Hi people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here again. It has been three months since we returned from Scotland after we had completed the Great Glen Way. Since then we haven’t attempted a hill walk except for a couple of local hikes up relatively low hills. With the lockdown restrictions being relaxed recently we decided that we would drive to some of the larger Cheshire hills. We still don’t feel comfortable in driving too far from home even though the temptation to hike the fells of the Lake District is very tempting. My human suggested that we head to the Macclesfield area and look for hills that we hadn’t hiked before.
After a bit of research on-line the big feller, who seems to be getting bigger all the time due to a bad lockdown diet, suggested we tackle Shutlingsloe, the Cheshire Matterhorn. The route that he picked started at the Cat and Fiddle pub, taking in Wildboarclough, Shutlingsloe and Three Shires Head. The weather forecast was for a warm and muggy day with the chance of thunderstorms later in the day. For obvious reasons we did not want to be out on the moors or hills when lightening was in the air so, we left early so that we could complete the walk by 3PM. The Cat and Fiddle is a popular area for hikers to park their cars and with the pub being closed we needed to ensure that we could grab a parking place.
We arrived at the pub by 9:30 and parked in the last available spot in the layby on the opposite side of the A537. The pub is perched on the summit of the Cat and Fiddle pass from Macclesfield to Buxton and for the last few miles of the journey we had driven in and out of hill fog. The footpath that we were to take was invisible and the area looked decidedly uninviting. By the time that my human took to check that he had everything that we could possibly need in the rucksack for a major expedition, the fog had almost lifted. So, with the day’s route plotted on the OS app, we headed off into the mist.
The Cat and Fiddle pub was built in 1813 and was once thought to be the highest pub in England until the Tan Hill Inn’s elevation was confirmed as being higher. It is located in eastern Cheshire on the edge of Axe Edge Moor. It closed in 2017 by the owners, Robinson Brewery, but, until the recent lockdown of pubs, was due to reopen in the summer of this year. The current owners have renovated the pub and installed a craft whisky distillery but, currently it is functioning as a part-time off-licence and snack shop.
We headed south along a stony footpath called Danebank Hollow alongside of Clough Brook, across the flat expanse of moorland. The visibility immediately improved as the cloak of mist dissipated revealing a blue sky. I had my eye on the Meadow Pipits that were teasing me in the grasses of the peaty moor. Rain had recently filled the brook that runs parallel to the footpath. My dad was complaining already about the path as it has a loose stony surface and hurt his feet. He wants to try it barefoot like me. I wasn’t complaining because there were a lot of puddles for me to run in and out of.
As we started to corner Whetstone Ridge, about half a mile into the walk, we came to a signpost for Wildboarclough pointing downhill, via Cumberland Brook. We were gifted our first view of Shutlingsloe in the distance across the moorland. The footpath followed the route of the brook and the power of the water when it is in spate is dramatic as large chunks of the peat have been eroded. After passing a waterfall we stood, mesmerised, while we witnessed sheep precariously grazing on the sheer wall of the brook.
The footpath dropped to a junction with a track called Cumberland Clough where we chose to turn right to follow Cumberland Brook. The weather was becoming increasingly warm and muggy. The afternoon thunderstorms looked increasingly likely. The track was even more stony than the path along Danebank Hollow. Moan, moan, moan as he twisted his ankles every few yards. It was a pretty walk along the side of the trees with a grassy bank on the opposite side of the track. It was cool in the shade of the beeches, oaks and birches. I spotted two Kingfishers flying and perching above the brook as we headed downhill. Crows were cawing high in the branches and the sound of the running water made this an idyllic place. The view ahead of Shutlingsloe with its steep sides bathed in sunshine looked a bit daunting as we left the woods and started to bake in the heat.
I don’t think that we have ever started a walk so gently as this one. We had walked on the flat for a while and then downhill. The tougher stuff was obviously to come later. Ok, we knew that this wasn’t a difficult hike but, my dad said that we need to build our hillwalking fitness up gradually. We had been getting plenty of exercise through the lockdown but, no hills. This walk had been so easy up to this point.
We crossed a minor road into Clough House car park a few hundred yards above Wildboarclough. Then, after crossing another lane we joined the footpath signposted toward Shutlingsloe. This path contoured the hillside on our right until we passed through a gate and turned sharp right along a farm lane. Initially the track climbed gently toward the hill ahead of us. Soon we turned off the track to head uphill on a steep grassy slope. At this point my dad started to use his trekking poles as the path became steeper and steeper. My dad attaches my lead to his rucksack belt, and I think that he expects me to pull him uphill. A couple of walkers, who were descending on the same path as us, stepped aside and one asked jokingly if I was his assistance dog. My dad replied that was his plan but, I appeared to be broken. The cheek of him. I drag him up hills and look after him on the downhills. He is lucky to have me as his hiking buddy.
