Tag Archives: Sandstone Trail

THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – off the ridge. Day 3

Hampton to Whitchurch.

Farmyard Pump.

Farmyard Pump.

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.

Off to John o'Groats!

Off to John o’Groats!

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.

The Sandstone Trail. 232

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?

Pond Dipping.

Pond Dipping.

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.

Garden boat.

Garden boat.

Wet ducks!

Wet ducks and camera!

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.

Grindley Brook Staircase.

Grindley Brook Staircase.

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.

End of the Line.

End of the Line.

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.

THE SANDSTONE TRAIL – a hidden gem. Day1.

The Sandstone Trail is a 34mile/55K walk along a ridge of sandstone from Frodsham to Whitchurch. That statement really doesn’t do this distance walk justice. I have just returned from two and a half days glorious and varied walking – one of the best short routes I’ve experienced in England.

There is good transport to either end; there are excellent friendly pubs, cafes and b&bs along the way; the waymarking faultless; the varied scenery and walking underfoot superb.  Used all my hyperbole in one sentence!  Just go and see for yourself.

Frodsham to Utkinton.

After two weeks of dry sunny weather the forecast was not good and as my train arrived in Frodsham the rain had just stopped. I’d traveled via Warrington where I was given a chocolate bar to warn of service disruptions in the near future. A unique gesture – which I’ve eaten.

I knew I was in the right place when I alighted from the train ….

….and wandering through the town came across this unusual phone/stamp/posting box.

The start of the walk was soon found outside The Bear’s Paw inn

Dull weather accompanied me up onto a morning’s invigorating 5mile walk along the sandstone ridge. Notice the distinctive yellow footprint waymark logo. This wooded escarpment is composed of  sandstone with several lines of rusty red outcrop cliffs giving  views over the Wirral on a good day.

 

Helsby and the Wirral.

Helsby and the Wirral.

Coming off the escarpment I was pleasantly surprised to come across a cafe at Manley. This is Stonehouse Farm [b&b] which has been in the same family for 6 generations. As all the seating was outside I was glad that it was dry, even if a little chilly. Soup and coffee were great, I passed on the scones [see later].

            

This was followed by  different walking through the vast Delamere Forest. There is a maze of tracks in here, all well signed for walkers and cyclists. The tree population is varied with mixed conifer and deciduous  and areas of undrained ‘meres’ giving  further habitat diversity.

Good walking took me back up onto the ridge continuation for three or four miles.

Came out into more rural farming land with the distinctive metal kissing gates installed on the trail  —–

----- after you.

—– after you.

Couldn’t help but come across another wayside cafe with friendly staff. Felt I had to support them with a minor purchase of tea and scones. They were telling me of being cut off for a week in the snow storms at the end of April, the cafe can only be reached by very minor steep roads. Nevertheless today it had a steady  stream of regulars. What would the British countryside be without these simple institutions? Happy to give them a plug.

By now the day had brightened up and there was some warmth from the afternoon sun making the last 4 miles or so a delight, with views to the Clwydian range of hills in North Wales. A feature of the whole walk was the ever present crying of Buzzards circling overhead. Hopefully this gives some indication of a healthy population of these majestic birds.

The distant Clwydian Hills.

The distant Clwydian Hills.

My accommodation for the night was a beautiful old Cheshire farmhouse, just off route, and well used by walkers.

Neighbouring properties were more along the lines of those seen in Cheshire Life and costing the earth. As a measure of the wealth I noticed a Lamborghini, a Ferrari and a Porsche all in one drive, I kid you not.

My more humble working farm  turned out to be an excellent b&b and I was well looked after. Didn’t need to go out at night as I still had my lunch left over – made redundant with the day’s two cafe stops!

Yew Tree Farm

Yew Tree Farm

Very relaxing rural evening after a full and interesting first day.        http://www.yewtreebb.com