Tag Archives: Canals

SOIXANTE NEUF.

    I thought I’d give this post a sexy title to boost readership. Not that I look at all sexy in my fading Lycra cycling shorts. There should be an age limit for appearing in public wearing Lycra, and whatever it is I am long past it.

  I’ve driven up the motorway, coming off at Junction 36 and found the narrow lane leading down to a car park at the redundant Halton station. This is on the old Morecambe to  Wennington line which closed under The Beeching Act in 1966.  Route 69 of the National Cycle Network connects Hest Bank on Morecambe Bay with Cleethorpes on the East coast and uses this section of line from Morecambe to Caton.  Off I pedal westwards on the 69 into Lancaster. The River Lune is mainly hidden and I don’t recognise much until the Millennium Bridge where the 69 crosses the river. I’m heading to Glasson Dock, so I stay on the south side of the water. There seem to be a multitude of cycle paths in Lancaster and just following my nose I end up under the castle with the priory church looking down on me. A few streets later and I find my way back to the river which is not looking its best, the tide is out exposing lots of mud. I’ll locate the correct way next time.

Halton station.

Soixante neuf.

Under the M6.

 

The canal aqueduct.

The new Greyhound and Millennium Bridges.

Priory church — getting lost.

Lost.

   Eventually I’m safely on the old railway track heading to Glasson. Lots of cyclists are using this route, I keep leapfrogging various parties as we go at different speeds, and I’m frequently stopping to take pictures of the Lune estuary. I have walked this stretch in the past when I was connecting a Lancaster Monastic Way. It is interesting to contrast walking a route and cycling it. One misses the little details as you ride by and although everyone says hello there is no chance to chat, that is until you reach a café and then can delve into gears and stems. As I don’t know one stem from another, I avoid the busy cyclists’ rendezvous at Glasson and cross over to the little shop which has freshly baked pies and good coffee. Here I can talk to the mature couples who have motored here for a good old-fashioned afternoon out. And of course there are the fishermen with their ready tales of yesterday’s catch.

 

Glasson across the marshes.

Up the creek?

Lost forever.

Smell that coffee.

Pike?

   A lot of the cyclists head back the way they came, but I’m in for exploring different options that I’ve spotted on the map. So off I go along the rough narrow track, you couldn’t call it a towpath, alongside the Glasson Branch Canal to meet up with the Lancaster Canal. Ahead are the Bowland Hills, looking splendid in today’s sunshine. An easy option would be to follow the canal back to Lancaster, but I’ve walked that stretch many times.

The Glasson Branch

Endless games of fetch the stick.

Junction with the Lancaster Canal.

 

  So again I go my own way again, threading through Galgate and onto lanes crossing the motorway and leading into the hills. There is only one bit I have to walk up, and then I’m onto the lovely high level road to the scattered houses of Quernmore. From up here are views across Morecambe Bay to the Lakeland Fells with the Bowland hills rubbing at my right shoulder. I sweep down past the isolated Quernmore  church and on to the entrance to Quernmore Estate at Postern Gate which I recognise from our  ‘trespass’ on the straight line from my house to Sir Hugh’s in Arnside.  I daren’t risk cycling through today so I take the busy road down to Caton and am soon back onto  that rail line  — Route 69.

Lancaster University, Morecambe Bay and Black Coombe.

Grit Fell.

Quernmore Church.

 

Postern Gate — tempted.

Down to Caton.

  This last section back to Halton is impressive by dint of passing over two viaducts above the Crook Of Lune built in 1849 to carry the railway. This is a popular spot today with tourists, walkers and cyclists. There are stunning views up the Lune towards Hornby Castle and Ingleborough. Turner’s painting of the scene, pre railways, shows  the original Penny Bridge carrying a road. This road bridge was rebuilt in 1889 and stands just below the East Viaduct. A long stretch in trees with little sight of the river has me back at Halton Station.

Eastern viaduct.

 

The Lune valley eastwards.

 

Crook of Lune road bridge.

Western viaduct.

Halton Bridge.

I go down to the river near the wrought iron lattice bridge built in 1911 from the remains of the Original Greyhound Bridge in Lancaster. Sitting quietly in the sunshine, contemplating the slow flow of water before hitting the motorway. I didn’t need that sexy title  — this landscape has no need of titillation.

*****

DAY SIX ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Stone to Stafford.      11 miles.

*****

  I enjoy a leisurely breakfast, this should be a short day. Another gel pad is added to my right heel, I’m beginning to walk on high heels.

