Crewe & Nantwich circular via Wistaston & Willaston

Unless you’ve been stranded on a desert island or living under a rock somewhere, you’ll know how much impact COVID-19 has had on everyone’s ability to travel … even over fairly short distances, unless absolutely necessary. I’ve been taking the opportunity under the UK (or more specifically English) restrictions for my one session of exercise a day and, more recently, the increase to unlimited exercise sessions each day (don’t ask, I didn’t create the guidelines!) to get some walks in around the town … this has led me to discover quite a few green routes crisscrossing Crewe that I was not aware of. After a while though it soon became repetitive and boring. That, along with being stuck at home due to furloughing since 1st April, plus no chance of getting into the country for a long hike has had me climbing the walls.

In order to claw back some of my limited supply of sanity I decided I’d sort out a good length towns walk which, as long as I remembered the social distancing guidance, would be safe and hopefully a little more challenging/enjoyable than the short local walks I’d been doing. The final route came out at 16.65km (10.4 miles in pre-decimal!) and is highlighted below … here’s my usual Google Earth file link if anybody wants to walk along with me.

Route starts at the top next to the arrow and travels clockwise

Before I let you get to the Gallery, a little background. I decided I wanted to show images that said something about different aspects or places on the walk. Anything peculiar to the area, personal to me, historically interesting, etc. I’ll add an addendum with links to other sites relating to some of the images for anyone who has a few hours to spare … which seems to be all of us at the moment!!

Hare Hill & Monk’s Heath from Alderley Edge – Mar 2020

My third weekend walk in a row, I think this is some kind of record! I got an early start on this one so it was nice and quiet when I arrived at the National Trust car park … just as I like it. The few people who were there seemed to be getting ready to walk their dogs.

This was another go4awalk route, listed as 9¾ miles but ended up a little over 10 by the time I finished. As ever, the kmz file is available for download here for those who like their Google Earth, and the route outline is shown below.

Some areas of the walk appeared to have been updated with new fencing and stiles since the route was first published, so the day got off to a slightly shaky start. Once in the groove though it was a joy (despite the abundance of water and mud in the fields!) with plenty of beautiful countryside and chances for photography.

As the route goes through the National Trust owned land at Hare Hill the directions make reference to viewing the Gardens, via tickets available at the ticket kiosk … open March – October. What it fails to mention (and maybe this wasn’t the case when the route was published) is that the gate at the rear of the property and the main entrance gate on the other side are both chained and padlocked outside these dates, effectively blocking the route! Not one to be deterred I climbed over the metal fencing at the rear (easy enough), walked through the site and climbed back out on the other side … damned if I was turning back. It was a little tricky at the front as there was barbed wire, but I made it unscathed with all my dangly bits intact 🙂

About ¾ of the way round, the route takes you through the churchyard of St. Mary’s at Nether Alderley, which is worthy of it’s own little gallery. Anyone who follows me knows I’m an atheist yet I have a love of religious buildings and architecture … this one was glorious and dates back to the 14th century.

Crocker Hill from The Hanging Gate – Mar 2020

I seem to be on a roll this year! I normally wait until Spring has arrived but this time, despite all the rain sodden ground, I’ve thrown caution to the wind (and the rain) and gone for it. This is another walk from the peeps at go4awalk and is located South East of Macclesfield in Cheshire. A generally easy going (there were a couple of rises that had me breathing hard!) 8½ mile hike with some great views across the Cheshire plain.

Added bonus, my Galaxy watch decided to play nice this time so there’s a route image for you below and a kmz file for Google Earth should you decide to walk along with me … aw go on, you know you want to 🙂

Route courtesy of Google Earth … as always!

And there you have it. Hope you enjoyed the images … there’ll be more coming up from the next walk soon (hopefully!) …

Shutlingsloe & Wildboarclough from Ridgegate reservoir, Langley – Mar 2020

If I’m totally honest dear readers, I’ve been needing this walk for some time. My head’s not been in the best of places for the last couple of months and I find a good, long hike works wonders to reset my balance.

