Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Whitchurch to Lea Farm, Wybunbury

An excellent breakfast was provided by the wonderful Lesley Smith, and after the cab arrived promptly to collect my luggage I was on my way a few minutes after 9:00. Having scouted my way around Whitchurch a couple of times the previous day, I was clear about my route. First it was through the town centre to take a few photos (I was particularly eager to capture an image of the rather splendid church), and then a right turn to the North. It was all very straightforward.

Whitchurch's wonderful 18th Century church
But after I had walked a little over a couple of miles it was time to consult the map. Disaster! I had put the wrong OS sheet in my rucksack!

To go back? No. I had studied the route pretty well the previous evening, and was reasonably confident that I’d be able to reach Marbury directly to the North, and then be able to follow waymarks for the South Cheshire Way, which I was intending to follow all day to Wybunbury. And after a slight hiccup there it was – a nice yellow arrow on a sign with the reassuring letters SCW.

And on the whole it worked. There were further arrows at regular intervals. Most carried the promising SCW legend, and those that didn’t were clearly (or hopefully?) still following the required route.

But it was slow going. The route is largely across open farmland. It was not too bad when it was recently harvested fields of grain or well grazed fields. But there were a lot of fields where there was long wet grass, and some where cattle had made the going quite rough. There were also several fields of maize, particularly late in the day – well over head high, too. Fortunately there were either cleared (but muddy) paths through the corn, or the path was at the side of the field with just about enough room to make ones way without tramping between rows of plants. And I certainly learned about maize. It appears that each plant bears only a single head of corn. I had always thought there were multiple heads per stalk.

Cornflowers - now rare - and other summer flowers beside the track
There were occasional points where the direction of the arrow showed that it was necessary to cross an open field, and the direction was a little inaccurate and made it difficult to find the stile at the far end. The worst bits were when the path met a road and there was no obvious continuation on the other side. Turn left or right? Most of the time I got it right, either because I had somehow recollected the right way from my earlier studies of the map, or because a check on the compass suggested which way was more likely. But I got it wrong on a couple of occasions, and had to re-trace my steps. Finding the hoped-for SCP waymark after a bit of road walking was always reassuring.

Two minor disasters to add to the first. On one stile I missed my footing and fell into a bed of nettles. It’s not so much the indignity and stings of the fall itself: getting up without getting a lot more nettle rash is quite challenging. And then after, with some relief, finding a reassuring SCW sign off the road, the immediate challenge was a newly-dug ditch right across the path. I experienced much slithering and accumulation of mud before I managed to cross the stile immediately on the other side and a couple of metres higher than the ditch. Obviously (some) farmers don’t consider the maintenance of public footpaths a priority.

My fan club! Why do cattle sometimes follow altogether too closely,
and sometimes completely ignore you?
The worst route finding of the morning session was just after I had found an excellent pub for a very welcome pint. There were cyclists lunching there, and I had great hopes that someone would have a map. Somebody did – but it was the wrong one, and the pub was just to the East of the end of the map I was offered – and so I was no further forward. The immediate aftermath was that I took the wrong direction at the next major road and had to retrace my steps before finding the next SCW sign. Unfortunately there was no help from the owner of the pottery just off the main road, despite her having a range of leaflets about Cheshire attractions. The maps had no real detail, and didn’t even mention Wybunbury.

By mid afternoon I had at last crossed the Main Line of the Shropshire Union Canal, which I thought was about half way along the route from Marbury to my B&B. It was somewhat disappointing that it had taken so long. Maybe, I consoled myself, it was more than half way. But no: my original recollection was correct. Half way it was.

After that it was pretty well solid maize for the next couple of miles. It was easy to find my way, but very muddy and slippery underfoot. And then the next A Road – busy, but fortunately with footpaths to the side so not dangerous. This, I recollected, I had to follow to the North, and then turn off on a minor road to the East, where I would hopefully find Lea Farm signposted.

Back on track - a snack at the Boar's Head before the final stretch
to Lea Farn in Wybunbury
Wrong! The minor road was certainly on the SCW, but after a little more than a mile it was signposted off to the left. I continued in the expectation that the Farm was just a few hundred yards away. There was no sign at the crossroads I then came to, and enquiries of a couple of locals were not reassuring. But finally there was a stroke of good luck. I called in at a rather grand house with the hope that someone would have a map. They didn’t – but Emma Mottishead knows the Callwoods (her sister-in-law’s brother is apparently married to their daughter) and was able to give me accurate directions and a little sketch map – which proved to be the only useful map I’d had all day.

The only issue was that her estimates of time for me to complete the walk were somewhat on the low side. 40 minutes was more like an hour and 40 minutes. (When I examine the map later, it turned out to be more than twice as long as going by the SCW.) But at least there was a pub on the way, where I was able to get a snack and a pint. Very welcome.

I finally arrived at Lea Farm a few minutes before 8:00 p.m. Boots to sit besides the Aga overnight, other damp clothes out to dry, a long shower, and at last a chance to relax. The key lesson is to double-check that one has the right maps before setting out for the day!

Increasingly cloudy in the morning, and then rain, heavy at times. Clearing in the evening. Temperature 15 to 19C. 34.0km (estimated from map – insufficient battery life to record); 261m ascent, 290m descent. Fairly flat, but with minor undulations in places. Mostly farmland and heavy going, but roads from time to time and for last five miles or more.

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