Long Walks in January 2019

16 Jan 2019 Marbury Park to Acton Bridge  Walk Leader: Paul Hebden, Length of walk: 12 miles, Driving Distance: 15 miles, Number walking: 16

The walkers had studied the weather forecasts and it was stated with some confidence that the rain would go off; the only disagreement was about the time this would occur. In the event the rain continued until we had finished lunch and then ceased. We were then treated to some sunshine which was rather inconvenient for those bundled in overtrousers.

The journey to Marbury was fraught; the M6 was closed and the overspill clogged the road to Middlewich and on King Street. The surprise result was that those braving the one-way system in Northwich came off best.

This walk was almost exactly the same as the December walk. The earlier walk included an optional extension circling Marbury Park but Paul took no chances on that score; his circuit of the park was compulsory because we left the cars there.

We took the path from the car park to the Anderton Lift and followed the canal and the road down to the Winnington swing bridge, where the riverside path led to Acton Bridge. As the back marker arrived on the path, there was a great clamour from the others insisting that the gate from the pavement be shut. The back marker obliged but the fastener on the gate stops several inches from the hole designed to hold it.

The path between Winnington swing bridge and Saltersford locks is a quiet area almost entirely devoid of buildings. At the locks a team from the Canal & River Trust were preparing to drain the big lock. It was built in the 1870s and needs some attention. Their safety fences kept us away from the site we had lunch in December, but that was irrelevant because Paul planned for lunch at Acton Bridge.

The site chosen for lunch was the steps outside the boathouse just upstream of the bridge. It is a good spot to view any action taking place on the river but nothing happened while we were there. With lunch complete, we climbed up to the canal for the return leg.

The narrowboat that was covered in rotten fruit and other rubbish in December was still there with its cargo of clutter and there was no sign of anyone in charge.

As we neared Little Leigh a man encouraged his dog to follow a stick he threw into the water but the animal was most reluctant until it finally leapt in and seized the stick before emerging on the far bank. It was then equally reluctant to repeat the crossing and ran along the far bank looking for a bridge to return to its master.

The journey past Barnton was enlivened by sightings of birds such as kingfisher, nuthatch and tree creeper and the ensuing argument about which way the latter birds move along free trunks. The nuthatch is the only bird to climb down trees head-first. That’s true; it is on the internet.

After passing Anderton Lift we left the canal for the compulsory circuit of the nature reserve and Marbury Park. The route by the river took us along the pipelines taking brine from the wells at Holford to Runcorn and as we climbed up to the canal again we passed another team of workers. This gang was demolishing some surplus pipework but had stopped for the day so they could watch us trotting past. We weren’t actually going very fast at this stage and held up a cyclist wanting to pass. He did ring his bell but in such a half-hearted fashion that we assumed the noise was someone’s smartphone flagging a message.

Not so much half-hearted as weary-legged, the party struggled over the canal bridge into Marbury Park and hoped the car park had been shifted east. It hadn’t and there was much muttering until they reached the cars.


23 Jan 2019 Madeley to Maer Leader: Kevin, Length of walk: 10.5 miles, Driving Distance: 15 miles, Number walking: 17

When morning dawned in Sandbach there was relief that the snow from Tuesday night had gone and there was no sign of ice on the roads. There was some surprise to find that the entire area covered by the walk had received several inches of snow. In a way this was a good thing; since we didn’t know about the snow we couldn’t worry about slipping on it. In fact nobody fell in the snow.

Rob Goodwin grew up in Madeley and was keen to see how it had changed. He realised that we would pass the old Scout Hall in Moss Lane and found that it been converted to a dwelling. He remembered that the hall had only a ground floor but couldn’t say for what purpose the building was originally built; he wasn’t an observant child. A forensic examination revealed the sort of plaque added to a Methodist Chapel but we couldn’t read which flavour of Methodism was practised there.

After crossing the railway, Rob revealed another gem; when he was a lad, the site next to the railway held a reservoir of water for replenishing steam locomotives. Mallard Close has now been built there and we assumed the name derives from the record-breaking locomotive. Alternatively it is named after birds that frequented the reservoir. Since one of the houses in Mallard Close still has a reservoir, anyone concerned might pay a visit.

Rob’s voyage of nostalgia continued as we strolled up Red Lane, where he used to go fishing for perch in Five Pits – a series of pits dug by the side of the bridle path. At least one of them still contains water, but some are dry.

Nostalgia affected the whole group after we passed the summit of Red Lane and neared Onneley. They had not seen lemon drizzle cake since last January and were ready to taste some. The leader issued slices from one and a half cakes. The half was a failed experiment in increasing the lemony taste. The result was a sunken disgrace (see picture gallery), but it was eagerly welcomed anyway. The leader’s next job was to remove the large mass of ice and leaves that had collected under one of his gaiter straps. This required the use of a penknife which he jabbed into his hand. You don’t see that on Bake Off.

