Gitstone Trail Day 2 (Part 2): Sutton Common to Rushton Spencer

Published 11 March 2018

A Gritstone Trail waymark, protected by barbed wire

A 35 mile wander through Cheshire’s Peak District, the Gritstone Trail runs from Disley to Kidsgrove. My morning walking the second day of the trail had been eventful. There had been train problems, a quarry, and rhe noise of drilling! I even had lunch whilst sat on a manhole cover! Missed that part of the story? Feel free to read the events of the morning first. I’ll wait.

The Gritstone Trail was now about to spend a couple of miles walking along a country lane. It was one of the reasons I’d decided to munch on my lunch whilst sat on a cold and uncomfortable metal manhole cover. Well, I was hungry, and you don’t tend to get many picnic spots once you’re walking along a route laid with the finest tarmacadam.

I needn’t have worried. Minn-End Lane (for that was its name) was next to empty. I could have laid a picnic cloth in the middle of it, and settled down without inconveniencing a single soul.

Minn End Lane, with a view of nearby hills and fields

It may be marked on the Ordnance Survey map as a ‘road (fenced)’ but it was little more than a farm lane. It connected two busy A-roads, and could have provided a useful short-cut for many drivers. Were it not for the fact that there were regular sets of gates across the road anyway. Any time savings would be eaten up by the need to stop frequently to open and close them. As such few drivers bothered to take this route. The only vehicles I saw were a pair of motorcyclists who had stopped off along the road to enjoy the view.

And boy did Minn-End Lane have a cracking view. The rolling hills of Cheshire were there for all to see, as were those Cheshire Plains too. And in the distance, many miles of flat farmland and the mighty radio telescope of Jodrell Bank. Whilst it searched space, I looked to my left and found it were all hills, hills, hills. This was Cheshire shouting out “COME ON! IT’S GREAT HERE!” and no mistake.


A carved wooden owl

The hamlet of Hawkslee was over a mile from a main road, and consisted of a mere handful of houses. It sits over a mile off the main road, and the road itself ends at the hamlet. There’s no passing traffic, and – unless you live there or know someone who does – there’s no real reason to visit. So this was an unlikely place to start a business selling carved wooden owls. Yet someone had. There were loads of them dotted around, all sat watching the path. Some of them had signs next to them, with prices and details of how to buy it.

These weren’t small things either. Fitting one in my rucksack would have been a serious challenge. Even if I’d ditched the rest of my belongings, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to fit one in there. Although I had no idea what I’d actually do with a carved wooden owl even if I had somehow managed to get one home. So I didn’t bother. The silent parliament of wooden owls would continue to watch the local area, their number unabated.

View of fields near the village of Hawkslee

The owls marked the point where the Gritstone Trail left tarmac, and headed towards woodland and farm fields. You could imagine the owls as being a useful navigational marker if used by a guide book writer. Turn left near the wooden owls, and head through open country. It’s the kind of thing I’d do. And no doubt, once published, the owls would disappear. No sooner would the guide book hit the shelves, and the owl carver would shut up shop. By coincidence, they’d decide their business plan of selling carved wooden owls in the middle of nowhere, was utterly bonkers, and they’d pack up shop post haste. I thought about writing a guide book myself just to ensure it would happen.

Away from the tarmac, the ground began to get muddier. Although the slurps, squelches and sliding began in earnest at Barleigh Ford Bridge. It was at this bridge that the Gritstone Trail started following a path alongside a canal feeder. And boy, was it grim.

So muddy is it here, that the mud is mentioned in the official Gritstone Trail leaflet. The one published by Cheshire East Council. Conditions can be so dire that the leaflet provides an alternative route for those wanting to avoid it.

Given I’d just walked through two miles of muddy fields and woods, I should have taken the hint. It should have been obvious that the alternative route would be far more preferable. But I didn’t. Because I don’t do hints. Subtle or otherwise. And also, because I looked at the path near Barleighford Bridge and thought “meh, that looks no worse than that last mile through the woods.”

A muddy path next to a canal feeder

Big mistake.

Huge mistake.

Almighty, great big whopping mistake.

Yes, the start of the path was fine. It wasn’t bad at all. But it didn’t take long for path to turn into a veritable mud-bath. With copious amounts of mud in it. At one point I found my boot sinking deeper and deeper into the ground with no sign of when it would stop. I wasn’t brave enough to let it keep sinking to see how far it would go.

I squelched and squelched and squelched my away along. I squelched. And squerched. And squalshed too. It took forever. At least it felt like it did. But I made it. Finally the mud had ceased.

Wahoo!

Except no. The mud was immediately replaced by a path so overgrown with nettles that it was impossible to even see the ground.

Sting, sting, sting.

This was like torture. What would be next I wondered? And then I found out. After much nettle induced agony, the path abruptly cleared of vegetation. And the mud began again in earnest.

The mud ceased.

The nettles returned.

A bracken covered path

Well you get the picture.

There was a point, oh such a lovely point, when I thought the worst was over. I had several glorious minutes walking on a lovely grassy, mud and nettle free path. Yes, there was lots of bracken, but I could live with that. At least bracken doesn’t hurt you.

And then the bracken ended and I found someone had dumped a lorry load of mud on the path in celebration.

But at least this was an attractive area to walk. Well, wasn’t it?

No. It wasn’t.

Ouch, ouch, OUCH!

Bridge over a canal feeder

Presumably the feeder once took water to replenish the supplies of some nearby canal. That’s why people tend to create canal feeders. But it didn’t seem to be used now. The canal feeder was dark, murky, horrible. At some points it wasn’t even clear there was any water in it, such was the overgrowth of reeds and bulrushes. When the water was visible, it was black coloured, and stagnant. Every now and then it had a mysterious green, glowing twinge. The smell wasn’t too hot either.

This was very grim. It was like something out of Lord of the Rings. I half expected to see ghostly faces of a long dead army hovering below the water’s surface.

No doubt the path conditions were bad following some very heavy rain earlier in the week. But still, I couldn’t imagine how anyone could ever have considered this to be a nice path to walk down. Not even in the nicest of weather. Even in the height of summer, with the sun shining brightly in a vivid blue sky. No. This was not a great place at all.

And then it started raining. Because, you know, my mood was not grim enough already.

At long last – and it really did feel like an age – the Gritstone Train left the canal feeder. And there was much rejoicing. And not only because it now led me through a field of very damp grass that cleaned my boots of all grey, oozing mud I’d accumulated.

A523 road near the village of Rushton

And then I was at the main road.

My walk was almost done. The village of Rushden Spencer was down to the left, where I’d find the bus stop and my carriage home. The bus was 90 minutes away though, so I had time to kill. But never fear. Rushton Spencer had a pub for me to while away some time in. The walk down the canal feeder may have been a low point, but at least I was going to end with a pint in my hand to make up for it. And after that, all the sins of the day would be forgotten.

Especially when, some time later, I arrived at the bus stop and realised I’d left my camera in the pub.

Find all my Gritstone Trail photographs over on flickr.

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