Gritstone Trail Day 3: Rushton to Kidsgrove

Published 16 June 2019

A footpath sign next to a field
Footpath!

A 35 mile wander through Cheshire’s Peak District, the Gritstone Trail runs from Disley to Kidsgrove. This is a part of the world once known for quarrying. My third day on the walk didn’t feature that much of stone, although that’s not to say there weren’t some great sights…

The day before, Storm Callum hit Britain. Before it did, the more over-the-top tabloids had built it up to sound like Armageddon was about to happen. Things would be that bad that it could even be the apocalypse. The reality was rather different. For most people there was not a trail of death and destruction. Instead, lampposts wobbled in the wind, leaves blown off trees, and loads of leaves blown off trees.

As it raged (and a toy car got blown around my lawn) I sat in my house staring at the weather forecast. I had planned to go for a walk the following day. Should I still do so? Callum would have calmed down by then, but the forecast wasn’t amazing. The BBC Weather app reckoned there’d be a 50% chance of rain in the morning. Although only 20% later on.

I ummed and ahhed. I ummed some more. And when I woke at 6am to the sound of rain crashing down on the skylight in my bedroom, I was even less convinced. But in the end I decided to roll with it. The benefits of some fresh air outweighed the drawbacks of getting wet.

I needed a trip out. It had been a crazy week at work. And the day before we’d said farewell to my 101 year old grandfather who had died a few weeks earlier. A nice walk was what I needed to relax. To take a deep breath and relax. Even if I was likely to get covered in mud and soaked to the bone.

So I heaved myself out of bed, made my way directly to Macclesfield without passing go, and didn’t collect £200. From there I boarded the bus back to Rushton.

Oh, okay. Actually I heaved myself out of bed, went to the swimming pool, then went to Macclesfield. And then hung around the bus station there for a bit. But that was because the first bus I could get to Rushton was at half ten. When you’ve woken at 6am, you’ve got a lot of time to kill. Although when all is said and done, this website isn’t called Swimming Man. And me telling you that I saw 2.5km in 50 minutes in a 50m length pool, hardly makes an exciting read. Best forget I mentioned it.

The Old Rushton Inn, Rushton Spencer
Plant life envelops the Rushton Inn

So there I was, in Rushton once more, ready to finally complete the Gritstone Trail. Ready to walk about twelve miles to the trail’s southern end at the town of Kidgsgrove. And equipped with waterproofs, hat, scarf, a wet towel, some swimming trunks and a pair of goggles. I was prepared for anything.

A large, climbing plant was growing up the side of the Rushton Inn (or “Rushton In” as the signs outside declared it to be called.) The plant – leaves all an autumnal read – had already covered several windows. It looked like it was trying to envelope the whole building. When I’d stood there a year earlier, it hadn’t been particularly obvious the establishment was still trading. Now it seemed even less likely. If I came back in another years time, I could imagine it would be difficult to see the building at all.

The bus I’d alighted, sped off, leaving me to head back up the road a little to re-find the Gristone Trail. I’d forgotten how far north of the village the trail ran. And how much stumbling around on bumpty grass vergers was required to get there.

View of the Cheshire hills from the Gritstone Trail
Looking back at over parts of the Gritstone Trail

When I did find it, the Gritstone Trail kicked off with nothing more exciting than fields covered in mud. I stumbled and slid along them, trying to follow the path correctly and keeping upright at the same time.

At first, navigation was straight forward. The path was a muddy brown line through the grass. But then the line disappeared leaving me thoroughly perplexed. I was sure the path led off to the right, but there was nowhere obvious for it to go. Not unless I wanted to walk right through a large hedge. In contrast, there was vague route going straight on so I followed that. And soon discovered I’d gone wrong as I was now stood at a locked gate, with a road junction and some farm cottages on the other side.

With a sigh, I pulled my map out and tried to work out exactly where I was, and how to get to where I was meant to be. The map revealed I could follow the road for a bit, then turn down a lane, and – after a bit – all would be right in the world again.

“Unsuitable for motor vehicles” said the sign at the top of the lane when I arrived at it. Although it was arguable if it was suitable for walkers either. There was mud everywhere, and at one point, the lane was mostly underwater. But with walking, you sometimes have to take the rough with smooth. And if I carried on and rejoined the trail proper, I’d arrive at somewhere special.

