Wednesday, 7 September 2016

A pint, a pie and a walk

Stunning views all around from Eccles Pike.
Bugsworth Basin has an excellent pub – The Navigation, one of our favourites – and if you want to walk off the calories added by a few pints of Timothy Taylor and a massive steak and kidney pie then it also offers a useful guide to three walks up into the surrounding hills.
We decided to jump in at the deep end with the toughest: the four and a half miles of Cracken Edge, described as 'moderate'. Well if this was moderate then I'm not sure we'd survive 'tough'. It was very hard going, with a steep, steep climb out of the valley to the high hill behind it.
Cracken Edge; everywhere the remains of old quarries
But things improved dramatically as we followed a track, well trodden (by sheep as well as people) along the sheer edge of a hill that whose moss covered hummocks and endless piles of loose rocks and jagged outcrops were the evidence of years of quarrying to extract stone for paving slabs and roofing tiles. This went on until the 1930s, sending rock from this remote hillside down to the valley via tramways, the winding house of one still surviving on the top as a lonely relic.
This winding house, a lonely vestige of the quarrying industry
It was a long, lumpy walk back down the broken remains of an old drove road – boy, was life hard on those days – before an easier finish back to the pub for another beer.
The laminated rocks quarry naturally into stone for walls
Gluttons for punishment, we opted for another 'moderate' the next day in the scenic three and a half miler to Eccles Pike. This is on the opposite side of the valley so we could look across at yesterday's climb. The Pike's a renowned viewpoint but to get up there was another lung bursting, thigh burning clamber out of the valley. Worth it, though, as the views were spectacular in a 360 degree panorama as far away as Manchester, Yorkshire and across the Peaks. Fabulous.
Seadog Brian surveys the scene
Less fabulous was the route back. A lot of footpaths in the hills aren't fingerposted; you need to do some native style tracking to find them in the sheep fields and even the usually good instruction leaflet struggled to cope. After a couple of false trails, though, we found our way out – and back to the pub.
Buoyed with confidence we decided to tackle that at 7.00 pm after dinner. Two and a half miles: back before dark then! Hah!
I'm sure the instructions were correct once but introduce a herd of cows to a field, let them trample it into huge, muddy divots for a few months and then see if they make sense. "Strike out, through a gap in a barbed wire fence...across the slope...once over the brow of the hill you will see a stone step stile in the far wall."
Er. Oh, no we don't. Having struck out through the gap, negotiating a slurried drive, crossed a slope, we stood in the gathering gloom, up to our ankles in mud in the middle of a huge field of mud and goo with no stile in sight anywhere.
Fortunately, at that moment the farmer appeared on his quad bike, not shouting threats but happy to help these foolish southerners.
No, not with a lift (that's what I was hoping) but with the route to the mysterious stile. "Head for that big thistle in the field, keep going past it and you'll see the wall. Count twenty trees along [honest, this is what he said] and you'll see the stile."
From there it was easy, except for the moment when we opened a gate and from somewhere nearby the Hound of the Baskervilles and a couple of his mates started barking ferociously.
Finally, we were back to the boat in the pitch dark, boots and trousers thick with mud. And that walk had been labelled 'easy'!
How to close a canal; brute force and heavy timbers
Today we left Bugsworth – and Mrs B decided she hadn't had enough of walking and did the seven miles back to Marple Junction on foot along the towpath to operate the various bridges.
Just before the junction we passed a C&RT team getting ready for a winter stoppage to cure a leak on the canal by testing the stop planks to close off the water. And if you've ever wondered how stop planks are installed, the answer is with a man in the water in a wet-suit, a gang on the canalside and a lot of heaving and sweating to locate them in their slots in the bridgehole. It's a system that probably hasn't changed in a hundred or more years.
Tonight we are on the Macclesfield Canal and pointing south.


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