Where Red Lane opened into a field, the overgrown ditch next to the path spilled water over the surface resulting in very soft going. The leader announced that this was the worst of the mud on the walk. The rest of the walk into Aston featured the bridge under the North Staffordshire Railway track (rails now removed) and the Absolutely Fabulous Hat Studio. Mike had by this time discarded the hat Linda suggested he wore but denied the Studio was the source of the garment.

The recce team decided at Martyn’s suggestion that we abandon the original route across fields that included some outstanding examples of Staffordshire stiles (that’s not a compliment) and stick to the road. This was an inspired decision. The stiles we avoided include several wobbly examples, one with a completely loose tread and one where we had to climb over the stile into a bush and a post. Another benefit was the sight of the snow-laden trees and bushes along the side of the road. Ignoring the melted snow on the tarmac, the scene was magical. There was no wind to blow the snow off and so it remained to delight us.

The delightful surrounding continued into the woodland on Maer Hills and Ralph was unable to keep up because of the number of pictures he took. Some of the juvenile members of the group tried to spill snow off the branches onto the head the walker in front but no serious conflict broke out.

At the top of the hill our lunch stop was a trench in front of the radio mast, where we were fortunate that the snow didn’t dump on us while we ate.

Local legend (a bloke we met on the recce) said the path we took to the summit was frequented by Charles Darwin when he was visiting Maer Hall courting his cousin Emma Wedgwood. Charles Darwin’s uncle Josiah Wedgwood (son of the master potter) lived at Maer Hall and Josiah’s sister Sarah had a house (Camp Hall) built in a gully on the hills. We didn’t see either of these buildings

Part of the Maer Hall estate is Berth Hill, an Iron Age fort, which is believed to be the site of a last desperate stand against William the Conqueror, when the king was putting down rebellions against his new rule. William had a motte and bailey castle built (presently King’s Bank) on the Maer Hills to prevent the rebels from using Berth Hill as a base. It was derelict by the time of the Domesday Book in 1086, so the rebels must been deterred / exterminated. Have a look at this web page to see a historian waxing lyrical about the history of the area. https://martindocksey.weebly.com/staffordshires-forgotten-borough-and-castle.html

Josiah Wedgwood planted the trees on the Maer Hills but Maer was also at the southern extent of the Lyme Forest which nobody in the group had heard of. It extended from Ashton-under-Lyne to Newcastle-under-Lyme. It remains in fragments in the Macclesfield Forest and along the edge of the Pennines but it was sufficiently thick to keep the Anglo-Saxons out of Cheshire until they invaded from the north.

The name “Lyme” (derived from a British word for “elm”) is preserved in various forms in many local place-names. These include:

  • Ashton-under-Lyne (a corruption of “Lyme”)
  • Audlem (Old Lyme or perhaps Alda’s Lyme)
  • Burslem (Burgheard’s Lyme)
  • Lyme Park near Disley
  • Lyme Handley / Lyme Green, Sutton
  • Newcastle-under-Lyme

A stroll down the hill took us to Radwood Farm and it was while crossing one of its fields that several aggrieved walkers complained that the mud there was worse than the mud at the end of Red Lane. It wasn’t as deep but it was sticky clay. We need a standard scale to assess how bad mud. This sounds like an opportunity to fix after Brexit.

After the fields we passed through Madeley Park Wood – a housing development built into a wood. Experience says that houses built among trees are expensive and this location is no different. However one of the expensive houses has the dubious benefit of the public footpath crossing its front lawn. The grass should recover by June ready for the next drought. The path through the wood emerged in the garden of another house, where Martyn reminded the leader where the path went and we duly emerged by an enclosure we passed two years ago. It then contained several pigs which were keen to see Ralph and his camera. This time the ground was covered in weeds and there was no sign of the pigs. Where could they have gone to?

We crossed the railway including that rarity – a new stile in Staffordshire. There were two stiles either side of a ditch but only one was new. The authorities had left the rickety old one to avoid raising expectations. The new stile led into a field where we were welcomed by some muddy young heifers but they soon lost interest in us. The road back to Madeley was covered in mud with some puddles where we attempted to remove the clay we collected earlier. The clay didn’t want to go.

A second coffee stop under another bridge of the North Staffordshire Railway finished off the sunken lemon drizzle cake and while we were there a train passed at high speed pulled by a steam locomotive. We suspected Susie must have scheduled this for our entertainment, but she wasn’t present to confirm this.

The last section of the walk coincided with a thickening of the mist and no more stiles; the final tally was a mere 12 stiles.