FAVOURITE LOCAL WALK
Vale Royal Abbey (VRA) and the Weaver Navigational – 7 miles – approximate two hours
Starting in the impressive setting of the current Vale Royal Abbey, an impressive building dating back to 17th century. However, the history of the site dates back to the 13th century, when it hosted a Cistercian Abbey, which in its hay-day was larger than Westminster Abbey, until under the instruction of Henry VII it was torn down in the 16th century.
This is a walk for all seasons, made up of three distinct parts:
- The quaint village of Whitegate and along the leafy glen of Pretty Pool Brook
- A section of the Whitegate Way to the impressive Winsford Salt Works
- The towpath of Weaver Navigational passing Vale Royal Locks and back to VRA
This is a varied and enjoyable walk on mainly level and firm surfaces, so can be tackled with confidence at any time of the year.
The walk starts with the lovely rolling vista of the VRA Golf Course, with the history of the Abbey and of Whitegate village, initially following Pretty Pool Brook you are quicky into the Cheshire farmlands, with open fields to the right and left.
You then walk along a very straight leafy lane on the raised bank which is one end of the six-mile-long Whitegate Way, where heavy goods trains laden with salt once lumbered to Cuddington to join the Chester – Manchester line. At the end of the Whitegate Way is the Winsford Salt Works, which is still producing significant volumes of rock-salt, which we all benefit from on our winter roads and where 200 million square meters of underground mine shafts are now used as a commercial documents store (Deepstore).
Once passed the Saltworks cross over the Weaver Navigational, where it becomes the Vale Royal Cut, part of a 70-mile-long navigable waterway, with swans and wildlife of all kinds. Walking along the tow-path of the waterway you can see that the area now contains many holiday properties on its attractive banks and it shows all the signs of what used to be a very busy area with canal boats and barges.
On reaching the Vale Royal Locks (which opened in 1865) and Weir, you can cross over the bridges and take a shortcut back to VRA or continue along the towpath up and over the “blue bridge” (A556) back along the towpath, on the other side of the River Weaver, walking back to the impressive Vale Royal Abbey.
FAVOURITE WALK IN THE WORLD.
Camino de Santiago – French Way – Last 100km
My first visit to Santiago de Compostela (SdC) was when we visited on a day trip from a cruise, which docked in Northern Spain back in 2012 and my first knowledge of the Camino de Santiago (the Camino) came from another day trip when we walked a few kilometres of “the way”, when visiting Spain on another cruise in 2017. Both of these experiences prompted me to learn more about both SdC and the Camino, learning that there are many Caminos starting from all parts of Europe, but all roads lead to SdC. So, in 2018, with my Indian friend Ravi, I decided to plan our first Camino for October, walking the last 100km of the Camino Francais, the most popular Camino route.
We booked and were joined by Sue (one of our other NW Instructors) and her partner David before we arrived in Spain, where we met another eight strangers (who became friends), including our guide, at the start of our journey in Sarria, where we would become a group 12 Peregrinos (or Pilgrims) for the next six days. Our group was from England, Scotland, Ireland, Spain, USA and New Zealand, with a wide variety of backgrounds, ages and levels of fitness, but we gelled well and became a friendly, caring and supportive group.
The reason for the 100km distance, is that this is the minimum distance you have to walk to be granted a Compostella (Certificate) that you have completed the Camino. You also have to collect at least of two stamps each day in your Credencial del Peregrino (or Pilgrim Passport), which can be stamped at a wide variety of churches, restaurants, bars, shops and hotels along the route.
I kept a blog on my phone each day and recorded in detail the route and distances we walked, as people who know me would fully expect of me. To keep this short, a summary of our Camino days:
Sunday 24km Sarria to Portomarín
Monday 25km Portomarin to Palas de Rei
Tuesday 16km Palas de Rei to Melide
Wednesday 17km Melide to Aruza
Thursday 22km Aruza to Amenal
Friday 18km Amenal to Santiago de Compostela
As you can see, we actually walked at least 122km, but who’s counting.
Most of the terrain was good and there weren’t too many steep climbs. Ravi, Sue and I made good use of our Nordic Walking technique and with Sue’s encouragement we made sure the group warmed up each morning and stretched out at the end of each day. We walked for about four or five hours each day and whilst walking the Camino the tradition is to welcome other Pilgrims with “Buen Camino”, so we rapidly lost count of the number of times we uttered that phrase. Sometimes we all walked together as a group, other times we walked in groups of two, three or four and sometimes we walked and talked with other Pilgrims we met along the route.
We experienced good weather (lovely sunshine) and bad weather (rain), good food and not so good food, lovely wine and terrible wine, okay accommodation and very good accommodation and generally good beer. Northern Spain’s climate is a bit like the Northern England, it is usually a bit warmer, but it is green and can be very wet at that time of year, so we felt right at home.
Another highlight of the week was playing various group games after dinner in the evenings, organised by our new young and enthusiastic friend from New Zealand.
People say that your first Camino is always the most memorable and I must admit that I will never forget the collective joy (and tears) we experienced when we passed through the archway, rounded the corner to see the full vista of the Cathedral and arrived in the square, where so many thousands, no millions, of pilgrims have done before us.
A number of us attended the Pilgrim Mass in the Cathedral and watched the enormous Botafumeiro (Galician for “smoke expeller”, the famous thurible) swinging through the air and whilst there I also bumped into some people I know from Cheshire, it’s a small world.
Before we flew home. Ravi and I enjoyed a lovely sunny and hot day trip to Finsterre, which sowed the seed for my subsequent Camino, the Camino de Finisterre in 2019 from SdC to Finisterre and Muxia, but that’s another story.
I highly recommend that everyone who is able and likes walking should experience the Camino at least once in their lives, you will never forget it!