Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A journey from peak to plain

5th August 2009

The mixture that has been the weather during the last few weeks may or may not have made the boffins in the Met Office look a little foolish, to say the least. More seriously, it is having an adverse impact on many Irish dairy farmers following what was for them a less than ideal winter; the combination of high feed and fertiliser prices, low grass growth due to sodden ground and a collapse in the price of milk is proving the undoing of many otherwise sound businesses and even may provoke an exodus from the industry yet. In these constrained times, alternatives are rare so forestry is coming out in the wash as one option because of the possibility of E.U. funding. It leaves me wondering if that could turn out a good thing for walkers but only time and progress with regard to access will tell on that score. Nevertheless, calling these times interesting would be an understatement…

That predicament puts into perspective any moaning that there has been about those unfulfilled dreams of sunshine holidays at home. As one sunseeker put it to me about enjoying Britain all year around, sunbathing isn’t much of an option away from the summer months and I only can agree. It also rather explains very well the traditional fixation with getting a summer with copious amounts of warm sunshine. Thought the greyness can irritate, those of a more active inclination always have the option of wrapping up warm for the cold and using waterproof clothing if they so desire facing the rain. A mixture of sunshine and light showers is more than bearable but calling quits becomes a less easy inclination to fight off when the rain turns heavy and incessant.

Regardless of being equipped to deal with what the weather puts your way, I still find the possibility of some dryness much more amenable and last Saturday week didn’t fail to supply exactly that. It was a merry counterpoint to the near pervasive wetness that has so dominated July’s weather. Casting my eye over the weather forecast map of Britain, the idea of hiking from Grasmere to Borrowdale by way of Grasmere Common and Greenup Edge came into my mind. In the event, circumstances did not allow for this so I stayed local to enjoy a pleasant afternoon’s and early evening’s walking along a mixture of thoroughfares as I wandered through some Staffordshire and Cheshire countryside.

A train to Kidsgrove got me to the start of my trek, and the first task was to get out of Kidsgrove to Mow Cop, a village divided between Cheshire and Staffordshire. Following the Gritstone Trail as it followed canal towpaths before heading east on a mixture of road and footpath walking might have been the clearer option but I chose muddling my way across Kidsgrove instead. That may have taken longer than might have been liked but I now know better and got to crossing fields in due time anyway. My journey even took me through some corn fields as Mow Cop was made to grow ever nearer.

Mow Cop Castle, Mow Cop, Congleton, Cheshire, England

The final stretches of the way to Mow Cop Castle were over tarmac and I took the chance to linger awhile on those upward slopes. Clouds packed the sky, so sunshine was spotty and it looked like photographic ambitions of making photos of the aforementioned erstwhile summerhouse were to come to naught. However, the decision to hang about on National Trust property was rewarded when the sun got through to light up the Castle, built by a former resident of nearby Rode Hall. It is a well-known landmark round these parts, but there’s more to that to Mow Cop, as you’ll realise if you ever come by a free leaflet produced by the Mow Cop Resident’s Association with Heritage Lottery funding to promote their Heritage Trail. A read of the said document should reveal that a lot is packed into what looks for all the world to be a small inconsequential spot. The Castle might be visible from as far away as Siddington and Marton, but an afternoon or day long visit should be well spent if you put in the effort.

Old Man o' Mow, Mow Cop, Congleton, Cheshire, England

Making my way north from the Castle brought me to my turn for the South Cheshire Way in the sight of the Old Man o’ Mow, an artefact left behind after quarrying works came to an end. Downhill progress took me through damp pasture and into Hanging Wood where mud simply was unavoidable, hardly a surprise after the preceding weather. If anything, I should have encountered more mud than I actually did, but that may be a consequence of the quality of the land that I was crossing. Beyond the wood, it was onto pasture frequented by curious cattle who were quickly left after me when I found a good track that took me to Acker’s Crossing and with an underpass taking me across the West Coast Mainline too.

A snippet of tarmac bashing landed me on the banks of the Macclesfield Canal. The plan was to follow the South Cheshire Way around by Little Moreton Hall until I met the Mersey & Trent Canal near Thurlwood. In the event, an absence of waymarks, well turned up turf and unpromising stiles gave me the wrong impression so I stuck with the canal towpath to pass Ramsdell Hall and pick up a more promising right of way that escorted me to Scholar Green.

More road walking awaited before a crossing of the A34 took me off-road again on a driveway that changed to a narrow path between two overgrown hedges. Another minor road crossing ensued as I picked my way through the fields, one a grain field, to the south of Rode Hall. After passing through Bratt’s Wood, I needed my navigational wits about me to make up for a waymarking malfunction to reach the aforementioned Mersey & Trent Canal. Knowing that I was less likely to come into conflict with a landowner given the time of day and my being out of sight of any habitation may have meant that I could go direction finding with a certain confidence that was found lacking earlier in the day.

Trent and Mersey Canal, Thurlwood, Cheshire, England

On reaching the canal, I had a decision to make. Looping back to Kidsgrove’s train station was one option, but the option of spending some of the evening hours extending my stroll to Wheelock proved too tempting. Thus, I plied the towpath, marvelling at the number of locks that I was passing. The village of Lawton-gate was passed without delay while Thurlwood offered the chance to relax awhile in the company of swans and ducks. From there, I took to a steady pace to shorten the distance to the M6, under which I was to pass. Farm machinery was in action in the fields for the harvesting of silage and what I believe to be oil seed rape but I am no expert on the latter; the sight of a working forage harvester rather than a combine is what is sending my thoughts this way. The activity was a reminder that agriculture continues to bustle if not flourish in some places, even if it is suffering in others.

After passing under the M6, the hubbub of traffic and farm machinery was left behind me for quieter parts. Wheelock proved to be very near at hand as I found myself making light work of the remaining distance on a pleasant summer’s evening with patchy sunshine. My destination isn’t the largest of places and its situation on the Cheshire Plain means a less dramatic aspect than that at Mow Cop but it remains a pretty spot nonetheless. Having a direct and regular bus connection played a part in my deciding to finish there. In hindsight, I suppose that I could have stayed there a little longer, but my mind was set on going home, and the next bus came at a good time to end a day that was far from wasted by my exertions.

Travel details:

Direct train from Macclesfield to Kidsgrove and bus service 38 from Wheelock to Macclesfield.

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