First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
At eight in the morning Lamaload Reservoir lay mirror-still, curled into the interstices of its surrounding hills. A faint vapour drifted across the water where fifty greylag geese drifted gently together. All looked as natural as could be in the early light, and it was hard to credit that the reservoir had been in existence for only 60 years.
A stony track shadowed the northern shore through thickets of foxgloves. I clambered over a wall by way of a stone step stile, the first of many, and dropped down a hillside where drowsy cattle were browsing the dewy grass. A fingerpost at Snipe House Farm beyond pointed helpfully to ‘This Way’, ‘That Way’ and ‘The Other Way’, but I only had to look down the slope to see the walled lane I was aiming for.
This hilly corner of northeast Cheshire is all tumbled sheep-farming country, its steep little valleys cutting deep into rounded gritstone hills. The farm lane to Rainow couldn’t be more typical of these old cart tracks if it tried – neatly walled, overspread with sycamores and carrying a Mohican crest of grass along its central strip.
Guarding the southern entrance to the former coalmining and textile milling village of Rainow stands a folly tower. Shaped like a clutch of chimneys arising from a fat square stack, it’s a thing not of beauty but of mystery, since no-one seems to know the why and wherefore of its existence.
No such intrigue about White Nancy on the ridge beyond. This plump bottle-shaped monument was put up in 1817 to celebrate Napoleon Bonaparte’s defeat at Waterloo. Whitewashed, Nancy shone tiny but clear against the clouds as I climbed the Gritstone Trail’s shallow track south past conifer plantations, thorn trees and stone-walled sheep pastures scattered with hanks of wool.
Above Valeroyal Farm a gap in a tumbled wall had been plugged with a superannuated piece of farm machinery, a ‘Progress Haymaker, by Bamfords of Uttoxeter’ according to the maker’s label. Half a century must have passed since its wooden arms last turned to fluff up the cut grass. Nowadays the thin spokes of its cast-iron wheels make handy scratching posts for sheep, and a picnic seat today for this homeward-bound walker.
How hard is it? 5½ miles; moderate (several stone step stiles)
Start: Lamaload Reservoir car park, near Rainow SK10 5XJ (OS ref SJ 976753)
Getting there: Signed ‘Saltersford, Goyt Valley’ from A537 between Walker Barn and A54 junction. Reservoir car park 1 mile on left.
Walk (OS Explorer OL24): Pass metal gates; right along track (fingerpost/FP). In ¼ mile, 30m beyond right bend, left (972754, stone step stile/SSS) down field to bottom left. Through kissing gate/KG, then left up service road (967755). At Snipe House, right (960753, SSS, FP), down to walled lane past farm (957754, yellow arrows/YA). In ⅓ mile at top of rise, lower fork left (953754) to B5470 (950758). Right for Rainow and Robin Hood Inn; left to continue on pavement. In 200m, opposite Folly Tower, left (948758, ‘Gritstone Trail’/GT). Follow GT. In ¾ mile, where GT turns right (952747), fork half right (fenced path) to Hordern Farm. Through farmyard; past last building, ahead (953744) through gates on grassy track. In 300m at wall corner (955742), ahead along hillside. In 350m cross stream (957740), then drive; left (KG, YA) on above Valeroyal. In ⅔ mile cross Low Wickinford drive (966742), then footbridge (968743). In next field don’t fork left, but follow wall. Descend to track (973745); right to road (976742); left to car park.
Lunch/Accommodation: Robin Hood Inn, Rainow SK10 5AE (01625-574060, robinhoodrainow.com)
Walking the Bones of Britain – a 3 Billion Year Journey by Christopher Somerville is published by Doubleday.