Gritstone Trail – dying of thirst

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Camped on ‘The cloud’

It looks like summer is finally over, the wind and rain has returned with a jolt to remind us that we have more than one season in the UK.  And it’s also about time I got back to my blog after a few months silence.

Luckily over this glorious summer I managed to get out a few times, and in June I spent a weekend on the Gritstone and Mow Cop Trail. And boy was it hot.

This is another of those trails that have sat on my bookshelf for years, thinking it too close to home to give me itchy feet, and too close to civilisation to satisfy my wanderlust. And yet it turns out to be another gem, a cracking overnight trek which somehow manages to skirt past so many towns and villages but never really passes through any.

The trail basically follows the western edge of the Peak District for about 35 miles  (56 km) along a gritstone edge, with wide sweeping views over the Cheshire plains. The walking never gets very strenuous, more of a gentle work out, but done over two days it’s still a push.

Off the train and off we go

Off the train and off we go

I’d planned to overnight after about half way but as things turned out I ended up doing about 26 miles on the first day, for reasons of thirst. Getting to and from the Trail couldn’t be easier with start and finish both being at railway stations served by Manchester (Disley and Kidsgrove). So an early morning train from my home in Calderdale had me on the platform at Disley by 10am at the start of very hot weekend. You can’t miss the start of the trail from there, it leaves directly from the platform.

The first part of the trail leaves Disley via Lyme Park, the largest country house in Cheshire,  making for a gentle start through manicured parkland.

Once through Lyme Park there’s a gentle climb up to a broad grassy ridge at Bow Stones (the shafts of some Anglo Saxon crosses), and from there on the entire route follows the ups and downs of the Gritstone edge with views west into Cheshire, and east towards Derbyshire. With it being so close to Manchester and a Saturday I’d expected to be fighting my way through ramblers, but after Lyme Hall I met virtually nobody along the entire route.

Once the morning haze had lifted the day really began to hot up and it wasn’t long before I was wishing I’d packed more to drink. Somehow knowing the trail passed so close to built up areas I’d expected that getting a drink would be a breeze. But by 11:00 I’d downed every drop I had and was desperately searching my maps for a potential pub.

As bad luck would have it I’d delved into my vast map collection the night before and managed to find the relevant OS maps, but ancient one’s printed back in the 1970’s. How much could have changed ? Well all the local pubs as it happened.  The route passes through a number of very small villages each marked with a pub or post office on these old maps, and all long since gone. The area was as dry as the Gobi desert beyond Harrop brook.

By the time I reached White Nancy, a prominent folly crowning the northern end of Kerridge Hill I wouldn’t have turned down the offer of a pint of Castrol GTX I was so thirsty. Something that’s really struck me over the past few years is how much the big supermarkets have made it that bit more difficult to restock enroute. Back in the early 80’s when I use to go packpacking as a kid, almost every village still had a pub, post office and shop. Restocking along the likes of the Pennine Way was simple. Now here I am dying of thirst within spitting distance of the UK’s second largest city.

Luckily at Teggs Nose country park I found a water fountain in the Public toilets which kept me going for a few hours (no I didn’t park myself next to it for the rest of the day). But I was also noticing that every possible stream and brook along the way had completely dried up, not a drop of water flowing anywhere. I probably should have risked filling up at Teggs Nose Reservoir, but I was sure that at any moment I’d come across a clear babbling brook. Only I didn’t and I was beginning to worry whether they’d be any at my planned camp spot somewhere along Sutton Common.

By the time I reached Sutton Common it was clear that I was going to have to push on further to find water. It was proving to be one of those perfect hay making days, hot and dry with a warm breeze. So peaceful sitting on a grassy hillside in the sun watching bailers in the distant fields, but the thought of all that dry hay wasn’t doing the inside of my mouth any good.

As luck would have it on the descent from Sutton Common I managed to find a trickle of what looked like borderline potable water running down a muddy stream bed. I have to say the area also smelt borderline stagnant, but by now my personal standards had reached so low I’d probably have attempted to suck moisture out of the mud itself. And now with a full 3 litres I was ready to find a pitch. Just my luck that the next 6 miles were all across fields in the valley bottom and it wasn’t until I’d clocked up 26 miles for the day that I found somewhere to settle down for the night. And what a location.

Bosley Cloud is one of those wild camps with a view which never seems to end. From the little grassy ledge where I settled down for the night the Cheshire Plain is laid out like a vast carpet, dotted with trees and villages, and lined with miles of hedges and dry stone walls. And looming in the distance is the massive radio telescope at Jodrell Bank.

