Cheshire Walks - Congleton
15:57 12 July 2011
For this months walk we stray close to the Cheshire/ Staffordshire border, starting with a stiff climb to the summit of the gritstone outcrop known as The Cloud, 1,126 feet above sea level. We are in the secretive countryside of East Cheshire, an area defined by the Macclesfield Canal and the River Dane with the Manchester/Stoke railway line bisecting it on a north/south axis. This is a region of hedged lanes, thick woodland and patchwork fields, what I would call la Cheshire profonde, deepest Cheshire.
We start from the picnic area at Timbersbrook where a car park is ideal for our purposes. Less ideal is the closed toilet block, no longer available regrettably. Take the gated exit to the car park and walk through the maintained picnic area to a flight of steps leading up to the road.
Turn left and climb the hill, soon finding an opening on the right with a signpost informing us we are on the Gritstone Trail, a 35-mile route from Disley to Kidsgrove which we follow to the summit trig point of The Cloud. What a view! An orientation plaque identifies the main landmarks while below sprawls the creeping urbanisation of Congleton.
We drove through its complex gyratory system on the way here and saw some of the fibreglass bears placed at strategic points around the town throughout this summer.
These are a reference to the traditional association Congleton has with bears dating back to a famous occasion when money collected to purchase a new Bible was diverted to acquiring a bear needed for the popular sport of bear baiting. Congleton has ever since been known as Beartown, the town that swapped a bible for a bear. How could they!
From the trig point descend in a south-easterly direction where, after a sharp stepped descent we meet a private drive to a bungalow and then a lane where we turn left. Proceed downhill and take the second footpath sign on the right, not the first and more obvious. A stile leads into pasture and we cross two further stiles before at the fourth meeting a lane. Here turn left then at the T-junction, right and walk along this quiet road to where it crosses the River Dane by a stone bridge.
Just before the bridge, take the bridleway on the left, the broad path leading to a bend in the river where we turn alongside it through a gate and over a footbridge to arrive quite unexpectedly at a canal bridge. Cross it and turn down left onto the towpath of the Macclesfield Canal, a section of the famous Cheshire Ring.
Stay on the towpath, the canal on our left, along this quiet and relaxing stretch with hardly a dog-walker or narrow boat in sight. We go under the railway line and Buxton Road before a big bend turns the direction south past the suburban housing of Buglawton of which we see hardly anything.
Fishermen appeared and my curious companion Jim made the unforgivable faux-pas of asking one of them if he had caught anything.
You never ask fishermen this. They dont like it. This one replied in a surly way that this was not likely considering that he had only just arrived and why didnt Jim go and bother somebody else? Fishermen have to work off their frustrations alone. If they had wanted conversation they wouldnt have taken up fishing.
Progress along the towpath is fast and we were soon reaching the point where we leave the canal to head back towards Timbersbrook. This comes just after we go under the railway for a second time, the path departing at a metal footbridge which we cross to the far side of the canal.
Go through a wooded area on a rampart and keep to the edge of a rough field until a track takes us to meet a lane at a metal gate. Cross straight over and head to the left of farm buildings and go through a gate, keeping ahead to where a green lane climbs over ground boggy and wet due to poor drainage to where a stile leads onto the road immediately opposite to the path we took up to The Cloud. Turn right on the road and downhill find the footpath to the right leading back through the picnic area to the car park.
This walk was seven miles in length and took us four hours including a lunch stop at the bridge over the River Dane. For some this will be too far, for others too short but for all it offers varied terrain, great views and constant stimulation from birdsong and the lush green countryside. An excellent walk.
Area of walk: To the east of Congleton
Map: OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Congleton
Distance: Seven miles
Time to allow: Four hours
Refreshments and toilets: None
Further research: www.discoverthegritstonetrail.co.uk
Keeping the path clear
I met the Wednesday walkers of the Mid Cheshire Footpath Society at the tidy village of Aldford south of Chester at their invitation to join them for one of the three walks they were to do that day.
Their aim is to walk every footpath in their area at least once every three years and I was interested to see them in action. Their work is entirely voluntary and results in obstructions cleared or reported to the County Footpaths Officer, waymarks replaced and paths kept open for everyone to enjoy.
The leader of the walk I joined was Ken Taylor, a keen cyclist but only too pleased to don his boots and guide us on a walk that headed east then looped south before heading back to Aldford.
The society has appointed four district inspectors - Paul Layfield, Mike Harris, John White and Tony Harbottle - the latter accompanying us on our walk armed with his secateurs, hammer and way marks to ensure the footpaths were properly signed and passable.
Our walk was through agricultural land including field after field of yellow rape seed, widely planted in this area. Luckily the farmers are kind enough to leave a swathe un-sown where footpaths crossed their fields. In our party was ex-farmer John Brown and his daughter Nora, the wide difference in their ages no bar to full enjoyment of the day's exertions. Like everyone in the group, they made good company and our walk was enlivened by good conversation throughout.
Membership is a modest 4 a year, good value and one must applaud their quiet yet determined devotion to the task of keeping the footpaths walked. For more information contact Joyce Harbottle, the society's membership secretary, on 01829 733465 or go to www.mcfs.org.uk.