The landscape changes, but the river is still full of character
Seriously distracted at the beginning
It was only a couple of weeks ago that Alex and myself walked the first stretch of the Dane Valley Way finishing at Danebridge. It was exciting to be back and I was really looking forward to doing the next stage, but first there was a serious diversion to be overcome!
Directly opposite to where we had parked was the Wincle Brewery. A smallish successful local brewery that sells a range of beers with enticing names like ‘Rambler’ and ‘Old Hag’. The brewery shop was open so – being the men of discipline and single-minded purpose that we are – we diverted from our intended walk to buy a few bottles.
It is not a good idea to lug bottles of beer around with you on a walk we decided, and they are best appreciated more next to a warm fire on a cold damp day, so we went back to the car to deposit our purchases.
Either I was distracted by the thought of sampling the beers later, or in a state of morning delirium. Which ever it was looking around I saw a footpath in the stone wall next to our car and decided that was the way. We had walked to the top of the hill on the other side of the wall before I decided to look at the map. Opening it up I quickly realised that we were walking in totally the wrong direction, on the wrong path. You can imagine the comments of confidence that came from my walking companions as we walked back down the hill towards the stone wall – road, and the brewery. Discovering that the path we wanted went past its front door!
It was an obvious track that followed the river down stream – the direction that we wanted to go in. The track went past a rundown looking fishery that still had tanks with water flowing through them. The only fish we saw though was a dead one floating on the top of the water upside down; not the best advert. On the other side of the track there was a pond with half a dozen fishermen stationed at various points around it, I suppose the fishery was there to keep the pond stocked up.
The river at this point was quite wide and looked more like a river than it had done further upstream. It had rained the past two days and the night before, so the river was pretty full and fast, in places it was at the edge of its banks. I enjoyed walking along to the rushing, crashing sound of the water, nearer the end of our walk it slowed down some, which was just perfect. A vibrant lively start to our walk and a mellow, gentle finish – the river did it just right.
Most of our walk was along its banks so it was pretty level and muddy. In places we were almost walking through a marsh, but the general lack of steep climbs made for easier walking. It was a relaxed walk, and there was time to stop and look at various points of interest along the way.
A mysterious conduit
The track beside the river was a comfortable start to our walk, very different to the beginning of the first stage with its uphill climb. The path crossed the river at Gig Hall where there was an overgrown conduit that followed us for several miles. We walked along a well established track with the river on our right and the conduit on our left.
The construction of the conduit had obviously been a major undertaking in its day. There was a significant bank channelling the water, stone bridges crossing it, sluice gates and catchment ponds. Such construction would have been very costly in the Victorian era, which the works had all the hall marks of. So I guess there must have been some significant industry along here at the time, but what it was I have not been able to find out (much to my frustration, I would love to know so if anyone can help I would be grateful).
Further along the track we passed a delightful looking cottage sandwiched between the two water courses, it looked an ideal spot to live but the possibility of it flooding must be high.
Our one major climb
The path eventually leaves the side of the conduit, passes over the A523, crosses under an old railway bridge to enter into a muddy field. This leads to Ravensclough with its steep sides and a wild brook running through its middle.
Walking up the side of the clough is the only real climb of the walk, and it is not too long. Following the brook takes you away from the river temporarily, and on to a track that goes round The Cloud a prominent hill between Cheshire and Staffordshire. This heather covered rock is one of the highest points in the area with extensive views. The Gritstone Trail goes over The Cloud but fortunately (maybe!) the Dane Valley Way goes round it.
Following the track we passed a farm that looked in a real state, full of junk with a keep out sign on the gate, and several dummy heads speared to the gate top. It looked a bit spooky and weird, who knows what sort of character lived in it. The funny thing was there was a really nice looking bungalow next to it, I wondered if the two neighbours got on?
Time for lunch
The track led to a tarmac road which we followed back down to the river. Where the road crossed the river we decided to stop for a break, sitting on the wall of the bridge we had our lunch.
There were old industrial units across the road which looked like they had once been grain stores. Some of the older buildings had a date of eighteen hundred and something chiselled in them and were made of solid red stonework. As I sat there eating my sandwiches I wondered if the older buildings were related to the conduit we had walked beside earlier. The old railway line we had walked under a while back also ran along the back of the buildings, and there was a canal to the north-west – this must have been a place of considerable industry at one time.
The next stretch was the muddiest
From the bridge things definitely got more muddy. The track started off across a very wet field heading towards the aqueduct that carried the Macclesfield Canal across the River Dane. On one side of us there were a herd of cows basically living in mud, they looked very bedraggled and dirty, I am sure it is not how cows are supposed to live. It was especially ironic because on the other side of the path was a lush green field. Just past these we climbed up a slope and came to the bridge over the canal, its straight dark line looked very dramatic under the cloudy skies.
The track was higher here and drier, it took us under a massive viaduct that carried the rail line between Macclesfield and Congleton. This was yet another impressive structure convincing me further that at one time there must have been industrialisation around here of some significance. On the other side of the viaduct we came to the A54, a short walk north along the road and we were back with the River Dane – now for the real mud.
Reluctantly the soggy fields let go of our boots as we slipped and squelched our way across them, we tried to find slightly drier routes but they all ended up in the same water-logged boggy state. The climax was reaching a small stream in front of a barbed wire fence, it was obviously a favourite meeting place for cattle who had made the place into something reminiscent of pictures of the Somme. The only way across that we could see was along the trunk of a tree that was growing near to the ground.
Cautiously we took it in turns to cross via the trunk, each waiting to see if the other would end up in the stream – but none of us did (shame?).
Entering into Congleton
Walking down the A536 into Congleton was the part of the walk I was least looking forward to. It’s a busy road and usually on these roads you end up clinging to the verge while artic-lorries thunder by. I was very relieved to find that there was a decent path running along the side of the road, in the end apart from the noise of traffic it was not a bad experience at all.
Before entering Congleton the path turned off of the main road down a track back to the river, which we then followed to our journeys end. We were entering into suburbia the best of our walking was over. Our walking companion the river flowed gently by our side, even it seemed to know that we were coming to the end of our days ramble. The calmness of the river aided our own sense of mellowness as we walked the last mile or so. It had been a great walk and I felt well satisfied.