It didn’t take me long to get back onto the way at St. Saviour’s churchyard in Aston. In the porch of the church I noticed a cockerel mounted above the door. Its interesting history was noted..

Behind hedges and walls across the lane is Aston Hall, now a home for retired priests. It was here in 1839 that the bones of St. Chad were found, having been hidden at the time of  the Reformation. They are now strangely in Birmingham Cathedral rather than the more obvious Lichfield. A lady dog walking told me how she discovered many of the local paths around here during lockdown and had noticed the TSW markers. I enjoyed a long stretch through fields with open atmospheric skies, just what you need to put a spring in your step in the morning.

I  then entered a watery nature reserve. A man birdwatching was eager to tell me of a large bull blocking the path at the next stile. He had taken evasive action and clambered along the banks of the stream, he was in no hurry to return. Forewarned, I proceeded carefully and sure enough the bull was lying there with his herd of cows. I never know which breeds are allowed in fields with public footpaths, and I probably wouldst recognise them anyhow. A bull is a bull whichever breed and this was a large one. I couldn’t see any obvious escape route, so I stood and watched for a while before tiptoeing cautiously past against my better judgment. I’m alive to tell the tale.

Burston village was across the canal, a few cottages surrounding a millpond, delightful. Behind and strangely adjoined to the last cottage was a little chapel, St. Rufin’s. (he of the legend)  It is thought there has been a church in this vicinity visited by pilgrims since the Middle Ages.

A peaceful stretch of canal was now followed  with boat owners relaxing or busying themselves with jobs on board.  I watched as boats negotiated the locks, by now I think I would be able to navigate these canals.

The guide book said leave the canal at the ornate bridge…   This took me into the village of Salt, I had promised myself a pint and sandwich in The Hollybush Inn, one of the oldest pubs in the country. Alas, it was closed. An appointed caretaker has been here since last July 2020 keeping an eye on the place. He was sat outside and pleased to chat, but there was no offer of a brew, even when I expressed my disappointment.     There followed a bit of hilly walking and wandering through large fields to come out in a crop being harvested on the edge of an MOD property. The incongruous memorial behind bars told the story of the Battle of Hopton Heath, fought here in 1643 between Royalists and Parliamentarians.    The entry into Hopton  through sandstone cuttings was promising, but the village was mainly modern bungalows.

  My way onwards to Beacon Hill was obvious and the hill promised views to The Wrekin and Cannock Chase. All I got was the approaching dark rain clouds over Stafford..  I’d had no rain all week, but ended up donning waterproofs for the last mile or so through the streets of Stafford. By the time I reached the centre, it was dry. St. Mary’s church was much better cared for compared to Stoke Minster, but unfortunately was closed. The foundations of an earlier Pre-Norman church can be seen  in front of the church.

  The narrow lane leading to the high street passed the largest wooden framed town house in England. Shame they can’t spell ‘phone’    Next door was my comfortable hotel, The Swan an old coaching inn, and opposite was the oldest building in Stafford, St. Chad’s Church,1150. In its grounds was the base of a Medieval stone cross.

*****

DAY FIVE ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Stoke-on-Trent to Stone.     13.5 miles.

  A long day.

Having slept in I crept out of my Airbnb at 9am, nobody else was up. My first priority was to find breakfast. By the station, all the cafés and bars were busy with football supporters topping up their alcohol levels before travelling to Birmingham for a derby match. I found a popular little café near the Cathedral where I had another oatcake, this time with an egg filling.

The Cathedral was large and imposing, but with rather run down grounds, it was not open. The present church is from the 19th century. In the graveyard is a Saxon cross from the earliest 8th century church. The cross has fine carvings, which may be the origin of  The Staffordshire Knot emblem. Another church was built in Norman times and its arches survive in the graveyard. Apparently inside the Cathedral is a memorial to Josiah Wedgwood and also to Stanley Matthews the footballer. I found the graves of Spode and Wedgwood. Time to move on.

The canal was regained for a few miles to get me out of Stoke. A typical stretch of urban towpath but well-used by joggers and cyclists. Somehow, I walked past the Britannia Football Stadium without noticing it, its new name is the awful Bet365 Stadium. I did however spot the sign on the marina — line dancing?

I cut through the backstreets of Trentham and arrived at the entrance to Trentham Gardens, a very popular family destination, I did not have time to visit the Gardens, but I called at their café for my mid-morning brew. Shopping seemed to be the main attraction.

After crossing the River Trent, I passed by an old courtyard, the original entrance to the estate. It seemed a shame it was going to ruin. Across the road was a modern courtyard development  modelled on it giving no doubt very expensive accommodation.

