White blossom covers branches with blue sky in the background
Cheshire Challenge, Walk

Cheshire Challenge walk 19 – Shropshire Union Canal & North Cheshire Way

It’s been a while since I have walked over 20km and was pleasantly surprised how little my body complained about this 30km walk.  The route on the OS map puts it at 27.5km, but there were a few less obvious navigation points that were a little hidden and required a bit of back-tracking to be sure we were on course.

The first 7km of the walk was getting to the Shropshire Union canal from Hooton station.  Most of the Cheshire Challenge walks have been rural or just passing through the outskirts of towns, this was much more urban and not the prettiest of walks with the busy M53 motorway, Stanlow refinery and warehouses contrasting with pasture, woodland and sandstone cottages.  What I did find fascinating is passing landmarks I recognised from driving along the motorway but seeing them at a much slower pace and seeing more details, but it did mean the smell lasted longer too.  Walks I have done so far on the Cheshire Challenge, especially those along the canals, have passed through industry from over a century ago which has lost its brutal edge and is painted, cared for and has become ‘heritage’.  I wonder if the same nostalgia will ever placed on modern industrial buildings.

As always when I walk with Sarah Williams we talked pretty much the whole way; our conversations blend the deep and meaningful, planning future endeavours and plain silliness.  I like walking and talking and it is true that walking brings clarity to thought.  I often find that over a walk I’ve resolved issues that have been running round my head and, in today’s video call world, I find conversations with someone while not looking directly at them bring a deeper discussion.  Add to that the steady pace of walking which is proven to help the brain process thoughts I definitely get more than just a good physical workout from walks. But the serious chat is balanced by a good dose of laughter, too.

We reached the ‘start’ of the walk at the boat museum at the Shopshire Union Canal, not yet open I got as close to the locks at the end of the canal as I could before back-tracking a short distance to walk along the canal.  For a canal that passes some of the areas heaviest industry, there are pockets of tranquillity and plenty of wildlife.  There are equally neglected areas too, often within a few minutes’ walk and though this could be quite depressing I take comfort in knowing that nature will thrive and reclaim what we humans leave behind.  And there was a poignant moment too, a stark reminder of just how hard it has been for some with flowers laid remembering a life cut short too soon.

The walk did not stay on the canal for long and picked up the North Cheshire Way to weave back to Hooton for the next 14km.  Spring was springing everywhere, this section of the walk was more rural along pastures and woodland, passing fields with calves, lambs and foals with blossom covered blackthorn and cherry trees along the hedges and gardens.  Even the road sections seemed more pleasant than normal, its amazing how blue sky and sun can transform things.

Video of the walk HERE

The route is available on the Ordnance Survey website HERE

Cheshire Challenge Distance19.7km
Paths walkedShropshire Union Canal & North Cheshire Way
Total distance walked27.3km
Total ascent133m
OS mapOS Explorer 266
Date walkedApril 2021
Time taken7 hours
CakeNo cake but some very good gummy sweets!
Dance posejazz!
Total Cheshire Challenge distance completed:288km (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
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