A wooden fingerpost sign with an acorn logo and 'Oakmere Way' written on it. There is a wide path to the left with two cyclists in the distance. The sign is point towards woodland.
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 17 – Delamere Way

This was an intentionally shorter walk as I have volunteered to test the route survey form for the Slow Ways project.  I needed to stop and take measurements of the path and make notes so my overall pace would be much slower than normal.

The forest is becoming a bit of a popular film location and there was a small encampment of shiny white trailers as I walked through the old carpark, I curbed my curiosity and upped my pace as I walked past.  This short section is along the same path as the Delamere Loop and I had to stop myself on autopilot missing my turn.  The whole walk I was keeping alert for the factors that Slow Ways project want to know, all relating to the accessibility of the paths.  I started volunteering for Slow Ways when it started early 2020 and needed people to map possible routes, the ones I did are all back in the East Riding of Yorkshire and one day I will go and walk them.

After the forest the route winds its way into the back of Norley, then on to Cuddington. I take the notes I need to, realising that my bright idea of a small lightweight tailors tape measure rather than a heavy retractable DIY one was not so clever after dragging it through the mud a few times.  Before I mapped out the whole Cheshire Challenge and the pattern of the paths crossing was clear, the routes I planned were good walks but not terribly efficient in making sure I covered all the paths I needed to.  For this walk, it meant a short stomp along the road to pick up where I had left the Delamere Way in walk 3, then turn round and walk back to turn this walk into a decent circular.

After Cuddington, the walk picks up the top of the Oakmere Way.  Following the railway along a permitted path and around the edge of the tree nursery it crosses the road and back onto the now very familiar paths around the quarry.  The weather had closed in and the rain became persistent, but I like walking in the rain.  Head down and dry inside my waterproofs, I marched homeward.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance6.3km
Paths walkedDelamere Way
Total distance16km
Total ascent215m
OS mapOS Explorer 257
Date walkedMarch 2021
Time taken5 hours
CakeCherry cake
Dance poseTap dance
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed256km
The stats

Looking up at a stone arch bridge. There is a rutted track underneath with bare trees in the background
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 16 – Eddisbury Way

The first walk of the Cheshire Challenge I didn’t complete as planned.  It was a bright, warm sunny day with the promise of spring in the air, as I set out I was keen for a good walk; I knew I could walk 20km, the navigation would need some care as I know the Eddisbury Way is not well waymarked but everything was within my comfort zone.  Any maybe that was the problem: it was all a bit, well, easy.

I set out through the forest, the sun had brought quite a few people out despite the lockdown but it wasn’t crowds and I would be soon away from the busier areas.  The first sign that perhaps my heart was not fully in it was when I couldn’t see how to join the Eddisbury Way at Manley.  I’d walked a short section of the Sandstone trail, too short to count this time as I know I will be back later, and was stood, map in one hand and phone with the OS app in the other pacing up and down for a stile that wasn’t there.  After grumbling a bit I realised the basic error I had made and that the path I was looking for ran parallel to the one I was on, but on the other side of the hedge.

Once I had gotten over kicking myself, the walk to Kelsall was past familiar landmarks I would usually drive or cycle past.  I like seeing these places from a totally different perspective. There is more detail to be seen with a slower pace and it doesn’t always show them in a better light: somethings are better for a glimpse at speed but others turn out to be more fascinating than I could have imagined.  Around here, the fields are surrounded by huge, thick Leylandii hedges, I think there were once many orchards with the hedges there to protect the fruit trees from wind and create warm micro-climates for them.  

There is only one really grim bit of this walk which is crossing the dual carriageway to get to Kelsall.  It’s a very fast stretch of road and extreme care is needed to cross it.  For me, Kelsall is the place where the nearest Co-op is so it was nice to walk through the village an see just how lovely it is.  The experience was slightly spoilt by the huge crowds that were in the park I had to walk through, I hadn’t been near that many people since the summer and it felt pretty uncomfortable: though I suspect my underlying mardy mood had more to do with that than I’d admit at the time.

