There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Cowpat Walks: 4 Biddulph, The Cloud and Rushton Spencer

With just Francis, Mike and myself available, Cowpat 4 would hardly have been quorate if Francis had not previously walked it with Alison. That walk, on Easter Monday, was in rain and mist, this one was largely in sunshine, but sunshine with very little warmth.

We arrived at Biddulph Country Park a little after 9. The sign on the car park gate said it would be unlocked at 7am, the padlock suggested this might not be entirely true. I parked on the road outside.

The gates to the car park were firmly locked

We strolled north up the minor road, turning off where the attractive Mill House sits behind its large pond. Ignoring the belligerent goose we turned down what was once, presumably, the mill race. We should have been in the fields above, but it was a very pretty path down a steep dingle lined with bluebells.

Francis passes Mill House

It may have been pretty, but the path was also muddy, slippery and, occasionally, steep. With my camera in one hand and sunglasses in the other, I descended a particularly precipitous section which seemed to offer four natural steps. The lowest looked like a stone, but had the properties of ice and promptly dumped me in the mud on my backside. My initial attempt at standing was abandoned when I discovered my left hand was lodged on a thistle, but eventually I made it and continued down the path.

A pretty path down a steep dingle...

100m further on I realised I no longer had my sunglasses. I am quite attached to them - they are ‘genuine’ Ray-bans and cost me 120000 Dong (see Ray-bans in Heathrow and Saigon) – so I retraced my steps. I could not find them at first but after re-climbing the ‘natural steps’ I spotted them in the mud at the bottom. Descending, I again slipped on the bottom step and again crashed onto my arse. This time I avoided the thistle, picked up my glasses and then myself and walked on, bloodied but unbowed. My glasses, on the other hand, were muddied and a little bowed, but I soon straightened them up.

..though muddy and slippery

We climbed the bank onto the correct field path which gave us a view of the remains of Biddulph Old Hall.
Biddulph Old Hall hides in the trees
Descending to the A527, we crossed it and climbed the steps onto the disused railway that runs north from Kidsgrove.
Down to the A527

From here to Rushton Spencer we would be on the Staffordshire Way. We walked the entire 93 miles of the Staffordshire Way in 2005/6, and one day, when I have nothing more pressing to blog about, I will post some photos.
Along the disused railway

The disused railway is not very interesting, but it is flat and has a good surface for walking, so we quickly covered 2½km, before turning off in the direction of The Cloud.
Over field paths to The Cloud

We approached the hill across a kilometre of field paths and through the Timbersbrook picnic site – devoid of picnickers in the May chill. The ascent starts through a wood on a path with a lot of high steps. This emerges onto a more gently graded bridleway, which we followed briefly before turning up a steeper path with some fine views over the Cheshire Plain, the giant telescope of Jodrell Bank right in the middle of it.
Leaving the bridle way for a steeper path
 Continuing with a more gentle climb through Cloud plantation….

Through Cloud Plantation

…we emerged onto the heather covered back of The Cloud’s gritstone cap.

The heather covered gritstone cap, The Cloud

At 343m The Cloud is hardly one of the world’s great mountains, are even a mountain at all, but it does provide some fine views over Rudyard Lake to the south west, the Dane Valley to the west and the Cheshire Plain to the north.
Looking west over the valley of the River Dane

It also has a spot where you can get out of the breeze and drink your coffee.

Coffee stop on The Cloud

The first time I climbed The Cloud, some 15 years ago, I was on my own and I had the whole hill to myself. That same day, 50 people reached the summit of Mount Everest. Sometimes you do not have to go as far as you think to avoid the crowds.

The descent is mainly over field paths, sometimes straight down the fields….

Sometimes straight down the fields....

…and sometimes across them, offering plenty of opportunities to turn an ankle…

...sometimes across the fields
…and also some views back to The Cloud.