A little church, St Mary’s, was tucked away on the edge of the gardens. In the graveyard was a Saxon cross with  a well-worn Kneeling stone at its base. Pilgrims would have prayed here for centuries.

A steep track led up the hillside into King Woods on a ridge, all part of medieval hunting grounds. Down below, traffic crawled along the M6 on the stretch I broke down on last week, that’s another story. I couldn’t miss the football ground from up here. Despite all the cars and crowds below at Trentham, I was the only person walking along the airy ridge. I was surprised then when I came across a Colditz type wire fenced enclosure. Apparently this is The Monkey Forest, one of the Trentham attractions which must have cost millions to construct. There was no sign of the Barbary Apes that live in there, but I hadn’t paid my entrance fee.

Farther on, I could hear excited voices in the woods and again I was surprised to come across an aerial assault course, the Trentham people certainly know how to extract money from visitors.

I made my own assault of the hill in front of me to come out into the open at the 1st Duke of Sutherland’s statue. His statue was erected here in 1836 as an indication of his service to the local populace. This popularity didn’t extend to his time in the highlands, where he was responsible for much of the Highland Clearances and was hated by the Scots for evermore. His statue on Ben Bhraggie has been threatened with  demolition on many occasions. There were good views down over Trentham Gardens with its lake and the Stoke area in general, and quite a few people had come up here for that reason. (heading photo)

At the bottom of the hill was the little village of Tittensor with the church of St. Luke’s in the middle of a housing estate. It had an attractive timbered tower, a Duchess of Sutherland foundation stone, a bench for refreshments and the now familiar TSW interpretation board.

There was a very pleasant stretch over Tittensor Chase’s sandy heathland. Just visible in the high bracken were a Saxon burial mound and a much larger hill fort, Bury Bank,  which at one time was the capital of Mercia and probably the birthplace of St. Werburgh, a then princess, to  King Wulfhere. This family has gone into folklore from the ‘fact’ that Wulfhere killed two of his sons, Wulfad and Rufin. Read the full story involving St. Chad  here.

Tittensor Chase.

Saxon mound.

Bury Bank, ancient fort ahead.

Then I was back on the Trent and Mersey canal towpath for a mile into Stone. The town makes much of the legend mentioned above. The main street looks similar to many other pedestrianised town centres with its Costa Coffee, Wethespoons, Mountain Warehouse etc.

The St. Michael’s Church was built in 1758 in the grounds of a previous Augustinian Priory, where there was a shrine to St. Wulfad, who was supposed to be buried here under a pile of stones. Today the church was closed so I couldn’t view the stained-glass window dedicated to Wulfad and Rufin. In the grounds was a family Mausoleum of Earl Vincent,  an admiral in the time of Lord  Nelson and a Crompton grave.

Vincent Mausoleum.

Crompton family C17th tomb.

My hotel for the night was out of town. On the way I stopped at a garage to buy some milk and in conversation with the attendant found he had some involvement with the church back in Tittensor. He is doing the Two Saints Way in day sections, we compared experiences, a strange meeting. My hotel, Stone House, was the best of the trip yet.- a sumptuous bath and an excellent Indian restaurant.

*****

DAY FOUR ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Barthomley to Stoke-on-Trent.     12 miles.

  I think I was still in shock this morning, I emptied the coffee sachet into the bin rather than my cup and then I used my asthma spray on my armpits. What more could go wrong?

The advantage of the taxi back to Barthomley was I didn’t have to face that busy road again. The driver was Turkish and on the way I got his life history. He lives in Alderley Edge because that has more say with the girls on dating sites than Crewe would have.      He made out he was also a football agent and told me to look out for an up and coming star at Liverpool – Harvey Elliott.

I’ve inserted an extra heel pad into my right boot.

Well signed and stiled field paths took me south from Barthomley, heading for a valley which the guide book author rated as one of the most scenic stretches on the way. Mill Dale. I wasn’t  that impressed. Once I had found the path down into the valley, I felt hemmed in by fencing. I would have liked to wander by the water. Yes, there were good stretches of water in the distance, but I seemed separated from the reality. This was reinforced at the end near houses where the way ahead was obscured, deliberately? I made my way up into fields above the valley.

I crossed what must have been the M6 and then started climbing a small hill with views back to the Cheshire Plain, Mow Cop to the northeast and then down to villages with a monument to Wedgwood prominent on Bignall Hill behind. I assumed it to be for Josiah Wedgwood of ceramics and pottery fame, but I find out later it is a John Wedgwood, 1760-1839, a local coal mine owner and employer. Within a few hundred yards, the scenery has changed – gentle Cheshire to grittier Staffordshire.