My pace had been slow and as I walked through the orchards around Weetwood thoughts of stopping arose.  I only needed to walk the Eddisbury Way section, I have plans to walk the length of the Sandstone Trail over a weekend with a friend sometime so the short section I’d walk today would be repeated.  But that would mean I’d given up.  Let myself down.  Failed.  I chose to stop and sulked all the way home in the car after being picked up.

Hindsight being the leveller it often is, I know I didn’t fail.  But I have reflected on why this walk just ‘didn’t do it for me’.  It’s no one thing, but I think walks like this where there is nothing that really pushes me outside the comfort zone I much prefer to do with friends.  And I’ve done a lot of comfort zone walking solo, I set this challenge because I couldn’t get to the wilder moors and mountains I love; I enjoy discovering these routes closer to home and not having to drive an hour to walk and its great training for Svalbard.  But its not the same.  I think lockdown 3 has finally gotten to me and I just need to be kind to myself.  I’ve walked 320km over 16 walks since I started this challenge, missing a tad over 7km is hardly failing.


Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance8km
Paths walkedEddisbury Way
Total distance14.6km
Total ascent~ 300m
OS mapOS Explorer 267
Date walkedFebruary 2021
Time taken5.5 hours
CakeCarrot cake
Dance poseBallet barre
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed320km
the stats
A path between a low sandstone gorge. In the background there are tall pine trees
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walks 13,14 & 15 – Delamere Loop

Three walks in one blog!  Grab a cuppa, this is a longer read.

I walked the Delamere Loop from my house over three walks in January and February 2021.  The third Covid lockdown meant I had to walk from my house, so to walk the 35km of the Delamere Loop I walked an extra 31km to meet the path further south.

The first section started in Delamere Forest alongside Blakemere Moss.  I’ve walked, run, roller skied and dragged my tyre around the mere many times and will walk it again as part of the Cheshire Challenge on the Delamere Way.  The route heads out of the forset to a steep road called the Yeld, it’s a relentless slog of a walk and even more of a grind for those that cycle it.  Around here there are small orchards and this one was full of Fieldfares gorging themselves on the fallen apples.

After passing the outskirts of the village of Kelsall, the walk heads back into the trees, this time in Primrose Wood.  Its here that a remnant of the ice age can be found, with a minor detour.  Now called Urchin’s Kitchen, the narrow sandstone gorge was a formed by melt water under the vast ice sheet that once covered here.  Cool huh?  The Delamere Loop continues to wind through the woods climbing up hill to pop out onto a quiet road, then back onto a narrow bridleway and then out on to the road that leads in to Utkinton.  After Utkinton, a less lovely stomp along a road for a few hundred meters brought the turning point, a large black and white fingerpost came into view.  Time to head for home.

I’m not normally worried by cows.  I’ve found that if I just walk slowly, quietly telling them I am the most boring thing they will see all day and that I am really not worth the effort to investigate then they generally ignore me.  Its rare I get a strong feeling that something is not right, maybe its a primordial instinct, a sixth sense that tells you things are not all hunky dory and even without looking danger in the face, you know it is there.  And this was one of those occasions.  As I entered the field it was at least knee deep in sloppy mud in places and I had to pick my way, hopscotch style, across what was theoretically a path: no one would keep cows on this I thought, they must have been moved.  I was wrong.  As I started to reach slightly firmer ground, I saw the cows and they were definitely interested in me.  Decision time.  Turning back put them behind me where I couldn’t see what they were doing: if I fell in the mud I could be in serious trouble.   I decided to continue, checking exactly where the exit from the field was on the OS app, phone in hand, slowing to a snail’s pace and with my walking poles to make sure I didn’t slip I walked directly towards the stile out of the field.  I was fine, they were uncomfortably observant and skittish but moved away as I approached and I made it to the stile without incident.  But it wasn’t a pleasant experience: I have only once before felt this wary of livestock and my heart was thumping as I swiftly climbed the stile.

And so back to the outskirts of Primrose Woods, down to the equestrian centre and then up the lane to Eddisbury Hill.

