THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – a connoisseur’s route. Day 2.

Utkinton to Hampton.

The eggs at breakfast really tasted freshly laid – which of course they were. The weather was OK. In a good mood I set off wandering through potato fields towards my next objective on the sandstone ridge – Beeston Castle.

Beeston Castle.

Beeston Castle.

First I had to cross the Shropshire Union Canal and the rail link to Chester running together in the valley. I arrived at Wharton’s Lock on the canal just as a boat was passing through. Everyone having their own adventures.

Lanes took me up to the restored gate house of Beeston Castle. The castle is sited on an impressive sandstone bluff and was started in the 13th century to protect an Earldom. Apparently the view from its walls extends to eight counties, I did not test this as time was pressing and the admission fee only worth it for an extended stay – which I’m sure would be magical.

A delightful interlude through fields full of poppies followed.

On the next part of the ridge was the Victorian Gothic Peckforton Castle inspired by Beeston castle.

Peckforton Castle

Thankfully some of the estate is open for a footpath climb back through trees up onto the ridge.

A great stretch of walking brings one out onto a minor lane near Higher Burkwardsley where I had heard rumours of a good inn half a mile off route. It doesn’t take long to walk half a mile and find oneself at The Pheasant Inn.

I was intending just  having a pint of the local Weetwood Cheshire Cat blonde ale until I saw the menu – I was tempted by smoked salmon on a bed of rocket and cottage cheese  bagel. The staff were very friendly and I enjoyed my sojourn in the sunshine on their patio.,with views stretching to the Liverpool cathedrals.

An afternoon of a roller coaster along the sandstone ridge lay ahead. First over Bulkeley Hill with its ancient sweet chestnuts….

…. and views eastwards to Jodrell Bank, the Pennines and Derbyshire.

Soon I was climbing again up to the highest point on The Sandstone Trail – Rawhead 746 ft / 227m,  identified by a special trig point.

On the way along the ridge there were some spectacular views of the sandstone cliffs

Apparently the sand stone from here was used in the past for scouring the stone flags in the local houses. The path went steeply downhill from here only to reascend up onto Bickerton Hill. This is owned by the National Trust and they are trying to re-establish the important heathland of heather and bilberries. To this end they are grazing with ponies to remove saplings and other vegetation.

This hill top is also the site of one of the six Iron Age Forts along the ridge. Because of the trees it is difficult to see any fortifications. I was able to get  good views back to Rawhead and Bulkeley hills before cloud and drizzle moved in from Wales.

Plunging down now through wet vegetation brought me through fields to the horse racing training complex of Manor Farm where ex-Liverpool and England soccer star Michael Owen has invested millions. Looks a very impressive place from the periphery which is as close as one can get, some rights of way having been diverted to protect the rich and famous.

A few small lanes took me to Hampton House my accommodation for the night. Another excellent b&b run by retired farmers, [ had to get out of dairy farming because of low profit margins]  Whatever their profit margins are now this was one of the better b&b s I’ve ever stayed in. Just like going home to your parents , if you know what I mean.

http://www.hamptonhousefarm.co.uk  to give them a plug.

Another eventful day’s walking.

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