Tag Archives: Canals

BACK IN THE SADDLE – Morecambe bay and beyond, continued.

Crawling out from under my rock I wonder where a week has gone. It went in a haze of Covid fever, headache, cough and abdominal pains which laid me lower than expected. I could hardly read others posts never mind complete my own. I’m not at my best.

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June 14th. 2022.

Where was I?

Ah, yes. Parking up at Halton Station in preparation for a cycle ride around Morecambe Bay. Post coffee I’m off, so good to be out again feeling free as a bird. Into Lancaster, over the Millennium Bridge and out to Morecambe. I take a bit of detour past the football ground to arrive at the coast in the West End near the site of a former pier. The view out over the bay is clear, but everything seems at a great distance. I soon pass the Midland Hotel, one day I will call in for tea, and continue up the promenade without stopping at the various attractions.

West End Sculpture.

I’ve been this way so many times before, I even know the way from the end of the prom to reach the Lancaster Canal. Normally I turn south here but today to vary my route I head north alongside the canal. This is a delightful stretch with the canal elevated above the surrounding countryside. Below are Hest Bank and Bolton-le-Sands, and father out are the treacherous sands of the 2004 cockling disaster when 21 illegal Chinese immigrants lost their lives. We still don’t know how to manage the flow of immigrants into our country.

I have to be careful to leave the towpath at the correct spot, not signed, to pick up the 700 cycle route which could eventually take me, if I wished, all the way around Morecambe Bay to Ulverston and Walney Island, Barrow. Today I only went as far as the River Keer and its eponymous bridge. Whenever I’m here I can’t help thinking of The Bridge on the River Kwai and start whistling Colonel Bogey. Obviously the name of the bridge and its wooden structure set my mind into action. So much so that I paused my writing here a couple of hours ago to watch the 1957 film starring William Holden, Alec Guinness and Jack Hawkins on Vimeo. I had forgotten how good it was, building up the tension and reflecting on the British character and psychology in times of war. Directed by David Lean, arguably his best film was a few years later – Lawrence of Arabia. We will shortly come across his name once more. It is worth your time to watch again and revaluate    https://ok.ru/video/2090020047523

The Bridge on the River Keer.

***

Where was I?

Ah, yes. Coming alongside the diminutive River Keer into the railway town of Carnforth. The railway station is on the main west coast line with branches to the Cumbrian Coast and inland to Skipton, a busy junction. Most of the main line expresses cruise through at speeds unimaginable at the time of the fictional ‘Milford Junction’ just pre-WWII. It was here that David Lean directed much of the romance of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter. Carnforth has capitalised on the ongoing success of the film and a Heritage Centre has been created on the platform – all things railway and cinema. Here I go again – diverted to watching a tormented Celia Johnson and a rather wooden Trevor Howard in Brief Encounter on the computer. I’m now an emotional mess, must have been  the Rachmaninoff. I’ll never finish this post.

***

Where was I?

Ah, yes. Enjoying a cup of tea at the famous waiting room. I had time to drift back in time as the pot of tea took an age to arrive. On my way again I now followed the 90 (Lancashire Cycleway) up to sleepy Nether Kellet now high in this range of unnamed low hills.  Views back to the Bay with the Lakeland Hills behind and ahead over Lancaster and the Bowland Hills. Whizzing down I missed my turn and ended up alongside a military training centre above the Lune. All barbed wire, locked gates and grey paint. Halton village had some old properties previously related to a now demolished Halton Hall, worth a more detailed visit. Back over the Lune I was the last car in the car park and drove home tired but contented not knowing what was ahead.

More variations and suggestions on cycling Morecambe Bay, very satisfying.

***

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Further to some comments below on this post, here are a couple of phone photos taken by my son on the canal in Stretford. Bee Orchids.

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BACK IN THE SADDLE – Morecambe Bay and beyond?

June 14th. 2022.

A couple of weeks go by with more minor injuries preventing walking far – so time to get back on the bike. The problem was where should I go – my easy routes are becoming repetitive. After a few days bouldering up at Craig Y Longridge I feel rather stiff and lethargic this morning. Before you ask, although walking is painful I am able to do low level bouldering as long as I don’t jump off or more likely fall off. Anyhow, I have survived and need a longer day’s exercise, the wind has dropped so out comes the cycle, or rather in goes the cycle, into the cavernous boot of my estate car. No need to dismantle anything which could later cause me problems of a mechanical nature. Every cycle ride I do my heart is in my mouth expecting some failure which my limited mechanical abilities could not solve, leading to a long walk. I’m surprised there isn’t a breakdown service available to cyclists.

