November. It was no surprise that this was a damp walk under grey skies, but the mood was anything but sombre. A circular walk meant meeting with a friend and it was lovely to have company again. The walk started and finished at Wrenbury-cum-Frith, in non-covid times a post walk pub dinner would have definitely been part of the plan.
The first half of the walk is along the South Cheshire Way: pub quiz fact – at 55km it is just under half the length of the North Cheshire Way. Muddy fields were the start of the day, gently rolling through lush grass and pastures. The waymarked path diverted a couple of times from the map, which caused a bit of navigational confusion but we soon popped back out onto the road to Marbury and the accurately named Little Mere and Big Mere. Time for our legs and lungs to get a good workout, the route pulls steeply and steadily up Buttermilk Bank to a spectacularly long view to Peckforton and Bickerton Hill and the sandstone ridge.
All down hill from here, the path picks up the Bishop Bennet Way, another Cheshire Challenge path that I’ll be ticking off soon. After another muddy trudge through a recently harvested maize field we joined the Llangollen Canal which at this point is also the Sandstone Trail. We stopped here for a late lunch, timely as the weather began to close in; mizzle turned to drizzle and then to rain. Head down, deep in conversation at times and comfortable silence at others, we stomped steadily along the canal with barely a drop in height of 10 meters over the whole 10 km.
Sometimes all you want is a nice simple, long walk to let your mind wander and not have to concentrate too much. This walk was to be a 20km stomp along the Shropshire Union Canal, finishing where the South Cheshire Way crosses the canal and where I had planned a series of circular walks to save for walking with friends. From Audlem and south, no other Cheshire Challenge walk crosses the canal so most of it will be solo and possibly multi-day walks for me.
I set off from just outside Cheswardine; as is often the way with canal walks it started at a narrow canal bridge and steps down to the towpath. The October weather was warm and sunny with clouds gathering but no sign of rain. I’d planned a walk and talk with a polar friend, Lungi and passed the first two kilometers happily chatting about training and back-up plans should trips be cancelled again, sharing the rural Cheshire scenery on Facetime to South Africa. Social media may not be perfect but sharing a walk with a friend I have not met in person is pretty special.
Then the barrier fencing loomed into view. Recent heavy rain had caused landslips in the cutting and the towpath was closed. Drat. That’ll teach me to check with the Canal and River Trust before setting out. Of course, this was the one time I had not bought the map with me as the navigation was just ‘follow the canal for 20km’ and so I had to end my chat early to work out a route on the OS app instead. It wasn’t the most pleasant of detours and involved a section of verge walking along the busy A529, it barely added any distance to the day but it does mean I now have a stranded bit of towpath I need to walk. Re-joining the canal at Tyrley Locks was a friendly greeting from the slower pace of the canal after the lorry-dodging on the roads. A snack later and I was ready to carry on.
The whole of the walk is gently down hill and there are plenty of locks along the way. A deep tree lined cutting just along from Tyrley with a series of locks was a magical dell with ferns and mosses covering the engineering epic that it must have taken to build it.
Aproaching Market Drayton I was greeted by a very enthusiastic parrot in a narrowboat, who waved their toys enthusiastically at me as I walked by: I’d say its not what you expect to see but I’ve learnt you see all sorts of life on the waterways. A little further on another out-of-place sight was a grade 2 listed Pillbox at Market Drayton built in 1940. As I stopped, slightly surprised by it, I got chatting to a couple who had recently become full-time boat dwellers. Canals seem to attract friendly people; I am not sure how long we talked for and I don’t really recall what we talked about but it was lovely to have a touch of normality and connection with people.
Another thing I like along my walks is to read the plaques on benches. Often they are just a name and dates in memory of someone but some are beautifully poignant, witty or just make you stop and think. I’d hope that lots of people have smiled and sat with Ellen and Ike.
The walk ended a few kilometres north of Audlem, which meant walking the full length of the locks flight, with an honesty box cake stall at the top and plenty of pubs at the bottom for boaters to steel themselves for or recover from the effort of working the 15 locks. The top of the locks to the end of my walk was a repeat of the towpath, also part of the Weaver Way which was walk 4 of the challenge for me, the finish today was Austin’s bridge now a footpath on the South Cheshire Way. I’ll be back here someday soon.
