Stroller walks are proving a success

Woodlands near Capesthorne Hall.

The sunshine disappeared today and we returned to soft summer rain and grey skies. It didn’t deter seven of us from setting out from Redesmere on one of East Cheshire Ramblers, new short stroller walks. The footpaths led us around the lake and onto the Capesthorne estate, past the Hall which interestingly has a longer frontage than Buckingham Palace! The Hall is also reputed to have a ghost, the grey lady, who roams through the rooms and dark corridors of the old building.
The bluebells were almost over but we caught a glimpse of them in the shady pockets of the woodland. We also saw three thatched cottages tucked away in wonderfully wild gardens, a Hansel and Gretel picture perfect setting. We had lots of time to take in the views before returning to Redesmere to watch the most exquisite ducks, with peacock plumage, wadding across the road before launching themselves into the water.

(Written by Maggie Swindells)

The lake at Capesthorne Hall

The group near Capesthorne Hall.

A secluded cottage passed on the walk.

Thatched cottage passed on the walk.

Setting out from the middle of nowhere

An early morning view towards Ben Nevis from Corpach at the start of a perfect day.

Looking at the 1;50,000 scale Ordnance Survey Map, the red circle symbol, one building, and a track together with a couple of paths, one of which peters out after a mile best depicts the location of Corrour Station in the Scottish Highlands. Why build a railway station here? It must be one of the remotest stations in the British Isles and yet this is where I am heading on a ‘one-way’ ticket so it’s going to be a long walk out.

I need a fine day and I don’t have to wait long for one of those perfect still summer morning. It is an early start as I make my way down to Corpach Station near Fort William and I have arranged for my son to collect me at the end of the day at the tiny hamlet of Fersit which lies at the nearest road head.

The first train of the day arrives at Corpach.

I’m going to board the first train of the day which passes through Corpach and will alight at Corrour Station, a place that has fascinated me for many years and now I have the chance of visiting this remotest of places.

What a glorious morning it is as I wait for the train with deep blue sky and the outline of Ben Nevis being mirrored in Loch Eil. A few wisps of cloud hang around an otherwise clear Ben Nevis.

Boarding the train I take my seat and ask for a one way ticket to Corrour Station. Bearing in mind that this is the most isolated railway station in Britain and has no roads to it, the conductor asks how I am getting back. I have to explain that I am walking and will get a lift at the nearest road head at the end of the day.

At Fort William, an Australian tourist joins me, called Roger, we shake hands then engage in conversation about his travels. He reminds me of the character in Crocodile Dundee except he doesn’t have the hat. After a very scenic journey the conductor tells those disembarking at Corrour Station to move to the back of the train as the platform is short. Five of us get off and the train disappears into the distance.

Corrour Station, the remotest railway station in the British Isles. No road leads from this station. I have just alighted from the train to set off on my long walk back to civilisation. It’s like being in the Australian outback.

Here I am, early on a bright summer morning in the middle of nowhere. Just a station house, signal box and a wind pump and hundreds of square miles of empty moor and mountain. It is like being in the Australian outback and once the train has disappeared down the line it is just pure silence.

The railway sign at Corrour Summit. Its the only feature for miles around.

The other people head off eastwards and I decide to explore the station area before setting off alone northwards on a peaty path. It is just pure magical silence with only the occasional bird song. Heading north towards Loch Treig I soon stop to photograph the railway summit sign then press on along the path. In the distance, path improvements are being made to the east and a mechanical digger is working. I head on down to Loch Treig then along the lonely southern shore of the loch. The water is well down by at least twenty feet so the water line doesn’t correspond with my map. To reach Creaguaineach Lodge I have to cross three wooded bridges, high above streams with no sides on and loose planks so I cross each one with care.

A perfectly still morning for my walk down to Loch Treig which today is like a mirror.

One of several wooden bridges over ravines with no sides I have to cross and there are a few loose planks!

A sign warning that you are in very remote countryside.

Heading towards Creaguaineach Lodge on a good track.

Creaguaineach Lodge set among a small stand of pine trees. An oasis in a otherwise empty landscape.

Creaguaneach Lodge is in a good state of repair but is boarded up. It is a pleasant sunny spot but there seems to be so many dead sheep around. I press on a bit further and find a good grassy spot for my morning break. A good wooden footbridge spans the Allt na Lairige but the path marked along the north eastern bank doesn’t exist. It is now a mile of slow walking on a hill side before I turn right to start my ascent of Stob Coire Easain, the first Munro of the day. The ascent is steep in parts but grassy and I gain height quickly before the ridge levels off a bit and I get a view towards the summit. Higher up I spot a herd of deer before I cross rockier ground. It is a fine ascent on the last part as the ground drops away on either side and with views to the Grey Corries and Ben Nevis beyond.

My lunch stop on Stob coire Easain with a view towards my next summit Stob a Choire Mheadhoin.

The large cairn is perched at the end of the ridge and the ground abruptly falls away towards Loch Treig. It is a good spot for lunch and the summit cairn gives just enough shelter from the cool breeze. By now it has largely clouded up and I am glad that I had done most of the climb under cloudy skies rather than under a hot sun. I have a leisurely lunch and survey the views all round from my lofty perch. Two people briefly appear on neighbouring Stob a’ Choire Mheadhoin to the north east. This is my next objective and setting off I have a steep descent down a scree covered slope but there is a path, then a easier ascent to the summit of Stob a Choire Mheadhoin, the second Munro of the day. It takes me thirty five minutes to get from one Munro to the next which I was pleased with.

The route down from Stob a Choire Mheadhoin and initially an easy path.

I pause overlooking Loch Treig before heading north on a good path. I made good progress on the path north to Meall Cian Dearg and pass a walker on the way. We chat awhile and in the conversation he is going to camp in Lairg Leacach, a valley to the west. He seems to have a very heavy pack and is moving quite slowly. As for the profile Meall Cian Dearg I had studied from the train on the journey earlier and the way off seemed quite steep. I had intended to descend from the eastern side but the path keeps on ahead to the spur then drops off very steeply down almost a rock face. It is a case of being on all fours to avoid a slip as there are cliffs and big drops. Safely down I continue on the path until it abruptly stops. I phone my son with my estimated time of arrival at Fersit but then I soon lose time getting down the latter part. With the vegetation being deep and several rocky slopes, I pick my way down steep rocky slopes. I feel it would have helped to stay on higher ground longer but I am too far down now to return. It is a frustrating end to the walk as it takes much longer to gain the track below as there were so many obstacles. Once on the track it is just a mile of easy walking. My son is waiting for me at the end in his car.
It has been an excellent walk but a bit frustrating at the end but another two Munro’s under my belt.

