritance, there is plenty of reason for this. What had not been obvious to me is that my last job was not a match and the experience left its mark, one that needs to be overcome.

Throughout all of this, I am not forgetting that I am an explorer at heart. There has been time to catch up on reading and I now have my fill of travel writing so I will not be lured into book purchases as easily as before. More discernment could be the way of things for me and that cannot be so bad when finances need to be kept in check during times like this hiatus from work.

Also, I have been travelling around England and Wales collecting ideas for walking trips like Roseberry Topping and Pumlumon Fawr. Surveying the countryside about the latter brought me the added benefit of a short if muddy stroll around Llangurig. Visiting nearby Rhayader is another thought and a short stay in Aberystwyth could facilitate more than initially had come to mind. Other parts of the Welsh River Wye are ripe for exploring too and the hills of the Black Mountain in the western side of the Brecon Beacons could be another tempting idea.

City visits to Edinburgh and Cardiff have come to pass. In the middle of the latter, the banks of the River Taff offered an oasis of calm with Llandaff Cathedral feeling as if it is in a country rather than where it is. Bute Park was another delight that makes me wonder why it took so long for me to make an independent visit to the place and there is Cardiff Castle if I wanted to include that as part of a return visit. There is plenty there for cyclists too and I am not surprised that bicycle hire is available.

Those city wanderings remind me that there have been times during the last few years when energy for more strenuous outings has not been as readily available. Edinburgh has featured quite a few times and there are regular haunts nearer my home in Macclesfield. Knutsford’s Tatton Park, Disley’s Lyme Park together with Macclesfield’s Tegg’s Nose Country Park and Dane’s Moss Nature Reserve all have been places where quick visits offered respite from life’s tumult when enthusiasm for longer trips was not to be found. The same could be said for more urban spots like Buxton, Chester, Sheffield and even Manchester. Anywhere where a coffee can be enjoyed away home has had its uses.

Strolls on my own doorstep like circuits taking in Prestbury all had their uses when my head needed clearing, like on Christmas Eve during my first ever Christmas spent in Macclesfield. That was a stormy affair, as much in my mind as it was out of doors. When a brighter interlude offered, it did not need much persuasion for me to head out on a longer round that linked Tegg’s Nose, the Saddle of Kerridge and the White Nancy. It became just the breather that I needed at the time.

The last few months have been as much about exorcising hurtful memories as anything else. That included the past Christmas and New Year period when it felt more normal than others. Trips to Tatton Park, Manchester and Lincoln all broke up the flow and I also got learning that camping stoves should be used out of doors too, a misadventure that I have no relish for repeating.

Getting past that was like everything else in life in recent times. 2017 became a year when I lightened some of life’s load so I need to think ahead now. Getting an enjoyable and fulfilling work life is one thing and my zest for exploring countryside continues. Overseas excursions could restart yet since I am making my way through Kev Reynolds’ Walking in the Alps at the moment and there is his The Swiss Alps, The Pyrenees and Trekking in the Alps after that. That lot should keep me going for a while yet and I am not overlook what hill country is nearer to hand either.

Revisiting Lathkill Dale

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

Currently, I have been catching up with quite a bit of reading. Between books bought with good intentions that were left unattended and magazines that have lain in wait for attention, there has been a backlog awaiting clearance. Among all this is a collection of writings by the renowned Scottish outdoorsman John Muir, a profound inspiration for the National Parks system that you find in the U.S.A. today. There have been others like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Fiona Reynolds’ Fight for Beauty. Some have proven easier to read than others with John Muir’s Picturesque California lying between these in difficulty. Such is the lucidity of his writing that it seems a shame to rush through it so taking it slowly is exactly what I am doing. The evocative descriptions need to be relished and allowed to soak into memory, especially in tumultuous times like what we have today.

Though I have yet to visit them myself, Muir’s detailed descriptions of the glaciated landscapes of the High Sierra strike a chord with me. In one sense, they remind me of the glens cut into the Cairngorms plateau in Scotland but there is another landscape that also comes to mind for similar reasons. It too feels like a sort of plateau with valleys cut into it though the outline is far less lofty and dramatic.

To give you a hint as to where these are to be found, the valleys themselves are called dales but this is not Yorkshire but Derbyshire. Recent years have seen me explore them more since they are not so far away from where I now call home. Some can be very narrow and their names include Dove, Wolfescote, Biggin, Monsal and Chee. All of those named have seen me explore them at some point or other with some reflecting the names of the rivers that flow though them while others don’t.

