This is a year of several milestones for me, 30 years of teaching exercise in Knutsford, 10 years of Nordic Walking, and a big birthday ending with a ‘0’. So, I decided that it would be good to do something to celebrate all these birthdays.
A few months ago, a book appeared in my post box – The Cheshire Circuit. A new long-distance footpath which links the Sandstone Trail with the Weaver Way forming an 88-mile circuit of mostly Cheshire, and a little bit of Northern Shropshire. The Cheshire Circuit book had been lying on my desk and seemed to be calling out to me – could I do this walk in one go? How long would it take? What would the weather conditions be?
Without a great deal of thought I decided that the most obvious way to do it was to walk it in 4 days, 22 miles per day. In the past I walked a marathon in a day so 22 miles would be fine – the challenge would be doing that distance 4 days on the run. I could travel to and from the start and end points each day. It would be a great fundraising challenge as I could ask for sponsorship, but also get fellow walkers and friends to walk with me and donate that way. I am on a mission to raise £7500 to fund a ‘Heart Screening’ day in Knutsford so it seemed to all to come together very nicely.
Then my Grandson said, ‘well if you are walking 88 miles, why would you not walk 100 miles?’ Hhmm yes fair point. So, I then plotted a 12-mile route from home to the closest point on the Cheshire Circuit route – Northwich, making a total distance of 100 miles. This became my ‘warm up’ and ‘pace setting’ day. I actually walked the flat, easy 12 miles in just under 4 hours. So knew I could work on 3 mph for most of the route.
DAY 1 FRODSHAM to BICKERTON CHURCH
By 7.30am on the first day I was feeling very pleased with myself. I had made my sandwiches and flask of coffee, put make up on, got to Frodsham, taken a selfie at the Sandstone Trail monument and set off up the hill. All fine, until halfway up the hill I realised I hadn’t paid for the car park and Cheshire West don’t do pay by phone for that car park, so had to back track and then run up back up the hill again!! Anyway, got to Delamere in record time to meet up with loads of our lovely walkers, including two who then walked all the way to Beeston Castle with me. The Sandstone Trail is an absolutely stunning walk. I have done it before but walking some of the sections of it on my own made me realise just how really fabulous it is. The ancient woodlands combined with the numerous dramatic sandstone ridges with ever changing views, and undulating Cheshire farmland all combine to keep delighting all the senses at every twist and turn. This was actually a great day, but also potentially the toughest day due to the 2500 ft ascent. However, I got to Bickerton Church at 5.30pm, with just slightly tired legs, but otherwise all good. 22 or maybe 23 miles. 2500 ft ascent. 0 stiles, 0 blisters, 66 miles to go…….
DAY 2 BICKERTON CHURCH to AUDLEM
I got dropped off at Bickerton Church at 7.45am. The first 3 miles, Bickerton Hill is a sheer sandstone bluff, a mixture of open woodland and lowland heath with stunning views again at every turn. And then it was fields, fields and more undulating fields with lots of stiles to climb. A section of the Llangollen canal and then the restored Whitchurch Canal Arm takes you into Whitchurch and the end of the Sandstone Trail. I had a lovely lunch in the centre of the town and then set out to head East and tackle the remaining 10 miles to Audlem. This was a mixture of quite country lanes, more fields with dodgy stiles and a short, but very pretty section of the Shropshire Union Canal.
I didn’t have any company for these 22 miles. I don’t mind walking on my own, but the relentless flat farmland did start to feel a tad tedious. Throughout the whole walk I didn’t see many other walkers, but I did come across a hot and bothered gentleman who was rather fed up as he had ended up on footpaths that were very overgrown, and he had lost his walking partners. We compared notes on the route as it transpired that they were walking the Circuit but in opposite direction from Audlem to Burleydam. As we were chatting his companions appeared, one of them very proudly wielding a large pair of secateurs, which was a bit scary, but I must admit would have come in useful on some of the overgrown stiles. Anyway, I was very glad to see Peter as I got to the canal bridge at Audlem, which was the end of day 2. He took one look at my face and drove straight to the nearest pub for some anaesthetic refreshment! 23 miles. 1275ft ascent. Zillions of stiles, 1 X very sore blister on my little toe.