OSWESTRY COACH TRIP – WHAT YOU WILL SEE

There are many points of interest on all three walks and it’s always useful to know in advance what you will see.

WAT’S DYKE (short walk)
Wat’s Dyke is generally said to be older than its more famous neighbour Offa’s Dyke. This forty mile long embankment and ditch ran from Basingwerk Abbey on the River Dee Estuary to the village of Maesbury in Shropshire. Today, little remains of this earthwork but a bank and ditch are discernable once our walk leaves the Llangollen Canal Towpath.

LLANGOLLEN CANAL (short walk)
The Llangollen Canal was built during a period of canal mania when a small group of industrialists put forward a plan to link the River Mersey with the River Severn. With the money raised in a short period, work on constructing the canal was almost completed by 1795 when the first boats used the canal. The canals’ main purpose was to serve the iron, coal and limestone industries which were thriving at this time in the area. Today, the Llangollen Canal is one of the most scenic waterways in the country. The short walk follows the attractive towpath for just over two miles.

CHIRK AQUEDUCT (Short walk & long walk)
Whereas the short walk crosses this impressive aqueduct, the long walkers will pass beneath it. For the short walkers, the walk kicks off by crossing the aqueduct on the towpath which is 70 feet above the Ceiriog Valley and is 710 feet long and passes from Wales into England. The aqueduct was designed by Thomas Telford and took five years to build. The water is contained within a cast iron trough encased in stonework. The structure has ten arches, each with a span of forty feet. For a brief while it was the tallest navigable waterway ever built and was a forerunner to the nearby Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
For the short walk, on reaching the start of the aqueduct, pause and look back to view the Chirk Canal Tunnel which runs north from the northern end of the aqueduct.
Overshadowing the aqueduct on the western side is the railway viaduct which was built much higher than the aqueduct and this was constructed purposely to emphasise the superiority of rail transportation over water modes.

OFFA’S DYKE (Long walk & medium walk)
The defensive system known as Offa’s Dyke runs from Prestatyn down to near Chepstow and consists of a bank on the eastern side and ditch on the western side and was likely built between AD757-796. It is generally accepted that it was built as a boundary between the Kingdom of Mercia and the Kingdom of Powys and generally followed high ground with a view into Powys. Today, the dyke is well defined in places especially on the ascent from the Ceiriog Valley. Both long and medium walks will follow sections of the dyke where the structure is visible.
CHIRK CASTLE (Long walk)
Although the long walk doesn’t visit Chirk Castle, the group will pause to view it from a distance on the ascent out of the Ceiriog Valley. The castle which is now owned by the National Trust was built in 1295 by Roger Mortimer de Chirk and was one of the chain of Edward 1’s castles. The castle commands a strategic position overlooking the Ceiriog Valley.
SELATTYN (Medium walk)
This the village where the medium walk starts from. Of interest is the fine church of St Mary’s which is noted for its collection of ancient yew trees. The church dates from around 1291 and has a interesting 13th century barrel roof and Christian worship has been offered here for over 1000 years. Selattyn is unique insomuch that is was only confirmed in the sixteen hundreds that it was in Shropshire and not in Wales and was one of the few places in England where Welsh was the dominant language.
From Selattyn, the medium walk will ascend via the Shropshire Way to Selattyn Hill which has an ancient Bronze Age ring cairn (Not now visible due to forestry). The summit has the remains of a small tower built in the 19th century which was built as a look out and used by the Home Guard during World War II. The best view east across the plains of Shropshire and Cheshire is obtained prior to entering the forested area. (The path passing the tower was rather overgrown on the reconnoitre and an alternative nearby route may be taken if this is the case on the day).

OSWESTRY RACECOURSE (Long walk & medium walk)
There was a racecourse on Oswestry Racecourse Common for seventy years. The former course which lies at around 1000 feet above sea level formed a figure of eight and was around two miles long. In its heyday, the race meeting was a big event and usually lasted three days with festivities not only on and around the racecourse but also down in Oswestry. The racecourse was frequented by the infamous ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton who owned a stable of forty horses. During the race days, chains were slung across the nearby road and turf was laid across the road surface to prevent traffic passing through. Over the years, the event had a reputation for being unruly with much hard gambling and heavy drinking insomuch that outsiders stopped coming to the event. With the coming of the railways, race goers were attracted elsewhere and the racecourse closed in 1848. The long and medium walks will visit what is left of the grandstand. (A leaflet entitled ‘Oswestry Racecourse Common’ is available from the Oswestry Tourist Information Centre).
LLANFORDA HOUSE & GROUNDS (Long walk & medium walk)
Descending from the high ground, the long and medium walkers will pass through some attractive parkland which once formed part of Llanforda Park. Originally Llanforda Hall’s gardens were the most remarkable in Shropshire. Built in 1634 Llanforda Hall was originally owned by the Lloyd family. Edward Lloyd together with his son developed the gardens to become one of the finest in the country. Later, with a change of ownership of the estate, the original hall was demolished and a new house built but this burnt down before it was finished. A smaller mansion was built on the site but this was demolished in 1949. The adjacent 18th century stables survived a little longer. Today we will walk between the two former buildings but still visible is the remains of the walled garden.
Both long and medium walks leave along the main tree line estate road en route towards Oswestry.
OLD OSWESTRY FORT (Short walk)
Dominating the view ahead as the short walkers enter Oswestry is Old Oswestry Hill Fort. It is one of the most spectacular Iron Age Hill Forts in the Welsh Marches and has been described as ‘The Stonehenge of the Iron Age Period’. There are impressive views from its ramparts and walkers on the short walk should have time to explore it. The fort was heavily defended during the Iron Age and occupied by the Cornovii or Ordivice tribe.