This was a relatively gentle walk with a lot of industrial heritage along the way, and you can’t go wrong with a bit of industrial heritage for interest! It was also the Ordnance Survey’s Get Outside day and the weather was glorious early autumn sun, so all round a grand day!
The two Cheshire Challenge walks counted were the Trent and Mersey Canal Walk (153km, 95 miles in total) and the North Cheshire Way (113 km, 70 miles in total), but I will be walking both tracks again as part of the Cheshire Ring Canal Walk and Weaver Way. We started on the canal, which is quite a height above the river. This is a lovely canal section, with mature trees on both sides, lots of low farm bridges and big, long views across the river plain and towards the Sandstone ridge. We could almost see the paths we took on walk 3, back in the summer. This canal has two tunnels, neither can be walked through and the path climbs up and over the wooded hills instead. The canal is only wide enough for one narrow boat at a time and two-way traffic is managed by dividing the hour into slots when boats can travel in each direction. The sound of the boat engines travels long through the tunnel and it seemed an age before the blue painted boat appeared.
After the tunnels, the canal skirts the edge of Barnton village and the town of Northwich with houses and gardens backing onto the towpath. At one house, the owner had painted a long line of stones to thank and support all the groups of people who have found the pandemic extra tough or have helped others: police, careworkers, refuse collectors, refugees, theatres and scientist to name just a few. The line must have had close to a hundred stones and there was a sign encouraging passers-by to add any group that had been missed.
The Anderton Boat Lift deserves a blog of its own. It was built to enable boats to move between the Weaver Navigation and the canal, a drop of some 15 metres from the canal. It’s still in operation but we weren’t lucky enough to see it working while we had a cup of tea in the visitor centre garden.
Retracing our steps this was now the North Cheshire Way and after walking up and over one of the tunnels we turned away from the narrow tree lined canal to the wide and open river. The twin locks at Saltersford are huge and imposing; though quiet now the river was once a motorway of the water ways. We stopped here for cake, lounging in the sun on a mown grassy bank watching a diving bird, possibly a Shag, fishing along the opposite bank.
The rest of the walk followed the river on wide field edges all the way back to the swing bridge at Acton Bridge, and tempting though it was to continue along the river we had reached the end of the day’s walk.
I wanted to set myself a goal of walking a 20 mile walk in August 2020. A month before 20km had felt like a tough goal and two months previous 20 miles was a distance that seemed impossible. As the goal was distance only, I made it a little easier by removing most of the navigation challenges by following the canal: which also made it mostly level walking on good paths.
The walk started at Tattenhall Marina. Parking at the marina is residents only, so I called the next door Icecream Farm to ask to use their carpark. Parking can be a touchy subject with tourist’s cars causing obstructions especially in the national parks. I was given permission to park which also set a time target to be back in time to buy icecream! The footpath from the Icecream Farm run down the marina access road the follows a signposted footpath on the right. A small wooden walkway leads out onto the towpath.
As the Two Saints Way diverts off the towpath, I planned this on the outbound leg so if there were navigation challenges then it would be on fresher legs and clearer minds. Following the Two Saints Way from Chester the waymarks are the cross of St Chad, who’s shrine is at Lichfield Cathedral. Following it from Lichfield the waymarks are a goose, the symbol of St Werburgh who’s shrine is at Chester. The path follows the towpath of the Shropshire Union Canal for 4km to Wharton’s Lock. The Sandstone Trail crosses the canal here, and the Two Saints Way briefly follows the Sandstone Trail to Beeston Castle. It then leaves the Sandstone Trail and follows single track roads to Beeston Village and on to the outskirts of Bunbury, and crosses the busy A49. The path then heads down Wythin St to a kissing gate into a field. The right of way runs diagonally across the field, but the crop was heavily wind damaged and a clear path round the edges of the field seemed a better option. There was a then a little more navigation confusion as the path tracks across a field on the map, but there is now a small mature wood. A reassuring waypoint appeared and confirmed we were on the right path. The next field was very wet underfoot alongside the River Gowy, making me question my decision to wear my trail running shoes which employ the principle of allowing the water out easily: which means they let the water in easily. Slightly damp socks later, the path came out onto the road up to St Boniface’s Church.
