rough grass banks either side of a wide river with woods in the distance
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 3 – North Cheshire Way & Delamere Way

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.

Video of the walk HERE

This route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance9.48km
Paths walkedNorth Cheshire Way, Delamere Way
Total distance16.3km
Total ascent143m
OS MapOS Landranger 257
Date walked12th July 2020
Time taken5 hours 15 minutes
CakeTunnocks – OK, so that’s not really cake!
Dance poseJazz turn
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed41km (1500km total)
Walk stats
A row of brick cottages backing onto the canal with a two path on the opposite bank
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 2 – Baker Way

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?

A selfie of a woman wearing a mask outside a stone building, giving a thumbs up sign
The first completed named path!

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance21km
Paths walkedBaker Way
Total distance21km
Total ascent241km
OS mapOS Explorer 226, 267
Date walked28th June 2020
Time taken6 hours
CakeCherry sponge
Dance poseWaterfall
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed31.9km (1500km total)
Walk stats
A large solitary tree in a grassy field
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 1 – Eddisbury Way & Sandstone Trail

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.

A woman in walking kit hugging a large oak tree
Tree hugger!

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.

A selfie by a small waterfall
Tempting to paddle but we had walking to do

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?

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance10.85km
Paths walkedEddisbury Way, Sandstone Trail
Total distance18.7km (including diversion)
Total ascent238m
OS mapOS Explorer 257, 267
Date walked14th June 2020
Time taken5 hours
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed10.85km (1500km total)
Walk stats
Adventure planning, Cheshire Challenge, How I...

Mapping the Cheshire Challenge

Although I had completed about 80km of the challenge, it was clear that I needed to be a bit more strategic in planning walks or I’d end up repeating paths or, worse, leave lots of little missed sections. So time to think big!

1:80,000 scale big. This scale is detailed enough to show B roads and villages, but big enough that the whole challenge fits on one piece of paper. It’s an Ordnance Survey map which meant tracing the paths from the LDWA website was fairly easy as I could zoom out to the same scale and transcribe what was on screen to the map. The intention was not to show every twist and turn of the paths, rather the overview of the places they passed through and how they related to each other. Where paths shared the same track on the ground I drew them as parallel lines, totally unrealistic as that would make them 300 meters apart but it meant I could see instantly how many paths shared that track. It took the best part of 10 hours and nearly 200 metres of pen ink but was very satisfying to see all 22 paths and how they interlinked or not in some cases!

Connecting the paths into routes for walks will be tricky. Some, like the Llangollen Canal, have no adjacent path in the challenge so I’ll probably turn them into multi-day walks and camp overnight. The trickier route planning to solve are the areas where there are many adjacent and crossing paths. The perfect solution is to find a series of circular walks that do not duplicate, don’t miss sections of path and minimise the number of paths not in the challenge. This is stepping into the world of computer science and the dark realms of P vs NP problems, way beyond what my brain can fathom so I’ll resign myself to a few odd walks to officially complete the challenge. If you have 45 minutes and want to boggle your mind, this In Our Time Podcast has a go at explaining it.

A large map of Cheshire with hand drawn paths
The master map!

After eating my celebratory Tunnock’s something was niggling at me. That purple shaded area over Hooton and Parkgate. So the following weekend I checked the website again. And the niggle was right.

Two of the rules I set myself were that the path must start or finish in Cheshire, and the path much be on the LDWA website. Following these rules and now with the big map i n front of me it was clear I had missed three paths and 108km. Out came the pens and the map was updated. This sets the challenge at 25 paths and just a fraction over 1500km, which are much nicer round numbers, don’t you think?

A pen and Tunnock Caramel wafer on a map

And to show the size of the task, I made a timelapse video of my efforts fuelled by gin, tea and Tunnocks! Enjoy!

Cheshire Challenge, Journey to Svalbard

YesStories

I was very excited to be given the chance to talk at YesStories and am even more excited that the talk has been published!

YesStories online!

YesStories is a series of talk on adventure and saying yes more given by all sorts of amazing people and I feel very proud to be in such great company! My talk was all about finding, losing and adjusting adventure: the journey I took to nearly get to Svalbard and the Cheshire Challenge, my way of dealing with having to wait another year.

You can view the talk HERE on YouTube!