OSWESTRY (Finish point for all walks)
Oswestry is a fascinating town with plenty of interest and is one of the UK’s oldest border settlements. Settlement really began at Old Oswestry Hill Fort just outside the town but the town began to develop during Saxon times. The long and medium walkers will pass St Oswald’s Well entering the town and water from the well is believed to have healing properties for eye trouble. Oswald was killed in this battle and was dismembered. According to legend, one of his arms was carried to an ash tree by a raven, and miracles were subsequently attributed to the tree (as Oswald was considered a saint). Note the statue above the well when passing. The name of Oswestry derives from the saint and the ash tree and anglicised, means Oswald’s tree.
Over the centuries the town have seen many conflicts between the English and the Welsh and the town suffered much damage during the English Civil War. A market has been held in the town on a Wednesday from 1190 until the outbreak of the foot and mouth disease in the 1990’s and brought in many Welsh farmers to trade their animals.
St Oswald’s Church which is adjacent to the Tourist Information Centre is worth a visit and other places of note within the town is the half timbered Llwyd Mansion which dates from the 15th century, the Castle which dates from 1086 of which little remains and the impressive building which is now the headquarters of the Cambrian Railway Museum.
All walks will finish at the Tourist Information Centre where there is a tea room alongside. There are other tea rooms in the town together with the usual range of shops. The coach will be parked in the coach bay by the bus station (which in turn is opposite Morrisons.) There are signs in the town pointing towards the Bus Station.

A window in the weather

 

Setting out on the lane through the Kentmere Valley.

Just once in a while there is just one fine day in a spell of poor weather which makes it worth heading out on a full days walk. Between doing a set of early shifts and starting on a set of night shifts, I have timed it just right to head up to the Lake District for the day.

The clocks had just gone forward meaning it was great to have that extra hour of daylight at the end of the day, so on this day I opt to walk the Kentmere Circuit in the south eastern edge of the Lake District.

It’s a misty start to the day as I leave Macclesfield but I decide to go for it. North of Preston I am greeted by blue skies and as the Lake District comes into view there is a dusting of snow above 700 metres. Conditions for once look almost perfect.

Reaching the Kentmere Valley I am confronted with a problem as all available parking has gone and no chance of parking anywhere near the village church at Kentmere as intended. I start to drive back down the valley looking at every spot where I might leave the car. I do in the end find a spot about a half mile south of the church but this will add on a mile to my already long hill walk and now I have thoughts of ending the walk in the dark so it may mean making the walk slightly shorter.

The track at the start of the ascent up the Garburn Pass.

It is 11.15am before I set off under hazy blue skies on this near perfect morning. Setting a pace, I soon pass Kentmere Church and made for the ascent up the Garburn Pass. With hardly any breeze it is feeling warm and no need of a coat. With the top of the pass gained by noon I am rewarded with an excellent view west to the snow clad summits. The skies to the west are beginning to cloud up with the onset of a front coming in later in the day and so I will need to keep an eye on this.

My lunch stop on Yoke with the view west towards a snowy Helvellyn.

Heading north, my first objective is the 706 metre summit of Yoke but taking a short cut to join the main path I end up in a watery bog and I have to divert. It is turning out warm despite snow on the ground as I gain height. A few other walkers are about and mostly heading the same way as me and some I will see several times during the day. It is 12.45pm when I reach the summit of Yoke and now it’s time for lunch. I am a bit behind my intended time but at least I can cut the walk short when I reach Nan Bield Pass later in the day.

The view north from Yoke towards Ill Bell.

The view north from  Froswick towards Thornthwaite Crag.

For the afternoon my next summits are Ill Bell 757 metres followed by Froswick 720 metres, both with snowy paths on the north side which require some caution. A steady ascent then takes me up to Thornthwaite Crag 784 metres. It was now well into the afternoon and the snow at lower levels is gradually melting. After a brief pause and a request to take a group photograph of a small party I now set off towards High Street which at 828 metres is the high point of my days walk. There are many people on the summit and I have to wait my turn to visit the trig point. The summit boundary wall has snow caked up to the top of the wall in places. By now I am losing the sun as thicker cloud is nudging in from the west. The view from the summit is still good with Scotland visible to the north as well as Ingleborough and Pendle Hill to the southeast. Having taken a few photographs I set off now across the snowy wastes to Mardale Ill Bell and encounter some deep snow on the eastern flank which sends me on a slide. Down at Nan Bield Pass it is now decision time as to whether to head down the Kentmere Valley or take in the last two summits of Harter Fell and Kentmere Pike. Despite being behind schedule, I decide that I have enough daylight to do the last two intended summits comfortably.

On High Street and the highest summit of the day and by now frontal cloud is spreading in.

Setting out to cross the snowy wastes from High Street towards Mardale Ill Bell.

A winding snowy ascent leads up to 778 metre summit of Harter Fell and on top I stop to have the rest of my snack. The area is largely deserted now except for one other walker that reaches the summit after I leave.

A view down to Small Water with Haweswater beyond. the Pennines are clearly seen in the distance.

Kentmere Pike and the last summit of the day.

My last objective of the day is to bag Kentmere Pike 730 metres. The ridge path, which is boggy in parts leads south before veering southeast across the snowy wastes. I am careful not to slip as the snow is of a wet nature and not all that deep. At Kentmere Pike, I hop over the wall to visit the trig point before rejoining the path south east along the ridge and again I encounter boggy areas. The sun has now gone and the cloud is thickening and it is looking quite grey to the west and northwest. I am confident with the amount of day light I have left to complete the walk, but the light is beginning to fade despite it still not being yet sunset. I walk over Shipman Knotts on a good path but this veered off west later and lower down I have to contour across the hillside to rejoin my intended route. Turning left then right I skirted around to the right to join a path crossing rough ground and later fields to descend towards Kentmere once more. At the upper edge of the village I join a narrow lane which leads back to the car still with some daylight.
With a meal on the way back at a motorway services and an hour’s nap in the back of the car once I get to work I am ready for the night shift.

Bailing out at junction 4

Calcot Hill in the the Clent Hills provides some fine rolling countryside within a few miles of Birmingham.

