Thursday, 13 September 2012

Lea Farm, Wybunbury to Congleton

Lea Farm breakfasts follow a rule. Alan is in attendance to start, with non-stop jokes (“I have a sense of humour, you see”), but under house rules is banished for the main course.

Crossing the main London to Manchester (West Coast Main Line).
A Virgin train - soon to be history now that Richard Branson has lost
the franchise.
The only real problem was arranging a taxi. Half the numbers for Congleton taxis were no longer current, and it took me ages to find one who would take my baggage – Bill of M Tax, who said that while he wasn’t able to do it himself he’d get someone else to do the deed. He’d get the driver to see me in the evening to collect the money. I was slightly apprehensive, but it turned out to be just fine. But it meant that it wasn’t until nearly 10 o’clock that I was able to get away.

The South Cheshire Way is only a quarter mile or so from the B&B, so I was fairly rapidly back on track. This time I had made absolutely sure that I had the right maps with me: yesterday’s experience is not something I wish to repeat. The first stage was due North across open country, with only an occasional few hundred yards on roads or farm tracks. The only unusual feature was that the path crossed the Crewe Golf Club, and I had to wait for golfers making their shots. Conclusion: most people can’t sink 10 foot putts.

That was also where I had the pleasant surprise of a call from Katie. I know we all take it for granted now, but it’s still extraordinary that my daughter can call me from New York after completing a morning run (she’s training for the Reggae half-marathon in Jamaica in December) while I’m tramping across the Cheshire countryside on the other side of the Atlantic.

Another maize field - but with a decent track through it
This part of Cheshire is rural between quite large towns, and the SCW navigates its way without too much urban blight. But it’s not very interesting country – relatively flat, with only minor undulations, and no sights of particular interest apart from one country house in Cheshire Tudor style. Unfortunately the path doesn’t give a good view of the front, so I was only able to see the rear and the outbuildings.

So the day’s project was an agricultural survey. How was each field used, and what proportion was devoted to each kind of farming? I didn’t distinguish between fields with cattle (or sheep, though those were rare) and those where hay had been taken recently or was due to be cut for late silage: all were categorised as “pasture”. But I did distinguish between other crops. And I didn’t take account of fields either side of roads or canals: my observations were restricted to fields I actually walked through or along the edge.

Haslin gton Hall - traditional Cheshire architecture
My log for the day went Pasture (P) – P – P – P – (village) – P – Horse Paddock – P – Barley (B) – P – P – (across the main London to Manchester railway, then roadway) – Rape (autumn sown) – Maize (M) – M – M – (village of Weston) – P – P – (across A500 road) – P – P – P – (railway) – Wheat Stubble (WS) – road and track – Golf Course – P – P – P – (Haslington Hall, half timbered and rather splendid) – P – P – WS – Field Beans (completely black) – P – P – P – P – P – P – P – R – Road – Canal – Large Tree Nursery – P – P – P – Standing Wheat – P – WS – WS – Farm Tracks – Field Bean (harvested – just bales of stalks, etc.) – P – P – Road and track – M – M – edge of Congleton housing – Astbury Lake and park – downtown Congleton.

I know the list looks pretty anal, and I’m sure you’ll just skip this bit, but this blog is for me as much as anyone, and it’ll serve to remind me exactly how the day was spent.  And the chief conclusion is that SE Cheshire is predominantly cattle country, whether for beef or dairy. Even the maize, after all, is grown as cattle food. (On the subject of maize, I was wrong in my conclusions yesterday: a minority of plants have two ears of corn, and a very small number even have three. Whether it’s a question of the specific variety or the fertility of the ground I just don’t know. Certainly yesterday’s plants were often rather small and poorly developed.)

Astley Country Park and Lake, SW of central Congleton
The first 10km or so were pretty well due North through farmland. I then elected to cut a corner where the SCW turns back on itself at an acute angle where it meets the Trent and Mersey Canal. This meant a bit by road, which after crossing beneath the M6 meets the canal at a lock where there is a café which managed to stretch to a beer. After a couple of miles Eastward along the canal it was back into the countryside on a Northerly course. One could do the whole stretch from Lock 57 to Congleton by canal – Trent and Mersey and then the Macclesfield Canal, but it’d be a good bit longer if easier to navigate.

The final northerly stretch finished up at the SW corner of the Congleton conurbation, where there is an attractive lake and country park. Then it was into the centre of the town, where I came across my hotel, the Lion and Swan, without actually having to check the more detailed map. It was just after 7:15, and had been a surprisingly long day.

A bath (no feeble shower here), a rather good Indian meal, and then bed.

Sunny but cold first thing, but cloud increasing throughout the day, and fairly dull by late afternoon. Temperature 13 to 20C. 32.29km; 240m ascent, 188m descent. Fairly flat, but with minor undulations in places. Mostly farmland, sometimes heavy going. Roads and canal towpaths for about 15% of the journey.

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