Friday, 14 September 2012

Congleton to Buxton

My starting point - the Lion & Swan in Congleton
This was expected to be a long day, with a 5:30 train to catch from Buxton, so an early start was indicated. But there was another map problem to resolve first – I had left at home the OS Map required for the latter half of the journey. Not an impressive performance this week! So I had to wait until 8:30 for W H Smith to open. Fortunately they had the required map, but at a cost almost twice that which applies for internet purchases. I was the first customer of the day, and on my way by 8:35.

The first bit was out of Congleton through a riverside park and then an area of housing. One minor mistake required me to retrace my steps a couple of hundred yards, but after this I successfully found the Macclesfield Canal, which rather surprisingly was above the level of the nearby houses and involved a short climb to the towpath.

Telford's aqueduct over the River Dane
After that it was easy going for eight miles or so, with absolutely no chance of going astray. The towpath was fine, though muddy in places. The canal goes pretty well due East for the best part of two miles before crossing a rather fine aqueduct over the River Dane before swinging to the North towards Macclesfield. The bend is part way through the twelve-flight Bosley Locks. These were being navigated by a succession of narrow boats in both directions. At least this makes it marginally faster than if all the boats are going in the same direction, as lock gates are generally set favourably if the last boat was travelling in the opposite direction.

This, according to the notices alongside the locks is Telford’s engineering, and dates from 1830. The locks rise 34 metres, or an average of nearly ten feet each. They were the only locks I encountered on the canal stretch of my walk, so apart from the two to three hours it takes a boat to work its way through the flight the rest is plain sailing – or, more accurately, motoring. The locks each have a pond alongside which captures half the water when the lock is being emptied for downwards traffic, and supplies half the water required to fill it up again for upstream working. Or that’s the theory: some are now derelict, and I don’t think anyone now works the locks as they were intended to be worked.

Two of the Bosley Locks
After reaching the end of my canal stretch it was across a footbridge to a footpath leading to Sutton Lane Ends. The first half of this is alongside the Sutton Reservoir, after which it’s across country to Sutton Lane Ends itself. Bells were in full sound, and there was a wedding at the church with a rather splendid car waiting at the gate. The bridal party was making its way up the path to the church. It was now 12:05, so I guess she was just fulfilling expectati0ons by being just a little bit late.

It was then a gentle roadside walk to Langley, three quarters of a mile away. My target time was 12:30, and I beat it by ten minutes. Unfortunately the village pub was closed (open only in evenings during the week), but luckily there was another a further uphill mile away at the beginning of the Macclesfield Forest. A pint and a packet of nuts, and then the start of the uphill bit.

It was a long, steady climb over the next mile or so before reaching the first of the high points at just under 400m. It was threatening to rain, and there were a few spots now and again, but not enough to justify getting out the waterproofs. Then it was down a rough track to the curiously named little junction at Bottom of the Oven.

For the next mile and a half three was no alternative to the road, though fortunately there was relatively little traffic. This is now open country with good vistas in all directions. At the top my minor road joined the busy A537, which is the main crossing of the hills from Macclesfield to Buxton. It would be a much more unpleasant part of the journey had it been necessary to walk along the road, but fortunately there is a footpath which cuts the corner to the peak at a pub called the Cat and Fiddle, at an altitude of 500m. The weather was as advertised – cloudy, threatening showers, and very windy. But at least the wind was behind me rather than in may face.

The end of the Cheshire section, and into Derbyshire
There was then a minor road – which presumably had originally been the main route – down to Derbyshire Bridge, which is (not surprisingly) where one crosses into the next county. This side of the summit at the Cat and Fiddle is proper moorland with plenty of heather (now no longer colourful) and rough pasture. I heard red grouse a few times, but never saw any. It’s obviously shooting country, because one can see areas where the heather has been burned in rotation to encourage new growth for young grouse.

A final ascent up a rocky track leads to the 479m spot height where the view across Derbyshire is revealed. Then it was a long descent down an incredibly rocky path into Buxton itself. A coupled of mountain bikers passed me here. One actually dismount ted to go down one of the worst stretches. I can’t say I blamed him: the path was mainly fist-sized loose stones with occasional outcrops of bedrock. It wouldn’t be difficult to lose traction and go for a real pearler.

The last stretch was through the Western parts of Buxton into the town centre. There I found Roseleigh guest house, where I was due to stay on Sunday night, and to which I had forwarded my luggage. It was just after 4:30, so I had made pretty good time. I was able to change into civvies and make my way to the station in good time for my train.

Cloudy throughout the day with only occasional sunny intervals; light rain for half an hour towards the end of the afternoon. Temperature 12 to 18C. 33.76km; 679m ascent, 475m descent. Out of town by road, then 12km of canal, then path/road/path/road across the hills into Buxton.

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