This is a bit of an unusual walk insomuch that I get a lift out to my start point of my days walk and then I make my way back home using public transport. I only have a short time to research my mode of transport back to Macclesfield so here’s the plan. It’s all going to be a bit of an adventure.

It’s only 07.45am on a quiet grey Sunday morning, and as my son is travelling to the West Country anyway, he drops me off me off in a cul-de-sac just off the M5 junction 4 at Lydiate Ash. I have a whole day ahead of me for a walk and have had time to book an advance cheap rail ticket home from Wolverhampton the previous evening so I need to be at Wolverhampton Station by around 6pm.

From Lydiate Ash, I soon strike out on a field path which is initially good but soon becomes very overgrown with bracken which surprises me as I’m not far from the conurbation of Birmingham. The next path is better and runs initially through a large neat garden then through woodland to join Beacon Lane. Beacon Hill is my first pausing point of the day and lies just shy of the 300 metre mark and affords good views over Birmingham. This is part of the Lickey Hills Country Park and I find the summit with neatly cut grass and many dog walkers but it is a pity that the area has suffered much litter and vandalism with numerous broken seats. I now go in search of an elusive trig point which stands on the hill side and at the edge of a thicket with no views rather than it being located on the hill top.

Back tracking for a short distance, my aim is to follow as close as possible the North Worcestershire Way along the length of the Clent Hills. A good wooded path leads north then west crossing the A38 before an ascent towards Waseley Hill which forms another open area, part of which is owned by the National Trust. A small detour takes me to the toposcope on Windmill Hill which is surrounded by resting cattle. Despite it being a dull day, the views stretch for some distance from the Cotswolds and the Malverns in the south, Titterstone Clee Hill in the west and as far as Bardon Hill in Leicestershire to the northeast as well as a view over the whole of Birmingham. Well signed paths take me down to cross the M5 by way of a footbridge then across fields south of Romsley Hill. A woodland stretch follows descending to a peaceful rural valley where you would have never have guessed that you were a few miles from Birmingham. A short stiff ascent takes me to the summit of Calcot Hill before turning north to make for Walton Hill. The summit at 315 metres is the highest spot on the Clent Hills and again affords good views, and here it was time to stop for my morning break close to the summit.

Four modern standing stones provides a good view point for many miles around.

The view towards Titterstone Clee Hill from The Four Stones, Clent Hills.

A hill summit called Four Stones is my next destination and this involves descending to a car park and a little lane walking. There are now far more people around including many cyclists on the lanes. A woodland walk takes me up to the popular summit of Four Stones which as you would guess is crowned by modern four standing stones plus a toposcope. Misty conditions have spread in from the west and the weather isn’t looking too good.
I decide that I will head for Hagley Churchyard for lunch and set off on the wrong path as there is such a choice on this heath and common land. After some distance I discover my mistake as unexpectedly the village of Clent comes into view. At least I can skirt around on good paths to Hagley. The rain starts well before my lunch stop but with a good tree canopy, I stay dry. A short detour leads me up to a minor lane and the peaceful Hagley Church. Close to the church stands Hagley Hall built between 1754 and 1760 by Lord Lyttelton. It was restored after a disastrous fire in 1925.
Nearby in the peaceful churchyard I find a seat under a tree to have lunch. Despite the light rain I stay dry. In the adjacent cricket field, people are preparing for an afternoon Sunday cricket match and a practice session is taking place in the nets but I just wonder with the present weather as if this would go ahead.

Imposing Hagley Hall which dates from 1754

The quiet churchyard of St John the Baptist Church at Hagley.

After a brief look inside the church I am off again. In Hagley I have to cross the busy A456 which is not exactly an easy task to negotiate this busy dual carriageway. I next take the path up to Wychbury Hill passing on the way a slender obelisk with a very stout fence to keep away anyone. Wychbury Obelisk rises to a height of 84 feet and was commissioned by Sir Richard Lyttelton, a son of the elderly Sir Thomas Lyttelton, owner of nearby Hagley Hall. Construction was started in 1747 and the monument is grade 2 listed. More recently the monument has suffered much graffiti and there were proposals to demolish it due to safety reasons but the monument has since been restored. I take the path leading down to Pedmore and I can imagine this would have proved a nightmare if it had been wet as even now it is quite churned up but thankfully the mud had dried out somewhat.

To reach the centre of Stourbridge I have a mixture of road and path walking and after following some residential roads I find the somewhat unsigned hidden entrance to Ham Dingle, a narrow wooded ravine along which runs a path but sadly the dumping place for much garden waste and other rubbish. Once across the A4036, surfaced paths lead to Old Swinford which has some fine old houses and an impressive church which I find locked. Off-road way-finding into Stourbridge proves a bit of a challenge and at one point I have to back track but eventually emerge at the new bus station. If I had done some research earlier I could have taken a short ride on the Parry’s Peoples Mover, an almost unique bus type vehicle which runs on the standard gauge railway and connects Stourbridge Town Station with Stourbridge Junction which at 0.8 of a mile is the shortest branch line railway in Europe and at £1 per journey is probably the cheapest rail fare you can buy in the this country. Oh well, I shall have to come back I thought.

Now Stourbridge on a grey and slightly wet Sunday afternoon is not all that appealing. I wander down the main shopping street and despite Sunday trading, many shops are closed and not many people about. I soon head out of the town and join the deserted towpath of the Stourbridge Canal, a rather empty backwater with little of interest. This area is known for Stourbridge Crystal, – a fine glassware. By now I realise that I had timed the bus to Wolverhampton badly and rather than wait for nearly an hour I decide to extend my walk by walking through Friar’s Gorse and coming into Wordsley from the west and hence not waiting for a bus too long. The number 256 is running to time and is fairly empty and I take a seat upstairs at the front for the trip into Wolverhampton. I have just time for a visit to McDonalds in the town before catching the train back home.

A winter’s day in Cheshire

The frozen Trent & Mersey Canal close to the starting point for my walk.