Two weeks later, I retraced my steps to Utkinton this time in snow as I dropped down from Delamere to Primrose Woods.  Deciding I didn’t fancy my chances with the cows again, I headed to Utkinton and repeated a small section of the Delamere Loop I had already walked.  At the black and white fingerpost I turned right instead of left and continued along the Delamere Loop.  This route was a lot of road walking.  The trouble with walks in winter that are road and paths is selecting footwear.  Snow and mud calls for walking boots, but miles on tarmac is unforgiving on the feet and joints.  Through Eaton and onward to the ghostly quiet Oulton Park race circuit, I finally left the tarmac to the refreshingly squidgy paths of Little Budworth Common.  Here the first tiny early signs of the incoming spring were appearing in the woods: the brilliant green shoots of the bluebells peeking through the leafmould.

This walk was the longest of the Delamere Loop walks at 25km but the least efficient of the Cheshire Challenge so far, with more distance covered on the unnamed paths than on the named ones.  At the Longstone, I left the Delamere Loop and turned back to home.  The Longstone is a medieval waymarker it would have been in the form of a cross but all that remains now is a solid chunk of the base.  Rare in this part of the country, the unassuming stone is grade II listed.  More road walking followed.  A pavement along the busy A49 was welcome and then the quiet, dead straight road along a wood know as Hogshead Lane.  A short way along a verge and I gratefully headed back on to paths, this time the Oakmere Way.  This is a permitted path alongside the sand quarry and leads all the way back to Delamere Forest.

Another two weeks later and I was walking back along the Oakmere Way, down Hogshead Lane and back to the Longstone.  This was a shorter walk of 20km, and after a few kilometres walking along quiet tarmac lanes, I came to the Whitegate Way.  Once a railway this is now a permitted path for cyclists and walkers, at 11km it’s the shortest long-distance path of the Cheshire Challenge but today I was only walking a section that doubles up as the Delamere Loop.  I both like and dislike paths such as this.  It’s a little too polished for my taste but its great for thinking time as no effort is needed to navigate and I don’t need to pay too much attention where I am putting my feet.  As I reached the end of the Whitegate Way I started that polite game of leap-frog gate holding for two teenage girls on mountain bikes: I walked past them, they then rode past me.  They asked me where the Whitegate Way ended and we started chatting about local routes to explore.  I’d like to think I planted the seed of an adventure for them.

Another short stretch of road and I was back in Delamere Forest and soon standing by the Delamere Loop sign pointing towards Blakemere Moss.  The Delamere Loop is the second of the Cheshire Challenge paths I have finished, the first being the Baker Way that I walked way back in the summer.

Or so I thought.  Some weeks later, on an evening stroll up the hill behind my house after work, I found a Delamere Loop sign.  At the top of a hill I definitely didn’t walk up.  My inner list-ticking self feels the need to investigate this further…

Videos of the walks are here: walk 13, walk 14 and walk 15

The routes are available on the Ordnance Survey website: walk 13, walk 14 and walk 15

Cheshire Challenge distance35km
Paths walkedDelamere Loop
Total distance67km
Total ascent978m
OS mapOS Explorer 267
Date walkedJanuary & February 2021
Time taken18.5 hours
CakeMostly Christmas cake
Dance poseVarious, mostly silly
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed241km (1500km total)
the stats

A tractor tyre decorated to look like a Christmas wreath. Greenery is draped over top, there are red baubles and two galvanised buckets are hung to look like bells
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 12 – Bishop Bennet Way

OK, so the Bishop Bennet Way has redeemed itself a bit with this section.  The route starts at Churton and is mostly on byways and bridleways, there was still road walking to be done but on much quieter stretches.

This was a proper stomp of a walk for me.  Walked between Christmas and New Year, the December days were at their shortest and I wanted to walk off the fug in my head from the disappointment of the new lockdown.  I set off from Churton where I had left the route a few weeks before, quickly the route turned onto a long section of bridleway.  The sun was out and the low light through the trees gave my glum mood a boost with the sun in my face for almost the whole day.  The mud squelched under my boots, often having to leap seemingly deep puddles, putting faith in my guess that the landing was solid. 

This walk wins the prize for the best sign seen enroute: a warning of subsidence on a restricted byway caused by badgers.  Taking my Primus stove with me on these winter walks was definitely a good idea, normally I barely stop on a walk, enough to check the map, dig out a snack from my pack or swap jackets as the weather changes.  But stopping to boil water forces me to sit and just be present in the landscape.

