A hazy view through trees over a distance fields
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 25 – Sandstone Trail

The Sandstone Trail.  Its probably one of (if not the) most well-known long-distance path in Cheshire.  It joins the towns of Frodsham in the north and Whitchurch in the south, 55km (or 54km on the OS route below) broadly following the sandstone ridge.  Most years there are events to walk or run the whole route in a day, long before the Cheshire Challenge became a ‘thing’ I pondered walking the whole route.  Early in the challenge the closeness of the Eddisbury Way, which runs almost parallel to the Sandstone Trail made for convenient and easy circular walks: 1, 5 and 22.  After walking 55km on the relatively flat Wirral Circular Trail I wanted another big endurance challenge and even though it meant repeating sections, walking the Sandstone Trail in a day fitted the bill.

Although the distance is the same, the elevation and terrain certainly isn’t: 495m meters versus 1090m and pavement versus dirt tracks and towpaths.  This makes for an interesting challenge, although the route is tougher the variation is much easier on the feet and legs than pavement-pounding.  And so I made a plan once again with Sarah Williams.

We were dropped off in Whitchurch at just after 7am and after a little faffing to get to the exact start, a sandstone arch on the edge of Jubilee Park, then a little more faffing with the GPS dancing around to find the right path indicated by a small waymark halfway up a lamppost hidden by trees. But we were off and quickly picked up the Whitchurch spur of the Llangollen canal and onto the Llangollen canal heading north.  5.5km along the canal settled us into the walk, then a few steps down at Willeymoor Lock lead across gently rolling fields.  The fields were full of ripening wheat, barley and oats, maize towering over our heads and rich grass.  The trail passes alongside farms and round a racehorse yard, the sandy track neatly raked ready for the day’s training.   The rolling fields came to an end at Bickerton and the steep climb up to the fort, picking up the sandstone ridge.  We had no time to explore on this walk, though there are many fascinating places along the way.  Along the ridge of Bickerton Hill is Mad Allen’s hole, a small cave once occupied by a hermit called John Harris in the late 18th Century.  Its tricky to get to but I may well return for an explore.  Up on the ridge is a memorial and poem to Kitty, the wife of Leslie Wheeldon who helped the National Trust acquire the land.

The path descends steeply before quickly turning back uphill to the high point of the walk at Rawhead.  The weekend we walked was also the weekend of Carfest and as we sat at the trig point for a snack we could hear the engines revving somewhere below us.  Leaving the views across to the Clywds in North Wales the path heads east to Bulkeley Hill and views across the Cheshire plain to the edges of the Peak District.  The air was hazy and despite searching it wasn’t possible to see Croker Hill and the distinctive radio tower from walk 24. 

And now a section of steady downhill as the temperature began to rise, though mercifully cooler than the previous weekend that saw temperatures rise to nearly 30C, far too hot for me: there is a reason I picked a cold adventure!   Now on familiar paths, we passed Beeston Castle and on to Wharton Locks on the Shropshire Union Canal.  Back in August Sarah and I walked this way on our challenge walk of 20 miles (30km), we were pretty broken by the end of that walk and it felt good to have progressed so far with our endurance fitness.  We stopped at the lock for another snack and to rest from the heat before setting out again across the open fields.

As we reached Gresty’s waste, we ran out of water.  With many miles to go and nowhere for a top up before Frodsham on the route, I phoned home for assistance.  Another 1.5 litres in the pack and we were good to go.  Delamere Forest is my extended back garden, so we were able to pick up a pace on good and familiar paths.  I have walked the section of the Sandstone trail to Frodsham from Delamere several times, this was intentional planning as we didn’t need to stop to check the map.  Just before the ridgeway, I got out my headtorch.  From now the route winds through woodland and with the sun setting the light was fading fast.  I like walking in the dark, with my whole world reduced to a patch of light in front of me.  Frodsham woods are full of sandstone outcrops, quarries and steep hillsides so great care was needed amongst the tree roots.  The sound of a wedding party at the Forest Hills hotel contradicted the winding path through the trees before we popped out into the open and night time views across Wirral.  The final winding path dropping out of the woods into Frodsham was welcome and with the pubs bustling with Saturday night drinkers, we hugged the pillar outside the Bear pub that marks the end of the trail.  15 hours 40 minutes and, though tired, we felt pleasantly strong with only a few minor complaints from weary feet and knees.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance*39.9km
Paths walkedSandstone Trail
Total distance53.8km
Total ascent1090m
OS mapExplorer 257, 267
Date walkedJuly 2021
Time taken15 hours 40 mins
CakeSponge – but we were too tired and forgot!
Dance poseShowtime
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed:482km (1500km total)
the stats