So that admission out of the way, I give you a 7 ¼ mile (11.5 km) trek around an area South East of Macclesfield on the edge of the Peak District National Park. I’d planned to do this in some fancy new welly boots but the ones I ordered were too big so I took the chance and went for it in my hiking boots. Luckily, despite all the rain we’ve had, the ground wasn’t too bad … although there were a few areas that required some deft footwork!

Unfortunately, my Samsung Galaxy watch decided not to play properly today so I have no GPS route for you to play with. Just some rather nice images. I had lots of sun, plenty of cloud, a little rain and some hailstones … and as for the wind, well it was very windy! The last part of the climb to the top of Shutlingsloe was a little on the scary side as staying vertical was hard going!

And there you go, brief and to the point but I wanted to share it as it was the first of the year. I’m looking forward to many more.

Maiden Castle & Bickerton – Dec 2019

It’s that time of year again, time to get out in the cold and mud for an end of year walk or two. This was an area that I’d made note of when I did my Sandstone Trail walk as the views were brilliant. It was also a chance to try out my new boots in a forgiving environment. You may have noticed my featured image has been updated with those self same boots … if not, focus readers, focus!

360° panoramic tease shot!
360° panoramic tease shot!

The walk I found online as a handy PDF file and was estimated at 3 miles (5 km) in length, taking 2 – 2 ½ hours and only a 35 minute drive away … bonus.

Route map
As ever, there’s a Google Earth kmz file here for anyone who wants to follow my wanderings.

The National Trust do a great job looking after sites like this so everyone can enjoy them. The only downside is that it makes them popular and hence busy. By the time I got back to the small, hardcore car park I might as well have been parked up at a supermarket! If you’ve not already worked out from my previous posts, I like a good amount of solitude when I’m walking … just me and nature where possible. Anyway, that aside, it was a pleasant walk and a few images follow for your perusal and enjoyment …

Kirkby Stephen – A Life Journey

I’ve been thinking of writing this for a while but have never been able to figure out how to put it into words … maybe it’s time to just make the leap and write it.

Before I first came to Kirkby Stephen I knew of my family’s links to the area. My grandparents, Margery & Henry Bayfield (known as Harry to all but his immediate family), lived in Nateby for a number of years after living in the home counties, I’m guessing it would be the mid 50’s. It was certainly before Westmorland disappeared and became part of Cumbria … my Nana & Grandad never let me forget that!

An old postcard of Nateby. I was always told the car in the picture belonged to my Grandad but I never managed to confirm whether that was true or not.
That’s my Grandad in the middle, giving it plenty on a roll-up by the look of it! I left it too late to find out who the other two people were unfortunately.

My Mother (Elaine) was born in Middlesex I believe, but she went to school at Kirkby Stephen Grammar School and did plenty of growing up in and around the area. I remember stories of her visits to Stenkrith and even of how one of her school friends fell to her death from the bridge (again, I have no idea if this is true, who knows?).

Stenkrith
The road bridge at Stenkrith is probably another 10ft higher than the walkway in front, falling from either would not end happily!
Stenkrith
It’s a beautiful place to visit though, and the opportunities for photography are plentiful.

Travel forward another 20 years or so and we come to my first visit. I’d guess it was the early 70’s so I’d be somewhere between 6 & 8 years old. I was brought by my Nana and we stayed with an Auntie who was most definitely not my Auntie, in fact I’m pretty sure she wasn’t even family … she was a lovely lady though. I have never found out who she was but I know she lived in one of the 3 story stone houses in Victoria Square. I have no way of knowing which house it was now but I’m going for number 3 …

Victoria Square, Kirkby Stephen
Victoria Square
My Nana & Grandad c. 1978
My Nana & Grandad c. 1978

I remember well, taking frequent journeys from the house, along Mellbecks, down to Frank’s Bridge over the River Eden where I took my little plastic bucket & net and went fishing for tiddlers, paddling in the river with my shoes & socks off (no need to roll up my trouser legs as it was shorts all the way back then!). Over on the nearby slopes I made my first attempt at flying a kite and failed quite miserably … though it didn’t feel like a failure back then.

There was the big house on Mellbecks, owned by a single, elderly woman at the time I think, that would have the window of the top right bedroom permanently left open allowing bats to roost … I saw them flying in and out so I lie not!

