Saturday, 23 July 2011

Delamere Forest & Old Pale Hill

I was a bit stumped this weekend as the weather was glorious but the missus had the car, so if I wanted to get out then it would involve either public transport or my bike. I got myself a new camera this week and I was desperate to get out and play around with it to see what it could do. The week before I developed a weird injury I picked up as a result of over doing it a bit on the bike every day then playing two hours of football some nights. So just in case, that was the bike out of the equation as I wasn't too sure if I had fully recovered. I had been taking anti-inflammatory tablets most of the week. I therefore decided on a plan I'd had for a while. Only a forty five minutes train ride away is the incredible Delamere Forest where I spent lots of happy days as a child with my family having picnics and making dens in the ferns. The train fair is only nine pounds return and the train station is literally bang in the centre of the forest. So I packed a summer bag, which is always surprisingly easy, and headed down in to town to visit Waterstones for the OS Explorer map. I couldn't resist a large Mocha from Costa Coffee while I was there and grabbed myself a packed lunch and breakfast. Another thing I was interested in was the Pathfinder book of walks in Cheshire, I see them all the time in shops like Blacks and Millets, so I strolled down to Millets. Did they have it? No of course not, why would a Millets in Cheshire have a map or guide book of Cheshire? I mean that would just make far too much sense. I could have got myself a Lonely Planet book on Bolivia or a cheap nasty pointless solar torch made in China, but a useful map or guidebook of the local area, No!

Blakemere Moss

After stressing my above frustration at the sixteen year old teenager in Millets who looked at me dumbfounded, I continued on my journey and brought my ticket at the station. It was a pleasant relief to find that the return ticket was only nine pounds, in a world where I am constantly being ripped off I think nine pounds return is not bad. I helped an old man to use the Metrolink ticket machine on the Manchester bound side of the station. I half felt sorry for him as he clearly couldn't handle the technology, but the techy mean side of me wanted to bang his head against the machine and ask him why he didn't just press the blatantly obvious buttons fed to him on the touch screen interface. I sat at Altrincham railway station and thought of how the lovely old structure compares to the soulless Metrolink conversion that has taken place at Timperley. I got on a surprisingly busy train, full of rowdy young lads on their way to a stag party in Northwich. There were no seats left other than the one directly outside of the toilet, so I hoped for the best and sat in the potentially problematic seat. I was fine until a rather disturbing moment when one of the lads didn't press the lock button inside the loo and one of his friends came along and pressed the open button. It is a sight I won't forget for a while! I absolutely love travelling by train through the British countryside. Staring out of the window on a sunny day you get some perspective of just how vast the country is. Fields and hedgerows seem to just go on forever. Wildlife is in abundance with rabbits munching on grass, herons sat by ponds and Buzzards circling over fields. The journey was pleasant as I passed through yet more lovely quaint railway stations like something from a Honrby railway set. The railway embankments were all covered in the stunning blues of Rosebay Willowherb. After what seemed like nothing the train, much to my excitement, arrived at Delamere. The sign on the station wall as you disembark proudly says "The Forest Station", which put a smile on my face.

Delamere railway station

Delamere Forest is the largest woodland in Cheshire, covering just under a thousand hectares. The forest is a mix of deciduous and evergreen forest. Delamere means 'The forest of the lakes' and the forest does have several constantly changes lakes, or meres as we like to call them in Cheshire. The most fascinating of all those lakes is Blakemere Moss which I have experienced before at various times of the year in various conditions. The forest and Blakemere Moss would have to wait though as my first objective for this walk was to climb to the top of Old Pale Hill. When people think of Cheshire they think of wide flat low lying lands with big horizons. I proved this wrong recently with the walk up Shining Tor, the highest point in Cheshire at five hundred and fifty nine metres above sea level. Over here on the west side of Cheshire is the Mid Cheshire Ridge, an impressive and understated sandstone ridge with dozens of impressive hills and features. Old Pale Hill is the highest point on the northern end of this ridge. I was interested in seeing if I could ascend a wee hill without my knee or thigh giving me grief, and also interested in what views this modest hill would give me. I turned out of the railway station and headed west through the car park to join the roadside path to the visitor centre and bike hire area. I was impressed by the mountain bikes they had for hire as nearly all of them were expensive Kona bikes in excellent condition. From the visitor centre I continued south west passing the Forestry Commission depot and on to the Old Pale Hill car park.

