A day out among Staffordshire’s moorlands11th January 2008
For some reason, Staffordshire has never featured highly in my list of outdoor destinations. Now that I think about it, it does seem strange for two reasons: it’s not as if is far away from me and neither is the area bereft of quality hill country. Accessibility from Macclesfield by public transport might have something to do with it; direct bus services to the likes of Biddulph and Leek are not the most regular. Nevertheless, I have had brushes with the county’s countryside while following trails such as the Dane Valley Way (the route of the River Dane forms part of the boundary between Cheshire and Staffordshire) and the Gritstone Trail. In addition, I did enjoy a good day’s walking between Leek and Macclesfield in wonderful December sunshine a few years ago.
This time, it was the prospect of a good day of January sunshine that had me champing at the bit. I have to admit that Staffordshire’s moorlands weren’t top of the list but the continuation of railway engineering works blighted escapes to other walking destinations. Here’s a selection of what I found in my way: Crewe-Preston, Crewe-Shrewsbury, Manchester-Preston, New Mills-Sheffield, Macclesfield-Stoke on Trent and even the Calderdale line. With the shorter days, any extension to travelling time curtails whatever is available for walking; it doesn’t seem worthwhile to spend more time travelling than in the outdoors, the whole point of the journey.
For a longer day in the outdoors, I chose to remain near home and I decided on exploring Staffordshire’s moorlands. Initially, I had walking in mind but ended trumping for the cycling option on my first hill country outing of the year. Fortuitously, I had restored my bike, which had been idle for most of last year, to road-worthiness and I wanted to take the thing out sometime soon anyway. As I was to remain road-bound, navigation wasn’t to be an issue with the only complexities being Leek and a strangely arranged rural crossroads. I followed the A523 all the way to Leek and made my way back via Meerbrook to Rushton Spencer where I rejoined the A523 for the way home. The navigational ease meant that I was left to enjoy whatever views came my way and I indulged in the occasional stop too. Speaking of views, the sight of The Roaches looming ahead of head while heading out the Buxton road to Blackshaw Moor is the sort of thing that draws me back to the countryside again and again.
Those glorious hill country vistas have a price though: ascents. Somehow, they feel more strenuous on a bicycle than on foot. Staying in low gear might sound like the solution but the need for constant pedalling still takes its toll on the legs. I find that building up leg strength so that you can remain in higher gears is a better course of action and it helps to build up hillwalking fitness too, no bad thing at all. In fact, that is one of the reasons why I want to do more cycling this year. My journey to and through Staffordshire was to take up and down a goodly number of hills so I took things easy. My pride didn’t prevent my dismounting where the gradients might have been too much. The journey between Meerbrook and Rushton Spencer comes to mind as the most testing but splendid views more than made up for my exertions. The other climb that remains in my memory is the stretch of the A523 between Rushton and Leek and Leek is not exactly flat either. Apart from breaks to take in views of Rudyard Reservoir, I stayed aboard the saddle while travelling on that bit.
I have been a bit tired at the end of it but this was a worthwhile day out. It has me thinking about further incursions into Staffordshire’s moorlands, possibly making use of the frequent train connections between Macclesfield and Stoke on Trent and the better bus connections between there and destinations such as Leek and Biddulph from where I can go walking. It might take longer to go around by Stoke but it is nice to have that option. The other thought that my first trip of the year has planted in my mind is to go for more cycling outings and I am even thinking beyond Cheshire and Staffordshire on this one. So long as I can stop thoughts of hassle with train travel and the fear of getting marooned by a puncture stymieing my enthusiasm, who knows what could happen? Previously, explorations of Northumberland’s coast, Howgill country and Perthshire have come to mind so the possibilities are there. Only time will tell whether I get to doing anything about them.