St Boniface’s is one of many churches along the Two Saints Way and worthy of a visit: but we pressed on. The road out of Bunbury back down to the canal is less pleasant with narrow verges and faster cars, though it is only for about a kilometre. The Two Saints Way rejoins the Shropshire Union Canal at Bunbury lock, an impressive double lock to fox the first-time boat hirers next to an equally impressive stable block.
The next section of the canal is a bit grim at the first impression, the busy A51 runs alongside the canal for about 2.5km with accompanying commercial properties and petrol station. But this was where we spotted a damsel fly – too quick to see enough to identify it, and a male black tailed skimmer dragonfly on the return leg. Never assume that just because its not pretty, nature isn’t thriving. The next major milestone is the junction at Barbridge where the Shropshire Union Middlewich Branch heads east and a short distance further along the Shropshire Union mainline is the midway mark of the walk. A lovely stretch of the canal carries on to the turnaround point where the Llangollen Canal joins at Hurleston Junction at the impressive signpost, with a tiny Two Saints Way waymarker.
Here we turned around, and ‘left’ the Two Saints Way to complete the rest of the walk counting towards the Shropshire Union Canal path. The way back was a steady stomp along the canal with no deviation from it’s towpath. The return walk always seems to go faster, and we made good time back to Bunbury locks. Here we continued along the canal along a section missed out by the Two Saints Way: it was a peaceful stretch of canal with three single locks and surrounded by trees. At Wharton’s lock we once again retraced our steps, and the weather turned and the waterproofs came out. The towpath here is being stabilised and the works barges provided interest as the legs began to tire. Its easy to miss the wooden footbridge back to the car park, but the substantial black and white painted bridge over the marina entrance is a good enough clue that you’ve missed the turn; as we had.
Back at the car, it was a quick stretch and cake before setting home. Though not until I had bought a well-deserved bucket of ice cream, well, it’d be rude not to.
I’ve realised what makes me a little nervous when planning the Cheshire Challenge Walk: obstructed paths leave you with fewer alternatives. When on the hills, most of the land falls under the CROW act and walkers are not restricted to just the permitted paths and public rights of way. So if your way is blocked, there is often a way to keep moving forward: if a stream is in spate you can follow it up hill to a safer crossing, if you’ve had enough and the pub is calling, you can plot a short cut across a moor on a bearing. But for lowland paths, that’s not an option. If a path is overgrown, your choices are very limited and often mean retracting steps. But I faced that demon on this walk and it was all good in the end.
This walk follows a section of the North Cheshire Way and the Longster Trail. Both paths share the same tracks at the beginning and end, which does mean walking up to the trig twice if you are doing things properly! Parking is at Helsby Quarry Nature Reserve, on Alvanley Road. The carpark free and compact, so plan to arrive early on sunny weekends as there is no roadside parking. The walk gets your legs going from the start as the route takes you straight up the hill into Helsby woods. Bearing right and following signs to Helsby Hill, the route passes through a deep cut in the sandstone before turning left up to the hill. On a clear day you can see the Clywds in Wales and Wirral, you can also see some of Cheshire’s more industrial views too.
The North Cheshire Way heads from the trig back off the hill to a signpost which sent us left and along a farm road and then the road down to Harmers Wood. As we passed Harmers Wood to the left, a well signposted footpath on the right took us back into the fields. About 2km from the trig, the two paths split, with the North Cheshire Way running west of the Longster Trail. We headed South-southwest on the North Cheshire Way.
The North Cheshire Way then follows well trodden tracks through fields all the way to Alvanley, after Alvanley there is a long road section, but they are quiet single track roads so a chance to get a good pace going. A moment’s self-doubt on the navigation at a set of house gates was soon resolved when the yellow footpath marker was spotted hidden in the hedge on a side gate. A kilometre on and the track popped out on the edge of the very lovely village of Dunham-on-the-Hill. After Dunham-on-the-Hill the route heads directly south, down a single track road and across arable fields. Where the track passes a farm and meets another road, the walk leaves the North Cheshire Way and takes un-named paths east to pick up the Longster Trail.