Old Place Hill summit stone

From the Old Pale Hill car park I ascended the wide winding track and after just a few minutes of ascent I was already on my own as no one was ascending the hill. In fact all the way to the summit I only saw one person, who was a descending fell runner. The views were opening up and I stopped several times watching Sparrow Hawks and Crows flying over the forest side fields. The views behind over the forest showed just how huge it is, and in the middle was the big opening at the waters of Blackmere Moss. The path to the summit of Old Place Hill was very easy going but enjoyable. The summit of Old Pale Hill has three huge transmitter masts which were not a surprise to me as I had researched the hill on the internet the night before. They don't really affect the experience as the walkers summit is at the north end of the summit and the messy mast area doesn't need to be visited. The summit has a brilliant set of standing rocks that point you in the direction of each of the seven counties that are in the circling view. The English counties of Derbyshire, Lancashire, Shropshire, Staffordshire and the Welsh counties of Denbighshire and Flintshire are all represented by a standing stone. In the centre of the summit platform is the biggest standing stone, representing Cheshire itself. Around the circumference of the platform there are topographical plaques pointing out all the summits and features in view such as Moel Famau in the Clwydian Range and Shining Tor the highest point in Cheshire. A lot of effort has been put in to this summit feature and I thought it was excellent. I like these things on popular smaller hills like this and also like when they have the educational touch to them. They don't have their place in wild places but somewhere like this I think they can be made in a way that they fit in well. I stood picking out various landmarks I could make out, usually hills, but also the likes of the Fiddlers Ferry power station, Liverpool's anglican cathedral, Joddrell Bank and the Dee Estuary's Flintshire Bridge. I also took a walk around the plaques on the summit platform and learnt a thing or two.

Teasels

I did try and find the trig point on Old Pale Hill but soon realised it is hidden away behind the fences around the transmission masts and buildings area. The descent took me past some cute brown cows which I stopped to talk too, like you do! I switched back on myself and headed down a track through meadows towards Eddisbury Lodge. Before I reached the road at Eddisbury Lodge I nipped in to a beautiful wood to take some photos. Standing in the middle of a silent forest smelling nothing but pine needles really is something special, especially when the sun keeps coming out of the clouds and shooting rays through the trees. I turned left along the road to reach Eddisbury Lodge and then followed the very narrow path north that is now the Sandstone Trail. The Sandstone Trail is a thirty five mile long distance path that traverses the Mid Cheshire Ridge from north to south. I hope to do this entire route soon as a two or three day backpack. I continued along the Sandstone Trail and followed it passing the west of Eddisbury Lodge through some enchanting woodland. Just before the Sandstone Trail rises to cross the railway I turned left to head in the direction of Black Lake. The intention was to visit Black Lake, which has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest. The lake is a Quaking Bog famous for being the home of a rare breed of Dragonfly. I totally missed the track to Black Lake and instead found myself at the next railway bridge so crossed that and switched back to the right to eventually re-join the route of the Sandstaone Trail. Along the stretch near Black Lake the path was flanked with many colourful wild flowers and was teeming with the buzz of Dragonflies, Butterflies, Bees and Wasps. I headed along the now wider and busier track. There were loads of families enjoying the tracks that are perfect for a day out on their bikes. After admiring a seat carved out of an old tree trunk I reached a junction where I turned right to head in the direction of Blakemere Moss.

Myself on Blakemere Moss

Blakemere Moss is an incredible place as you will see on my photos. After many unsuccessful attempts to return the area to woodland a decision was made in the nineties to return it to wetland. The felling of trees has now created a haven for wildlife, in particular birds which thrive in the shelter of its wide open waters, nest on its many islands and fallen trees and take full advantage of the surrounding forest. Each day it takes on a different look and never ceases to amaze me. Today Blakemere Moss was blue, as the skies it was reflecting were blue with small white fluffy alto cumulus clouds and alto cirrus clouds. It was the perfect place for me to test out my new camera, especially as I had also purchased a polarizing lens, perfect for these conditions. The first thing that struck me was not only incredible views from the side of the moss but also the incredible noise of the Gull colonies. I chatted to a couple by the moss and asked them to take a photo of me and returned the favour. I followed what was now the Delamere Way, another local long distance path, east along the south shore of the moss. Every so often the boggy shores on the left caught my eye and I went off to explore. As I reached the most southern side of the moss the sound of screams echoed around the forest from those brave enough to be tackling the Go Ape tree top orienteering course. I stopped a few times to watch participants with trembling legs being helped along by the Go Ape instructors. After reaching the far eastern end of the moss I reached the busy road that dissects the forest. Here I turned right and found a path just off the road that took me south parallel with the road to reach the campsite. At the campsite I joined the road and followed the road back to the railway station. I managed to resist getting an ice cream from the station cafe. The train journey home was as enjoyable as the inward journey. I saw plenty of wildlife again and could make out Shutlingsloe and Joddrell Bank as the train crossed the Northwich Viaduct. A fantastic trip and one I will make a lot more often as it is so easy to do, I can walk down to the station, pay someone nine pounds return and in less than forty five minutes be in the centre of such a wonderful place!

