One day, you might find yourself sitting aimlessly in Crewe, or perhaps Nantwich, with the burning desire to go for a long walk.
“If only there was a signposted circuit of this area.” you would sigh… “If only someone could work out a 29 mile route encompassing fields, towpaths and Cheshire farmland….”
Well, I can provide solid reassurance that such a path DOES exist because Caralyn and I attempted it last Saturday. It was a rather masochistic weekend as we also did a 17 mile trek around Nantwich the next day. Fortunately, time has already dispensed its healing balm, turning the blacker memories a pleasant shade of rose. My blisters are beginning to heal and I feel ready to share the hard-earned facts learned en route. Once you have read this, I am confident that you will be absolutely desperate to walk the Crewe and Nantwich Circular Walk yourself.
Facts learned while traipsing around Crewe and Nantwich
- Cheshire people are friendly
We met a lot of cheery people along the way. For example, the labradoodle owner who told us to look out for herons, the boaters who greeted us with grins and waves and the earnest golfers who helped us find the right path across the fairway. Then there was the farmer with the trusty stick, who steered a herd of cows out of our way, the woman who, as evening fell, told us she’d seen us earlier in the morning (incredulous that we were still walking) and the tracksuited man walking his dog, who turned out to be Caralyn’s bank manager. Our longest interaction was with an old man who watched, bemused, as we wove a zigzag path around a field, trying to find the exit. “I’ve never seen anyone cross the field like that!” he said, his narrowed eyes indicating a degree of concern for our mental health. We explained that we were trying to find the path to Weston. He looked even more concerned as Weston was a long way off and the sun was low in the sky. He proceeded to give us a very detailed set of directions and as we parted company, he pointed balefully at the rolling farmland: “THEY’RE BUILDING HOUSES ON ALL THIS!” He had clearly walked that field many, many times.
- I’m not very good at taking photos with an iPhone
Don’t expect stunning photos in this blog post.
Just be grateful I didn’t include the accidental video of the farmyard floor.
- Don’t trust the signage
According to Wikipedia, the walk is “waymarked with a circle with symbols of a leaf, cartwheel and crossed swords”. If you’re thinking that sounds a bit of a dog’s dinner of a sign, here’s what it looks like:
As we set off from Acton, (Acton Cheshire not Acton London), the first few miles were clearly signed. Unfortunately, we soon found ourselves at a T junction with not a single sign in sight. We searched hedgerows and lampposts for clues before having to resort to phones. I used GPS to find our position while Caralyn googled a rather vague map of the walk and did the necessary cross-referencing. This situation was repeated many times. To add an extra layer of excitement and mystery, in addition to there being either “signs” or “no signs”, we soon found a third possibility: “ghosts of signs”. This (below) was a common sight in the segment of the walk, near Coppenhall. Some weary dog-walkers told us this was down to the kids nicking them.
A fourth possibility emerged not long afterwards: “ambiguous signs”. For example, the signs below delayed us by at least twenty minutes as we tried out each direction and found that neither one led anywhere useful.
We spent a long time trying to work out the route, getting lost and retracing our steps, so the walk took a lot longer than we’d expected. In the end, because the light was fading, we had to deviate from the route and walk the final segment on pavements because we didn’t fancy walking across fields in the dark. This lowered our total distance to 28 miles and not the full 29. By that point, we were past caring.
- There are a lot of cows in Cheshire
Cheshire is bursting at the seams with farms.
Dairy farms with footpaths running straight through them.
You may remember that I don’t like cows. (If you don’t remember, then you can read more here). Well, the Crewe and Nantwich Circular Walk certainly has its fair share of them. This gave me yet another opportunity to practice what I preach and put my anxiety management strategies to the test. Here is Caralyn leading the way through the first herd of cows:
After this, we had to walk through another herd, but this time with a bull lumbering around in the background. We walked slowly…I kept my head down and breathed steadily…we were soon over the stile into safety. Phew! The next field had a large group of cattle grazing happily at the top of a small slope. We took the lower path around the perimeter of the field. I was feeling quite confident now – my third cow field of the day! Then I heard Caralyn saying “Umm, Sally…..” and I turned round to see the whole lot of them charging down the hill towards us.
(A moment’s silence, while I shudder at the memory and gather my thoughts).
The aesthetic part of my brain registered that there was a kind of beauty in their movement – a graceful bovine unity of purpose, their tawny coats stirring in the breeze, the sun on their backs… The part of my brain concerned with survival discerned that a barbed wire fence (aka escape route) was only five paces away. I walked briskly towards it while Caralyn stopped, turned and gave the cows a withering glare. This had the desired effect. They put on the brakes and screeched to a halt. They stood there, bellowing at us, until we had left the field.
Caralyn likes to think they were mooing forlornly, hoping we would stay and play with them. To me it is obvious that they had only one desire: Slaughter the trespassers!
- It’s best to keep your feet dry if possible.
It’s really not much fun walking with wet feet. My trail shoes have seen better days and not only has the padding deteriorated but so has the waterproofing. All that swishing through the lush Cheshire grass took its toll: before long my feet were soaking. The next day was even worse because of the heavy dew. Apologies to the owner of the picturesque cottage on Coole Lane who, on looking out of the window on a fine Sunday morning, might have seen two women sprawled across his drive in an ungainly fashion, wringing out their smelly socks and drying their feet with soggy tissues.
- There’s lots to see
The Cheshire countryside is really very beautiful and you don’t have to go far out of town to find it. My favourite part was probably the aqueduct at Church Minshull, where we walked high up, alongside the Shropshire Union canal with views down to the River Weaver below. We saw three kingfishers on the canal at Nantwich, which made us very happy. The route took us over fields of brown earth and through meadows rich with green grass and clover; across farmyards full of barking dogs and along twisty, narrow lanes. There were lots of examples of the local sandstone, from tiny cottages to village churches to the most amazing country houses with sweeping driveways. After a lot of bumpy and uneven ground, the Crewe golf course was a delight to cross: the manicured grass like velvet beneath our feet, a reverential hush in the air as the sun sank lower and the last golfers headed home into the twilight.
- The perfect meal after a 28 mile walk is…
Short answer: Salty food. Hot food. Lots of food. Any food. Food.
Longer answer: A delicious feta and olive mix from Sainsburys, a succulent tranche of salmon with buttery new potatoes; a salad slathered in balsamic vinegar and chili oil. Red wine. More red wine. A bit more red wine. Some water. A mug of herbal tea. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz
- The Caralyn-and-Sally-guide-to-training-for-a-100k-walk-advises…
… that you get up at 6.30 the next day, put on a big smile and set off on another long walk.
Well there you have it. I am sure you are now feeling extremely inspired. I expect to hear that the Crewe and Nantwich Circular Walk has record numbers of walkers this weekend. Just remember to take a map, compass and cattle prod.
One last thought: If you live in the Coppenhall area and you notice some rather nice leaf shape circles stuck to your teenager’s bedroom wall or being used as beer mats, please do the decent thing and ask your offspring to return them.