Long Walks in December 2021

1 Dec 2021 Helsby & Frodsham  Leaders: Simon & Lynda, Length of walk: 7.5 miles, Driving Distance: 23 miles, Number walking: 16

Click here to see a map of the walk

Since rain was expected most walkers donned overtrousers before setting off. Lynda very kindly issued Tunnocks Caramel Wafers to the walkers to keep up the energy levels. The route immediately took the road up from the Helsby Quarry car park to circle round the iron age fort that sat atop Helsby Hill. The first half of the walk wandered over fields and woods; the coffee stop was in Snidley Moor Wood just after the ladies stayed behind in sight of a walker coming in the opposite direction. An attempt to engage him in conversation foundered when he mentioned that his dog had died but a shouted warning left all parties in good order.

The level walking ended when the group made for the war memorial on top of Overton Hill. This site was chosen for the seating and for the views over the Mersey estuary. On this day the seating was present, but the views were intermittent depending on the intensity of the rain. Lots of rain fell throughout lunch, but the walkers got on with it and prepared for the second phase of the walk.

The second half of the walk took the path through the rocks on the edge of the hills overlooking Frodsham marshes. There were frequent signs of old quarry sites now overgrown with plentiful birch trees and some proper trees. While everyone is used to seeing fallen birch trees it was shocking to see that some giant oaks had succumbed to Storm Arwen and left debris scattered over the paths and surrounding areas. The Woodland Trust manages the woods and displays a plaque stating the that the “transitional” birch trees will be replaced gradually by lowland oak forest. The few oak trees visible are all mature and there was no sign of any young oak trees. Maybe the sign is part of the Woodland Trust wishful thinking.

One tree that was still standing supported orange and blue ropes set up as swings. Janet gamely rushed forward to demonstrate how to swing on a rope and the ace photographer moved up to capture the excitement. Sadly, his fingers were so cold and clumsy that he failed to capture Janet in flight. Mick also stepped up to swing and his action was recorded but not even Mick wants a picture of Mick.

The back marker wondered if the walk would be going through the tunnel that used to house the tramway taking sandstone blocks from Helsby Quarry to the railway. A walk going through a tunnel would be a great coup but on this walk the tunnel was out of the way requiring a long walk through the streets of Helsby. A hint for future walk planners.

15 Dec 2021 Barthomley  Leaders: Bill & Ruth, Length of walk: 9.5 miles, Driving Distance: 8 miles, Number walking: 18

Click here to see a map of the walk

The day was sunny and bright, which is a disadvantage if you are walking into the low December sun and want to see where you are going. The leader was able to see that the path from the back of the church car park that started the walk was impassable because of an overflowing pond. This kept the group at the church for longer than expected so the walkers absorbed more information about its history.

It is built on an ancient burial ground and is dedicated to St Bertoline, also spelt Beorhthelm (compare that to the name of the village). He was an Anglo-Saxon prince who lived in what is now Stafford. The only information about him is from legends but they say he was a good fellow for curing people and converting them to Christianity. Barthomley parish used to cover a large area of South Cheshire but hamlets such as Alsager, Crewe and Haslington have grown, while Barthomley hasn’t. The parish of Barthomley now has about 400 souls. Even that seems a lot given the number of dwellings round about.

During the English Civil War on Christmas Eve 1643 some Royalist troops pursued a group of 20 Parliamentarians to Barthomley, where they sought sanctuary in the church. The dastardly Royalist lit a fire to smoke them out and, when they emerged, put them to the sword. Twelve Parliamentarians were killed, and Lord Byron (not the poet) said that was the only way to treat them. Not very “woke”!

The total deaths in the civil war from military operations, disease and general confusion are estimated to be 200,000. This is a similar proportion to the casualties during world war one given the smaller population at the time but less evidence from contemporary sources remains to leave an impact on the public consciousness.

The leader took an alternative route along the road and carried out a “recce en masse” for the first time. Walkers who have not already done a recce would have had their eyes opened to the joy of wandering round the countryside looking for elusive footpaths. The first part of the walk wandered into Staffordshire whose traditional wobbly stiles caused much amusement / concern / rage.

Near Balterley the group passed a woman with a toddler who was trying to feed his fingers to a horse leaning over a fence. She admitted she was concerned about what the horse might do to the child but allowed the dangerous interaction to continue. As most of the walkers crossed a stile towards the border into Cheshire, Stephen took a short cut back to the car to prepare for a choir concert. As he walked off with the woman and child, it is to be hoped that he advised her about the dangers posed by horses and similar livestock.

At Engelsea Brook the group passed the museum of Primitive Methodism, which receives visitors from all over the world. The term “Primitive” is not an insult; it is a reflection of the founders’ desire to adopt a purer version of their faith.  In April 2022, the museum will begin a celebration of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Hugh Bourne, one of the founders. If you were thinking of paying a visit, check out their website for next year’s events.

The Two Saints Way passes Engelsea Brook. This is a recreated pilgrimage route of 92 miles between the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield. The two saints referenced are St Werburgh and St Chad. As a mark of respect, the walkers were on their best behaviour while they followed the route and didn’t invade the picnic benches outside the White Lion in Weston. Instead, the wall of a church and a bus shelter were drafted in as temporary seating for lunch.

After lunch, the route went into the soggy countryside again and one of the delights on the route, identified by expert Dave, was a collection of Jew’s Ear fungus on a fallen tree. The authorities in the world of fungus have renamed the common English name as Jelly Ear to avoid controversy, although its Latin name (Auricularia auricula-judae) remains unchanged. One authority suggests that the name was originally Judas Ear and published a lengthy article on his website justifying his theory involving Judas Iscariot, an Elder tree, pagan practises and early Christianity – a gripping read.

After returning to the car park, most of the walkers went to the Barthomley White Lion for a drink. The pub has two rooms, each with a roaring fire to make the place extremely hot. As the country decarbonises, this will have to stop and woolly hats and scarves will be compulsory instead.