Audley is the first village I come to with a welcome little bakery where I can sit outside in the sun and enjoy a coffee and cheese slice. Naughty but nice.  The route winds its way between villages using green areas which in the past have been a hive of industrial activity. The area was rich in coal, ores and clay. First Leddy’s Field reserve and then the much larger Apedale Country Park. I meet three walkers who lived around here as children and can remember the pits and railways. They are having a nostalgic meet up.

Leaving Leddy’s field.

‘Last of the summer wine’

Apedale.

Walking along the old railway, I make good progress. A park warden tells me of the problems they have had during lockdown with bad parking and litter. They were reduced to a skeleton staff who spent most of the time dealing with the nuisances and now are way behind with their general work. He is a keen walker, having completed many long distance paths, and is proud that the Two Saints Way comes through his patch. In another part of the park there is a heritage centre, museum and narrow gauge railway. Tours of some old mines are possible.

The pit railway.

Nice job!

A steep road, there are a lot of hills today, brings me into Chesterton, an old colliery village, and the outskirts of Stoke. It is urban walking for the rest of the day. The pubs here have closed down, the church has an unkempt appearance and the streets untidy with litter  The café I find specialises in Staffordshire Oatcakes  These are a local delicacy like an oaty pancake, very popular in the Stoke area, I buy one filled with cheese and sit on the steps of the nearby Salvation Army hall to eat it with my coffee. I must look like a tramp.

  An unsavoury park takes me up a hill into the next area of housing where I rely on my phone satnav to navigate me down to the Trent and Mersey Canal.

  The walk along the canal was varied from industrial wastelands to upmarket waterside living. There were reminders of the pottery trade all along the way. I stuck to the canal towpath, whereas the Two Saints Way wandered into the old garden festival site and on to visit the Potteries Museum. I had hoped to see the Staffordshire Saxon Hoard there, but the museum is closed until later in the year, which is a shame.

Best floral display.

Wasteland.

The Round House. Formerly part of the Wedgwood Etruria Pottery works, and built 1769.

I dallied at the junction of the Trent and Mersey with the Caldon Canal. The Etruria Industrial Museum there was closed!

  My Airbnb room in Stoke was not far from the canal in the student area, my hostess is a holistic practitioner and a musician, the house was an oasis of calm. Down the road was an Afghanistan restaurant which served fabulous food, the staff were obviously concerned about their relatives and happenings out there at the moment now under the Taliban. Most won’t be eating as well as I am – Qabuli Pulau.

*****

DAY THREE ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Nantwich to Barthomley.      12 miles.

  I reflect on the temporary healing powers of beer and Brufen as I hobble into Nantwich on a lovely sunny morning. The Church of St. Mary doesn’t open its doors until 10am, so I poke about in the narrow streets with some surprising finds.

Chimney from a wheelwright’s forge and smithy,

The Market Hall.

Good to see it thriving.

Parked up for the day’s shopping.

Immaculate Higgins classic.  I saw the proud owner cycling on quiet lanes later in the day.

  St Mary is an amazing church – cathedral like. You are enthralled as soon as you enter the Nave. Most of the church is C14th, and it is recognised as one of the finest Medieval churches in England.   The splendid, intricately carved Monks stalls with triple canopies and their Misericords grab your attention.     A fine tomb to a Thomas Smith and his wife from the C17th…     …and an effigy of C14th Sir David Cradoc, patron of the church, in alabaster.   A majestic modern stained window depicted life in rural Cheshire, linked into the creation story with Halley’s Comet in the right trefoil, dating it to 1985.    I forgot to look for the several ‘Green Men’ in the church. On the outside there were some fine gargoyles, in the red sandstone.
  At last, I was away and walking through pleasant parks alongside the River Weaver. Dog walkers were in ascendancy – I wonder how long this passion with dogs will last? Nantwich seemed to be a good place to live.

    And then I was in the countryside with well-marked paths leading me on.   I was on my way to Wybunbury, Winbury to you, and I was pleased to find the post office open with coffee and sandwiches available to enjoy on the seat outside. I take every chance I can for a sit down and some caffeine.

  At the end of the village was St. Chad’s tower once a C15th church but now truncated since the demolition of the main part of the church in 1972 due to subsidence. The tower was stabilised in 1832 using methods of under-excavation, later employed to stabilise that leaning tower in Pisa. Apparently it still leans to the north. It is thought that one of the figures at the entrance depicts  St. Chad. A modern St. Chad’s church was passed in the village earlier.

