15 Feb Walk Leader: Kath & Elaine from Trentham Length of walk: 9 miles Driving Distance: 21 miles Number walking: 22
Traffic conditions were benign and everybody arrived at Trentham in time to catch the 9:51 bus to Stone. The bus driver had other ideas; after pulling in to the bus stop, he rapidly pulled out again before we could pollute his vehicle. After 20 minutes, we took our seats for the ride down the A34 to Stone. With the bus almost full, it was fortunate that only one other person wanted to join us. This chatty soul was interrogated as to the likelihood of there being a cake shop next to the bus stop. She made up some story about having to travel across town to reach a suitable shop, but wasn’t sure because she had lived in Stone only for nine years. In fact, there is a tea shop serving home-made cakes right on the bus stop but, because it is accessible by stairs, cake fans were unable to take advantage of it.
We left the busy town centre to walk back along the A34 so that we could pass the buildings that used to house the brewery owned by the Joules family. One of this family contributed so much to science that the derived SI unit of work, energy and heat took his name. Passing the brewery prompted a discussion about the correct way to pronounce the family name / SI unit. Fortunately the worlds of science and art have combined to produce this short poem in the book, “Science Askew”: You’ll be thought cool If you call it the joule. But there’ll be a howl If you call it the jowl.
The name of the town is a corruption of the name of a footballer and celebrity bad-boy – Stan Collymore – who was born there. To celebrate the achievement of another local resident – James Brindley, we left the road and took to the Trent & Mersey Canal towpath, where we took an early coffee stop. The walk continued past some locks into which a number of men in hi-vis jackets were gazing earnestly. They may have been working, but who knows.
We had to leave the canal and pass through a ford (which would have been handy later to remove the mud from the last stages of the walk) to climb to the highest point of the National Trust property known as Downs Banks, an area heavily used by dog walkers. It was also the spot selected for the first of our two lunch stops. The idea of two lunches rather confused Ralph, so he took the decision to leave the bulk of his food for the second one but, when that coincided with the start of the rain, he left it uneaten except for fruit.
After lunch number 1, we made our way to Barlaston where we passed the remains of Wedgwood Memorial College. Between 1960 and 2011 the College offered a week long Esperanto summer school but the popularity of that course must have taken a hit from the development of Google Translate. We had to wait at Barlaston station for the Virgin Express train to pass on its way from Manchester to London. No trains stop at Barlaston now but the road signs still point to it; you never know.
Ralph used a footbridge over the River Trent to capture the group photo. This may not show the cloud of flies that followed us on this stretch of the route before we climbed away from them to the monument overlooking Trentham Lakes. There we found a giant statue of a Duke of Sutherland looking over Trentham, which used to be one of his family estates. Although builders’ fences surrounded the statue, we were able to sit on the plinth to eat whatever we had left for our second lunch. This is when the rain started and continued until we returned to the cars.
On the way, we walked outside the fence of the Monkey Forest, comprising 20 acres of forest with 140 barbary macaques. Several monkeys were visible through the trees but they were not very lively. We did experience several varieties of mud before reaching the remains of Trentham Hall. The Duke of Sutherland offered the hall to the local council in 1905 but they declined to take it and he had the building demolished in 1912. The remains are on the Heritage at Risk register, while the current owners develop the rest of the site.
In 2012, the Trentham Estate was selected as the site for a Royal Jubilee Wood and 200,000 native oak trees were planted. We must return when they are mature and provide a proper alternative to the silver birch trees.
22 Feb Walk Leader: Bill Crichton Dane Valley Way Length of walk: 11 miles Number walking: 17
Another walk starting with a bus ride. On this occasion, we started later and most people managed to meet on the Waitrose car park. However, one walker with no need to leave a car at Waitrose, arrived early at the bus stop feeling very lonely. Communication was soon restored and all 17 walkers climbed aboard the bus to Holmes Chapel and filled the 16 available seats. It was fortunate that only one other passenger joined us and she found it most unsettling to find the bus full.
The bus driver kindly dropped us on the bridge over the river Dane so that we could join the Dane Valley Way, which follows the river with varying degrees of closeness. This made it tempting to cut across fields in a straight line; what a racy crowd!
By staying close to the river we were able to see the following inscription on the face of a bridge: “Tho Hall, Ironmaster, 1707”. Thomas Hall came from Worcestershire for opportunities to make iron in Cheshire, where he was a partner running the Vale Royal furnace by Petty Pool in Delamere Forest. Thomas is thought to have rebuilt in 1707 the Hermitage, which still stands on the outskirts of Holmes Chapel, and this stone bridge provides the access to it.
The next bridge over the Dane is the railway viaduct built in 1841 with 23 arches to carry the track from Crewe to Manchester. Network Rail refurbished it in 2016 and had the delightful idea of immortalising the councillors who were involved. The arch under which the Dane Valley Way passes includes bricks engraved with the names of these worthies.
The next stage required us to walk along the side of the busy road from Holmes Chapel to Chelford. It was fortunate that the section where the pavement ran out experienced lighter traffic than earlier. When we moved into fields again, we started to anticipate a coffee stop, but we had to wait until we reached the designated spot where a bank overlooking the river provided rudimentary seating and the pond behind us contained a wheelie bin on an island. We assumed that this construction and the hides we passed in the same area were tools to enable the shooting of the local birds.
We crossed Swettenham Brook to reach the grounds of the Swettenham Arms and, without pausing, walked down the lane to cross the mighty River Dane. This was a disappointment because we all lined up for a photo but Ralph couldn’t get through the fence to take it. We walked on past the collection of ponds in the grounds of Davenport Hall to reach our designated lunch stop at Brereton Nature Reserve. Piling into the information centre, we sat down to eat our lunch. Bill, noticing the sign asking us to leave food and drink outside, asked the ranger for dispensation. The ranger probably reckoned that we had made more mess already with our muddy boots than with any crumbs we might leave, so he left us to it.
On our way out of the reserve we found Steven; he had arranged to have a new meter fitted and was unable to join us at the start (not very smart!) but had managed to find us in the birch trees. Our enlarged band strode through the empty quarter of Smethwick Green where we carried out some social work. Steven noticed a postbox that had been knocked over and decided to right it. Doreen joined in while the bigger and stronger members of the group watched and listened to the grunts. Eventually we left it almost upright and walked on with lighter hearts for a good deed well done.
On the edge of Congleton, we passed the new estate being built there and John told us of the mound which, allegedly, contains the bodies of soldiers killed in a Civil War battle. Legend has almost certainly got this wrong because history records no battles in the area – ever.
Safely across the A534 we started to look forward to the refreshment stop at Astbury Mere. Ralph couldn’t wait to use the toilets there, so he discreetly moved out of sight while we waited for his return. The waiting group heard him sadly report that a wardrobe malfunction in his undergarments had prevented a successful relief operation. To rub salt in the wound, he also discovered that the refreshment stop at Astbury Mere had been cancelled and we strode out to catch the bus by the cricket club in Congleton. Fortunately, this bus had seats for all our number and we tried not to think about the large amounts of manure we had gathered on our boots in the last field we crossed.
The pictures taken on the walks in February appear on a YouTube page for your delight.