The Cloud - a hill on the Gritstone Trail
The first “big” milestone of the day.

The Cloud.

No, I wasn’t going to a WiFi hotspot. Nor was I about to visit a magical place where all my phone’s photographs were backed up. No. I was going somewhere that pre-dated either of those two innovations. This Cloud offered great views, and had been shaped by the quarrying of gritstone.

The Cloud was a hill, covered with gritstone boulders and bracken in autumnal shades of red and brown.

This was another of the Gritstone Trail’s stunning viewpoints. For a pretty short walking route, the Gritstone Trail has more than its fair share of them. I’d forgotten how many of them there were on the walk. A little climb uphill was almost always highly rewarded.

The summit of the Cloud - a hill on the Gritstone Trail
The summit of the Cloud

Manchester and its suburbs glimmered to the north, and the Cheshire Plains dominated the foreground. It was a cracking place. Although one quite exposed to the wind. Storm Callum had been and gone, but its effects were still felt. Strong winds bashed the hill stop, making a lot of effort to try and blow me over.

Struggling to keep upright, I followed the path down to the sleepy village of Timbersbrook. It wasn’t always so quiet. Once the area had been a busy hub for the silk industry. Now the town offered only a cluster of houses, a car park with some boarded up public toilets, and a few picnic benches. I celebrated my arrival by sitting on a bench for a few minutes for a rest. Until, anyway, I realised it was damp and my bottom was getting far too wet.

Beyond the village, more fields followed. But then it was time for something completely different. A mile and a half of walking along an old railway line. Opening in 1864, the Biddulph Valley line ran between Congleton and Stoke-on-Trent. Passenger services were so poorly used that they ended in 1927, although freight traffic continued until 1962. Only a couple of years from its centenary, the line was closed and ripped up. And that was that. Well, until much of the route was reborn as a cycle and walking route, called the Biddulph Valley Way.

The Biddulph Valley Way, with a sign from Cheshire East Council welcoming you to the trail
Cheshire East welcomes you to the Biddulph Valley Way

It was helpfully equipped with a plethora of benches. One that were dry. And it being lunchtime, I bagged one and settled down for a bit. Without getting a wet bottom.

Trees lined the old railway line. On a mid October Saturday, this made for idyllic autumnal walking.

Old railway lines can – at times – make for rather dull walking. All trees, no views, and little to do but walk in a clear, straight line. But in the autumn they come into their own. The trees put on their colourful displays, then allow their leaves to cover the ground. And what to do with all those leaves? Why, kick them around of course! Yes, I was happy all right, and it was a tad disappointing when it came to the point where the Gritstone Trail left the railway line for a different course.

Cows near Congleton Edge
Cows near Congleton Edge

This new path went along something called Congleton Edge. This had neither an edge nor a view of Congleton. It did have trees, but they weren’t quite as nice as those on the railway line. And there weren’t enough leaves either.

I was heading uphill again, up to a place the map told me was called Pot Bank. From there, a road called Mow Lane went to a local viewpoint called Cheshire’s Close. Well yes. Cheshire was close. I was standing it. Although, to give the name it’s due, the other side of the road was in Staffordshire. Still there was a nice view. You know the score. The expected panoramic over the plains. Oh and the massive Joderal Bank radio telescope too. But unlike The Cloud, the area round the viewpoint was decidedly less pleasing.

The view into Cheshire from the Cheshire's Close viewpoint
It is close. For we’re pretty much on the border between Staffordshire and Cheshire at this viewpoint.

Based on the bouquets of flowers, it was a popular spot to leave tributes to departed loved ones. Which is fine, until all the flowers start to wilt, decay and rot. If no one cleans them up, then everything can end up looking a mess. And that was part the problem. No doubt people drove up in high emption, left their flowers and headed off. And no one did any tidying. The result? The place was covered in rotting plants.

To add to the effect, there was a ridiculous amount of litter in the car park. The only bin was overflowing, and spilling everywhere. It was an absolute mess. The view may have been lovely, but I couldn’t wait to get away from the rather ugly surroundings.

Mow Lane
A rare moment when Mow Lane wasn’t full of cars

From Cheshire’s Close, the Gritstone Trail followed a road called Mow Lane for a mile a so. Cars hurtled along it, and with no pavement for the walker to seek refuge on, I was feeling a little exposed. It was a relief when the Gritstone Trail left it, and began to follow a path to the village of Mow Cop.

