Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here reporting on a sunny Sunday morning, hiking around some of Cheshire’s beautiful countryside. I had paid a visit to the groomers a few days before and I was looking sleek and athletic, ha! It felt so much better than my lockdown fur coat in this hot, dry spell. As the weather forecast was for clear skies, no wind and heat for the afternoon we decided to leave early to drive the short distance to Whitegate. We were going to base our walk on an Ordnance Survey route around Vale Royal Abbey and the River Weaver. We wanted to be back at the car by 1 PM, at the latest, so that we could avoid the heat of the afternoon. This was also the first Sunday after pandemic restrictions had been relaxed so, people would be driving to beauty spots for their daily exercise in large numbers. We prefer to walk in quiet places so, hopefully, we would complete our walk before the popular sections of our route became too busy.
We were lucky to find a quiet road called Sutton Field, to park the car in the village of Whitegate, that was actually on our planned route. We left the car opposite a house called Manor Keep that was allegedly passed by several Kings of England on their way to Vale Royal Abbey. The Kings Guard would have escorted the monarchs along Vale Royal Drive and they are commemorated by a huge wooden ‘Kings Guard’ carving in the front garden.
Whitegate is a beautiful village with its fair share of large houses and neatly maintained gardens. We headed north along the road and turned right onto Vale Royal Drive. Initially, the route took us through woodland along a wide track. Soon we came to a short length of road, lined with houses, before we entered the grounds of Vale Royal Abbey. The abbey is currently used as a Golf Course, Wedding and Banqueting centre. It was founded by Edward I in 1270 and was originally an abbey for Cistercian monks then later a country house. It has a colourful history, with on one occasion, the residing abbot was murdered by a mob. The building has been devastated by fire and partly collapsed by a storm necessitating a few rebuilds in previous centuries. It has also been partly deliberately demolished and rebuilt but, currently it looks spectacular and is beautifully maintained.
After passing the abbey we continued along Vale Royal Drive which was by now a rough track again. The River Weaver was visible at times through gaps in the trees. We entered Vale Royal Wood as we started to see more people walking in the relative shade of the oaks and beech trees. It was time for me to have a run around. As long as I return to my dad when other dogs come toward us on their lead, he lets me have a free run. My dad said that he loved this area as the sun shone through the trees and rhododendrons so, we took our time as we walked.
We passed close by Vale Royal Locks on the Weaver Navigation. The River Weaver divides at this point to form a navigable stretch through a series of locks. We had a quick look around the ponds and the islands formed between the waterways before we found a footpath to walk along by the side of the river. The railway crosses the river a few hundred yards along the path by a tall arched viaduct. We continued along our route through the woods toward Hartford Bridge, locally known as the ‘Blue Bridge’. This single span steel bridge carries the A556 duel carriageway over the river. We crossed it to join the path on the opposite bank of the river to head in a south westerly direction along the riverbank.
On our left was the Hartford Wetlands, an area of marshes, grassland and reedswamps. I was fascinated by the dragonflies that were buzzing around us and I tried to catch the butterflies that were teasing us. We also saw people canoeing and paddle-boarding on the river. At this point they were very few people to be seen and the walk had been peaceful. As we approached the railway viaduct, for the second time, people started to come out of the woodwork. This part of the walk is quite popular because it is an easy riverside stroll with carparks dotted along the way.
We passed quite a lot of people along this stretch of the river, some on bikes, some with dogs and families with pushchairs. I stayed off lead and walked at my dad’s side. He was so proud of me and gave me plenty of praise. The path was quite narrow in places but very straight as the navigation part of the river straightened the path of the water. Ponds have formed at the side of the river where ducks and swans were swimming on the surface and carp were visible beneath. We passed mother and father swan with their cygnets, close to the bank. Even though the adults were hissing as me, I sat quietly as my dad took a photograph.
At Pettypool, we crossed the river over the wooden floored road bridge, where there was an over full car park. We had a short break here before it was time for me to go back on the lead. We left the car park to join Bradford Road in the direction of Meadowbank. Fortunately, there was a wide area of grass to walk along by the side of the road. A tall building attracted my dad’s attention on the left of the road. The Winsford Rock Salt Mine was opened in 1844 and within three years became the largest producer of salt in England. However, within fifty years it had closed due to competition from the Northwich mines. It reopened in 1928 due to Northwich’s mines flooding and is still operating today as the country’s only working salt mine. We passed by one of the mine shafts before we turned right onto School Road.
The road soon became a rough track, with arable farmland on either side, lined by large hedgerows. We managed to find some shade from the hot sun as we walked along the lane. We followed the lane as it turned left until we came to a familiar building. We had reached Catsclough Crossing, which is where we joined the Whitegate Way, that we had hiked a few times in the past. The shade from the trees lining this section of the Whitegate Way was a relief as the day was warming up. It was past midday and my dad was keen for us to get back to the car. We stopped a few times while he gave me water and checked my paws.
Shortly, we turned right onto Grange Lane or Orange Lane as my dad thought it said on the map. He should have gone to Specsavers as the TV advert says! He checked the temperature of the road with the palm of his hand and decided that it was still cool enough for me. After we had passed a few cottages lining the lane we came to the shelter of trees as the continuation of the road became a rough track. The path ran along the densely wooded area by Pettypool Brook. I had a quick cooling dip in the brook at a clearing in the woods. It was nice to cool down but, we weren’t far from the car at this point of our hike.
As we left the shelter of the trees, at Wood End Cottage, we only had a few hundred yards to walk along Sutton Field to the car. As we reached the car my dad decided to make a short detour to the church in the village. St. Mary’s Anglican Church was built on the site of a chapel to the abbey in 1542. The church was rebuilt in 1728 out of red brick and again in 1874 by Lord Delamere. The stunning 17th century thatched roofed Whitegate Cottage on the road junction at Cinder Hill was too tempting for my dad to miss photographing on our way back. So, we stopped for a few moments until there was a gap in the traffic while he snapped away.
Two minutes later we were cooling down in the air conditioning of the car. It was time for another drink, a quick snack followed by a snooze on my bed on the back seat. My chauffeur drove me back home while I relaxed in comfort. It’s tough being me! Till next time!