All but the last section of the day was up hill, gradually getting steeper as I climbed up from the plain past a sandstone scar and towards the southern edge of the sandstone ridge that runs through Cheshire.

One more section of the Bishop Bennet Way to go!

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance16.5km
Paths walkedBishop Bennet Way
Total distance16.5km
Total ascent107m
OS mapOS Explorer 257
Date walkedDecember 2020
Time taken4 hours
CakeCarrot cake
Dance poseShow time!
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed206km (1500km in total)
the stats
A rusty corrugated steel barn with rusty agricultural and railway maintenance machinery, all heavily overgrown with thick brambles
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 11 – Bishop Bennet Way

Well, it had to happen at some point in this challenge, a walk I really didn’t enjoy.  To be fair, the Bishop Bennet Way is primarily a horse and cycling route on bridleways, byways and roads; this section had long road sections and for someone who’s preference is remote wild places it didn’t fill me with much joy.

The route starts in the shadow of Beeston Castle and follows a byway before a long trudge along the road past the Ice cream farm.  In non-covid times the prospect of ice cream would have cheered me up but even the drive through seemed closed.   I found a good lunch spot where I could light my stove for a warm drink, eating a lot of cake and watching a flock of hens were highlights, as was the curious machinery graveyard at Calveley Hall.

Pfft.  That was it really.  17km in the bag and glad that’s ticked off: But I guess you can’t have all all the time, can you?

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance17km
Paths walkedBishop Bennet Way
Total distance17km
Total ascent54m
OS mapOS Explorer 257
Date walkedNovember 2020
Time taken4.25 hours
CakeFruit sponge
Dance poseNone, head down stomping!
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed189km (1500km total)
the stats
Rolling grassy land with low bare trees under a grey cloudy sky. In the far distance, silhouettes of hills can be seen on the horizon.
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 10 – South Cheshire Way & Llangollen Canal Walk

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.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance19km
Paths walkedSouth Cheshire Way, Llangollen Canal Walk
Total distance20km
Total ascent181m
OS mapOS Explorer 257
Date walkedNovember 2020
Time taken6 hours
CakeNone this time 😦
Dance poseJazz hands
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed172km (1500km total)
the stats
White water rushing out a sluice in front of a closed canal lock. The canal is in a cutting and sunning is glinting through the tall leafy trees in the background
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 9 – Shropshire Union Canal

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.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance17.2km
Paths walkedShropshire Union Canal
Total distance20km
Total ascent108m
OS mapExplorer 257, 243
Date walkedOcotober 2020
Time taken6 hours
CakeApple cake
Dance poseGeneral silliness
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed:153km
The stats
An arched canal tunnel entrance surrounded by trees with a grass bank and road on the right hand side
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 8 – Trent and Mersey Canal Walk & North Cheshire Way

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.

Video of the walk is HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance11.65km
Paths walkedTrent and Mersey Canal Walk, North Cheshire Way
Total distance12.1km
Total ascent172m
OS mapOS Explorer 267
Date walked27th September 2020
Time taken5 hours
CakeApple cake
Dance poseForgot, but we did sing!
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed145km (1500km in total)
Walk stats

Bright red hawthorn berries
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 7 – Two Saints Way & Shropshire Union Canal

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.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance:32km
Paths walked:Two Saints Way, Shropshire Union Canal
Total distance:33.2km
Total ascent:205m
OS map:OS Explorer 267, 257
Date walked:29th August 2020
Time taken:8 hours, 8 minutes
Cake:Cherry sponge
Dance pose:Ballet barre
Total Cheshire Challenge completed:133.6km (1500km in total)
Walk stats
Tiny clusters of pink flowers
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 6 – North Cheshire Way & Longster Trail

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.

A selfie of two women in walking kit next to a trig on a hill
The essential selfie

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.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge Distance:16.1km
Paths walked:North Cheshire Way, Longster Trail
Total distance:19.1km
Total ascent:352m
OS map:OS Explorer 266, 267
Date walked:23rd August 2020
Time taken:6 hours 45 minutes
Cake:Chocolate and Beetroot cake
Dance pose:Jazz hands
Total Cheshire Challenge completed:102.3km (1500km in total)
Walk stats