Here were more signs of quarrying. The the most dramatic being a 20m column of stone stood in the middle of a former quarry, known as the Old Man O’Mow. From the right angle it does look a little like a person sitting down. If you’ve got a some element of imagination anyway.

A large column of stone that was left behind whilst the rest of the area was quarried.
The Old Man of Mow – a large column of stone that was left behind whilst the rest of the area was quarried.

But the Old Man was not the only distinguishing feature in Mow Cop. This large village – that sits on the Cheshire/Staffordshire border – also includes Mow Cop Castle.

It’s not actually a real castle. It’s a folly built in 1754 as as a summerhouse. A summerhouse designed to look like a ruined medieval fort and tower. Because you do. If you have too much money jangling around your pockets. Hey, I know I would. And it gave people space to sit under stone archways where they could read a book and look enigmatic. As someone was doing as I walked up to it.

Mow Cop Castle - a folly
Sitting in the heart of Mow Cop village is this castle. Well okay, it’s not a castle. It’s actually a folly built by someone who had too much cash. But it looks good.

I almost missed this cracking local landmark. Not because I hadn’t seen it. It’s hard to miss as it sits on a lump of gritstone and towers over the village. No, I almost missed it because there was no Gritstone Trail sign to direct me into the castle grounds. I’d continued walking down the road through the village in ignorance that I should have turned off. It was only because I thought it would be bonkers to not get up close and personal with this “ruin”, that I went back to look at it.

Close up inspection revealed that entry to the small tower was firmly off limits. Very sturdy looking metal gates made sure of that. It seemed a shame. I suspected there was a great view from up there. Of Manchester. And the Cheshire Plains. And Joderal Bank or something.

So instead I pottering around, poking around the ruins and looking at rocks. And after about two minutes of that, I headed down to the car park, wondering where on earth I was supposed to go next.

The 'ruined' folly that is Mow Cop Castle, in the village of Mow Cop
Note the person enigmatically reading a book in the circular “window” on the right.

After much hunting I did find a Gritstone Trail sign. It was easy to miss due to it hidden by a tree. It didn’t help much though. It merely pointed people back up to the castle. It was only after wandering hopelessly around the village that I stumbled on a signpost pointing in the right direction. For most of it, the Gritstone Trail had been well signposted. But when it needed them most – when it zig-zagged down a series of lanes in a large village – it had proved woefully lacking. And that was disappointing indeed.

Still, I was back on the trail and Mow Cop had one last special treat. An imposing brick built Methodist Chapel. I spent a few seconds admiring it, and then decided it was time to head down hill.

Mow Cop Methodist Chapel
The Methodist Church at Mow Cop

Down I went, past houses, and along roads. The feel of the trail was changing. It was as if it had had enough of hills. and of gritstone. And that now the most important thing to do was to head to its final destination as fast as possible.

Whoever had created the Gritstone Trail had surmised that ending at a railway station would be a good idea. Well it is rather more useful than ending in the middle of nowhere.

The one they’d chosen for the honour was in the town at Kidsgrove, a few miles from Mow Cop. And there was only one way to get there. By canal tow path.

A narrowboat on the Macclesfield Canal
It’s canal time!

And so the last few miles were spent on the Macclesfield canal, sharing space with dog walkers, narrowboats, and ducks. Whilst not unpleasant, it was very different to what had come before it. On the other hand, there were some locks and an aqueduct, so it wasn’t all bad.

Outside Kidsgrove the Macclesfield Canal crossed over the larger Trent and Mersey canal. There the signposts pointed me towards that other waterway for the last pull to the station.

And then that was that. My journey had ended. My 35 mile walk from Disley was now over, around 13 months after I’d started it. I’d experienced some fantastic countryside, seen a lot of rocks, and learned that Cheshire wasn’t as flat as I thought. I’d seen Manchester, the Cheshire Plains and Joderal Bank from some great viewpoints. And now I was done. I celebrated by sitting on the station platform, and noted that it had started raining.

That 20% chance of rain, well that proved to be incorrect after all.

Kidsgrove railway station
Kidsgrove railway station – the end of the Gritstone Trail

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