It was a lovely day, but as Sue was working we could only manage a short afternoon stroll.
We'll get plenty of exercise in a week or so!
We decided to experiment. A new route. It's a 20 minute drive to the Stretton Fox.
The pub, a converted farmhouse*¹ from the mid 1800s known previously as Spark Hall, was heaving with custom.
It's right next to the M56 motorway that has obliterated any trace of the old Roman road. Crossing the bridge over the motorway we soon came to the Ring o' Bells, where a new sign displays an interesting use of apostrophes.
The pub was closed. It would be open at 7 pm tonight. It must be unable to compete, despite its closer proximity to the village of Stretton.
It's an old village, with a narrow pavement beside the busy main road that passes 'Stretton House - 1769-1788', and still going strong!
We were testing a walk from Jan Darling's book 'More Pub Walks in Cheshire and Wirral', from which I have borrowed some of the historical references. 'Turn right over a stile' was the next advice. Our first encounter with the Kindly Farmers of Cheshire illustrated their loving care and kindness towards the crops that were sprouting lusciously in the field beyond the place where a stile and finger post had once stood. So we went past the new farm shop and dodged under the barbed wire fence that separated us from the stile at the other end of the field where the path had been ploughed up.
Across a cart track a finger post pointed clearly to a gate in the far corner of a second field. This one had not been ploughed. It was full of milk laden cows. A farmer was persuading them towards the milking parlour. All our concentration went into dodging the fresh cowpats. The farmer, being Kindly towards his cows, which were obscuring our correct exit over a stile, studiously ignored us as our incorrect route obliged to clamber over gates and negotiate more barbed wire and a deep ditch.
An overgrown stile by the beautifully named 'Noggin Cottage' led beside fully fledged hedges to one of many concealed ponds that litter this area.
Our route led beside another hedge to reach a road at Bentley's Farm. A Kindly Farmer had chosen to block the path with an electric fence and a slurry pit - after all, slurry is essential for crop growth around here. We found a way round and proceeded down the lane to the Birch & Bottle.
Saturday afternoon. It was shut.
The 18th century properties beside the lane to Fogg's Farm were mainly in fine condition, with lovely gardens. Beyond Fogg's Farm the path led to Antrobus Golf Course. From afar, it looked as if the golfers were having a picnic, but as we got closer and moved our attention on from a gorgeous chestnut horse we discerned that these were not golfers at. The golf course was full of anglers, with a fine selection of ponds to satisfy their every taste.
There were more fishermen than golfers today.
A mother coot and her newly hatched child were busy in the weeds.
The route description through the golf course was quite complicated, but times change. Now a good gravel path leads easily clockwise around the perimeter of the course to an exit onto Reed Lane in the far corner. We paused to look back at the quiet scene.
This quiet lane led us below swooping buzzards and past prolific forgetmenots into New Occupation Lane.
Some barns built here in 1940 by the War Agricultural Committee now flourish as private dwellings. A left turn took us along a sort of dyke across Whitley Reed, which provided peat for fuel in Roman times. Much of the area has now been drained and cultivated, but there are still rough areas - reserved for walkers, of whom we saw no others today. Gorse, heather, nettles, reeds and brambles flourish in such 'rough'.
Past more ponds and across a sandy racetrack (racehorses must train here), we drew gradually closer to the roar of the motorway traffic before heading west towards woodland that was once part of Stretton Moss. There are marlpits hereabouts, where in the 19th century the clay and lime mixture was dug out to be used as fertiliser. As we headed along a narrow path beside the wood, a Kindly Farmer of Cheshire roared up in a winged tractor. Reversing beyond the edge of the field the wings were unfurled and we stopped abruptly as a thick spray started to belch into the atmosphere. We paused whilst this farmer, Kindly as ever towards His crops, belted off up the field in a cloud of modern-day fertiliser spray.
We were completely invisible to all the farmers we met today.
The approach to Moss Hall was marred by piles of rubble.
But once past this blot on the landscape, the sunlit oilseed rape gave a pleasing image enhanced by the backdrop of a darkening sky.
From here it was almost an easy walk past a large slurry pit and down a long lane back to the Stretton Fox. It would have been very easy if the Kindly Farmer of Tanyard Farm, who had recently planted his precious crops in a field across which our footpath passed, had not ploughed up the path.
Luckily, closer to home the paths are better walked and some of the Kindly Farmers of Cheshire are a bit better behaved!
Here's our route, should anyone be interested. It's 10 km (6 miles), with virtually no ascent, and it took a little more than two hours. On this dry day, trainers were adequate footwear.
*¹ In the 19th Century, Liverpool was a leading UK port, handling ship loads of cattle from Argentina and Canada. Dairy farming was dominant in this area, with fresh produce being sent to London to be sold. The farmhouse was built on 'Spark Field', named after a small variety of trout that was found hereabouts. The Stretton Fox stands beside the site of a Roman road that ran from Wilderspool to Northwich, then on to London. The name 'Stretton' meaning 'the town on the street', dates from this time.