Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker hereafter me and my human have been exploring the outskirts of our town, Runcorn in Cheshire. It was a grey and overcast late June morning with showers forecast. The big feller, my human dad, suggested that we go for a long walk around some of the lanes and villages to the east of town. The route that we would be walking would take in Aston, Sutton Weaver, Preston Brook, Preston on the Hill, Dutton and back to Aston. He planned this walk as a pavement or road walk. I think that he wants to combine walking with trimming my nails. The cheapskate doesn’t want to pay a groomer! It would probably be a hike of around seven or eight miles which would take around three hours, with the odd photo stop. He reckons that I stop more frequently than he does because I am always sniffing or peeing. The nerve of him. He stops to look at nearly every building that we pass so, he is definitely the slow coach. Anyway, we drove to Aston, also known as Aston-by-Sutton, near Whitehouse and parked up on the roadside and began our walk.
Ok, the first stop was for me to have a pee but, he was taking photographs at the time. We had parked opposite Top Lodge, which was the lodge to the former Aston Old Hall. It was built around 1790 and along with the gates and railings, are Grade II listed structures. There are a few listed buildings in the small village but most of the listed structures are tombs in St. Peter graveyard and I am not allowed to walk around graveyards. I wouldn’t mind if I liked to gnaw on bones but, I don’t. Give me a Yak Milk Chew any day of the week.
A short distance from the Top Lodge is Aston Cross, a 17th century sandstone structure that appears to be incomplete and partly dislodged from its triangular base. A wee bit further along Aston Lane we passed a bright red wall mounted George VI post box, which are quite rare nowadays. We passed Aston Lodge and Garden, with its large 18th century brick wall surround, to keep out prying eyes.
Soon, we came to a small triangular green with a partly cobbled lane surround, where the War Memorial stands. Erected in 1920 to commemorate the local lives lost in WWI, it also has the names of those lost in WWII inscribed in the sandstone column.
Next to the memorial stands the only Grade I listed building in the village, the Church of St. Peter. The Georgian style building has parts dating back to 1695 and has had many alterations made to it since that date. It was badly damaged by a land mine in 1940 during WWII and was subsequently repaired and sections rebuilt. Many of the Listed structures are grave and tombstones along with the century old lychgate. Commonwealth WWI Graves can be found in the churchyard. One grave of interest was that of ‘Cloe Gambia’ a black slave who was a servant in Aston Hall and eventually became the housekeeper. She lived in the hall for seventy years until she died of breast cancer in 1838 at the age of, approximately, 77 years.
We left the village as we passed the village school and passed by Chapel Wood and Beckett’s Wood, on our left, with farm fields on our right. Beckett’s Wood is allegedly the haunt of the ‘Bunny Man’, who was said to be a deformed and devilish character, in the 1930’s, who frightened the life out of children who played or visited the area. It is the last time that we are walking through those woods, especially at night, as we have in the past. This is when my human started to annoy me with his singing, again! ‘The Cutter’ by Echo and the Bunnymen was the days little ditty. He thinks that he has a good singing voice. Boy, have I got news for him!
Soon there were expansive views, across the fields on our left, to Frodsham Hill and beyond. At the end of Aston Lane, we entered Sutton Weaver, as we rounded the corner onto the A56. This was once the main road from Chester to Manchester, before the construction of the M56 motorway. Nowadays, the road is fairly quiet, as it runs through the village. We passed a beautiful thatched cottage as we headed over the bridge that spans the motorway. The village shop used to be on the right, opposite Station Road but is long gone, as is the railway station on the Crewe – Liverpool line, that closed in the 1930’s.
The next section of the walk was largely uninspiring as we left the village and turned toward Whitehouse Industrial Estate. We walked along the pavement and downhill toward Preston Brook. Soon we passed the Beefeater pub and Capita call centre before we arrived at the bridge spanning the Bridgewater Canal. On one side of the canal, away from the road, is the Grade II Listed former New Stafford Warehouse built in 1772, that has been converted into a residential building. For some time, the building was used as a restaurant known as Neptune’s Landing. It was later converted into a nightclub called the Old No. 1, or the ‘Neppy’ as it was known locally. On the other side of the canal there is a pretty row of canalside cottages. Further along the canal, under the A56, is Brook House, an 18th century Gothic style cottage, on the side of the slipway to the canal towpath. We had a good mooch around the canal area and I had a run along the canal towpath off-lead, before we headed up the hill to Preston-on-the-Hill.
At the bottom of the hill is the converted Methodist Church, which stands opposite the site of the original church. However, the most unusual church that was once in the area, was a converted canal boat that travelled the canal in the 1840’s. It was later lifted from the canal but, remained on the canal side, and used as a church. Charles Dodgson, the father of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson or Lewis Carroll of ‘Alice in Wonderland’ fame, who he is more familiarly known as, held services on the boat. It became known as the Watermen’s Church.
Preston-on-the Hill consists of one through road, lined with old terraced farm buildings and detatched houses. A nicely restored water pump is set back from the main road. It is a lovely thing to pee on if you are a Cocker Spaniel but, as usual, I was not allowed to. We turned right at the top of the hill to follow Barker’s Hollow Road. This was a fairly long road walk, down a quiet winding lane. We had good views across the fields to the Whitehouse Industrial Estate with its Guinness packing plant, Wincanton (previously Bass Brewery) and S. Gobain factory.
At the end of the lane there is a small wall-enclosed housing development on the site of the Runcorn Union Workhouse. Workhouses were constructed to house and employ people who were destitute and unable to support themselves. In 1857 this workhouse had 200 inmates. It was later extended, and a large infirmary added. A nurses’ home was constructed in 1906 and later, in 1948, became Dutton Hospital for the chronically sick. The institution closed in 1966 and was later demolished with three houses built within the exterior walls.
We turned right along Northwich Road passing the Tunnel Top pub, which is now permanently closed. Previously known as the Talbot Arms the building is being refurbished but, is unlikely to return to being a public house. We plodded on through part of the industrial estate until we turned left along Aston Lane. It was a short walk through the fields after passing a few cottages and farm buildings until we were back at the car.
We had walked for about 7.5 miles and we were both ready for a drink and some treats. I love going for long walks but this one was mostly on-lead. As I am now three years old (21 in human years) I prefer to walk off-lead. I can’t complain because the big feller does let me run free when we are in the countryside away from livestock. I just wish that he wouldn’t sing when I am close to him. It sets my teeth on edge! So, into the car we jumped, and we were back home in ten minutes. Till next time!