As it was early C20th.

  The path out of the churchyard took me through a wetland reserve and up into horse paddocks with a multitude of stiles, when a simple footpath diversion would have been more sensible.   On the outskirts of Hough I met up with a man and his Springer Spaniel, both as keen as each other on exploring the boggy land in the woods which we traversed. Then it was into fields of tall maize, where you just had to follow a narrow corridor. Somewhere along there I crossed the West Coast mainline, the real one this time. I was glad of a sit down and coffee at the White Lion in Weston. Across the road was the small brick built All Saints’ Church with its unusual semicircular chancel.

  Time was passing on as I walked the narrow lanes to Englesea Brook a small hamlet with a museum devoted to Primitive Methodism. Originated in America, the movement began in England around 1807. It was mainly a working class movement and had a part to play in the establishment of the trade unions.  A prominent tomb in the graveyard is that of Hugh Bourne, one of the pioneers of Primitive Methodism.   Onwards past some fine houses with a few hills to climb at the end of the day.   At last the steeple of St. Bertoline’s Church at Barthomley came into view, standing on Barrow Hill an ancient burial ground. This is where on a visit a few months ago I discovered the Two Saints Trail, it felt good to return here. Each section of the way has an interpretation board erected by http://www.twosaintsway.org.uk

St. Bertoline’s is a handsome church in red sandstone, most of it dating from the 15th century, though there is a Norman doorway built into the north wall. Inside are tombs of past notables in the Crewe Chapel. The chancel was rebuilt in 1925–26 by Austin and Paley, well known church architects from Lancaster. Above the west door are three carved heads, the left one was replaced in 2015 with the homely face of Bishop Peter Forster of Chester. I met the vicar as he came to lock up and of course discussed at length ‘my pilgrimage’.  He had recently come to this church from a Blackpool parish – what a contrast.

  Adjacent to the church is the friendly White Lion Inn where I enjoyed a pint of beer in memory of Dor whose relatives are buried here and who loved this pub.   This has been a long day, five churches, but it was not finished. I had struggled to find accommodation in Barthomley and all I could manage was the Travel Lodge a mile or so away just off the motorway on a busy dual carriage way. I risked life and limb getting there only to find I wasn’t booked in. Not knowing there were two, I had by mistake booked the Travel Lodge in Crewe, a few miles away. They could accommodate me here, but at the cost of £100, the ‘walk in rate’. I laughed at that, as they had never had anybody actually walk in before, cars and lorries only. Helpfully, the receptionist suggested getting me a taxi to the other place and before I knew it I was putting my feet up in my booked room. That was the least expensive way out of the dilemma, and I would book a taxi to take me back to Barthomley in the morning. But I did feel stupid.

*****

The arrow on the map shows my eventual destination.

DAY TWO ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

 Tarporley to Nantwich.   12 miles.

  As soon as I arrived in Nantwich I searched out a chemist before they closed. I was in need of more Brufen and some gel heel pads as I had been in increasing pain during the day. I was still considering catching the train home, the station was close by. But let’s see what difference a night’s rest makes. The Railway Inn where I was staying weren’t doing meals, shortage of chefs at the moment with Brexit and Covid. I was content with a pint and a sandwich and that early night.

  This morning I had rejoined the Two Saints Way on the Shropshire Union Canal at the Shady Oak pub for a short stretch to Wharton’s Lock. I’d been here before on the Sandstone Trail which was followed up to Beeston Tor, arriving before the castle opened – another time.

  Then I ended up walking along quiet Cheshire lanes, as apparently the right of way across fields has been disputed, time the Council sorted that problem, it sniffs of rich landowners to me. At least from up here there were good views back of Beeston Castle.

  Bunbury was a spread out village where I stopped off at The Nags Head for a coffee, surprising how many people were drinking in the bar at this early hour.

  St. Boniface church, C15th, was on the highest point and as I arrived a funeral service was just finishing with people milling around outside. Out of respect, I was going to move on, but a chance conversation with the funeral director assured me they would be gone shortly. In fact, this had been a memorial service for a local resident who’d died during last year’s lockdown. A Scottish piper headed the ash scattering procession into the churchyard. Then I eventually looked around the beautiful sandstone church, featuring some outstanding stained-glass and historic tombs. The friendly vicar, who was very proud of his church, was interested in my route and pointed out not to be missed churches further along the way. The day was getting on, so I didn’t visit the Dysart Arms opposite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                                                                    

I walked on to rejoin the canal at Bunbury locks, where there was the old stabling for express horses of days gone by.  