Just once in a while there is that urge that the weather is just too good not to get out. Its mid winter and with the back edge of a depression moving away, the forecast is promising a day of winter sunshine. It will be very cold and the temperature will struggle to get above freezing and on the short December days you can’t travel that far but then you don’t really need to.
With a covering of snow and deep blue skies and a temperature well below freezing means that the ground will be frozen hard so it’s time to head to the Cheshire Plain rather than venture into the hills where the side roads are likely to be impassable.
Even in the relative flat Cheshire Plain the side roads are a bit icy and on the final part of the drive through Hassall Green the road is closed due to road works so I park virtually at the point of no return as there will be hardly any traffic. I am glad that I have brought my micro spikes to go over my walking boots as the road is extremely slippery with a thin layer of compacted snow.

A snowy path off Stannerhouse Lane.

A tree lined driveway leading to ‘Tall Chimney’s’ near Sandbach.

It is a first class morning, weather wise as I head up to the canal towpath at Hassall Green and set off westwards towards Malkin’s Bank pausing several times to take photographs. Leaving the towpath at Malkin’s Bank the gate is frozen shut so I have to cross a wall. I have some lane walking now but the lanes are sheet black ice and I am so glad that I am wearing micro spikes. I next turn left along the track called Stannerhouse Lane and cross the infant River Wheelock. A little beyond I turn left onto a snowy field path and later join a lane to reach the A533 at Betchton Heath. Crossing over, I continue with Dubthorn Lane which later continues as School Lane through Sandbach Heath where I pause to photograph a wooden carving of an owl covered in snow. I continue via Church Lane but with much lane walking, it is proving a bit uncomfortable wearing the micro spikes, but all the lanes are covered in black ice or a thin crusting of compacted snow.

A rare sighting of a ‘Snowy owl’ at Sandbach Heath.

St John the Evangelist Church near Sandbach Heath.

I stop at the isolated St John’s the Evangelist’s Church at Sandbach Heath. This prominent church was built in 1861 and was designed by George Gilbert Scott. I chose a sunny south facing spot in the churchyard for my morning break but all the seats are covered in snow.
I set off southeast across fields to a point near Arclid Cottage Farm and decide to continue south to an un-named farm before heading east, but here it is obvious that this path is prone to much water logging however today any frozen area is taking my weight. I later take a path followed by a track south to Dean Hill which initially passes an airfield complete with snow covered light aircraft. Again this track looks as if it could prove muddy but today the frozen ground was taking my weight.

Even dead plant stalks take on a different look in these conditions.

A ‘no-fly’ day at the airfield near Arclid.

From Dean Hill, I take an ill defined path east along the snow covered valley, and with the winter sunlight not penetrating the fields here, it feels quite cold but again it looks like an area prone to water logging. By Betchton House I turn right onto a lane then left along a path running through the shady valley. I am glad that the ground is frozen hard as it looks as if the area is quite muddy and water logged at this time of the year. In the bright winter sunshine I briefly join the A50 before turning south on the ill defined South Cheshire Way. The shallow valley here is well water logged and so I skirted across to slightly higher ground. Crossing the A533 at Thurlwood I am soon back at the Trent and Mersey Canal and despite searching around for a place to sit for my lunch break, there was no where suitable.
I now follow the canal towpath west and eventually find a sunny spot under a tree which is virtually free of snow. The downside is that snow is constantly dropping from the tree above me whilst I eat lunch.
It is now only a short walk back to the car along the towpath to complete this excellent day out. With the bright winter sunshine, snow cover and the ground frozen hard it is an ideal time to explore any area which would prove fairly muddy under ‘normal’ winter conditions.

An attractive snowy track en-route to Dean Hill.

Cold silent meadows in the depth of winter. It really feels like ‘life in the freezer’ along this shady valley.

I am leading this walk again this coming Saturday (May 5th) but in the opposite direction and hopefully it won’t be too muddy.

Across Monmouthshire on the Offa’s Dyke Path

Monnow Bridge is the last remaining fortified medieval bridge in Great Britain.

Last week was a week when the weather took a leap from winter into summer missing out spring altogether. It just so happened that it was a week when I was exploring part of South Wales. Having walked the majority of the Offa’s Dyke Path there was still one rather big section I wanted to walk but to do this, I needed an early start.
The section of the Offa’s Dyke Path which lies between the popular Lower Wye Valley and the Black Mountains crosses Monmouthshire through an area very much off the tourist trail and passes through several small villages with unpronounceable Welsh names and undulating farmland. It is an area devoid of any public transport, so to do this walk required catching two buses.
My base is the attractive town of Abergavenny and so I am away early for the drive up to the village of Pandy to park up and don walking gear to catch the 07.50am bus back to Abergavenny. From here I have a half hour to kill before catching the bus to Monmouth and so I am in good time for the long walk back.
After a murky start to the day, the low cloud has now burnt off as I alight from the bus in Monmouth. It’s time for a break and I find a seat close to the River Monnow. For its size, Monmouth is an interesting town and there was once a Roman settlement here but its most famous structure is probably the ancient medieval fortified bridge over the river which is the last of its kind in Britain. Construction of the bridge began in 1272 and it was still used by traffic well into the late 20th century when a new relief road was built a couple of hundred yards to the south.

Lush green fields are the order of the day. This view is towards Bailey Pitt Farm on the edge of Monmouth.

It’s time to set off and initially I have some road walking to leave the town, but soon I am following field boundaries through fields of lush grass. The hedges are springing into life as I make my way towards King’s Wood. A gradual ascent brings me to a wooded summit but the route ahead has been closed for six months due to forestry operations not that I can see anything happening. The diversion route takes me further south on a bridle path which has been heavily churned up by horses and hasn’t had any chance of drying out after the winter rains. For a half mile I inch my way along a rather unpleasant woodland path and take a course more in the brambles rather than on the path. I am just glad to reach a proper track. I eventually reach a quiet lane which I stay on for around a mile to just beyond Hendre Farm. Beyond the farm I return to walking on field paths but as I descend to the valley of the River Trothy I can see that the route ahead looks rather waterlogged and to make matters worse cattle have been turned out into one very wet field. A section of boardwalk helps a little but stops short of a very watery area. I attempt to continue but to my horror the sucking mud is simply too deep and so I end up with a boot full of mucky red mud and water. Why is it that boardwalks often end up too short?
Nearby at this spot is the site of the Cistercian Grace Dieu Abbey which seems to have been built at one of the wettest spots around although the exact site is uncertain. It was always a poor abbey and suffered much from Welsh attacks and never really survived as a community after 1232AD.