I’ve spotted, on the cycling map, a Route 90 that will give me a circular ride after I’ve progressed up Morecambe Bay to Carnforth. As I said, feeling lethargic I didn’t get going until lunchtime but once more I’m in the parking at old Halton station. I grab a coffee from the convenient snack van ready for the off along the familiar lines through Lancaster to Morecambe…

***

I’ve not felt well for a couple of days, head cold, sore throat, chesty cough, dizziness,bowel and bladder irritation and as I commence to write up yesterday’s completed excursion here this morning I feel distinctly worse. Time for a Covid test.

I’m going to bed so will catch up with you later.

CICERONE’S LANCASHIRE – Cockerham Coast and Canal.

The day was gloomy and so was I – perhaps I overdid the whisky last night. I was still mooching around the house late morning. But I keep trying to push my walking that bit farther. As you know I’m slowly working my way through Mark Sutcliffe’s Cicerone guide to Walking in Lancashire. In this I’m mirrored by Phreerunning Martin who always gets an interestingly different take from me, the pleasures of blogging. I needed something not too long and preferably as flat as possible. Walk 15 seemed perfect. I know the Glasson Dock area well and have done several variations of this walk before, probably most recently on my Lancashire Monastic Way. But looking at Mark’s  route I spotted some paths I had never walked. I might struggle to say something original about this walk.

I was a little embarrassed to leave my car in The Stork’s private car park, but the other space was taken by Travellers and their caravans. The channels of the Condor don’t look at their best during low tide. Following the old railway I came into Glasson, busy with people visiting an outdoor market. I couldn’t go past the little shop without buying a coffee, this time to drink as I climbed the minor hill to the viewpoint. The views were disappointing but the coffee good, sorry about the environment polluting cup.

I worked my way around the coast. The tide was out, so Plover lighthouse was accessible, it was previously maintained from the shore before becoming automatic. The incumbent keeper was based at Lighthouse Cottage where there was another light atop a wooden scaffold to line up ships coming into the tricky Lune channel. Across the channel I could see Sunderland Point at one time the major port on the Lune.

A sign talks of plovers nesting on the shoreline, but I wonder about this as the tide comes in fully most days.

Lots of walkers were converging on Cockersand Abbey, of which the only remaining building is the octagonal Chapter House. This has survived because it was used as a mausoleum by the Daltons of Thurnham Hall (see later) during the 18th and 19th centuries. The red sandstone rocks on the shore  line  show where the building blocks of the Abbey originated.

Continuing around the coast on the sea embankment passing several caravan parks which looked very vulnerable to high tides. It will be interesting to view this area in the coming decades as sea levels rise.  Those are the Bowland Hills behind.

Tree of the day.

Small planes kept taking off from somewhere on Cockerham sands, disappearing into the dark clouds only for tiny parachutes to fall from the skies. They were from the Black Knights centre. Was the sign for parachutists that had gone astray on their descent?

I left the coast and followed bridleways through drained lands up to Thursland Hall where one is corralled into narrow ways to bypass their fishery. Change of scenery.

A kilometre of tedious walking brought me to Thurnham Hall, a C17th country house converted into a spa hotel. It looked very smart and there were plenty of people staying in the attached residential block. Walking through I reflected that my life seems very simple compared to others. Escaping by a gate into a field I was wary of proceeding through the large herd of frisky bullocks, so I resorted to an outflanking manoeuvre bringing me back to an ancient green lane. A bridge gave access to the Glasson branch canal.

Herons are a common sight on waterways, staring motionless into the water. I have never seen one catch a fish, but today I was lucky this heron had just caught an eel and was having difficulty trying to swallow it whole. The highlight of the day.

*****

CICERONE’S LANCASHIRE – Rufford and Mere Sands.

Another day, another walk. I was liable to miss the best of this sunny day as I procrastinated in bed with coffee and news feeds on the Ukraine disaster. I feel ashamed to be British as we turn away refugees at our border, Priti Patel is not my favourite politician. I would be all too happy to offer up a couple of my rooms for the most needy, as have done hundreds of Germans. Bugger Brexit and Boris and Putin.

To salvage the day and my mental state, I pick up that volume of Lancashire Walks published by Cicerone. What about 6 miles from Rufford, visiting a nature reserve I had no knowledge of despite being a supporter of Lancs Wildlife Trust.

I park up next to Rufford St. Mary’s Church, which is open to the public today. When I was last here, I learnt of the choir in the past accompanied by musical instruments, including a bassoon played by a Richard Alty. Apparently, the said bassoon is preserved in a case in the church. I was disappointed that I could not find it.