It didn’t take too long to reach the summit and the views opened up all around us. Shutlingsloe is the third largest point in Cheshire but is a prominent feature of the landscape with its pointed ‘proper mountain’ shape. The gritstone hill’s summit is actually lower than the Cat and Fiddle pub which can be seen in the distance along with such places as Tegg’s Nose, Shining Tor and the Lovell Telescope at Jodrell Bank. We weren’t alone on the summit as a few other walkers were taking a rest in the warm sunshine. We decided to take our break on a quiet rock outcrop. After I had eaten my food, I shared my dad’s sandwiches with him. Human food is always more delicious than dog food.
We left the summit after our twenty minute rest and headed east directly from the summit trig point. This path was just as steep as the one that we had ascended by but soon after descending the rocks and then the grassy slopes, we rejoined the farm track. Soon we were on tarmac, descending Banktop Road into the hamlet of Wildboarclough. We turned north along Clough Road and immediately turned east over Clough Bridge. In 1989 this stone bridge was badly damaged along with many others in the area when 40 minutes of torrential rain caused a flash flood. One man died as his car was swept away and extensive damage was caused to the area as the water ploughed through Clough Brook. It was difficult to imagine the devastation as we walked through this pretty peaceful area.
On leaving the bridge we headed uphill along a narrow lane until we arrived at St. Saviour’s Church. Built in 1901 to 1909 by the 16th Earl of Derby to celebrate his sons return from the Boer War. We left the steep lane to join a footpath through the edge of Leach Wood. This path soon levelled out as it traversed boggy moorland. The way was made easier with sections of boardwalk passing through the boggier sections. We crossed the A54 Buxton Road while the sun was beating down on us. It was becoming increasingly humid in the open damp moors and we found a rocky spot to rest for a short while. We had both been drinking plenty of water as we hiked so we felt quite good as we took our time and enjoyed the fresh breeze that cooled us as we plodded on.
We crossed another lane above a farmhouse where we joined a rough track that contoured Cut Thorn Hill. My dad was complaining again about the surface of the track. It was very stony and hurt his feet. He can moan for England! This track would lead us to Three Shires Head, a popular beauty spot in the area. Just then, two women were walking in front of us, singing Beatles songs. Firstly, it was ‘Here Comes the Sun’ followed by ‘Lady Madonna’. So, for the rest of the hike, I had to put up with the big feller singing ‘Lady Madonna’. So annoying and he never stops once he starts.
Three Shires Head is sometimes known as Three Shire Heads is at a point where Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire meet. It is a beautiful spot where the Packhorse Bridge crosses the River Dane and pools are formed in the deep sided valley. When we arrived, there was about a dozen people basking in the sun and wading in the river. We moved further up the Dave Valley and stopped for a while close to the waterfalls. We sat in the sunshine while we had a few snacks and I had a dip in the water. After ten minutes or so we heard an ominous rumble of thunder as the clouds started to billow overhead. It was time to move on.
The footpath followed the River Dane through more boggy patches interspersed with stretches of boardwalk. I ran into the water a few times to cool down. Shortly, the footpath started to climb away from the river out of the valley. We passed the ruins of an old quarry building before climbing up the steep bank past a tall free-standing chimney. At this point we crossed the A54 onto a long stone covered track below Whetstone Ridge on the edge of Axe Moor. This was a long slog with the sun on our backs and no shade. I lay down in a few puddles each time my dad stopped to take a drink. The sky was starting to look like a thunderstorm would be along shortly so, we plodded on.
It wasn’t long before we reached the point on the footpath that we had turned down to Cumberland Brook earlier that day. Then, a few minutes later we crested a rise and there in the distance was the Cat and Fiddle pub. We took our time walking along Danebank Hollow and back to the car. When we arrived back my dad checked the Viewranger app on his phone and informed me that we had reached a metaphorical milestone. We had enrolled on Trail Magazine’s Everest Anywhere 2020 challenge at the beginning of the year. The challenge is to walk the equivalent height of Everest in the year. Initially, we had hoped to do this three times this year but, due to the lockdown, we have been restricted in the type of hikes we could do from home and where we live is flat. So, we had added 580 metres to our total with this walk making our total for the year to date of 8878 metres, 30 metres higher than Everest at 8848 metres. My dad made a fuss of me as usual at the end of a walk and told me that he was proud of me.
It had been fun being in the hills again. Soon we will venture into the bigger hills when it is permissible to hike in Snowdonia. I was tired so I slept all the way home on the back seat of the car while my chauffeur drove me to the flat side of Cheshire. Fortunately, we had timed our hike to avoid the heavy rain which arrived later in the day. He was still singing Lady Madonna as he drove home! Till next time!