And it appears that The Cloud is a popular spot for what seems to be a growing craze for snatching a night under a tarp without the added fuss of actually walking at all to get there. By the time I’d brewed up several other people had trudged up from where their cars were parked half a mile away, and set up army style bashers for the night. They’d get there for 8pm, and back down to their cars and home in time for a late breakfast in the morning. What I couldn’t quite figure was why each of them appeared to be carrying a back breaking 80 litre pack.

Well if I’d had hopes that the second day would be any less dry and arid than the first I would be sadly wrong. The morning started just as sunny and warm as the pervious day, but with only about 12 miles to do I knew at least I could quench my thirst by lunchtime. The walk down from Bosley Cloud winds its way through heather and bracken and into the relative shade of woodland before coming out into flat open and shade less fields.

The last section of the trail is actually known as the Mow Cop trail, though it’s normally walked as an extension of the Gritstone trail simply as the latter doesn’t really finish anywhere with any decent public transport links.  The Mow Cop trail takes you past the Old Man or Mow which comes as a bit of a surprise looking like a Pennine version of the Old Man of Hoy, but standing beside a gritstone edge on the outskirts of a Cheshire village.

The trail also skirts a mock ruin castle in the village of Mow Cop. Somebody back in 1754 obviously had too much money as the mock castle was built simply to improve the view from Rode Hall which stands three miles away over the plain.

The last section of gritstone edge pretty much ends at Mow Cop. and from there you descend through fields and along a disused railway embankment to eventually meet with the Macclesfield Canal. True to form when I reached the canal the 1st pub I’d managed to find over the two days wasn’t even open, but luckily the owner of an old lock keepers cottage a bit further along the towpath took pity as I staggered towards it tripping over my tongue, and he invited me in for a drink.

The lock here is a very strange affair as it’s at the junction of two canals of very different widths, the Maclesfield canal being one of the narrowest canals in existence. The lock where the two meet is more like a squeeze, you could easily leap from one side to the other. I didn’t try. From here the Macclesfield Canal then joins the Trent and Mersey Canal and after a couple more miles easy walking you reach journeys end at Kidsgrove Station.

All that remained was to retire to the nearest café for a late breakfast and large pot of tea while I waited for the next train back to Manchester. A thoroughly enjoyable trail, and highly recommended for an overnight backpack in the area. But take plenty of water.

12 thoughts on “Gritstone Trail – dying of thirst

    • It’s one of the original TarpTent designs from when the company was still a one man band with Henry Shires making them in his garage. It’s a Henry Shires Virga, bought from him over 14 years ago. Feather light, and reasoanbly stable with that rear hoop. Great for snatching a quick wild camp in the summer or hyper light trips. I’ve been using various bits of kit over the summer trying to decid whether they’re keepers or not. I need a clear out.

      • It still looks good for you youngsters, although I’m not certain it would do for me. Too low. I seem to find the stretching and bending ever more difficult these days. That’s a sign of age and insufficent getting out there and bendability exercises. I must put that to rights before it’s too late.

      • I must admit, I’ve been using a couple of more traditional sloping ridge designs recently, and wondering how I ever found it so easy to crawl in and out without getting my knees wet or looking like some commando exiting an assault course crawl net.

  1. Mmm. That’s just reminded me. Time to nip out for a beer. God I got thirsty reading that and that was without the pull up to White Nancy. Cheers Jon.

    • I have phases of both Martin, I’ll spend a years just doing my own thing and then hit a few of the trails for a while. The last few years with work commitments it’s been easier to pick something off the shelf from a vast collection of books and I’ve collected over the years. I like do get to different parts of the country and I find trails encourage me to go somewhere I wouldn’t normally think of.

  2. An enjoyable read. I did (most of!) the Gritstone Trail a couple of years ago but chose the hottest couple of days of the year. Like you, I struggled to find water. I ended up bailing out at Congleton, it was just too hot to continue. I’ll do it fully later this year…sooner rather than later.

    • Cheers John. It’s a lovely trail that would be even better if the odd pub along the way were still open. Just shows though that you don’t need to go so high to get amazing views.

  3. A great read for a trail I’ve looked at for a long time. Living in Buxton it’s not far from me.
    Finally going for it this Friday 12/6/15 possibly stupid by doing it in one day. Will have to take plenty of liquid by the sound of it 🙂

    • A great little trail indeed John, wonderful far reaching views all the way. You’d never think you could get such a trail so close to Manchester. It’s of course possible to do it as a very long single day, but that would be a shame as it offers so many opportunities to camp ready for a sunset. There’s very little shade too, so if you get a hot couple of days as I did, the water situation is a must. A couple of little villages along the way where you could top up. Guess I’m too used to filling up at streams and by the time I needed water it was too late. You’ll enjoy it.

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