And now the trickier navigation challenge. The route follows a restricted by-way from Long Green, but the last 200 metres were thick with old brambles and completely impassible: attempting to push through would have ended like flies in a spider’s web. To walk back and around would have meant a 3 kilometre detour along roads: peering round a wide gap in the hedge, the Longster Trail could be seen across a grassy field. So, brave-pants pulled up high, we skirted the edge of the field and within minutes were on the Longster Trail.
Now the route heads broadly north and gently (well, mostly gently) up hill all the way back. After fields of calmly grazing cows the route heads steeply up hill, through a neat stable yard and onto an old, sandy drove road alongside woodland and a good place for a snack stop. After crossing a stream, the Longster Trail meets a brook and follows it east. A footbridge tucked in the hedge takes the route steeply uphill then along arable fields and grazing land full of diving swallows before popping back out onto the road at Alvanley. With the North Cheshire Way within a stone’s throw, the Longster Trail crosses a road and head across fields again. Care needs to be taken to stick the the Longster Trail with a more visible footpath heading right, both paths meet the same road but the un-named path adds more distance and more importantly would have missed out a section of the Longster Trail. It’s here I should admit that I did miss the path so ended up having to walk back. Within less than a kilometre, the Longster Trail joins the North Cheshire Way and the route retraces its self back to the trig to complete the walk and the end of the Longster Trail.
This walk on a lovely sunny August day was the other half to walk 1, repeating the connecting path. This time I met with the awesome Sarah Williams of Tough Girl Challenges, we parked our cars and, without our usual greeting of a hug, we set off.
The Sandstone trail is well trodden and with plenty of waymarks the navigation is easy, meaning we could natter the whole time without paying attention to where we were heading. The sun was warm and we quickly reached the turning point.
The route turns west and follows field edges then large open grazing land. This is not a named route and the waymarks sparse, so more care was needed on the navigation. Lots of temporary fencing for dairy cattle divided the fields, making the route of the public right of way unclear and uncomfortable for a short section. The GPS came in useful to confirm that the path was correct as a number of electric fences needed to be crossed: a bit of team work, walking poles and good flexibility was required. Rich grassy field, the result of the muck spreading encountered on walk 1 took us past the trees of Hoofield covert.
We picked up the Eddisbury Way following a thick hedge before popping out onto Hoofield Lane and into the village of Hoofield. Passing out of Hoofield more navigation confidence was needed to cross a poultry farm and into thickly planted maize. It was reasonably easy to walk down the lines of maize holding our arms in front of our faces to keep the leaves away from our eyes. A short stretch along the busy A51 took us on the Dutton Mill were it was time to leave the Eddisbury Way and head back. The footpath passes through a final farm sweet with the smell of cows and a final trudge up the road back to the cars.
Video of the walk HERE The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE
It has been a long, long time since I walked 20 km. Mentally this seemed like a huge challenge, although lockdown had meant I walked almost daily I had no idea if I could walk 20km in one go. I decided to do a solo linear walk with my husband dropping me off and collecting me: if I had to stop I could always call for an early pick-up. As I wanted to test my endurance and not my navigation, a canal walk seemed to fit the bill.
The Weaver Way runs from the top of Audlem locks on the Shropshire Union Canal, right on the southern edge of Cheshire, all the way to Frodsham broadly following the river Weaver. Its 64km long and the longest of the routes that is entirely within the county of Cheshire.
I started the walk at Audlem. This unfortunately meant I had to walk back up the 15 locks to the actual start of the Weaver Way, but it was a lovely day and the locks are lovely. After loitering long enough to look like I had intended to walk up the locks, I turned and headed north. The walk crosses the river Weaver twice on aqueducts, once north of Audlem where the Weaver is little more than a big stream and again just before Church Minshull by which time it has grown to a river. The stretch to Nantwich from Overwater marina is straight and surrounded by flat farmland. But it is far from dull, there was so much wildlife from geese grazing in the fields, moorhens dabbling along the towpath and juicy ripe blackberries too irresistible not to eat. At Nantwich there is the option to detour through the town, but I chose to stay on the towpath which was now busy with narrowboats. As the canal heads out of Nantwich it crosses the Chester Road on a short but impressive black and white painted aqueduct.
