This year opened in much the same way as we seemed to spend much of 2012 – with wall to wall sunshine. The short drive to Beeston saw us parking up below the eight hundred year old Castle* and taking a stroll along the well marked paths of the Sandstone Trail, an excellent 34 mile walking route from Frodsham to Whitchurch, up to the junction where Hill Lane leads to Higher Burwardsley.
There were a few others enjoying the bright sunshine, though some did look a bit hung over. Hill Lane took us to a brief spell of tarmac, and back to the Sandstone Trail, which we followed in the opposite direction until a stile with an ‘Eddisbury Way’ sign took us through a slithery wood and across a lane near the Pheasant Inn.
The Eddisbury Way is a 16½ mile route between Frodsham and Higher Burwardsley, where we joined it. It provides an alternative to the Sandstone Trail rather than an opportunity for a long circular walk, as the two routes do intercept each other from time to time.
The Pheasant Inn is an excellent place for refreshments, as are the nearby child friendly Candle Workshops, but on this occasion we headed on along the Eddisbury Way to Yew Tree Farm. The final field before the farm was decidedly gloopy.
We continued towards Woodhouse Farm, which looks recently renovated, but for the sake of their privacy the owners have rearranged the path to skirt the perimeter of their land, denying the public access to the farm lane. So we turned back to reach the lane via the ancient footpath at Yew Tree Farm.
The Eddisbury Way signs seemed to follow our planned route all the way to the Shropshire Union Canal, luckily without any further gloops and with the benefit of a handy lunch bench by Newton Lane for our first picnic of the year. We eschewed the attraction of a nearby Ice Cream Parlour, preferring to stay off road. Anyway, we had plenty of cake.
To the south of the canal, we crossed a bridleway – the Bishop Bennet Way – that was being well used by ponies today. After all, this is a 34 mile route for horse riders which can also be used by walkers and cyclists. It is named after William Bennet (4 March 1745 - 1820), an Irish Bishop who carried out detailed surveys of roman roads including those between Deva (Chester) and Mediolanum(Whitchurch). The way starts near Beeston Castle and finishes near Wirswall on the Cheshire-Shropshire border. There are apparently hopes of extending it to Shrewsbury. The way follows bridleways, byways and minor roads; half of it being along tarmac roads. Walkers can bypass the longer road sections on footpaths.
The canal was reached at an unexpectedly long underpass. Was the canal really that wide?
The Shropshire Union ‘main line’ was the last trunk narrow canal route to be built in England. It was not completed until 1835 and was the last major civil engineering accomplishment of Thomas Telford, linking Ellesmere Port, by the River Mersey and the Manchester Ship Canal, with the Staffordshire and Worcester Canal, in the West Midlands canal system some 66 miles away at Wolverhampton.
We were soon striding along the towpath, with Beeston Castle again in our sights, savouring the bright sunshine and acknowledging the occasional passing barge.
The Shady Oak, well known for its friendly welcome to an itinerant clientele, was busy today, with resident swans looking for titbits and a selection of cruisers parked outside. It was warm enough for the beer garden to be in use.
A little further along the canal, Wharton’s Lock signaled our point of departure from the canal, or indeed – our return to the Sandstone Trail and an encounter with yet another trail, the Two Saints Way, an 86 mile pilgrimage route between the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield.
I suppose all these different named trails do help to keep the footpaths open – the paths are very well marked, and well used, in this part of the world, despite a bit of mud at this time of year.
A road appeared to be under construction beside the railway line near Wharton’s Lock, but we concluded that it was probably just ongoing track maintenance in an attempt to protect the embankments from erosion.
We knew we must be nearly back when we encountered a family with two children in a push chair doggedly negotiating their way across a muddy field, and soon we were back below the ruined castle, admiring a fine looking cottage next to the car park.
Here’s our route – 13 km (8 miles) with about 200 metres ascent. Allow 3 to 4 hours for this enjoyable and varied bimble.
There are a few more pictures from this walk here.
* Beeston Castle – according to Wiki it was built in the 1220s by Ranulf de Blondeville, 6th Earl of Chester, (1170–1232), on his return from the Crusades. In 1237, Henry III took over the ownership, and it was kept in good repair until the 16th century, when it was considered to be of no further military use, although it was pressed into service again in 1643, during the English Civil War. The castle was slighted (partly demolished) in 1646, in accordance with Cromwell's destruction order, to prevent its further use as a stronghold. During the 18th century the site was used as a quarry.
It is rumoured that treasure belonging to Richard II lies undiscovered in the castle grounds, but the many searches that have been carried out have failed to find any trace of it. The castle is now in ruins. The walls of the outer bailey, and the walls, gatehouse of the inner bailey have been separately designated by English Heritage as Grade I listed buildings. It is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument, and is currently owned by English Heritage.