A green footpath sign against a leafy hedge
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 4 – Weaver Way

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.

A green footpath sign against a leafy hedge
Weaver Way Waymarks

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.

A black and white waymark on a fence post
The Crewe and Nantwich circular walk crosses and joins the Weaver Way

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. 

a selfie of a woman in outdoor gear with trees, a river and harvested fields in the background
The canal passing over the Weaver

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.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance24.5km
Path walkedWeaver Way
Total distance24.5km
Total ascent110m
OS mapOS Landranger 257, 267
Date walked26th July 2020
Time taken5 hours 44 minutes
CakeSponge cake
Dance poseBallet barre work
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed80.5km (1500km total)
Walk stats
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
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!

Uncategorized

A new challenge for Covid times

Feeling the need to take control amongst all the uncertainty, I’ve started a new challenge!

An awful lot could happen between now and April with Covid-19, which has made me worry that it could affect my expedition to Svalbard again. I know that with polar adventures you are often in the lap of the gods and that resilience and stoicism is key, but I’ve found it hard to focus on training knowing there is a chance it might not happen again.

The mountains are only an hour or so away from me and are a perfect place to train and a place I love to be. But, Wales is still on a stricter lockdown as I write this and there is always the possibility that we all go back to a higher lockdown if infection rates rise again. I am also very conscious of the huge pressures the lifting of lockdown will have on local communities and facilities: the mountains aren’t going anywhere so I’d rather wait before returning. I needed to set a challenge that I can start ticking off now, is close to home, is good endurance training, doesn’t require any new kit or skills and could be done solo or with friends: it needs to be something that stands alone from the Svalbard crossing at the same time as contributing to it. So this is a challenge for Covid times.

The Cheshire Challenge

Selfie of two walkers with a long view over fields
Setting off on the Eddisbury Way

There are 22 long distance paths that start, finish or are wholly within Cheshire where I live. 1394 km (866 miles) in total. I unofficially started on the 7th June 2020 when lockdown began to lift in England but now, with a spreadsheet ready, I’m making it official! I’ve set myself some rules for the challenge:

  1. The path must start or finish in Cheshire
  2. The path can be done in sections
  3. No double-counting distance if sections are repeated
  4. The path is listed on the Long Distance Walkers Association website https://www.ldwa.org.uk/

So without further ado, here is the complete list.  As it is going to take me a few years to complete the list may change if paths are added or changed: 

Path NameDistance, Km
Whitegate Way11
Longster Trail16
Shropshire Union Canal Middlewich Branch16
Baker Way21
Eddisbury Way27
Delamere Loop34
Delamere Way34
Mersey Way35
Bollin Valley Way40
Crewe and Nantwich Circular Walk45
Sandstone Trail51
Bishop Bennet Way55
South Cheshire Way55
Gritstone Trail56
Weaver Way64
Dane Valley Way77
Llangollen Canal Walk79
Shropshire Union Canal106
North Cheshire Way113
Two Saints Way148
Trent and Mersey Canal Walk153
Cheshire Ring Canal Walk158
The 22 Cheshire Challenge paths: shortest to longest