There are times in the year when I feel the need to to force a break in an attempt to rupture what feels like a headlong rush towards a certain event. Though it’s only September and I writing these words, the last month leading towards Christmas is but one of these. Another is in a contrasting part of the year: that leading towards Easter. It’s as if the seasons of Lent and Advent see life going in such full swing that you that there is a strong risk of your rushing right through them inadvertently. As ever, there’s little point in rushing either the start or the end of a year anyway.
Last November, I booked in one of those speed bumps and it came up sunny enough for me to get out and about. My sights weren’t raised beyond Cheshire though and I fancied seeing more of the nearby countryside than had been the case for a while until then. In fact, the Friday was to see me follow the Gritstone Trail from Bollington to Disley and this section hadn’t been walked by me in entirety since January or February of 2003. Then, there were some vestiges of snow and ice on the ground but it was the lack of visibility that I really remembered along with a foolhardy of taking rubber soled walking boots on ice that I mentioned in a previous entry on a here.
Skies may have have clouded later in the day but there was no folly with the choice of morning as I left Bollington. Indeed, it felt more like October than late in November and looked like it too when I took in sights of what surrounded me. After record breaking stretches of wet weather, it momentarily seemed as if some kind of Indian summer had come our way. If it wasn’t for my own lethargy, November 2012 could have seen me do better than trips to Tatton Park, a trot along the Macclesfield Canal from Macclesfield itself to Congleton and this hike. That’s not to decry what I savoured since there are times when excuses to stay local can be needed when shining sirens can call from afar.
After leaving a bus to continue on its way from Macclesfield to Stockport, I pottered up Ingersley Road, passed where it became Smithy Brow to meet the Gritstone Trail and followed it into Spuley Lane. To an Irishman unaccustomed to such conventions, such naming of rural roads has its own amazement; until relatively, recently many of those in the Irish Republic hardly merited even a number. It’s not often that I stick exclusively with tarmac while walking in the countryside so the sign showing the way through a field was a welcome thing.
Crossing that field was to get me gaining more height until a I met and crossed yet another named lane: Hedge Row. In October of 2007, I actually followed this as part of a weekday wander during October of 2007. For some reason, the lure of staying on the Gritstone Trail all of the way to Disley was insufficiently strong that day. Was it the later start or a certain heartbreaking outcome to the very reason for which I had taken a day off from work in the first place? November 2012 was devoid of any such feelings as I continued towards Harrop Brook while taking any views towards Nab Head that were being granted to me.
Once across the brook, it was time to continue uphill towards Berristall Hall where I passed a pond with fowl such as geese around it. The farmyard itself was somewhere that I bypassed through nothing more than sticking with the route of the Gritstone Trail. My surroundings felt familiar, as if I had been there recently. That was something of a memory trick because it was January or February of 2005 when I last passed the way on a crisp chilly day when I was trying out my first ever DSLR. That was on a walk that took a section of the Macclesfield Canal before going cross country to Pott Shigley and then heading to Disley via the Gritstone Trail after coming up from the village via a path taking me by Beristall Hall that avoided going through the farmyard at the last moment.
My course last November took me uphill by a wood while I gazed upwards at the trees and across towards Billinge Hill. Its quarries were not on show, either through shadows cast by the low sun or because they away from my line of sight anyway. That non-sighting was not what on my mind but the similarity to the Rainow of Kerridge Hill definitely was not lost on me either. Leaving trees behind me for a while, I began to cross fields with Bakestonedale Moor to my left. Sheep were out grazing and stuck with that task instead of being distracted by a passing wanderer. The scene may have looked exclusively pastoral to my eyes but lay a road unhidden in a cleft of the landscape. It was one that I needed to cross but that was further ahead.
Another wood lay by my path and there was an opportunity for navigational blundering so care was needed. With no mishaps, I skirted a quarry to pick up a track that appeared to be making a bee line for a farmyard. Though I grew up on a farm and maybe because of it, I have no desire to walk through the farmyards of others let alone wander aimlessly around one due to a map-reading error. Perhaps, it’s the fact that I am outside someone else’s back door that does it so I prefer to pick my way through the countryside without having anyone else staring at me doing so. Though the track passed a dwelling house, the initial sighting was an illusion and I was on Bakestonedale Road instead, another part of which had been hidden from me earlier. On a return from Lyme Park by bicycle one August day in 2009, I passed its entire length without fitting together the landscape through which I was passing; it can take a walk to do just that.
