Wednesday 6 Dec Sandbach to Swettenham Walk Leader: Keith Haines, Length of walk: 13.5 miles, Driving Distance: 0, Number walking: 24
As usual, the early December walk set off without driving from the Waitrose car park. Instead we walked down Old Mill Road and tried the new path by the brook that runs alongside the road. We then crossed the brook via the newly opened bridge. Our eventual target was Swettenham but a hidden sub-text required us to avoid paved roads but rather to seek out muddy paths where possible. A fine example of this sort of path runs past Dingle Farm and below Sandbach Park so we took it and emerged in the Tatton Drive estate. Fortunately a muddy path links Tatton Drive to Congleton Road where the new housing estate has replaced the very muddy path that used to lead to Bradwall.
Now we were in our element and strode across several fields to reach Pillar Box Lane in Bradwall and over the M6 via Brindley Lane. A herd of cows ran over to the hedge to see what we could offer them, but were soon disappointed as we left the lane to find more mud to add to our boots. Passing the Bear’s Head we took the lane down to Brereton Hall and were delighted to find a group of old people walking the other way. Walking without rucksacks they were obviously making for a pub lunch, while we were still looking forward to a coffee stop.
Our coffee stop was scheduled for the luxurious surroundings of Brereton Pool with its heated toilets, benches and dogs and we took full advantage. But it is a walking group, so off we went to pass Davenport Hall and assemble on the bridge over the river Dane so that Ralph could work his magic with the camera. This presented an access problem for the photographer but he took the shot and returned safely before we climbed out of the Dane valley to our lunch stop at the Swettenham Arms. In the absence of rain we had a leisurely lunch on the outdoor tables. Stephen showed his skill at carrying a tray loaded with teapot, cups and saucers while others carried pints of beer. Those people carrying GPS devices reported the distance so far at 7 miles, which made us wonder how we would make it back to Sandbach in the promised total of 10 miles.
The limited number of paths available meant that we took the same route back to Brereton Pool as took us to lunch. Luckily this led past the heated toilets again (see earlier reference to pints of beer).
We left the lane to Brereton Hall to enter the field of llamas that had detained Ralph and Bill on the outward journey. They were quite pleased to see us but refused to spit while Ralph had his camera on them. Two of them came tantalisingly close to posing as a push me pull you before Ralph gave up and we took the road to Taxmere across several more muddy fields. Taxmere is the site of the Arclid sand quarry and the path round its perimeter gave us a good view of the process of sucking sand out of the water and sending it off for the wide range of end uses. The path also adjoined a field of elephant grass which is farmed as biomass for electricity generation. There are three types of elephant grass; this one is the South Asian variety known as Miscanthus. Presumably the ears are smaller than those on the African elephant grass.
After crossing the M6 and arriving back in Sandbach, our final treat was the new path that runs parallel to Old Mill Road from Congleton Road to High Street. A check in Waitrose car park by the GPS community gave a final reading of 13.5 miles. This is one of the longest walks we have done and it was notable for the complete absence of rain. However some of those walking home from Waitrose would have had a soaking from the shower that started shortly afterwards.
Wednesday 13 Dec Sandbach to Alsager Walk Leader: Tom & Lesley, Length of walk: 9.5 miles, Driving Distance: 0, Number walking: 11
The party set off from the lower Waitrose car park towards Tall Chimneys and then across to the Salt Line path. Ralph was missing from the lineup but he has trained the walkers well; they stopped on a bridge for the mandatory photo and Peter was ready to take it.
In what appears to be a trend for wardrobe malfunction, Christine left a boot in the cloying mud while she walked on. Those who were on the last walking holiday will remember how keen Christine was to find baler twine to stop her trousers falling down after her belt failed.
Since a section of the Salt Line was closed for repairs to the motorway bridge, plan B was actioned to use other footpaths to bypass it.
After the coffee stop the group turned towards Alsager to study how well it is contributing to solving the nation’s housing crisis.
The route led along tracks and through fields to Winterley Pool and then along Crewe Road. At this point, the previously benign weather turned against us and forced the cancellation of the alfresco lunch chez Tom & Lesley. Instead the whole party (minus muddy boots) marched into the kitchen for hot mince pies and mulled wine. It is a good job Ralph was missing; the long time it takes him to put on his boots would have forced Lesley to think what was on for supper. Lesley had counted the spoons beforehand and took a picture of the party for evidence. Sensible lady and thank you for the outstanding hospitality!
Just as the walkers were getting used to the warm and dry conditions, they were turfed out into the rain to finish the walk. Across the fields they walked to Wheelock, where they crossed the famous Dancing Bridge on the way to Mill Hill Lane and through Brook Wood to the lower Waitrose car park.
And that was the end of another year of long walks.