A peaceful lunch spot. The isolated church at Llanfihangel Ystum Llewern.

From watery Abbey Meadow I join a lane to cross Abbey Bridge before following more field paths which are not waterlogged towards my lunch stop at Llanfihangel Ystun Llewern. Who says these Welsh place names are easy to pronounce! The little church at this isolated spot is a real little gem. With no seats in the churchyard I find a flat grave to sit on and the only sound are the birds in the trees and one very vocal blackbird. It feels that it’s now the middle of summer and yet the previous day was cold and grey.
From the peaceful churchyard I set off, and my plan is to stay with the Offa’s Dyke Path all day. The path is well way marked and the course across many fields is well defined as the grass has been trampled. The advantage is that you don’t need to be constantly looking at the map as the route is obvious but let’s not be too complacent.

A spot just beyond Skirrid Fawr in the middle distance is where I’m aiming for but its still along way off.

Having walked a few more miles across countless fields and followed more quiet lanes I reach the village of Llandello Gresynni. Crossing the B4233 here I am greeted by another temporary footpath closure. Overhead power cable works has meant that all paths which pass under the power cable together with a number of side roads are closed for a set period of several months. This will mean a long detour via roads. With the power lines clearly visible and no work going on anywhere in the vicinity I decide to ignore the diversion and set of across fields and staying on the Offa’s Dyke Path. It’s really a case of health and safety going well over the top in my opinion. Safely through the area, I ascend towards White Castle.

White Castle is one of three Norman castles in the area. The other two are at Skenfrith and Grosmont.

The castle which is now ruinous is located on an impressive hill top site. It was one of three Norman castles built in the area to ward off Welsh attacks. Today the castle is open to the public and is free to walk around. The central ward and keep is surrounded by a deep sided moat. It’s a good spot to stop for my afternoon break in the warm sunshine.
I still have several miles to walk and I continue refreshed following field paths through lush grass with the Black Mountains getting ever closer and the outlying hill of Skirrid Fawr looming larger. As I near the next village of Llangattock Lingoed there are signs ticing you on to the village pub giving the distance and time to get there. After an ascent towards the village, another sign shows a picture of a pint of beer stating ‘well done’ and ‘200 metres to go’.

The whitewashed medieval church at Llangattock Lingoed.

As I’m driving I have to decline the temptation of a cool pint but take a rest in the shady churchyard. The church is medieval with a battlemented tower and the whole building is whitewashed. Inside are examples of rare 16th century pews.

The last valley with the eastern edge of the Black Mountains beyond.

It’s the last leg of my long walk and I set off downhill to cross the valley of Full Brook before a long gradual ascent to a long ridge. It’s all downhill now as the end of my walk is in sight. Ahead of me across the valley is the dark outline of the Black Mountains silhouetted against the afternoon sun. It’s been a good walk and I have forgotten about the wet foot I got earlier in the walk. Satisfied, another gap in my walk along the Offa’s Dyke path has been filled.

Hampshire days

Watership Down. A resting place for my morning break. The only sound is skylarks overhead whilst red kites circle silently high above under the deep blue sky.

Hampshire, the large county in central southern England was my home for ten years so it was nice to get back to this area early this month to walk in some familiar territory. One good thing about the county is that it doesn’t suffer so much from the ‘mud’ issue which so affects so many areas in winter and particularly this last winter, but that is not to say there is no mud. On the rolling chalk downlands, much precipitation soaks into the ground and so you can get out on a walk without watching every step you take.

I’m leaving Macclesfield early on a frosty moonlit morning to beat the rush hour in Birmingham but alas the M6 is already crowded by 6am and so it’s a slow crawl around the city until I’m onto the M40.

The surfaced track running east out of Litchfield. It’s going to be a perfect day.

My starting point is the small village of Litchfield which lies just off the busy A34 a few miles south of Newbury. It’s only 8.30am as I set out east up a surfaced drive and despite the sun being up awhile there is a cold freshness in the air and still cold enough to wear gloves.
Its days like this when it’s good to be out under deep blue ‘winter’ skies and hardly a breath of air. I’m making steady progress east but having said that mud isn’t much of issue here, I encounter a muddy stretch as I follow the valley through Little Down. At least the gravelly track on the far side of a minor lane is better under foot.
Turning left, I walk beside Caesar’s Belt, a long strip of woodland. My route now is following The Portway which forms the course of a Roman Road which originally ran from Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) to Silchester (Calleva). I stay on this former Roman Road for a mile and quarter through the empty countryside before turning north along a good track gradually ascending to higher ground where the views begin to open out. I am aiming for Watership Down for my morning break and the short trespass into a field to the trig point provides a good place to sit down to take in the view. Watership Down became famous after the author Richard Adams set his novel with the same title about rabbits in this area. The only sound today is skylarks overhead whilst red kites circled high above under the deep blue sky.

The Wayfarer’s Walk below Watership Down. A fine path runs along the ridge lined with sturdy beech trees.

I set off west along the Wayfarer’s Walk, a long distance path that I walked in the 1980’s and this well way-marked path runs seventy one miles from Inkpen Beacon in West Berkshire to Emsworth on the coast near Havant. The next section of path to the next road proves rather muddy due to countless feet but beyond I am on a good track before crossing a grassy field en-route to the unfinished Iron Age hill fort at Ladle Hill.

Sheep soak up the first warm sunshine of the year on the unfinished hill fort at Ladle Hill.

I make a short detour here to view the dips and mounds of perhaps the best example of an unfinished hill fort in England. An open track leads southwest but what concerns me now is how easy it will be to cross the A34 dual carriageway as this road links the Midlands with Southampton. As I near this road there seems no let up in the fast moving traffic. I later descend via dry valley down to the busy road and do a risk assessment. The route crosses the road at this point but attempting to cross this road under these conditions would not be wise. Thankfully there is an alternative by following a permissive path south for 6oo metres to an underpass and although this will take possibly a little longer it is the sensible thing to do. Reaching the underpass I find it is flooded but not enough from preventing me getting through. It is then a walk north up the western side of the A34 to Thorn Down.
I am glad to get away from this busy road, and set out west on a track which shortly passes a memorial to Geoffrey de Havilland who first flew his home made aeroplane from this spot. He went on to design and work on many aeroplanes but he is best known for his work on building the Mosquito, considered to be the most versatile warplane ever built. He later built his Comet which was the first jet airliner to go into production.