  Continuing along the canal I passed the equivalent of a motorway service station busy with barges and boating people. It appeared as though some regulars along this stretch were vying for floral boat of the year. I came across an unexpected café at a cheese factory. I don’t often pass a coffee stop, so I was soon ensconced with a brew. Lots of friendly people to chat to and a chance to put my foot up.

  The canal continued alongside a busy road and industrial estates. I was distracted enough to photo all the different flowers on the towpath. Up to 30 different species in a short stretch, I won’t bore you with all the pictures.

  Slowly the walk became more rural as I passed the Middlewich branch of the canal. The waters became much busier with traffic, everybody seemed to be having fun. 

   I decided not to take the Llangollen canal as my heel was playing up, I just continued along the Shropshire Union into Nantwich, a busy section of the canal.

Soon I was in Nantwich, with its many attractive and historic buildings.

  The church could wait until tomorrow, I was in need of a rest.

*****

CaptureTSW 2

DAY ONE ON THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

Chester to Tarporley.  11 miles.

  I started my Two Saints Way  “pilgrimage” in Chester. An early morning train had me there by 9am and the Cathedral is not far from the station.  The Romans built a settlement here with straight intersecting roads in AD 79. It was later inhabited by a Romano/British population, and it remained an important location for the domination of Wales. At the site of the present Cathedral, Christian worship began in late Roman times. A church and abbey were dedicated to St. Werburgh when her remains were moved here, protected by the Roman walls.  At the dissolution,1538,  the abbey was destroyed but the Cathedral subsequently survived. As was normal, additions and alterations took place up to the Victorian era. It has to become one of the best representatives of the Gothic and Perpendicular styles. I went to see the shrine of St. Werburgh. I was greeted by a model railway exhibition!

  Pete Waterman OBE, the record producer and railway enthusiast, has designed a layout to commemorate the work of Chester’s Civil Engineer Thomas Brassey, 1805 – 1870,  who in his lifetime was responsible for many of the railways in Britain and the rest of the world. There is a commemoration bust to him in the cathedral. Lots of excited children and adults were gazing at the little trains whizzing around Pete’s West Coast mainline. Is that the man himself?

  To get back to my purpose down the far end of the magnificent nave of the Cathedral was the shrine to St. Werburgh who looked a little small in her niche.

Elsewhere, there were stained-glass images of both my saints.

 

  There was much more to explore in the Cathedral, but I haven’t space here for more pictures. My journey had begun.

  The streets of Chester were busy with tourists and shoppers but around the corner was an old cross unnoticed by many, it stands at the  central Roman crossroads.  Then it was shops galore down Bridge Street…

… leading to Newgate, the Roman amphitheatre and St. John’s Church with its attendant Medieval ruined chapel, the first Saxon Chester Cathedral.    I reached the canal and set off Eastwards at last. This area had been the industrial heartland of Chester in the C19th, when it was an important port. There has been a sympathetic preservation of the old alongside modern living. This was the Chester Canal, the first part of the Shropshire Union network. The towpath has been ‘improved’ with tarmac giving fast going, but I found hard going on my heel. More locks followed and at Tarvin Road lock there was a traditional lockkeepers cottage and an unusual round lengthman’s hut.

My first diversion was into the village of Christleton, a wealthy backwater, to visit St. James, a C15th church built on the site of a much older wooden church. Inside were several interesting relics, including a marble font, Millennium stained-glass windows and a wooden carving of a pelican tearing its breast to feed its young.

  Alongside the church on the green was the village well and Victorian pump house.

  I found my way back to the canal, now passing elegant houses and gardens. Fishermen were after perch and roach. One chap I chatted to said he had had 20 catches that day but whilst I was there not a single bite!

  There were no locks on this stretch through the flat Cheshire countryside. Passing a marina, I watched a couple trying to steer their newly hired boat out of the basin.

  Along here I saw my first Way of St. Chad’s roundel marker.

  Onwards the towpath was rather overgrown, not many people walking this stretch. Over to the right was Beeston Tor with its prominent castle, on tomorrow’s walk.

My destination today was Wharton’s Lock, where I intended to have a drink in the Shady Oak pub whilst waiting for a taxi to Tarporley. Alas, the pub was closed, the first of many. I was preparing to walk up the roads to Tarporley when another disappointed couple who had travelled here for a drink offered me a lift. Before I knew it, I was sat in the beer garden of the Forrester’s Arms. That was fortuitous because by then I was limping on my bad heel and ominous thoughts of having to catch the train home tomorrow were in my mind. A good evening meal and a night’s sleep hopefully would put me in a different frame of mind, if not body, tomorrow.

