Last night this terrible winter tried to outdo its worst. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
We sat huddled by candlelight round the log fire of the Cholmondeley Arms in the throes of a power blackout across south Cheshire with hurricane winds sucking at the doors, rain lashing the darkness outside, and toppled trees cutting off the roads in all directions. Drama and chaos everywhere, and a cosy fatalism round the fireside. This morning, all change – gentle breeze, blue sky, cold sunshine, the hedges littered with broken branches, the fields streaked with silver fleets of flood water. ‘You could actually see the barn roof trying to lift off,’ said the farmer at Grindley Brook Farm as he cleared his drive of timber.
This countryside, a maze of small drumlin hills and kettle-hole lakelets, was shaped by the melting glaciers some 10,000 years ago. As we gained height up the hummocky ground around Hinton Bank Farm, we were treated to a wonderful panorama of the hills across the Welsh border, from the knobbly volcanic upthrust of the Breiddens in the south to the broad cones of the Clwydian Hills out west. Between them rose the high cliffs of the Berwyn range, painted dazzling white by last night’s terrific blizzards.
Storm-bedraggled sheep lay soaking up the temporary sunshine in the fields round Wirswall. This is rolling, bumpy, hard-riding country. I thought of Randolph Caldecott, the Victorian bank clerk and graphic genius who lived at Wirswall. As a child I loved his illustrations for favourite books such as The House That Jack Built and The Diverting History Of John Gilpin, full of broad-bottomed old gents courting pretty fair maids and getting tossed into ditches by stampeding nags.
We squelched and slithered across red mud fields from Wicksted Old Hall down to the glacial kettle-hole of Big Mere, where great crested grebes with glistening chestnut cheeks bobbed on the steel-grey water in pre-courtship practice. We passed Marbury’s pink sandstone church, sunlit on its knoll, and went on to Marbury Lock and a great arc of towpath beside the Llangollen Canal.
The copper-brown canal ran glinting between the inundated fields. Three hungry buzzards circled mewing over a waterlogged marsh, a flotilla of swans sailed as white as snow on the floods below, and green catkins hung from hazel twigs and wriggled in the wind like lambs’ tails, a whisper of spring somewhere beyond these winter storms.
Start: Horse & Jockey, Grindley Brook, Cheshire SY13 4QJ (OS ref SJ 522432) – park at pub; please give them your custom!
Getting there: Bus – Service 41 (shropshire.gov.uk/bustimes), Whitchurch-Chester.
Road – Grindley Brook is on A41 Chester road, just NW of Whitchurch
Walk (8 and a half miles, easy, OS Explorer 257. NB Detailed description – highly recommended! – online map, more walks at christophersomerville.co.uk): From Horse & Jockey cross A41 (careful!); follow Bishop Bennet Way/BBW left of garage; over canal, through railway arch; through gate on left (‘South Cheshire Way’/SCW). Aim for stile (SCW) just below Grindley Brook Farm. In next field, right through gate; on along hedge. At far end of field, left over stile (529435); right through gate (SCW) and follow sunken lane. In ¼ mile, where lane widens on left, turn left over stile (534434, SCW). Bear right onto track that skirts left of Hinton Bank Farm to cross A49 (538432, BBW).
Up drive opposite; skirt left of Hinton Old Hall’s half-timbered cottages (540433); on along green track, then sunken lane (SCWs) to road (544436). Left through Wirswall, past Wirswall Hall and BBW noticeboard. Don’t follow BBW to left, but continue along road. In 250m, on left bend, turn right (548441, fingerpost, SCW) along drive to Wicksted Old Hall. Bear left round Hall; over stile beyond (SCW); in next field, before reaching pump house, turn left across field (554439, SCW, ‘Marbury’ fingerpost). Over stile (SCW); aim just left of trees and pits ahead to go over stile (555442, SCW). Aim half left; turn left over double stile halfway down left-hand hedge (SCW). Across next stile (SCW); past grassy knoll of Buttermilk Bank; ahead down slope, aiming right of The Knowles house to cross stile (558450, SCW). On along right (east) bank of Big Mere; on (SCW, stiles) to road near Marbury church (562455).
Right for 150m; left (SCW, kissing gate/KG) along drive. Go between cottage and outbuildings (KGs, SCW); on along hedge to road (565459). SCW turns right here; but you cross road (KG, fingerpost) and walk up hedge to cross stile. Left (yellow arrow/YA) to cross stile between prominent tree and hunting stile (564462, YA). Down field slope to cross Church Bridge on Llangollen Canal (562464). Left along towpath for 4 miles to return to Grindley Brook.
Conditions: Some very boggy patches
Lunch: Horse & Jockey, Grindley Brook (01948-662723)
Accommodation: Cholmondeley Arms, Cholmondeley, Cheshire SY14 8HN (01829-720300; cholmondeleyarms.co.uk) – friendly, characterful pub in a former school
Information: Chester TIC (01244-405340);