The house where bats roosted!
I’m assuming this is a boarding house, or B&B of some kind now … it’s still a lovely house whatever it’s current use and it now appears to be bat free!

One of the most enduring images is of the River Eden bursting its banks over night. One day I’m paddling and fishing for tiddlers … the next the clear waters have been churned to a muddy brown and the arches beneath Frank’s Bridge are barely visible. Cameras weren’t as prevalent back then, not in our family at least, so the following (modern) images will hopefully suffice to illustrate the extremes of nature …

Frank's Bridge on a normal day
The River Eden on your average day, courtesy of the Yorkshire Walks website
Frank's Bridge flooding 2015
The River Eden bursts its banks in 2015, image courtesy of the Cumberland & Westmorland Herald

I guess I visited on 2, maybe 3, occasions and they soon paled into insignificance as I moved into my double digit years and on into my teens. Until, that is, my mid 20’s when I was working as a service engineer and making site visits throughout England & Wales. I didn’t realise before my first journey to the North East but to travel from Cheshire, where I live, to the North East of the country involved the A66 and Scotch Corner. More importantly, to get to the A66 from the M6 necessitated travelling the A685 … and guess what? The A685 just happens to be the main road through Kirkby Stephen … starting as South Road, becoming Victoria Square (remember that?) then Market Street through the town’s heart until finally North Road on it’s way out to Brough Sowerby & Church Brough before reaching its junction with the A66. I remember my first drive through Kirkby Stephen … my brain was making the links to my childhood as I reached the town centre. I recognised the houses on Victoria Square, the Market Square with it’s red sandstone portico entrance to the church and the side streets that I knew at a gut level led down to the river and Frank’s Bridge. And then it was gone … I’d driven straight through a part of my history in little more than a blink of an eye. I made myself a promise in that moment, that I would return and revisit what had been a glorious moment in my childhood.

And so we come up to date! As an aside, yet also an integral part of this story, I’ve a history of mental health issues dating back to my late teens, with anxiety and depression being the main ‘black dogs’ in my life. I can cope quite well with both for most of the year but the period between end of year and early the following year are difficult ones for me. One of my go to pastimes to help me keep an even keel all year round (as well as being good for physical health, handy for practising photography and bloody enjoyable to boot!) is hiking and in 2017 I decided a long weekend away in November, with opportunities for walks, would be a good way to keep my mental health strong … and where better to visit than Kirkby Stephen?

I was going to keep this info under my hat for fear of losing my secret getaway but I though what the hell (not that it’s that secret … see a little later!). After a few hours of Googling I came across Black Bull Barn which has become my base for the last 3 years and will hopefully be the same for a good few years to come. Rented out by Gillian & Steve it’s got every comfort you need and is a fantastic base for walking in the area. The visitors are truly international (should you ever stay see the visitor’s book for proof, European, American, Canadian, et al) and many stop over whilst walking in Wainwright’s footsteps along the Coast to Coast walk. Gillian and Steve also provide B&B accommodation at Fletcher House. One last name check, should it even be needed after all the images I’ve posted in my Kirkby Stephen based walking posts, is for the Black Bull Hotel … I can’t comment on their accommodation but their bar has become my Kirkby Stephen local.

So there you have it, around 45 years of my life in a single blog post! Thanks for sticking with it and hopefully I’ve conveyed why Kirkby Stephen has become an important part of my life. May you all find your own, personal Kirkby Stephen x

P.S. Scroll back to the top of the post… the banner that’s on every page is another of my Stenkrith photographs. I can brag as I own the rights 😀

Kirkby Stephen – Nov 2019

And so dear friends, a brief farewell to Kirkby Stephen for another year with a few more images taken during the weekend. Including a little stroll down by the River Eden shortly after arriving, Kirkby Stephen railway station after my first walk on Sunday and no visit would be complete without a couple of visits to the Black Bull Hotel bar.

For anybody who fancies learning a bit more about the Settle & Carlisle line there is a full route map here and a nice Wikipedia article here … go on, you know you want to.