 

*****

TSW 1

 

THE TWO SAINTS WAY.

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   Whilst visiting Barthomley in Cheshire a few weeks ago I noticed a footpath marker for the Two Saints Way, a route I was unaware of. A bit of research on the LDWA site followed, and the guidebook was ordered.    (Incidentally I use Blackwell’s now for ordering online books. They are competitive with Amazon for price and delivery, are still independent and pay their taxes in the UK.)   The route has been devised as a 92mile (148K) Pilgrimage between the Cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield. David Pott’s guide book is well produced and gives all the background information you need on the Saints and Churches. The directions seem precise and are separate from the descriptive information.

The Two Saints are St. Chad, whose shrine is in Lichfield, and St. Werburgh, enshrined in Chester. They were both alive in the kingdom of Mercia in the 7th century and were prominent in introducing Christianity to the region. In Medieval times, pilgrimages were made between the two cities and onwards. I have completed St. Cuthbert’s Way, The North Downs Way and St. Hilda’s way in the past, not to mention the Camino de Santiago de Compostaela, so this route sits alongside them nicely. I am not overtly religious, but the history and sense of purpose behind these ancient and  modern pilgrimages appeals to me and gives a theme and focal point to a long-distance walk. In any case, many ancient tracks now followed by our trails were originally used by monks linking their monasteries,  and these became trade routes. Wayside crosses are a common sight on our walking trails.

   St. Werburgh was the daughter of the Mercian King Wulphere, she learnt the Roman Christian faith from her mother and entered a convent at Ely. Over her life she came to oversee all the convents in Mercia and was respected as a model of Christian virtue. She was buried at Hanbury, Staffordshire, but during a Danish invasion in the C9th her bones were moved to the safety of St. Peter and St. Paul in the walled city of Chester. Her shrine there became a pilgrimage site, and the abbey church became Chester Cathedral. A story links St. Werburgh and a miracle with a flock of geese, and a goose became a symbol of her.

   St. Chad was born around 634 to a Northumbrian family and had his early religious training under St. Aidan at Lindisfarne and then in Ireland. In his life, known for humility and Godliness, he took on many monastic positions and came to Lichfield in Mercia where he would baptise the converted in a holy well. Nearby, he founded St. Mary’s church. He was buried there in 672 but when a new church was built nearby in 700 his remains were transferred there, this was superseded by the present day Cathedral started in 1085. At the Reformation some of his bones were removed and hidden by Catholic families in Staffs, they were found at Aston Hall, on the route, and moved to Birmingham RC Cathedral. St. Chads well became a site of pilgrimage. The Gospels of St. Chad, documents from his time, are preserved in the Cathedral and the symbol of St Chad’s Cross was taken from them.

Enough of the history, I am looking forward to walking through traditional English countryside and interesting towns and cities. Hopefully a varied walk. For no good reason I’m starting in Chester and heading to Lichfield.   Uniquely the Two Saints Way route is referred to as The Way of St Chad in the Chester to Lichfield direction and waymarked with the symbolic cross of St Chad. The route from Lichfield to Chester is referred to as The Way of St Werburgh and waymarked with a goose, her symbol.  So I’ll be following the Way of St. Chad, but paying homage to St. Werburgh whenever I look back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Capture Two Saints Way. (2)_LI

*****

Since I wrote this I ‘bruised’ my heel bouldering and have delayed the start of my walk. Wish me luck.

A QUICK VISIT TO CHESHIRE.

  For reasons, I’ll explain, I found myself in deepest Cheshire looking around the graveyard of St Bertoline’s Church in Barthomley.    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Bertoline%27s_Church,_Barthomley 

Mike knew from previous visits the whereabouts of the Stringer and Mc.Vay family graves. They were distant relatives of his recently deceased wife and had been tenants of the nearby White Lion until the 50s. That is where we were heading next for the main reason for our journey, He shares the ownership of a house in France with a couple from Stafford and they are in the process of selling it, so meeting up with them here was like a board meeting. I was along for the ride. Selling houses in France has become complicated with changes introduced by Brexit and made more difficult with Covid restrictions  I will miss my visits to their wonderful property in The Lot which I’ve posted about here many times. Strangely the Ribble Valley  now has the highest Covid infection rates in the UK, should I be here at all?