My next disappointment is that I did not visit the NT Rufford Old Hall; instead, as the day was slipping by, I set off along the Leeds Liverpool Canal and looked across to the hall which had a fantastic display of purple blue crocuses in their grounds.

I stretched my legs along the busy towpath, with flat fields all around. To the east, Winter Hill and Great Hill were prominent, but Longridge Fell looked a long way off. Soon I was heading inland and along Sandy Lane. All straight lines and winter fields.

In a yard of lorries, the owner talks of high fuel prices and a lack of drivers. Boris, Brexit and Putin again. He has an awful lot of money tied up in those vehicles.

My entry into Mere Sands Reserve was by the back door over a little footbridge. I hung my binoculars around my neck to look professional. In Medieval times, the whole area was part of Martin Mere. Attempts to drain it commenced in the C17th, and it was planted up as woodland as part of the Rufford Hall Estate. In 1958, it was sold for sand extraction which created the lakes and in 1982 sold to Lancashire Wildlife Trust for a nominal fee, thus creating the reserve we see today. The path winds around the back of the mere, where a hide looks out onto the waters. There are ducks and geese in the distance. Farther on, I came across a couple hand feeding the robins. Coots are diving. All part of a busy little reserve. The café was too busy for my patience, so I carried on to the far end of the reserve. My only criticism is that there were not many places where you get near enough to the water. Oh, and the adjoining roads sound like Silverstone with all the Sunday racers, very distracting.

The abandoned observation post above is of unknown vintage. I found a path alongside a dyke which leads me through the fringes of Rufford, somehow Venice came to mind. And then I’m back on the canal, which has been drained for this stretch, along past the Marina, and I was back into the village. The Hall had already closed, some other time.

What a pleasant way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon. Another thumbs up to my new Cicerone guide.

LANCASTER, CANALS AND COAST.

I used the abandoned railways of Lancaster for several cycle rides last year, and today I wanted to include the Lancaster Canal in a more varied circuit. Down the Lancaster Canal towpath, along the Glasson Link, take the old railway along the Lune Estuary, old railway to Morecambe, sea front to Hest Bank and complete back on the Lancaster Canal to the aqueduct over the Lune. Almost a figure of eight. Perhaps the map will explain what I intended.

I park up, as usual, at old Halton station. The area is busy with university oarpersons. I have to ride a couple of miles to join the canal at the Lune Aqueduct. I notice for the first time some exclusive looking riverside houses on the far bank, foliage normally obstructs the view. The air is still, allowing various strong aromas to float across from the adjacent industrial units; a hoppy smell, acetone and rubber. These are the only clues as to what transpires behind closed doors. I wonder what finds its way into the river.

You may remember me writing last October about ‘a good Samaritan’ who came to my aid, or more correctly my bike’s. Well, there he is again, I don’t need assistance today but stop for a chat, like old friends, and a photo.

I don’t stop for many other photos after that, as I have documented the area well on other walks.1  2  3  4

There is a ramp leading up to the elevated canal right next to the Aqueduct. A well surfaced towpath leads me quickly through the centre of the city, passing the cathedral and warehouses on the way. I use a couple of crossover bridges which used to take the barge horses over without the need for uncoupling.

Soon I’m out into the countryside and the first people I meet are from my home village, walking the canal in stages, From here on I’m struggling. The towpath is very muddy and narrow. My tyres don’t grip and I slip and slide about, feeling in danger of a headlong dive into the canal. I walk the worst stretches.

Turning off onto the side canal to Glasson brings the same problems with the mud. There are six flights of locks on this stretch. I’m relieved and weary, arriving at Glasson Dock. I head straight over the bridge to my favourite café shop for a welcome rest, coffee and homemade pie, late breakfast/early lunch. I haven’t come far, but my average speed is well below 10mph.

Refreshed, I join the rail track alongside the estuary, the tide is out, for a much quicker ride back into the city. I pass right in front of the old warehouses, Harbour Master’s office and waterfront pubs of the renovated St. George’s Quay I need to explore this area of Lancaster more, the celebrated Maritime Museum is housed here. Ahead is the Millennium Bridge, which takes me across the Lune and onto the familiar rail track to Morecambe. St. George’s Quay is better viewed from this side.

Spot the shopping trolley.

The front at Morecambe is quiet, I have a quick ride down the stone pier before following the Bay around to Hest Bank. Side-streets take me back onto the Lancaster Canal and a much better towpath all the way to the balustraded Lune Aqueduct.

I’m pleased overall with this 28 mile circuit, level all the way with plenty of interest and of course those incomparable views across the bay. The second half of the ride has thankfully been far easier than those muddy canal paths to Glasson, for which I need to find an alternative before next time.

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.