Until next year …

Balderhead & Blackton reservoirs – Nov 2019

And so to the second, and much wetter, half of this year’s Kirkby Stephen visit. The weather forecast didn’t look too bad until later on in the day so I thought an early start and only some drizzle … sorted.

A ‘little’ rain, but look at that wind!

The plan was to do another walk from Visorando, but a shorter one. The only down side was the travelling time as this particular walk was over the border in County Durham. Add to that the fact the A66 was blocked in both directions near to my route which forced articulated lorries onto roads that were barely suitable for them and the drive became very interesting to say the least!

route description and reference
Despite the description saying the walk didn’t return to the starting point, it did!

The eagle eyed amongst you may notice that the Visorando route name doesn’t match up with the title of this post. There’s a one word reason for that, if you haven’t already guessed … weather. The full walk is shown below with the walk I managed to do underneath it, minus the first section as I forgot to turn on GPS on my Galaxy watch … happens a lot with me (links to Google Earth Pro kmz files can be found in the description underneath each image).

The planned route in all its glory, kmz file can be downloaded here
Google Earth - my walk
My ‘home-brew’ walk! Again, kmz file for Google Earth can be downloaded here

Just before I present the images and bonus videos, two small points about this particular outing:

  • The roads were fantastic to drive, plenty of concentration required but boy was it worth it.
  • The full walk has been added to my walks bucket list, I will definitely be going back when the weather is better and completing the full route.

Without further a do … “Get on with it Merv” … I am doing!

For those that made it thus far … bonus videos!

I avoided the rain for some time here, listen to it falling on the bird hide roof … plus the wind!
This gives a better idea of how the reservoir overflow works … and an idea of how windy it was
Teletubbies or not, in the middle of nowhere, totally alone & surrounded by sheep staring at you … this is freakin’ unnerving!
Unfortunately I only had small capacity SD cards in my dash cams so I was limited by how much was overwritten before I got back to base, however I think this gives a pretty good idea of how challenging (aka fun!) some of the roads were … albeit a view from the rear. By the way, the guy in the van must be pretty local as he saw me from a long way off and waited patiently. And finally, I edited the video with the NextBase app that comes with the camera (bad move!) hence all the NextBase ‘propaganda’ … apologies for that.

In conclusion, the best was made of what was a pretty crappy day for walking me thinks. Hopefully there’s enough here to pique your interest of the full route that was originally planned.

Balderdale & The Calf – Nov 2019

This year’s visit to Kirkby Stephen was definitely one of two halves … one good, one not quite so! The walk detailed here fell into the former category, even if it was hard going on my poor feet.

The route directions came from one of my favourite sites, Visorando as can be seen below:

The weather forecast looked very good for a long walk … and indeed this was to be a long walk (download the Google Earth Pro kmz file here).

MetOffice weather forecast
Google Earth Pro route

So time to let the images speak for themselves …

Plus a bonus video for all you lucky people! …

One of many gills running down into Balderdale Beck, it was most tranquil (as Bill once said!)

And there you have it … very nice it was too! If you bear with, until I post details of my second walk of the weekend, I’ll let you see the damage this walk (and my ageing boots) did to my feet … beware those of a squeamish nature!

Malpas

Winter doesn’t provide many opportunities for walking in Britain … unless you’re very brave or simply crazy! One of the things I learned from this particular walk is that I need to invest in a quality pair of wellington boots if I plan to make winter walking a regular thing.

This was walk 11 taken from the excellent book “Circular Walks along the Sandstone Trail” and starting in the Cheshire village of Malpas was an 8 1/2 mile circular (the clue is in the book’s title!) route. It was undertaken in the period between Christmas and New Year 2018 … to be precise on the 27 Dec.

Malpas circular walk courtesy of ‘Circular walks along the Sandstone Trail’

Before the pictures I’d like to impart a piece of advice, don’t follow the route described in a book to the letter and don’t hang on to a barbed wire fence in a vain attempt to circumvent a water logged field, particularly if the hedge the barbed wire runs through is full of gorse bushes! To add insult to injury, when you look back and see some local dog walkers taking the route the other side of the hedge with no problems at all … well, you see what I mean …