Turning right onto Bakestonedale Road brought me past the farmyard that I had been seeing. As if to prove that everything takes longer while you are waiting for it, the welcome signpost for the route of the Gritstone Trail over Sponds Hill felt as if it was taking its time to come into my view. When it did so, I was on the cusp of the best part of the hike and of the day. A little height was gained and below was a gash where a hairpin or switchback twist in the B5470 lay, another reminder of the return from Lyme Park in August 2009.
What I was after though was something that I had been denied by fog in 2003 and clouding skies in 2005: gazing towards Derbyshire hills from one of their Cheshire neighbours. This time around, I wasn’t to be disappointed as I looked beyond Whaley Bridge towards the sort of places that I rediscovered in April of this year. Here, I am thinking of Kinder Scout and what is found around it. Below me the Toddbrook Reservoir was picking up the blue of the skies above it.
There was no shortage of vantage points from which to survey what lay to the east while cloud rolled in from the west. There even was some straying away from the right of way to visit the 410 m trig point on Sponds Hill before I returned to the straight and narrow. Before that, I stopped at the CPRE viewpoint which has a multitude of landmarks inscribed onto its metal surface. A bright cloudy day ironically might be best for identifying all that’s mark on it since sun-reflected glare could stymie such an attempt.
What gleamed in the near distance was the white house where the Gritstone Trail divides into one route for those going through Lyme Park and another for those going the way at times when access to the park is less certain. It was well clouded by the time that I got that far but I was not grumbling as I dropped into Lyme Park. A spot of sun could have been good for some sights but they can excuses for returning and I spotted some alternative route options that make such errands less repetitive. There was one such scene that I had in mind for a photo from an earlier venture only for this to be scotched on re-examination.
Once down through Knightslow Wood, I sought out a lunching spot and a place that would be busy in the high season was blissfully unfrequented of a November afternoon. Even with their cafes, the National Trust still offer a covered area with tables and chairs in an old outbuilding for those wanting the DIY food stop. To repay their generosity though, I patronised their vending machines to add to the sugar going down with my sandwiches. The sun may have appeared and disappeared during my refuelling stop but I was more than relaxed about that.
Having stopped a while, I got going again to head into Disley. There may have been no sun falling on Cage Hill as I passed it but having savoured it when was some was a more than sufficient consolation. As the sun grew lower in the sky, it did its best to light what it could as it did so. There were some photographic experiments even if getting through the East Gate was my priority. Once out through that, I could relax a little more but not so much that I could overlook the declining light even if I liked the effect of the weak light on the landscape surrounding Bollinhurst Reservoir and the hills to the east of it.
Once past where both routes of the Gritstone Trail rejoined, it was time to pass Bollinhurst Bridge and turn into Green Lane. At the bridge came a surprise because it no longer is open to any traffic, even walkers, you have to use the wooden walkway instead of something that must have been in place fro centuries. Taking a mountain bike this way is a less practical option now, if it ever was given how uneven the track can be.
While fading light was motivating to keep going as I rounded Bollinhurst Reservoir, there were others seeking to make the most of a day they couldn’t use more fully. One lady was making sure of that as I passed her on my way along Green Lane and shared a few words with me saying as much. A straight track like that can feel long in declining light so I checked my progress on the map to ward off any pangs of impatience with my legs. As I neared Disley itself after shadowing Higher Disley, what appeared to be a maze of lanes faced me and I picked my way through these so as to satisfy myself that I was sticking to an intended route and not getting myself waylaid at the last minute. There was no hiccup and I had to decide between train and bus travel to start my way home. The latter got my vote this time around and an uneventful journey home well fitted what had been a great day out among Cheshire’s eastern hills.
Bus service 392 to Bollington. Returned home via bus service 199 from Disley to Stockport and a train journey from there back to Macclesfield again.