Hampton to Whitchurch.
Sun streaming through the curtains this morning and a hearty farmhouse breakfast were a good start to my last short day. Also staying at the b&b was a gentleman from Germany who was on his eighth day cycling from Lands End to John o’Groats. Of course he spoke perfect English so we dallied over tea and toast discussing long distance walking and cycling, their ups and downs. He was trying to keep to the smaller byways but finding this gave him lots more climbing. This last week, whilst the weather was fine, he had been battling with a constant head wind; the cyclists nightmare. Seeing today’s forecast he will probably be blown along with a strong tail wind and the rain it will bring.
A stretch of field walking took me off the ridge with views south to The Wrekin and other Shropshire hills. This reminded me of a walk I did with a friend in 2005 called simply The Shropshire Peaks Walk. Those 100 miles incorporated the main summits of south Shropshire ie Titterstone Clee, Brown Clee, Wenlock Edge, Long Mynd and The Stiperstones. A beautiful area and a reminder of the good hillwalking one can access away from the traditional mountain areas.
As I mentioned previously The Sandstone Trail is well signed and waymarked with bright yellow discs. I did not have a guide book [out of print] and my old 1:50,000 OS map did not have the route highlighted. But for two days I’d not gone astray.
Things always get more complicated in lower farmland fields and maybe one becomes a bit laxer with navigation. It doesn’t help when the land you are passing through is Bickley Hall farm admirably managed by Cheshire Wildlife Trust. They have preserved some of the meres in the area to provide wild life habitats and set up marked trails through the farm to appreciate the diversity. I think it was one of the marked trails I was following towards Bar Mere when I realised I was heading East instead of South and there were no TST yellow markers. A minor diversion but it shows how easily an extra half hour is added to the day.
A happy group of schoolchildren were pond dipping across the field – what a delightful pastime – where’s my net?
The farm also bred Hebridean Sheep and traditional Longhorn Cattle.
What a contrast at the next rather unwelcoming farm – this was the sign on the right of way through their yard….
The field paths abruptly finished on the tow path of the Llangollen Branch Of the Shropshire Union canal at Willeymoor Locks and inn. A waiting queue of narrow boats were going down the canal here.
My last stretch was 3miles along the canal to the outskirts of Whitchurch. I had barely begun when with a clap of thunder the heavens opened and I was subjected to a torrential downpour. All the canal boat enthusiasts seemed happy as they drifted past and the ducks were in their element.
Walking quickly in the downpour I soon arrived at Grindley Brook Staircase Locks but I was slowly drowning, so made a quick dash into The Horse and Jockey pub. Despite my soaking appearance I was made to feel welcome and enjoyed a pint and a chat until the rain ceased. Top marks.
Disappointingly there were no boats using the ‘staircase’ when I returned to the canal.
A short walk brought me to the small branch canal leading to Whitchurch, I crossed to it using a Van Gogh style bridge.
This was the end of the canal and the walk petered out in Jubilee Park, not a very satisfactory ending so maybe I’ll walk the route in the opposite direction next time. There is lots more to explore on this trail which I either missed or didn’t have time for this occasion. Certainly worth another look at this great little route which I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.