David and Glenda were already seated at one of the outside tables at The White Lion, whose history goes back almost as far as the church which overlooks it. The usual catching ups were completed, property business discussed and a good meal enjoyed.Mike suggested a postprandial walk before we hit the motorway north. A few years ago I walked the Cheshire Ring Canal Trail so I knew an interesting section of the Trent and Mersey Canal near Alsager only a few miles away. Luckily, we were able to park on the Old Congleton Road close to an access bridge to the canal. This canal is wide and in the main has double locks, reflecting its previous importance. Glenda and David had to retrace their steps to ensure keeping a later appointment, Mike and I carried on to where the Macclesfield Canal joins in. We followed the latter for a short distance, The Gritstone Trail, before going through a housing development to enter the Lawton Hall estate. The main path led to the fishing lake in the estate woods, large carp could be seen floating just under the surface. The hall, now private accommodation, was glimpsed across well guarded fields. I wanted to visit the medieval church associated with Lawton Hall, and we soon found ourselves climbing the mound on which the church was constructed. As with the church at Barthomley, the mounds were probably ancient burial sites. Back to the canal and then the long motorway drive home.

Going down.

Crossover bridge.

Parting of the ways.

Red Bull Wharf.

Lawton Hall.

Lawton Church.

Back to the motorway.

A nice interlude out of Lancashire and my first pub lunch for a year and a half.

*****

 

THE CUCKOO WAY. FIVE.

Tuesday, May 25th,       10 miles.     Killamarsh to Chesterfield.

Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so I boarded the first bus to Killamarsh, it took well over an hour to reach the destination having travelled around most of the Chesterfield district. I’ve become used to sitting for all this time with my face mask on. Calling at the hospital we picked up a drunk who had probably been released from casualty, as could be expected he caused some chaos on board before staggering off in the middle of nowhere.

I alighted at the Canal Bridge stop where I finished yesterday, but it was difficult to make out the bridge as the canal was filled in, encouragingly though was a sign for The Cuckoo Way to Chesterfield. The Greenway runs all the way to Renishaw and is a facility I hope the locals make use of, there were very few on it today.  So I disappeared into the undergrowth on the edge of a housing estate. The line of the canal was just a ditch to my left, at least it doesn’t seem to have been built over. The Cuckoo Way roundels, which I explained yesterday, were a help in navigating where the canal has all but disappeared.

Turning a corner the Trans Pennine Trail cycling route appears to the right following an old railway line. One could walk on the cycleway but I preferred to stay on the “towpath”. All of a sudden there was water in the canal, this section has been a fishery part of the Sitwell Estate. Coming towards me was a gentleman and his hound, he turned out to be the water bailiff for the estate. During the periods when we’ve not been allowed to travel far local fishing became a boom pastime and he was kept busy supervising the waters. He told me of the plans to restore more stretches of the canal, how to save and transfer the fish and how the line of the HS2 was coming through the region adding complications to the scheme. In this age of zoom conferences and working more from home will another railway be needed? The canal reverts to a ditch farther on.

The water bailiff goes on his way.

The line of the canal, the towpath and the Trans-Pennine Trail alongside.

The Greenway continued at times narrow and muddy, at others alongside the redundant canal. The cycle way has gone elsewhere. It passed the outskirts of Renishaw and then as a footpath following the filled in canal across open fields. Good progress was made as the way was clear ahead, although I had no idea of where I really was.

Approaching Staveley the canal originally was carried on a high embankment to cross the River Doe Lea, this is apparent on the ground except at the river itself, Staveley Puddlebank.

Staveley Puddlebank.

A lot of work is being undertaken at Staveley with a new lock and a basin constructed. This is some achievement as much of the labour is voluntary, Chesterfield Canal Trust. It was easy to get lost here with the new works and the many cycle routes.

Lunch was eaten on a bench next to the old Mill Green bridge. Men were fishing in the basin using very lifelike lures. As I sat two vessels came up the canal. The first powering a reed cutter and his mate using a rake to clear the water. In front of my eyes, the raker pulled a bath out of the canal – catch of the day. A little farther along he’d netted a bike and a supermarket trolley or were they art installations?.

Much friendlier than they look.

Catch of the day.

Entertainment over, I set off on the last few miles into Chesterfield. The towpath remained good and  a café was open at Hollingwood Lock.  On this section to Tapton new locks and bridges have already been built, and the canal is viable, although the only two boats I saw were from the Canal Trust used for pleasure trips raising money for the restoration cause. If you had a boat why would you put it on a section of canal only navigable for six miles.

And then there was a mile to go…

The end of the 6mile navigable section is short of the city and the rather dreary water comes to an end by building development sites which were basins in the years of the working canal. There are plans for a new showcase canal basin close to the city centre.