John B kindly invited me to his annual ‘MOT walk’ that takes place on his birthday (when he temporarily catches me up age wise). “We start at 8am from outside the Leather’s Smithy pub in Langley” he asserted.
I drove Polly through a blizzard and arrived in semi darkness with about 15 minutes to spare. The place was deserted. I waited. Eventually, after 8.30 had come and gone, I decided on a stroll around Ridgegate Reservoir then a circuit on my own if nobody had turned up after that. Reaching the point from which the top picture was taken, I glanced around and noticed three figures marching up the road from Langley. Could that be John and his mates? I turned back and yes, it was they. John’s car had apparently failed to negotiate the slope out of Langley.
John follows the same route every year. “How far?” I asked. “About 20” was the reply, which offered me relief as I was wearing a new pair of boots. That’s until I realised he meant miles, not kilometres! Anyway, ‘never mind’, I thought, as we set off along the Gritstone Trail, which we followed all the way to Barleigh Ford Bridge in the Dane Valley, where we turned left to follow the route of the Dane Valley Way (DVW) to beyond Three Shire Heads.
After an overcast start, the cloud slowly dispersed, leaving us in sunshine by the time we passed the radio mast on Sutton Common, where we lined up for a self timed photo.
The focus of the route was Shutlingsloe, which was always visible, other than from valley sections of the walk, as we strolled around a wide south western arc of the ‘Matterhorn of Cheshire’.
After our first picnic break we descended into the Dane Valley and walked beside a conduit that reminded us of the industrial heritage of the area. This weir is also a sign of the textile mills that were powered by the River Dane.
Danebridge is currently the home of a fishery by a small lake, the Ship Inn, and the Wincle Beer Company’s microbrewery.
A slither alongside the River Dane past rare breed sheep saw us arrive for lunch at some picnic benches outside Gradbach Mill, recently disposed of by the YHA and refurbished as a ‘Boutique Hotel’. The building dates from 1792, when it was constructed for the purpose of spinning linen yarn.
Beyond Gradbach, the Dane Valley Way rises briefly above the valley and passes a few decrepit buildings, including a barn with old stalls that appears to be one of John B’s favourite places.
It was quite hard going up to Three Shire Heads, where the scene contrasted greatly with the one we experienced last Sunday.
After Three Shire Heads, the DVW was soon left to its own devices whilst we ascended steeply to the A54 road. Beyond that, Cumberland Clough used to be a glorious route, the surface flattened by the hooves of generations of pack horses. Sadly, recent use seems to be concentrated on trial biking, resulting in the destruction of the wonderful old path. A shame. A route I sometimes use for mountain biking, where full suspension makes life relatively easy.
Towards the bottom of Cumberland Clough, the valley opens out and the 506 metre top of Shutlingsloe, complete with stick men traversing the summit, appears ahead, its ascent now imminent.
After a third picnic stop and a final gulp of jelly babies and cake, we were fuelled for the steep but short yomp in deteriorating light to the iconic summit and its views over the street lit towns of North Cheshire and Greater Manchester.
As John posed with Tom and Steve on the summit at 5 pm, it appeared to me to be virtually dark. But the auto setting on my camera obviously disagreed!
We strolled back down a path compacted by today’s many visitors, to Trentabank, by which time it was indeed completely dark. At the visitor centre I left the others, some of whom were slowing dramatically. They very rarely walk this far, so they had done well, and John – still going strong – had passed his MOT with flying colours. I needed to get back home for another appointment (see next entry), so it was with great regret that I couldn’t linger for some rehydration fluid at the Sutton Arms with the others. Sorry folks.
Here’s the route (click on it for a larger version) – about 33km, 1200 metres ascent, taking us 9.25 hours. The ‘picnic’ icons denote our three picnic breaks.
A grand day out. Thanks, John.