The Dishy Pharmacist and I found time to fit in a brief stroll on our way home from St Albans, via Solihull, Eccleshall and Congleton.The DP had wanted to visit Mow Cop for some time and now finally, before our appointment in Congleton, she had her chance. We made our way by a circuitous route to Mow Cop Castle’s small car park, where a National Trust warden worryingly advised us not to leave anything visible.
Just above the car park is a memorial stone, placed in 1957 as a 150th anniversary commemoration of a meeting that began the revival of Methodism. The inscription reads:
"TO THE GLORY OF GOD. Camp meeting near this spot on May 31st, 1807, began the Religious Revival led by Hugh Bourne and William Clowes known as Primitive Methodism."
We moved on to look around the ruins of the ‘Castle’, which turns out to have been built by one Randle Wilbraham, on the site of a prehistoric camp, in 1754. It was in fact an elaborate summerhouse built to look like a medieval fortress and round tower.
To mark the occasion in 1937 when the Castle was given to the National Trust, over 10,000 Methodists met on the hill.The area around the castle was nationally famous for the quarrying of high-quality millstones ('querns') for use in water mills. Excavations at Mow Cop have found querns dating back to the Iron Age. Though visitors were originally allowed inside the folly the area surrounding it has sadly been fenced off due to an instance of suicide off the cliff edge.On the turn of the millennium in the year 2000 a large fire was lit beside the folly as part of a network of communicating fires across the country.
Turning along the Gritstone Trail path, we found our way to a trig point that overlooks the 65 feet high ‘Old Man O’ Mow’.
To me, this looked like a strange natural rock form, but it turns out to have been deliberately left behind by the quarrying activities hereabouts. This was the site of an ancient cairn, destroyed by the quarrying. Perhaps the ‘Old Man’ was left in memory of the cairn.
We had excellent views on this fine sunny day, with the white orb of Jodrell Bank’s telescope shining brightly in the foreground.
Time was pressing, so we headed off down the trail, soon turning left along the South Cheshire Way. A nice field path led us to the boggy woodland of Roe Park, where the eagle-eyed DP spotted a bird in the distance, high up a tree.
This was a challenge irresistible to her new camera, and the result is shown here. Not bad considering it was about 20 metres away. My camera managed to capture the Great Spotted Woodpecker as a blurred black blotch on the tree trunk.
We emerged from the wood and found a magnificent tree sprouting from the centre of a field.
We soon passed under the main line railway; it occurred to me how little space this takes up compared with the wide swathe of a motorway. The railway sits neatly next to the Macclesfield Canal, beside which we tramped happily up to Congleton, encountering many other walkers, cyclists and fishermen on this scenic section of canal. The cyclists were in fact walking, which is a measure of the state of the towpath after recent wet weather.
A convenient picnic table in Congleton provided a good lunch spot where we were joined by three friendly swans. We then continued through Congleton, a fine railway viaduct soon coming into view. Despite the frost enduring all day in the shade, the warm sun had encouraged Mallards to get very frisky, and the Great Tits were also exhibiting amorous tendencies.
Now we descended to the disused railway line that provides a conduit for the Gritstone Trail at this point. We soon abandoned the wide path edged by golden bracken, in favour of the Staffordshire Way (all the paths seem to be named today, even the canal section is called ‘The Cheshire Ring Canal Walk’) and up a track to a pub where a cheery chap was downing a pint whilst hanging on to his horse. Across a road a narrow boggy path took us to the crest of Congleton Edge, in a wood beside which some trail bikes were tentatively wrestling their way around a tantalisingly technical scrambling course. The noise, whilst not quiet, was muffled by the trees; the bikes were not encroaching onto public land; marshalls were in evidence. This (or similar) is a place where the bikers who terrorise our friends in Bonsall should be coming.
Rejoining the Gritstone Trail and the higher volume of people attracted to that path, we headed up a road towards the prominent radio masts that adorn the summit of the hill topped by Mow Cop.
Horses munched in the bright green fields above Biddulph to our left, but as we stopped to slurp the dregs of our flask of tea, to our right we watched the embers of the sun struggle behind encroaching clouds on this clear day. The Peckforton Hills showed prominently in front of the clear outline of the Berwyns, some 40 miles away.
The view was overlooked by a number of memorials, one being to a 19 year old Royal Marine Commando who died in 2004. It was unclear how he had died; perhaps in a car crash at this point.
And so, we returned to the Castle by 3pm, refreshed after this excellent little circuit in the sun.
Here’s a map of the 14 km route, involving 350 metres of ascent. It took us 3 ¼ hours.