Looking back at The Cloud

Eventually the path drops into the deep ravine of Ravenscloud Brook, another pretty path among bluebells, but less muddy and slippery.

Bluebells by Ravenscloud Brook

I heard a bird which I took to be a buzzard, but Mike clearly saw an owl sail overhead. By the time Francis and I looked up it had settled in a tree and disappeared.

Mike looks for his owl by Ravenscloud Brook

The brook meets the River Dane, which we followed briefly before joining the second disused railway of the morning….

Approaching our second disused railway of the morning....
…though this one was not so pleasant underfoot.

...this one rather stonier 

We soon reached the Knot Inn in Rushton Spencer where a couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s ‘Landlord’ washed down my excellent turkey and leek pie. The ‘Landlord’ ran out so Mike and Francis had to switch to Adnam’s ‘Broadside’ - no great hardship.

The Knot Inn, Rushton Spencer
After spending the morning climbing to 343m and then descending right down to 159m, the afternoon involved climbing back up to 322m; no wonder my legs were sore the next day.

A short ascent west of Rushton Spencer, was followed by a brief descent and then another climb up to what is described on the map as a ‘cross’, but is actually a large graveyard, still in use, beside an isolated chapel.

Isolated chapel above Rushton Spencer

From here we looked back over Rushton Spencer to the hills on the western edge of the Peak District which will feature in Cowpat 5.

Looking back over Rushton Spencer

We climbed up to Beat Lane, crossed it and then headed down Dingle Lane, the irritating sharp drop to cross Dingle Brook merely increasing the forthcoming climb.

Unlike The Cloud, the grassy bank now separating us from Biddulph had no summit and no pretention about being a mountain; it did not even have a name though the top is only 20m lower than The Cloud. A hard slog through the long grass of the lower slope brought us onto a plateau, after which a slight turn westwards started the second part of the ascent. Trudging upwards without looking at the map I got it into my head that Oxhay Farm was the top of the hill. When we passed the farm buildings I was less than delighted to discover they had been hiding a further 50m of climbing.

Through the long grass of the lower slopes

Once at the top, we followed the minor road along the ridge for a few hundred metres before again turning west with the knowledge that it was all downhill from here.

Mike negotiates a thin style near Oxhay Farm

Some of the field paths were very wet, others were churned by cattle and some were both, but generally it was fairly easy going. At one farm we followed the diverted path around the buildings,  crossing the drive just as the owner drove down it in his Ferrari. We probably stared a little - the upland farmer’s usual vehicle of choice is a battered Land Rover.

The driver stopped and politely enquired if we knew where we were and where we were going. We assured him we did. He may have been concerned for our welfare, but more likely he was checking that we were what we seemed to be (and indeed we were) and not thieves intent on sharing his undoubted wealth. Reassured, he drove off. The Ferrari swiftly disappeared from view, but lingered rather longer on the ear.
Further down, we passed the rocky outcrop by Troughstone Farm and Francis chose exactly the right moment to turn left, though the crossing path was unmarked. Earlier he had protested that accurate navigating and Adnam’s Broadside do not mix - he had underrated himself.

Rocky outcrop above Troughstone Farm
We continued working our way downwards via a minor road and more field paths until eventually a muddy sunken lane brought us out on another minor road. A final field path brought us back to the road up to Biddulph Country Park.

A muddy sunken lane
By now the gates had been unlocked and the car park was three quarters full. My car looked lonely and out of place on the road outside.


  1. Navigation and a Broadside at lunchtime do not mix. I only knew when to turn left because at Easter, when I walked it with Alison, we turned left too soon and had to cross a field 'off piste' . I had only one pint then so definitely was not 'piste'. I resolved that next time I'll go on one field... and did!

  2. I was going to say the same thing - he had done the walk before. I don't know why he led you on the slippery path through the wood, when we had discovered previously that we should have been in the fields above - still it made a good story, and and adventure for your "genuine" Raybans. Good to see pictures of the walk in sunshine.