*not including previously logged walks on the Sandstone Trail

Rolling fields and Hawthorn bushes covered in white flowers frames by the entrance to a cave
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 22 – North Cheshire Way, Sandstone Trail and Weaver Way

After our big walk, this was to be a nice short 20km.  Huh, never thought I’d write that a few months ago! 

The walk picks up a section of the North Cheshire Way, Sandstone Trail and a little of the Weaver Way.  This corner of Cheshire around Frodsham and Helsby has quite a few overlapping paths which makes the route planning a bit tricky and a minor detour was needed so I could fully tick off a section of the North Cheshire Way.

We started at Frodsham station, the route is a wiggly circular taking in the sandstone ridge with big views over the Mersey and a section along the river Weaver which was engineered to be navigable in 1732.  The weather was gloriously sunny so I bravely left my waterproof trousers at home and took sunscreen and a hat instead.  Leaving kit behind always makes me a tad nervous, especially waterproofs even though the forecast was sunny all day and I was such a short distance from home rescue was only a call away; but nervousness is a good prompt to make me check if I am really sure I should leave something behind or not.

Leaving the station, the route walk hugs the bottom of the ridge, slowly climbing up through the trees.  It’s a very pretty place to walk and lovely to explore the many paths among the broadleaf woods and sandstone outcrops some with ornately carved graffiti from over a century ago.

But we were on a mission and joined the North Cheshire Way at an impressively solid flight of stone steps.  The route continues to hug the wooded hillside for a couple of kilometres then pops back out into the sunshine heading for Helsby.  After a steep climb through more woods, we came to the top of the cliffs above Helsby.  A haunt of local climbers, its often soft, friable sandstone is not to be underestimated and requires significant brave-pants to be worn on the harder grades.

At the top of Helsby hill is a trig, which we visited on walk 6 so we gave it another hug (all trigs need a hug) and stopped for a snack.  The North Cheshire Way now follows the same tracks as the Longster Trail for a few hundred metres before heading south and on paths I have already logged in the challenge.  A very short stretch on the Longster Trail, again already logged, and the route switches to follow the track of the Sandstone Trail.  The strategically placed Spirit of the Herd pony sanctuary’s cake stall was too much temptation to resist and having discussed in depth our plans to eat a little better on our walks we stuffed our selves with fudge and brownies.  Well its for a good cause and very delicious.

The Sandstone Trail is one of, if not the best waymarked path so far on the challenge and the map was forgotten until we got to Baker’s Dozen, a flight of steel steps from Dunsdale Hollow which replaced the very worn Jacob’s ladder steps carved into the sandstone.  It was here we took a short detour to pick up the North Cheshire Way before retracing our steps under the cliffs covered in carved graffiti, some dating back hundreds of years.  Now officially counting towards the North Cheshire Way, the route popped out at the memorial high above Frodsham with more long views to North Wales and Liverpool.

Now the walk headed down off the ridge and into lush meadows and arable fields before arriving at the banks of the river Weaver.  Canada geese, moorhens and mallard ducks were abundant in the reeds in the banks and a long-abandoned lock.  At the road bridge we headed back into town and ate even more cake sat in the sun.  Perfect!

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge distance15.8km
Path walkedNorth Cheshire Way, Sandstone Trail and Weaver Way
Total distance20km
Total ascent609m
OS mapOS Explorer 267
Date walkedMay 2021
Time taken6 hours 20 minutes
CakeKit Kat blondie from Spirit of the Herd AND cherry sponge cake!
Dance pose90’s rave…
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed:385km (1500km total)
The stats
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 5 – Sandstone Trail & Eddisbury Way

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

Cheshire Challenge distance11km
Paths walkedSandstone Trail and Eddisbury Way
Total distance19.2km
Total ascent146m
OS mapLandranger 257
Date walkedAugust 2020
Time taken5 hours
Cakefruit sponge
Dance poseHip hop
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed100km
Stats table
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