|OS Route Map →||GPX Route file →|
Date: 07 Sep 2021
Start: Kidsgrove station / Finish: Disley station.
Maps: Explorer 268: Wilmslow Macclesfield & Congleton.
Gritstone Trail: Website
|Day 1||Mow Cop, The Cloud, Croker Hill & Tegg's Nose||22.1miles / 3955 feet (35.6km / 1205m)|
|Day 2||Saddle of Kerridge, Sponds Hill & Lyme Park||12.2miles / 2051 feet (19.6km / 625m)|
A 2-day trek of the Gritstone Trail (GT) waymarked route that traverses the gritstone ridges on the western edge of the Peak District overlooking the Cheshire plain.
A September forecast for two days of late sunny weather after the end of the holiday season suggested a perfect opportunity to tackle this trail whose best features include the extensive views over the Cheshire plain. It turned out to be almost a repeat of the sweltering conditions earlier this year with temperatures in the high twenties and the views were hazy in the distance, though still good.
The GT contains a good mix of walking and interest, with many sections of fine woodland mixed with the characteristic gritstone paths reminiscent of those of the eastern White Peak. There are also sections on metalled surfaces that need good footwear cushioning. The trail is well waymarked with accurately oriented direction arrows, but needs a careful eye open for the marks and posts particularly where other trails and footpaths pass through the same area.
I found this backpack hard, partly no doubt due to the heat, but there is quite a lot of ascent involved, though not nearly as much as mapping software suggests. On the first day I had to walk at a relentless pace on the last few miles to make my intended pitch on the upper flank of Tegg's Nose by nightfall - that turned out to be an interesting experience. It was also one of those very rare occasions where I pitched using just the tent inner with no flysheet and watched the stars through the mesh.
In the S-N direction, the GT starts inside the Kidsgrove station car park and joins the Trent and Mersey canal, orangey-brown from seepage of iron rich deposits, and turns northwards at the locks to follow the Macclesfield canal for a couple of miles. Things warmed up very quickly on the first stiff pull up to Mow Cop castle (pronounced Mow to rhyme with cow), built on a gritstone tor and one of many hilltop follies. The OS map shows the GT passing straight through the grounds but I followed a well worn path around to the folly to find the GT waymark onward to the strikingly shaped Old Man of Mow at the northern end.
Near Dane in Shaw I had a bit of bovine bother: crossing to a kissing gate, the next field had a herd of quite mature bulls. One saw me approaching and took up position right in the gate while several others came over to join him. Hmmm, we've had this before but not this many... as usual I talked to them calmly in quiet tones, feigning disinterest, no sudden moves and gently opened the gate to make him step back. I always think my visor-style shades help a lot, it's all in the eyes: they don't perceive threatening eye-contact, it makes them inquisitive rather than hostile. I spotted a line of small trees close to the cross fence and walked through the gap, hoping to cross a wide ditch farther along but it was deep in mud and slurry: no good, I looked around and saw they had followed me, I was cornered!. Nothing for it, I clambered very slowly through the branches below the trees back to the path and several of them became very jittery and jumped back, but I walked quickly down to the crossing point and up the far side without any further drama from the rest of the herd. Phew!.
The GT passes through the Timbersbrook picnic area and follows waymarks for the long but excellent climb to the trig point and topograph on The Cloud, first through woodland and then gritstone and heather with superb panoramic views. The summit was popular today as expected and there was one guy with camera gear, a tripod and a drone. The next objectives of Wincle Minn and Croker hill were well seen ahead but appeared a long way off as I realised the time.
The next long section via Ravensclough Brook, the canal feeder and Barleigh Ford Bridge was fine walking with much of interest in the woodland and flora (note: the GT website warns about the feeder stretch being horrendously wet and muddy in winter and after a lot of rain, they suggest an alternative drier but longer route). The canal feeder is a marvellous habitat for flora and fauna, much of its surface completely covered in duckweed with huge reed mace flourishing.
Crossing Shell Brook and ascending to Hawkslee, the traverse of Wincle Minn is alas on a metalled road but the great views are maintained. Descending to the A54 and climbing to Lingerds Farm, a good track passes the huge Croker Hill telecomms tower and descends to Hollin Lane.
I didn't have a planned schedule but I knew I was way behind any sensible one, I summoned some energy and enforced a fierce pace for the trek over to Bottoms reservoir. The lateness in the day was made apparent when I approached and saw a beautiful sinking sun over the water, leaving me 23 minutes to cross the dam and make the steep climb to the pitch spot by sunset. Of course I could arrive later and still have plenty enough light for a while, but I regard sunset as a good target to allow for any difficulties.
That final climb was punishing but I made it on time and, as it turned out, I needn't have hurried. The topmost section of Tegg's Nose was still quite busy for the time of day and there were a few people sitting around on the broad, flat grassy shelf where I pitched last time in solitude. Being exhausted, I sat down too expecting them to drift away very quickly as darkness approached.
No such luck: a few of them did, but several remained on the grass as the sky grew darker and the lights of Macclesfield came on to illuminate the extensive Cheshire plain below, quite a magical spectacle in a way with the brightest stars appearing too. Another group was sitting on benches just out of sight above me and then I realised: this was exactly what they had come to see, maybe this is a locally well known thing. It was completely dark before the the last few finally switched on their torches and left, leaving me to pitch for the first time in total darkness. I left the flysheet in my pack and used just the inner, most relaxing for a while watching the stars through the mesh and sorting out the constellations.
After the misty and murky conditions I had here on my previous pitch, I was pleased to see the dawn sunshine on the quarry trail of Tegg's Nose and the chance for better pictures. Like yesterday, there was a welcome breeze on the high ground but the temperature quickly rose as I descended to Rainow and began the steamy ascent to the Saddle of Kerridge, a familiar walking area from long ago. The GT bypasses the 313m trig point. On the flank of the hill, a huge flock of swallows was engulfing a single mature tree.
At the northern end of the ridge is the striking and odd monument of White Nancy, built in 1820 to commemorate the battle of Waterloo. The steep northwards descent is now a pitched path.
The GT undulates northwards via Harrop Brook and ascends north-eastwards to the Bakestonedale road to join the track traversing Sponds Hill. The local landscape has an open spacious feel to add to the views on this traverse. For trig baggers there is a short side track to the 410m trig point on the far side of the fence via a gate with a 'Private' notice attached.
The track continues easily to the popular Bow Stones and descends to the mature woodland of Lyme Park, very busy today, and heads around the park centre and north-eastwards on a metalled access road to Bollinhurst Bridge alongside a protected deer reserve. Green Lane makes a very pleasant descent directly to Disley station.
I enjoyed this trail despite the heat and underestimating the effort and time involved on the first day. There is much of interest and fine landscapes, but it's definitely worth waiting for good, settled weather to enjoy the great views.