I have uploaded the photos from the day here.

Route Map...

7 comments:

  1. Robert Butcher27 July 2011 at 21:44

    Jamie Bassnett walks on water....amazing photography and good point about Millets.

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  2. I've told you before that I can walk on water! I can do anything, I'm Jamie Bassnett! ;-)

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  3. Very good, Jamie. As you know, there are lots of good circuits out that way, many involving the Sandstone Trail (see Ruth Rogers 'Circular Walks along the Sandstone Trail', or the brilliant Tony Bowerman's 'Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral' - neither available in Altrincham!)
    I found Millets in Alty to be much more helpful than the useless Nevisports shop, before that one self-destructed. The staff at Millets seem now to be taking their shop in the same direction, whilst the staff at Waterstones are helpful but severely restricted by their limited stock.
    Yes, Metrolink destroyed Timperley station's lovely old canopy. Perhaps it was too high for their paintbrushes. Very sad!
    That Go Ape course is great fun btw, you should try it (corporate bonding trip? - hilarious).
    And what's wrong with Bolivia? If you can walk on water you can surely survive in Bolivia?!
    Have fun!!

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  4. Hi Martin :-)

    Thanks for the book recommendations, was actually just in the middle of choosing which books to put on the walks main page on the site so you've helped me out there. Hope to do the Sandstone Trail sometimes this year, like the look of the Delamere Way which looks like a nice station to station option. The missus has done the Go Ape in Bolton, looked like great fun, must give great views over the moss there too.

    The Nevis Sport was very limited wasn't it, nothing that useful, just the over priced things that posh people who never actually go out walking would buy. Their footwear was probably the only reason I ever went in there. I find Millets at the opposing end of the two extremes unfortunately. The Nevis Sport in Manchester behind my work is very expensive. I feel extremely alienated from the outdoor gear world these days, the prices are just crazy and I'd rather get out than spend my hard earned wage fondling gear. Waterstones do need a bigger selection of outdoor books in Altrincham, I love their stores. I just feel these stores need to remember the local area they are in and make sure they cater for the local needs sometimes. There wasn't a single Cheshire based book in any shop in Altrincham. Nowt wrong with Bolivia! Ha Ha was just an extreme example! ;-)

    I went for a walk from the Walton Rd / Freeston Rd footbridge yesterday up to the canal by the brook and was very sad to find it was all over grown, the brook seemed polluted and there was dog mess and litter everywhere. I remember when I was a kid we all used to paddle along the beautiful brook with jars full of Sticklebacks, Minnows and Stone Loaches and it was a wonderful place. Was really sad to see it so neglected and unused. I looked a bit daft yesterday, thirty five year old man with a jar and a fishing net!

    Might jump on my bike later and go down to the Bollin for a quick outdoor fix.

    We are off to Ullapool next weekend for the week, can't wait to be up there again.

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  5. Enjoy Ullapool!
    Yes, although Newton Park and Walton Park have recently been well smartened, the brook remains neglected.
    I've been up and down the canal a few times this weekend. Apart from the inevitable few bits of rubbish it stands out as a wonderful 'green lane', very well used, on a lovely weekend.
    The brook isn't that polluted - I've used it to test my water filter with no side effects; it just seems to have escaped the attention of the 'cleaning team'! Parts of the Bollin are actually just as neglected.

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  6. I'd have loved to have seen you fetching water in your filter from the Brook, your are as mad as me going down there with my fishing net at thirty five years old!

    I cycle the canal almost everyday now and been amazed and really chuffed at how many people are using it. Can't wait until the Bridgewater Way spur in to the city centre is properly done.

    Walton Park, been ages since I've had the pleasure of smelling those little trains, I take it they still run them? Loved that smell as a kid and their little whistles. ;-)

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  7. There are long queues for those trains on summer Sundays, Jamie. You should try cycling home along the towpath all the way down to the Bay Malton sometime. You'll see that Walton Park contrasts greatly with your fishing experience in the brook.
    BTW, out of curosity I popped into Waterstones in Alty yesterday. You are right - books on Staffordshire and Shropshire, but nothing at all on Cheshire. I would have raised it with them if anyone looking to be in authority had been around. And you won't find Cicerone's new publication 'Trekking in the Alps' there any more. Gillian Price has been nagging us to buy it, so it's now in our library, and I doubt whether Waterstones will replace what was probably their only copy. I know it would be cheaper fron Amazon, but I'm currently actively 'supporting my local high street'.

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