Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Ellesmere to Whitchurch

Dappled sunlight on the Llangollen Canal
Susan had been exhausted by yesterday’s endeavours, and was worried bout getting back to London early enough to rest ahead of her day volunteering at the Zoo on Wednesday. So after an excellent breakfast the taxi booked to take our luggage on to Whitchurch took her as well to catch a train back earlier than originally intended. So I set off alone at 9:30.

After a few hundred yards down the main road it was back to the Llangollen Canal. Because I took the wrong access point to the canal, the first bit was a tunnel, 80m long, under the road junction. But then it was a lovely walk along the towpath in dappled sunlight, with Blake Mere off to the left. This is one of a series of meres in North Shropshire, formed by glaciation in the last ice age. This, and Cole Mere a mile or so to the East on the South side of the canal, are surrounded by woods and very attractive. Blake Mere is reserved by the Ellesmere Angling Society as a private fishery, but Cole Mere appears to be open for a wider range of water sports – though it was too early in the morning to be certain of this.

Blake Mere, to the SE of Ellesmere
After the meres, and a woodland walk alongside the canal, it turns through a right angle to the North and the surroundings become much more open country. But there are still stretches of woodland, and the overall feeling is of a peaceful country walk. I came across two points at which British Waterways staff were working on the canal – once where a protective wooden beam needed to be reattached to the side to protect the brickwork on the side of a bridge opposite the towpath, and later where there had been a breach of the canal side and water had flooded over a field.

While this may seem unusual, it must happen on these canals from time to time. They are often higher than the surrounding countryside, with built up banks on one side and occasionally both. In this case I had to get down into the field and walk a quarter of a mile across a crop of failed barley which appeared to be so poor that I doubt that it would have warranted harvesting. Such has been the summer of 2012. Then it was a further mile or so before I was offered the choice of continuing along the canal or crossing the extensive Nature Reserve of Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses. Having spent the last three and half days walking along canals, I elected for the Mosses.

Pathway across Fenn's Moss
This is another feature of previous local glaciation – huge, flat areas of peat bog, but with pathways across and an old railway line to the West. It’s not unlike the heaths of east Anglia, with similar vegetation of heather, scrub birch, and other acid-loving flora; pinewoods around the main area of open country. And obviously much of the same fauna, too: almost immediately I saw a couple of late hobbies hawking for dragonflies.

This was a pleasant digression from the canal, and for three miles or so I saw nobody as I crossed the Nature Reserve. Nor was there any significant wildlife, as this is not the busy time of year for birds apart from the odd hobby, crow or woodpigeon. But it was sunny and warm, and very enjoyable. Then it was back to the canal for a further mile before leaving it for good to walk across country to Whitchurch.

The first bit was on minor roads. I saw no traffic apart from a tractor leading a herd of cows back to their field after milking. I haven’t seen it before, but they seemed to be well trained to follow their motorised guide. Fortunately I had just passed the farmyard entrance before they came out onto the road, so I wasn’t trapped on the roadside by beef on the hoof.

A bridge on my last stretch of the Llangollen Canal
After a mile and a quarter or so of road walking it was back over the fields for the final stretch into Whitchurch. The last field was another example of just how poor this summer has been. It was wheat this time, and probably just about worth combining, but I don’t recollect ever before having seen unharvested cereal crops a third of the way through September. Eventually I managed to find the stile out of the field (so overgrown that it was apparent only at a range of two yards), to cross the bypass, and then cross a final field with overgrown stiles at either end before finding a passable path into town. Map reading skills essential: at least there were footpaths as advertised.

Then it was a few hundred yards to my B&B. It was relatively early, so after changing and a cup of tea it was in to Whitchurch for a spot of exploration before writing up the last couple of days and updating the blog. The town has an attractive old centre, and a very unusual church, and there appears to be a reasonable range of choice for dinner tonight.

Sunny intervals, and no rain, despite the forecast. Temperature 15 to 20C. 23.01km; 40m ascent, 30m descent. Virtually completely flat, except for last 5km which involved minor climb and descent.

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