Mid-Summer Walk, 30th June 2018
Leader: Helen and Brian Richardson
Reporter: Bill Mathews
In a distant SUNNY English land far far away, 15 intrepid SCoM explorers gathered with their ever ready bold, and sometimes terrifying, guide Helen for yet another exhilarating foray into the unknown (certainly unknown to me).
Such was the heat that the first arrivals, Frances from the distant land of Southport, and myself, found it necessary even before 09:40 am to shelter from the sun in the shadow of the massive ramparts by canal bridge No.40, until Dave Shepherd then the Millers, Richardsons, 2 Johns, Barry, Christine, Joy, Ruth and Tosh turned up.
Strangely, the Macclesfield Canal here lies near the top of the hill at Windmill Street; presumably the site of an ancient windmill. After waiting for a few minutes beyond the 10;00 am departure deadline for incoming calls and folk who didn't turn up, we set off along the canal southwards past some wonderful industrial revolution era bridges and 10m high walls supported by 11 huge buttresses built to protect the Telford style canal in 1831. There was to be no shortage of sun today and we were thankful for the shaded start. We changed tow paths at the very special and pretty Snake or Roving bridge No. 43 so constructed to allow a barge horse to cross the canal from one tow path to the other without disconnecting its harness. Now we were in the sun!
A little further along, Gurnett Aqueduct has a pretty setting with a spillway and the backdrop of the very inviting Old Kings pub by the opposite bank. However, for those paying attention, there was a large cherry tree on our bank with cherries available at arm’s length to help slake ones thirst. We left the canal at road bridge No. 44, passing Sutton Manor House, now Sutton Hall, which belonged to the Chief Baron of the Exchequer in 1631 followed by a succession of other folk of noble stock, It has been restored as a grade 2 listed building, partly Elizabethan style, into a Hotel and restaurant.
Our route hereafter meandered across lowland pastures to Sutton Lane Ends village with its desirable small cottages, turning Westwards via old birch and beech forests alongside the currently almost dry headwater channels of Sutton Reservoir itself still capable of supplying the nearby Cheshire Ring Canals. The dam was a well chosen spot for our morning coffee break with great views over the Cheshire plain.
Dropping down the dam embankment, the path passes over ancient meadows, crosses the A520 Leek New Road, and reaches the Macclesfield Canal again over bridge No.48A. On the embankment near here, somebody has fundedthe planting of about 10 well known varieties of plum and apple trees freely available to the public---and why not! It has been the practise in other countries for many years; planting plums cherries oranges and mangoes to name a few.
Reaching swivel bridge No 49 at Oakgrove Hamlet, we crossed the canal eastwards by the watermans cottage, which appears partly to be almost underwater. The swivel bridge is now motorised, requiring a key to operate. Oakgrove, otherwise known as Fools Nook, is steeped in history and was originally inhabited by the Druids known as the fools. they camped here because the 'Oak Grove' had sacred significance to them and the word oak comes from the same root in Sanskrit as Duir meaning door of important access. Now you didn't know that did you?
There are also legends and superstitions regarding Ley Lines/strong 'earth' energy lines through this area all the way to 3 Shires Head, leading to the construction of a local burial mound and local rituals including maybe human sacrifice. Hence we have Croker Hill.
The Hanging Gate pub. Near the hamlet was a place chosen for hangings. It's suggested that the garrotted Lindow Man discovered in the Lindow Moss bog, Wilmslow end of the Ley Line, was also implicated in the saga.
At this juncture Barry, who had a knee replacement barely 5 weeks earlier, left the group to walk back along the canal, an overall walk of more than 6 miles and rather more than he anticipated. Well done Barry! David Shepherd on the other hand decided to tough it out with his now heeling ski season ankle fracture and completed the walk with only a slight limp.
Beyond the Oakgrove A523 crossing we took the side road and paths eastwards ever more steeply past hidden quarries to Croker hill GPO tower into a strong and welcome wind, Thus we joined the Gritstone Trail at Sutton Common and had magnificent views over Wincle, Shutlingsloe and Macclesfield Forest in the North East.
At this point we settled into a field alongside a pen full of ducks to eat our sandwiches. We drove them quackers!! After a cheerful lunch we retraced our steps Northwards along the ridge line, leaving the Gritstone Trail near Fox Bank Farm, taking field paths over grazing land to Langley village. Up and over Macclesfield Golf Course, we were feeling the effects of all day torrid sunshine; so the final rendezvous at Macclesfield (Fairways) Garden Centre tea shop was an absolute essential, speaking personally, though some members were unable to pass by a certain Langley pub a little earlier!
My congratulations once more to Helen for a highly successful walk and to Brian for erecting all those footpath arrows on which we so much depend, countrywide.