How to walk responsibly after the lockdown
PUBLISHED: 00:00 06 May 2020 | UPDATED: 15:41 29 May 2020
Measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic affect every area of life at home, at work and at leisure. But there is one simple pleasure we can all still enjoy… walking.
On the day the world changed, I was on top of a Cheshire hill, consulting a map, when a spry lady of a certain age jogged up and asked if I needed directions.
Before I could even answer, she jumped back like a scalded cat, suddenly remembering the new etiquette of social distancing, which meant we should be at least two metres apart. So here we were, the only two people in a vast landscape, standing gingerly apart lest a germ pass between us.
At that very moment, Boris Johnson was announcing a new world in which we should avoid pubs and theatres, work from home and stop all non-essential travel. Over-70s were advised to limit contact even with friends and family.
Perhaps that jogging lady and I already knew one good strategy to endure this new world: embrace the great outdoors.
Take the path less travelled, if and when it is advisable to do so, and you will not see another soul. Even Cheshire’s honeypot walking destinations are not so busy that you need to come within sneezing distance of a stranger. And, while the risk of infection is, I’ll wager, zero, the chances of getting fitter and feeling better are 100 per cent.
The last six years of walking and writing for Cheshire Life have given me far more than a lot of fresh air and fine views. It’s been a lesson in geology – the natural forces that made this land what it is. An education in social history too, because you cannot help but wonder how past generations enjoyed and endured the land across which you walk.
Go, for instance, from Coppermine Lane, Bickerton, to Raw Head and you pass some wooden steps down to Droppingstone Well. Look around at the thick vegetation and steep-sided ravines and then marvel at how, for many a year, local folk would climb to this point with two buckets on a yoke across their shoulders just to put water in their homes.
Pass the tranquil Roman Lakes at Marple and then imagine their beginnings as the mill ponds of the colossal six-storey Mellor Mill, built in 1787 by Samuel Oldknow as the biggest cotton factory in England.
Sample the bracing air of Parkgate on the Wirral. Walk along the front here and think about how a seaside resort was deserted by the sea. Just as the silting-up of the Dee had ended Chester’s days as a port, so Parkgate saw its sands disappear beneath marsh grass. This was once the beach stylish enough for Lady Hamilton to visit, and the ferry port to which Handel sailed after watching The Messiah’s debut in Dublin in 1742. Now it is all grass.
If you want a Cheshire walk with mystery as well as history, then try Alderley Edge. The history is of copper mining: 250,000 tons of ore were extracted here in just 20 years in the mid-19th century. The mystery is what fired the imagination of local author Alan Garner: the enduring legend of the wizard who split asunder the sandstone rock to reveal knights in armour, all in enchanted slumber, awaiting the day when Britain would face its ‘direst peril’. Now might be a good time to awaken those knights!
Cheshire is, largely, a flat and green county – hence all those dairy cows. That flat land looks all the more picturesque when you get up on high and look down upon it. That view from Alderley Edge is a beauty, but there are equally impressive vistas from Tegg’s Nose at Macclesfield, the White Nancy folly at Bollington, Bosley Cloud near Congleton, Overton Hill above Frodsham, Mow Cop on the Cheshire-Staffordshire border, Werneth Low in Hyde, Harridge Pike at Stalybridge... or the head of the valley at Kelsall dubbed Little Switzerland. All are worth the climb up just to enjoy the view down.
All of this is there for our enjoyment 365 days a year, free of charge. Give it a go, and if you see a spry lady jogger, say hello... from a safe distance, of course. u
Photos and route instructions for many of Cheshire Life’s walks can be found in the Out and About section.