DAY 3 AUDLEM to WINSFORD
Day 3 started at 7.45am with a gorgeous stretch of canal tow path. I made good time to Nantwich where some of my walking pals were meeting me for brunch and then walking with me to Church Minshull. These 7 miles were a much nicer route than the previous day, the approach into Nantwich being particularly lovely as it wound around past the mere and along the river into town. We met at the book shop café, (highly recommended) in the square in Nantwich and had very good scrambled eggs, before setting off for the next 8 miles to Church Minshull. We were hopefully going to come across Tony at some point. He was parked at Church Minshull and walking to meet us so that he could drive the others back to Nantwich to collect their car. What could possibly go wrong?? Tony has a reputation for frequently getting lost when either walking or cycling so we were amazed when he appeared in the distance exactly on track and on time. He had been given a Cheshire Circuit book and strict instructions NOT to deviate from the route and it worked!
The boys left me at Church Minshull and hot footed it to the pub for late lunch. I did a little operation on my toe blister – will not go into detail but set off very chuffed as the blister wasn’t hurting as much. I got about 100 yards and suddenly felt as though I’d been stabbed in my calf! It was a massive wasp stinging me through my Lycra leggings. So, I now had pain in my leg instead of my toe, and it started raining and carried on raining as I trudged all the way to Winsford; but all in all, it was a good day. 21 miles, approx 12 stiles. 2 very very tired legs and a hot, sore calf.
DAY 4 WINSFORD to FRODSHAM
Set off at 7.30am on a beautiful early autumn morning, clear blue sky with a slight mist hovering over the river Weaver. My leg felt a little sore and my pace had definitely dropped from over 3 miles an hour to more like 2 mph. However, it was fantastic to be met along the way by people joining me for various sections. From Northwich, with 15 miles to go, there was quite a gang of us which really does help the miles to pass by very quickly. We stopped for a lunch break at The Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge which was very good then set off again on the really lovely Weaver Navigation to do the last 8 miles or so. I have to say at this point I was ready to give up. I felt so tired and weary, and I knew that I was probably making my leg worse. But jollied along by Ian, Helen, Elizabeth and Margaret we anticipated being in Frodsham drinking beer at 3.30. HHmm well all was fine until we came to a long section of overgrown path, which was very tough going and really slowed us down. We eventually trudged into Frodsham at 4.30, covered in nettle stings and sticky bobs but very happy and pleased to have completed my challenge. 22 flat miles, a few very dodgy stiles, won’t bore you with the state of my leg, but I ended up having to get antibiotics and prescription anti histamine as the wasp sting had turned very nasty.
Overall, I am so pleased to have completed the 100 miles. I was so lucky to have almost perfect walking weather for most of the challenge. other than the 2 hours on Day 3.
I have to say it was actually much more of a challenge than I thought it would be. The day-on-day impact of walking 8/9/10 hours a day almost got the better of me. Those of you reading this who know me may be surprised at this as I usually have endless energy and enthusiasm for walking. This challenge has made me realise a few things.
- Whilst I do like walking on my own the benefits of being with likeminded fellow walkers are huge. I could not have finished the walk without you.
- I have absolutely loved the early mornings – the quiet stillness and the nature is mind blowing.
- Rest and recuperation days are a necessity for those of us who are not spring chickens anymore and are essential so that you look forward to the next walking adventure rather than it becoming a chore.
- We live in a truly beautiful part of the country. If you have never walked any of the Sandstone Trail, it definitely needs to be on your list.
- As Ian categorically told me “Next time you hatch a plan to do something stupid – consult the collective before you commit! I promise I will do in future.
- Watch out for wasps and take care of yourself if you do get stung.
I have many people to say big big THANK YOUS to: –
Steve who ordered the Cheshire Circuit map to be delivered to me.
Everyone who walked with me along the way, whether it be for an hour or 15 miles – Thank you so so much for your company and support.
Peter, who helped with the logistics of me starting and ending in a different place every day. Thank you for your patience.
And finally Thank you Thank You Thank You for all your amazing donations to the Heart Screening Fund.
If you would like to donate you can either donate direct to my fund through Knutsford Community First Responders, https://cafdonate.cafonline.org/21628, or direct to me into the NCNW account. Thank You.