Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here. I am sat on the couch next to my human while I am chewing a Yak Stick and he is dunking his digestives into his coffee. My human dad had settled down to watch an old black and white Western movie on TCM. Suddenly, he says that we should write a blog about last weeks hike in the Cheshire hills. Yes, we managed to get a hill walk done, fairly locally. Covid-19 restrictions had been reduced and it was OK to drive to exercise. We are still staying relatively close to home so, a short drive to Beeston was the plan for the day. With a variable weather forecast for the day we decided to take waterproofs and plenty to drink along with the usual treats for both of us. It was a sunny late Sunday morning when we set off. The walk that we had planned was to take in some of the hills around Beeston and Bulkeley. We would park near to Beeston Castle and pick a route as we walked.
We arrived at Beeston around midday and originally, we parked on the edge of the village by the old Smithy Cottage. After my dad took a photograph, he had a look at the map and decided that we would drive on to Beeston Castle car park. This as a mistake, it was full, as were the verges along the narrow roadside. So, instead of a walk from Beeston we chose to drive to the bottom of Bulkeley Hill, a couple of miles away. Walking with the crowds never really appeals to my dad. I think that he is anti-social but, he says that he loves the countryside when it is quiet and less crowded. There were a few other cars parked at the junction of Stone House Lane and Mill Lane, just outside of Peckforton village. It seemed quiet enough for the big feller so, out we climbed from the car.
On the way through Peckforton my dad had spotted a few nice old buildings so, we walked back along the lane while he had a quick nosey at them. He satisfied his curiosity after taking a few photographs before we returned to where we had parked the car. I thought that our walk for the day was over but, it seemed that we hadn’t really started. We left the road through a kissing gate and chose the left hand footpath into Bulkeley Wood. Bulkeley Hill is owned and maintained by the National Trust and lies at the southern end of the Peckforton Hills on the sandstone ridge that runs from Frodsham in the north of the county.
The path was rough and sandy with many tree roots lining the way. We walked through the predominantly birch woodland stopping occasionally to admire the views between the trees, of the Cheshire Plain. The best views were from Name Rock as the Peak District and the Pennines could be seen in the distance. We turned sharp right at this point and headed for the summit of the hill. We passed a few other walkers on the way but, it was still quite deserted considering the day and the weather. My dad had enjoyed the walk to the top of the hill. He said it was good to get his heart pumping and his leg muscles burning. It sounds painful to me but, hills are easy for me to climb. Humans seem to struggle and slow down going uphill. I think that they would be better off using four paw drive like us pooches!
The top of the hill is tree lined with open spaces. Ancient Sweet Chestnut trees stand proud dotted around the path. The footpath now became the Sandstone Trail which stretches 34 miles from Frodsham in the north to Whitchurch in the south of the county. There is evidence of ancient mining and quarrying on the summit and a small mound that is thought to be the site of a beacon. We continued to walk along the Sandstone Trail toward Peckforton Gap. This is a gradual decline along a sandy path through the semi-natural woodland.
As we reached the junction in the path by Peckforton Gap Lodge our day took a nasty turn. I was on my lead because we had passed a few other dog walkers on their way up the hill, with their canines on leads. Immediately before a gap in a drystone wall, two large dogs came bouncing toward me. Within seconds they had both roughly bundled me to the ground. They weren’t biting me but, they were incredibly rough, rolling me over and over. I yelped a few times and my dad ran to them but, they were very persistent. He shouted ‘get these dogs off my dog’ but there was nobody visible. Just then a group of eight or so people appeared from around the wall and the dogs ran to them. My dad told them to get their dogs under control. Their attitude was one of dismissal. No apology, no interest. They continued on their way along the path that we were going to take. My dad checked me over and saw that I was OK but, instead of heading toward Burwardsley, we headed downhill along Peckforton Gap. This incident had spoiled our day. Well, I was fine, if not a bit shaken but, my dad was livid.