It was at this point I witness what was almost an incredible encounter. A man was busy, head down repairing his narrowboat. As I approached, a kingfisher flew out from the trees on the opposite bank went to land on his back, changed it’s mind at the last moment, briefly landed on the bow behind him and flew back into the trees. As I walked past him I said what had happened and we shared a moment of delight at such a beautiful bird.
Onward and I was soon at Hurleston Junction where the Llangollen Canal meets the Shropshire Union Canal, and a place I will visit at least twice more on the Cheshire Challenge. From here it was a few kilometres to the turning point at Barbridge Junction and along the grandly named Shropshire Union Canal Middlewich Branch. More winding and a little wilder than the main branch I recalled cycling down this towpath, chasing down a friend’s narrowboat a few years before. Weary legs carried me on and, 24km later (not counting the walk to the top of Audlem locks) I reached bridge 14 and the end of the walk.
A lovely warm and sunny summers walk along the river started this walk from just outside the village of Kingsley. The track down to the river was a footpath with hedges either side, full of butterflies and bees on the wildflowers. The path opens up to a grassy field and the river, breakfast smells rising from a narrowboat moored on the bank as we headed up river.
The Weaver here is navigable and in its hey day was busy bringing coal to the salt works and the salt back out, which makes it a fascinating place to walk. A fallen tree in a wooded section provided entertainment to the others as we each ducked underneath it trying not to catch our back packs. The path briefly ducked away from the river at Pickering Cut through a small mobile home park and over what was once the original path of the river, now a quiet back water and a haven for wildlife. A short distance further on is the impressive Dutton Viaduct, carrying trains between Liverpool and London, after some silliness listening to the echoes under the arches we carried on Dutton Lock. This is where we left the North Cheshire Way and joined the Delamere Way.
After the flat river walk, the pull up the hill got the blood pumping and we wove round fields and briefly popped out onto the road and under the railway. We stopped for lunch under a large tree and watched the trains whooshing past. The route then follows the top of the railway bank all the way to Acton Bridge. It was here I made a minor navigation error where several paths criss-crossed in small fields, I may well have been absorbed in conversation! The downside is that I now have an orphan section of just a few hundred metres, the upside is that we passed the Hazel Pear pub, which had just reopened with Covid restrictions in place. We stopped for a drink and sat in the pub garden, it felt very odd to be back in a pub though it felt very safe and well organised.
Refreshed, we carried on. The route took us along the road out of Acton Bridge, and just before we turned down a hedge-lined footpath we heard snuffling and a small black pig wandered up to the gate for a scratch behind the ears. The remainder of the Delamere Way alternates between fields and back roads, as we left Ruloe we waved goodbye to the Delamere Way, it heads south-west towards Delamere Forest but we needed to head north-west back to our start point. The paths were again mixed between quiet roads, byways and footpaths, the last couple of kilometres on the tarmac made tired legs complain a little in the heat of the late afternoon but nothing to spoil a lovely day in the Cheshire countryside.
The Baker Way is the first completed path of the Cheshire Challenge and was named after Jack Baker, a much loved and active advocate of local footpaths. It was June 2020 and in less strange times, I’d have taken the train to Chester and walked back but lockdown had changed the timetable and I wasn’t yet sure if I wanted to sit on a train, if only for a short distance. So instead, I was dropped off at Chester Station. The walk is 21km, and takes in city canal, fields and forest along the way, it’s a lovely walk and the weather was mostly kind.
The route picks up the Shropshire Union Canal, so I’ll be walking this way again twice: even though I will have walked the track underfoot, it only counts towards one named path at a time. So, I’ll be back! It was a little odd walking past the cafes and pubs on what would have been a busy Sunday morning and the ducks were clearly wondering where their snacks had gone. I followed the canal out of Chester, moving from old brick warehouses to modern industrial buildings and suburban housing and pubs.
After briefly swapping to a muddy footpath on the opposite bank of the canal, the Baker Way heads off across fields of wheat and maize before popping out onto a quiet country road. The road becomes rougher and broken before turning into a by way, which weaves through the Hockenhull Platts nature reserve and crosses three grade 2 listed medieval bridges. This is border country and the name is a combination of old English and Welsh meaning “the bridges on the old peddlars way”. After the bridges comes the village of Tarvin. This is where we normal drive to for the most excellent fish and chips from King Louis, so it was fascinating to pass through a familiar place on an unfamiliar route.