One of their number that I have not mentioned so far apart from its appearance in the title of this piece is Lathkill Dale. My first encounter was on a hike I did in December 2013 just before a Christmas visit to Ireland. Though limestone outcrops abounded on slopes around me, there was no winter sun to make them more photogenic. While sunshine did appear later in the walk, I always fancied the idea of a reprise on a brighter day.

That second visit followed a trip to Iceland whose account on here took a fair bit of time to write. It was not so much having to withdraw everything from an unwilling memory as has bedevilled other recent trip reports but the fact that there was so much to be recalled. The account here requires more effort but the previous Icelandic outing has its uses.

A hike around Landmannalaugar thrust me into countryside wilder than I had encountered before then so the chance of sampling something more familiar had its place. The contrast between dusty mountainsides and leafy valleys could not be more striking. It is the latter to which I am accustomed so I was happy to be among them again.

St. Leonard's Chuch, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

My walk began in Monyash and, following arrival there, I spent some time around its parish church before continuing onto Lathkill Dale. The way that I went is hazy to me now for it is a faint recollection that I followed part of the Limestone before dropping down through Fern Dale but that could be imaginary. It maybe that I followed the road towards Bakewell before picking up a public footpath that did the same, much as I did on that December Sunday in 2013.

Waterfall, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

Limestone outcrop, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

Tributary dale, Lathkill Dale, Monyash, Derbyshire, England

As I went down the dale, milky skies bubbled up with clouds that obstructed the sun at times. That limited chances for photos but did nothing to take away from the wonder of see the limestone outcrops that line the sides of the dale. When they were fully lit by the sun, any wait was more than well rewarded. It was sights like these that delighted me on walks around Dove Dale, Wolfescote Dale and Biggin Dale so I was little surprised that they did the same for me here.

River Lathkill near Over Haddon, Derbyshire, England

Woodland strolling was my lot for the next section of my stroll. Back in December 2013, the River Lathkill was swollen and barely kept within its banks. The dryer time of year meant that it was not as readily seen as on that previous visit and I was glad of the tree cover. Though I have something of a love/hate relationship with woodland, what it takes in views is given in shade from strong sunshine so I was resigned to my lot and I soon enough came to break where others were gathered by the riverside. The promising weather had drawn others out and about so I was happy to share in between interludes of solitude.

Looking down on Haddon Hall, Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

After Conksbury Bridge, I went to the other side of the river and frequented quieter parts. The approach to Alport was where I enjoyed some winter sunshine the last time around but there was more in the cloud on this occasion. After Alport, I chose to follow Dark Lane and started to feel the summer hear as I rose above the surrounding dales. Beyond some farm buildings, a public bridleway conveyed me across Haddon-Fields and down to the banks of the River Wye. Views over Haddon Hall opened out before as did a curious sight of a field of what appeared like wheat, barley or oats being harvested like grass silage. It might have been a mistaken impression so I continued to enjoy other more familiar sights.

Weir on the River Wye near Bakewell, Derbyshire, England

To get to the banks of the River Wye, I needed to get across the A6 near the gates of Haddon Hall. Once past that difficulty, I strode along the footway beside the estate wall until a public footpath directed me to quieter surroundings again. Like the River Lathkill, the Wye was swollen on my winter visit but was quieter on this late summer outing. After a stretch of woodland, there were more fields to be crossed on the final approach to Bakewell. It was mid-afternoon so I was glad to be reaching my destination given the heat. After spending a little time pottering around there, I started on my way home and that offered a fleeting trot around Buxton too. There had been familiarity and that suited just fine after the unfamiliar sights of preceding weeks. There were more to come in the following ones but these were not to feel so alien.

Travel Arrangements

In tune with the general haziness prevailing throughout this post, my recollection of how I got to and from my walk is similarly afflicted. From photos, it appears that a return journey on service 58 between Macclesfield and Buxton was involved. Because this was a Saturday, getting to Monyash would have involved travel on service 177 (since withdrawn) while travel between Bakewell and Buxton most likely made use of the TransPeak service.

Ambles within sight of The Cloud

Sunday, 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.

National Trust sign, The Cloud, Bosley, Cheshire

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.

Bear installation, Astbury Mere Country Park, Congleton, Cheshire, England

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 Cloud, Bosley, Cheshire, England

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.

Astbury Mere, Congleton, Cheshire England

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.

St. Mary's Church, Astbury, Cheshire. England

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.

Trig Point on the Cloud, Bosley, Cheshire, England

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.


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