With Peckforton Hills and the lane on our left we plodded on down the Gap. This was the route used by packhorses laden with salt from Northwich, Nantwich and Middlewich into Wales. My dad was a bit quiet as we walked and I reckoned that we were heading back, prematurely, to the car.
Bulkeley Hill has a covered reservoir on the summit that water is pumped into from Ridley and then fed to the villages on the Cheshire Plain by gravity. Just before the pumping station we came across five large fuel tanks that were once used to supply the diesel-electric pumps. A short distance further and we were back at the car.
We sat in the car for a few minutes while my dad decided what we should do next. He was considering driving straight back home but, he thought that the actions of a few inconsiderate dog owners shouldn’t ruin our day. So, he decided that we should have a break and then drive the short distance to Raw Head.
We drove to Harthill and parked on the cobbles at the Green. Harthill is a tiny village mainly surrounding a village green. All Saints Church which was built in 1609 to replace an earlier chapel first mentioned in 1280 heads the village green. It is a sandstone structure with a Welsh slate roof. Inscriptions, commemorating the church wardens, are carved above the porch date from 1611 and 1775. The Barbour Mausoleum dominates the graveyard along with a sandstone cross from the 11th century.
Across the main road is the old school and schoolmaster’s house. This is now used as a prestigious Cookery School. In front of the school there is a roadside Gothic sandstone fountain and well head. The Green is lined by estate cottages built for George Walmesely of Bolesworth Castle. We headed back down Harthill Lane before turning left along New Lane. In the fields we saw twenty or thirty pheasants probably bred in the area for shooting. Just after Droppingstone Cottage the lane becomes a rough track heading into the woods on the slopes of Bickerton Hill. We turned right along a track that contours the western side of the hill.
There wasn’t another soul in sight. It was really peaceful as we walked in the afternoon sunshine. I think that my dad must have calmed down by then as he seemed to be enjoying the hike. The path did not appear to have a link to the summit path of Raw Head. My dad wanted to walk along the tops so, when we came across a wide gap in the trees on our left, he checked his OS map and said that we should go ‘off piste’ and see if we could ascend that way. The map showed a gradual incline until it became a lot steeper near the summit path so, we gave it a go. The gap was steep but, manageable initially. There were a few ferns and saplings to negotiate but, the surface was firm and dry. This soon changed as the ground became steeper and more overgrown and less firm underfoot. We were only 50 yards from the top when we started to really struggle. My dad grabbed a broken tree branch to use as a pole while we both slipped backwards a few times in the loose soil. It was at this time that my dad sat down while he pondered whether to continue upwards or return, on his backside, to the path below. Onwards and upwards he decided that we should go. It was difficult as it was overgrown with ferns and some bramble but, we made it. He grabbed his breath while I had a good shake.
After a few minutes rest and a drink, my dad regained his composure and we moved along the summit path along Raw Head. We stopped a couple of times to admire the views across the plain before we turned right heading to Musket’s Hole, a small wind formed cave on the side of the steep hill. The cave has been adapted by man in the past and is sometimes called Mad Allen’s Hole, probably after one of its crazy inhabitants. As we followed the path, clearly marked on our OS map, we came to another Permissive Path heading down the hill. Guess where this path led to folks! Yes, the path that we had left to climb up the hillside. If we had stayed on the path contouring the hillside for a few hundred yards we would have arrived at this point. On saying that, we would have missed out on our little adventure.
We worked our way down the hill along the path until we joined a narrow lane that led us back to Harthill. It was a bit of a trudge along the hard surface of the road but, it did give us the opportunity to look back up at Raw Head. It had been an eventful few hours, mostly good, with one bad experience. We could have allowed the incident with the large dogs ruin our day but, by carrying on I think that we did the right thing. It might seem as if we are overplaying the incident but, believe me I was totally overpowered. Some dog owners are so inconsiderate. Rant over people! Till next time!