Memorial to Geoffrey de Havilland who is famed for designing and building the Mosquito warplane.

I follow the track uphill towards Sidown Hill but this is initially very rutted and flooded but conditions improve as I gain height. On Sidown Range I stopped on a grassy bank for lunch. It is the first time this year that I hadn’t felt cold whilst having a picnic lunch and I have no hurry to move on but to soak up the sunshine instead.
The walk over Sidown Hill is a pleasure to walk and on the summit I made a short detour on a path which forms part of the Highclere Walks but I don’t venture as far as the viewpoint at Heaven’s Gate. It is unfortunate that the information board about the walks is currently blank so I am unsure where these paths lead.

My route up to Sidown Hill and now I’m looking for a spot to have my picnic lunch.

The Grotto which stands on the ridge overlooking Berkshire. The building is a holiday let.

Back on the main path, I gradually descend towards the A343 passing on the way The Grotto, a curious round house which is now a holiday let and part of the Highclere Estate. The views to the north open out across Berkshire and it is such a good afternoon to be out. Highclere Castle, famed for the television series Downton Abbey can be seen from this area.
It’s time to turn south and I follow a lane before taking a field path to the small village of Crux Easton. Crux Easton House which I pass was once owned by fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley and it was here that he and his wife Diana were placed under house arrest in 1944.
Also of interest in the village is an old wind engine which dates from 1892 and has now been restored to working order. It is occasionally open to the public and pumps water from a 410 foot deep well.

Crux Easton Wind Engine which has been restored to working order.

Dunley – where time stands still in this secluded corner of Hampshire.

With the sunshine beginning to turn watery I head south and continue on pleasant field paths and later walk beside an old ditch which formed the boundary of an ancient field system. To reach the secluded village of Dunley I follow quiet lanes. Traditional cottages line the large village green in a land where time has stood still. Leaving the village I follow a field path towards Litchfield but stick to field boundaries due to ploughing taking place

Entering Litchfield there are a profusion of primroses on the embankments on the approach to the underpass beneath the A34. Spring I think has probably arrived. It’s now only a couple of hundred yards to the car and the end of a perfect day on the downs.

A perfect day on Meall Ghaordaidh

Its still a long way off but the mountain with the snow on is where I’m heading. the path I’m following is rather squelchy.

Glen Lochay is an isolated valley which runs west from the Scottish village of Killin and in June 2015 I spent a week exploring this lonely valley in depth and managed to bag every Munro and all but one Corbett that surround this glen.
For most of the week, the weather was near on perfect with sunny days and a pleasant temperature and so after a strenuous day of bagging a number of peaks at the western end of the valley I opted for a day just to bag one Corbett and one Munro. So it’s just a twelve mile walk rather than the strenuous eighteen miles of the previous day.
By base is the Suie Lodge Hotel in Glen Dochart to the south and I’m starting out on this day with a drive via Killin and up the single track road through Glen Lochay to find a shady spot to park the car.

A bridge no more. At least is was easy enough to cross the stream known as Allt a’ Choire Ghlais.

A faint path leads up onto Beinn nan Oighreag.

My lunch stop on the summit of Beinn nan Oighreag. Meall Ghaordaidh rises to the west.

It’s already warm as I set off to follow a private hydro road which zigzags its way uphill with a good surface and soon I gain a good altitude and I am glad of any little breeze there is. The private road abruptly ends at an overgrown compound and so I decide to head around the upper side of it before contouring across to join the path which runs up into the hills towards the old shielings at the deserted hamlet of Riabhaich. When I do eventually join the path it is in a poor condition with missing bridges not that this is an issue but also that much of the path is a boggy watercourse. It is therefore easier walking parallel with it. A footbridge marked on the map over the Allt a’ Choire Ghlais has seen better days and is totally rotted but here the stream is easy to cross. As the path begins to fade a little beyond this point I decide to cut across to the Allt Dhuin Croisg, a more substantial stream. I reach it at a point where it runs in a ‘V’ – shaped valley and so opt to continue upstream to find a easier crossing point. Briefly on the far side I follow the track of a wheeled vehicle before veering right up a gradual and easy slope towards Carn Shonnach. An easy ridge walk follows with old metal fence stakes in the ground to gain the summit of Beinn nan Oighreag 909 metres and not quite a Munro, however it was once thought that this hill was a Munro and saw a flurry of activity in the thirties before the Ordnance Survey firmly classified it as being under three thousand feet. This is my lunch stop and a most pleasant spot it is in the warm sunshine. This summit is classified as a Corbett.

The final ascent to Meall Ghaordaidh and kicking steps in the snow on a warm June afternoon. Pure enjoyment! The snow overhang at the top is over twenty feet high.

The view from the top of Meall Ghaordaidh with Ben Nevis visible centre right in the far distance. Its hard to tear yourself away from a scene like this. The valley in the foreground is Glen Lyon leading up to Loch Lyon.

The main purpose of today’s walk is to bag the isolated Munro of Meall Ghaordaidh but first it means descending to a col at 638 metres. The western slope of Beinn nan Oighreag has a few crags and so I first opt to follow the line of metal fence stakes down until it runs down the steepest part of the hillside and here I decide to take a course a bit further south to reach the col. On the far side there are a few crags and so this time I opt to head slightly further north up a steep but smooth slope to a un-named spur at 815 metres. From here a ridge continues up over Cam Chreag before ascending further to Meall Ghaordaidh. It might be mid June but only problem now, is that there is a snowfield towards the top which can’t really be avoided without a detour well to the north. Near the summit of Meall Ghaordaidh I can see a snow overhang which is casting a shadow despite the sun being high in the sky. I press on uphill over Cam Chreag before making the final push towards Meall Ghaordaidh. Reaching the snowfield well to the right of the summit, I can see footprints in the snow and despite its initial steep gradient I am able to kick steps into the snow to gain the northern ridge. This feels more like alpine climbing and I am glad of my walking pole as an aid in case of a slide.