A perfect single oak made an excellent lunch stop and feeling pleased with my efforts I stayed a while, eating cake and leaning against the tree. Drizzle prompted a quick repack and the path carried on, skirting round Ashton and through the splendidly grand Peel Hall which is now a stud farm with foals, all knees and hocks, grazing with their mothers. Then followed a stretch of road walking, though in parts the road was barely more than a track. Now back in familiar territory, the route passed through Brines Brow wood and then a short but rather unpleasant stretch along the road known locally as the switch back. The road is fast here with rough verges and blind corners so I was glad when the route headed off into the forest. This section crosses several other paths on the Cheshire Challenge and it was quite exciting to know I would be walking them all.
When I first moved to the area, it took me a while to realise just how many bridges cross the railway in the forest and it did my navigation confidence no good when I’d find myself back at a sandstone bridge facing the opposite direction I was sure I was headed. The Baker Way crossed three bridges as it winds through the forest, the afternoon sun had brought out families walking round the Gruffalo trail and it seemed crowded compared to my mostly solitary walk. Finally the path came to the station at Delamere and I was done. The first completed path! I wonder which will be next?
Retrospectively, this was the first Cheshire Challenge walk. I had mulled over the idea and this walk was specifically planned to walk along two named paths though I had not yet named it the Cheshire Challenge. It was just two weeks since the Covid-19 lockdown had lifted and I was able to meet Jo and walk all day: it felt so good to be out again beyond the now very familiar paths around my home.
The Eddisbury Way starts above Burwardsley and ends in Frodsham, it runs broadly parallel to the better-known Sandstone Trail so with a little careful planning a series of circular walks are an ideal way to walk both paths. I made a rookie error on this walk, aside from the detour due to the path being closed, I missed the very start of the Eddisbury Trail. Its just a few hundred meters at most BUT for completeness I will have to go back and walk it at some point.
The Eddisbury Way is reasonably well waymarked, but as it is less popular its not quite as well trodden and clear as the Sandstone Trail. After hugging a very splendid oak tree by the first stile we set off across the fields. It is mostly flat here and the walking was easy on legs now unfamiliar to the distance but any complaints from feet were drowned out by the long views and glorious sunshine. There are sections of road walking, though it is all along quiet single track roads so we were only passed by the occasional car or cyclist. Where we were due to head back onto the field tracks we were met with a sign. Not a good sign. A path closed sign. Works on the railway meant that the path to the canal was closed so some on-the-spot route planning was required. Unfortunately, the options were limited and more road walking was required. We detoured past the closed Ice Cream farm, there is a railway crossing at the marina but its not a public right of way and with people living on the narrowboats that route was not open to us, so we carried on to the road bridge then trotted along the canal back to the point where the Eddisbury Way passes under the canal.
I love the unexpected things you find on walks, as we climbed back up we came across a stream that had carved a pool into the sandstone. Tempting though it was to have a paddle, we pushed on. We stopped for lunch in a grassy meadow taking a moment to feel the sun on our faces and sitting quietly for a while.
At the excellently named Hoofield, we waved goodbye to the Eddisbury Way and set off on a section of unnamed paths. As is often the case, the waymarks are harder to find or non-existent so a map is definitely required. The greatest excitement on this section was encountering the muck-spreader: summer footwear designed to ventilate the feet requires extremely careful foot placement and a lot of concentration to prevent definitely-not-mud soaking one’s socks!
It is impossible to miss the Sandstone Trail, the track is well worn, the waymarks are clear and many of the stiles and plank ditch crossings have been replaced with sturdy gates and bridges. It also became slightly busier as we got closer to Beeston, the upside of this being the open café and a chance to eat ice cream. After Beeston, the path moves into the steep woodland around Peckforton Castle. An unwelcome climb on tired legs was made up for with views back across the Cheshire plain as we neared the end of the walk. Had circumstances been different, we would certainly have popped into the Pheasant Inn for a much-needed refuelling but that was not to be this time.
As so commenced the Cheshire Challenge, I wonder how long it will take me to finish it?