Back down in Glen Lochay on a perfect summer’s afternoon for the last stretch along this peaceful valley to the car.

Once on the summit of Meall Ghaoraidh I decide to take a longer break as I have made good time. I sit for a half hour admiring the view from the 1039 metre summit which stretches to beyond Ben Nevis to the north, Jura to the southwest and East and West Lomond to the southeast. When I do eventually set off it is a straightforward walk downhill in a fairly straight line and following for much of the way a path. Midway down the path does become a bit squelchy underfoot but is much firmer better as I near pasture land. One hour and twenty minutes brings me to the road through Glen Lochay and here it was a easy walk back down this road to the car stopping on the way to chat with some local residents at Duncroisk.
A perfect end to a day. If only more days were like this in Scotland.

The end of the afternoon at Killin with these colourful boats moored on the River Dochart.

Searching out the Devil

The curious pre-historic feature known as ‘The Devil’s Ring & Finger’.

Tucked into a corner of a field in northeast Staffordshire, the Ordnance Survey Map shows a curious feature written in gothic writing. Having an interest in history, I decided that this feature was worth seeking out. ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’ is rather unique to this part of the world and something that would be more at home on a lonely moor on the western seaboard of Britain.
So what is ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’? My research showed that it was once part of a pre-historic burial mound but what is left is not in situ and was moved a couple of hundred yards to the field boundary a few hundred years ago. It consists of a large circle of stone with a large hole in the middle with a standing stone propped up alongside it. Both stones show much weathering and today lie almost hidden and forgotten just off a footpath west of the village of Mucklestone.

It was time to investigate and make a day of it by doing a circular walk by taking in another curious feature that had come to light during my research. On the one dry day of a week of wet weather last October, Tony Littler joined me for this circular walk in the area.

Unusual plaque on a house at Mucklestone.

A peaceful setting in the churchyard at Mucklestone.

We are setting out from Loggerheads in Staffordshire (not the one in North Wales), and taking the minor road cum track to reach the village of Mucklestone. We pause to read a plaque on a house in the village which reads ‘On this site stood the smithy of William Skelhorn at which Queen Margaret had her horse’s shoes reversed to aid her escape from the Battle of Blore Heath 23rd September 1459’.
Nearby, we wander around the churchyard before setting out west on a field path which is initially a bit overgrown. Crossing the B5415, we now take a minor road to Mucklestone Lodges and here turn right on a field path. I want to take a look now at a pre-historic site known as ‘The Devil’s Ring and Finger’ which lies just off the right of way. This megalith is not signed but we easily find it by crossing a broken down fence and crossing some rough ground to a field boundary. The two stones are quite impressive with one stone forming a large doughnut type circle with a large hole in it whilst the other stone stands upright alongside it and is well weathered and gnarled. Using your imagination it looks as if it might have belonged to the devil!

Back on the path, we continue through Norton Forge which is situated on the infant River Tern which itself forms the county boundary with Shropshire. Not far from this spot is an unusual gravestone not visited on this walk but the gravestone is dedicated to fifty four cattle which died in 1866 as a result of one of the last outbreaks in this country of the disease Rinderpest. The outbreak started in the nearby village of Bearstone and at the time there was no known cure. The following inscription (which is taken from the Norton in Hales village website) on the stone reads ‘THIS STONE IS RAISED AS A MEMENTO OF THE GREAT CATTLE PLAGUE OF 1866 WHICH SWEPT 54 HEAD OFF THIS FARM IN 14 DAYS OF MARCH THEY DIED WITHOUT REMEDY AND HERE LIE.’

Norton in Hales and the Brading Stone on the village green.

At Norton Forge we join a track before taking a field path into the attractive village of Norton in Hales. It is now time for our morning break and a large shelter with ample seats is an ideal spot. The village green has another interesting megalith which is known as the Brading Stone. The date is uncertain but tradition has it that anyone found working after 12 noon on Shrove Tuesday, was taken to this stone and either beaten, bumped, or rolled on this stone.

A view from Willoughbridge Park – one of many on this stretch of the walk.

We leave the village via Bellaport Road and soon take a field path on the right and now we cross several fields towards the farm known as The Grove. Near here we veer east, briefly following a track before crossing several more fields where way finding isn’t exactly easy as we have to find gaps in thick hedges with hidden stiles but at least they do exist. Beyond Bellaport Old Hall we have to cross a stream twice and the little bridges over this watercourse are well hidden. One of the main problems in this area is that there is a fair amount of waterlogged ground hidden in the mowing grass that you are often upon before you realise it. The muddy Poplar Lane which is a track is joined briefly before taking another path across fields to the next village of Knighton. We opt here for an early lunch in a bus type shelter as there is a seat. It isn’t necessarily the best spot as it is by a road but at least it provides a dry spot to sit.

The unusual RC Church at Ashley.

Leaving Knighton we soon take a field path eastwards which crosses a field with a bull in which thankfully carries on grazing. A quiet lane is then followed to Pipe Gate.
Heading south from here we join another field path which is rather overgrown at one point where it crosses some streams on plank bridges. The path continues across ploughed fields before reaching a rather wet spot where we have to divert slightly. The next section of the walk is through the slightly higher area of Willoughbridge Park. The area is well wooded with extensive former quarry workings on our right which had just been left to nature but the boundary fence is full of warning signs. A lane is later joined before climbing an awkward bank to take another path across a ploughed field. Later we cross the A53 and take the lane into the village of Ashley. The Roman Catholic Church here is of an unusual design and is a white washed building. Another path is soon followed before heading back towards Loggerheads following minor lanes and using a short link path. Nearing Loggerheads, we take another path which turns out to be overgrown and here we have an issue with slurry leaking across a field so it is obvious why it is little used. The next path presents some problems with brambles at the end but we manage to push our way through. Reaching Loggerheads we take to an enclosed path between up market houses but the second path which borders the village school is fairly overgrown. At least at the end of this enclosed path we are on the road for the short walk to the car after an interesting and adventurous walk.

I will be leading this walk again for the group on the 14th April but in the opposite direction.