Inspired by an eighth Birthday gift of a certain step-counting piece of tech, my Son’s relentless energy, an appreciation of all things barefoot and a renewed need for adventure, I found myself coming up with an idea. 'Let's go for a walk', I said….
The Sandstone Trail, runs 34 miles (55 km) from Frodsham in central Cheshire to Whitchurch on the Shropshire border. Accessed by a multitude of walkers and fell-runners every year, this acclaimed long-distance route follows Cheshire’s central Sandstone Ridge through a surprisingly diverse array of landscape.
With the reassurance that the walk was incredibly well sign posted and achievable even for the dizziest of personalities, I began to panic buy all sorts of 'outdoorsy equipment'. I craftily managed to bag myself and Ted a pair of Freet Mudees each, which look every bit the traditional walking boot with a few major differences. Characteristically more foot shaped than a mainstream boot, with a lovely wide toe box, the Mudees are both supportive and lightweight, one of the main advantages is that you can actually feel and engage with the ground beneath your feet. From my perspective this meant less slips along the journey and happier, more comfortable feet, from Ted’s it meant more rock-hopping, more tree-climbing and more opportunity to merrily zig-zag a whole county.
This was our first long walk, we had decided to undertake it over an admirable two days, apparently more seasoned walkers can tackle it in one. My general level of fitness is what I would deem as under par, I'm clumsy by nature, slightly rotund and I'm one of the least practical people I know. What could possibly go wrong?
On the day of departure, after an evening of anxiety broken sleep, we set off at 8.30am, with a great deal of enthusiasm on Ted's part, a massive sense of trepidation on mine. I have always been slightly self-conscious of holding a map, it sounds ridiculous, but I don’t like people thinking I don’t know the way. Ten minutes in, cue a nice man asking 'are you doing the Sandstone Trail? I am too!' Somehow this managed to quell my nerves, especially as with trail-book in hand I definitely seemed to be more aware of which route to take, minus the wrong turn which saw us standing in the middle of a golf course.
Passing some aptly PPE'd gargoyles whilst exiting Frodsham, we embarked on a slight uphill climb, embarrassingly out of breath by the time we had reached the War Memorial, the trees gave way to a spectacular, semi-industrial panoramic view of the Mersey Estuary and Liverpool’s skyline. Spurred on by curiosity and impressed that we had been wowed so early in the expedition, we positively skipped our way along an undulating path flanked by cliffs and woodland to clamber up some crudely cut out Sandstone steps known locally as ‘Abrahams Leap’.
The yellow footprint markers that lead the way were a constant source of comfort and reassurance for a novice like me. Early parts of the Trail saw us wading through shoulder height nettles, thankfully despite what can only be deemed heavenly Autumnal weather, I had rather eagerly packed the thickest most waterproof coat for Ted, he very early on learned to don this and the hands in the air approach to navigate such patches of terrain.
By 10.30, we'd emerged from Manley into the wonderfully coniferous Delamere….but the quieter bit of Delamere.. I never knew there was a quiet area of Delamere. Passing a team practising search and rescue, I wondered if this was an ominous sign of things to come. I had been told by a friend that on this type of walk, you very much have to appreciate things whilst in motion, easier said than done when your walking partner is compulsively inquisitive. A bit devastated the trail was not passing my usual cake hotspot, we soldiered on, stopping momentarily on a grass verge for yet more unsatisfactory non-cake-like food.
Blessed with beautiful weather, the contrast between blue skies and vivid green fields was striking. Time seemed to take on a new meaning. There were periods where we talked non-stop about everything and anything and then whole half hours (yes half-hours) seemed to pass with just the gentle sound of our feet meeting the ground, cows synchronised chewing and the very real feeling of freedom. If ever an activity could be physically demanding but also incredibly relaxing this is it. I am not going to lie and it sounds contrite, I felt like we were on some sort of pilgrimage.
Sandy Lane is a 1Km long sunken bridleways somewhere between Gresty's Waste and Tarporley, it seemed to go on for all eternity. This was the point when we started to see less of humanity, for some reason I had expected to see many others partaking in the same walk.
After many snack breaks in random farmer’s fields, sights of lesser spotted mushrooms, wild wees, attempts to vault kissing gates, we emerged at the half- way point of Wharton Locks. There’s an alluring sign for a pub, but this would be a detour and time was getting on, somehow hours of walking had passed and I was concerned that we hadn’t made enough progress. I was torn between ‘liquid refreshment’ and pride, we could do this, we must carry on!!! The most difficult stretch of walk was yet to come for Ted.
Passing Beeston Castle (must go back and visit looked absolutely lovely), we discovered the ice cream stall had already cashed up. This was followed by a short tantrum of epic proportions. Ted made me pull it together though. We had a small climb after this through Peckforton Estate, where less sweaty day trippers and nobility passed us by, I smugly waved my Trail book at them, in an attempt to convey why my child at this point looked like he was on some kind of forced march. Due to the shady wooded path, I deliriously began to get concerned that light was fading, there was a small uphill walk which may has well have been Everest and saw us dramatically drape ourselves over a boulder every 10m.
We’d made it to Burwardsley. I phoned my very small support team, of a partner who was doing a quick bag swap with us on his way to work and who had very kindly agreed to drop off cold pizza. If there is one thing I regret is I didn’t ask for wine. Despite the immense dehydration, this was very much an evening for a glass of wine.
The view from ‘Beeston View Pods’ is breathtaking. Two camping pods, set on a working farm, complete with the necessary facilities ,wildlife in abundance, a fire (perfect for toasting marshmallows) and the cutest little Dog ever. It was all worthwhile when that evening, whilst having a cuddle and waiting for the stars to come out, Ted said to me 'thank you for bringing me here Mum!' If ever there was a truly satisfying parenting moment, this would be it.
The next morning slightly achey but waking up to dawns natural chorus we set off to watch the sun rise through Bulkeley Hill woods. These are some of the most beautiful woods I have ever had the pleasure of walking through, and that’s on a global scale. The trees are incredible, throughout the climb up to the summit the path wound its way in and out of them with such intricacy and delicacy, that it was kind of oriental-gardenesque. The warm glow of the rising sun through what can only be described as the most wonderously Keatsian Autumn morning, gave us the energy required for the rest of the day.
Passing over Rawhead, we found an ancient well, caves and some very steep cliffs. It was so tricky not to stop every couple of minutes to take in what an interesting place this was. Settling on a bench in a Churchyard after the first section of the first day, we momentarily reflected on the possibility of giving up and calling for a lift. Then we ate some fruity Mentos and it was all okay again.
Day two offers two fantastic woods in quick succession. As we climbed up Bickerton Hill, where Kitty's Stone marks one man’s unyielding love for his departed wife .He bought the land in memory of his beloved and gifted it to the National Trust, in the knowledge that it’s what she would have wanted. The combination of love story, combined with fatigue and another breath-taking view, was a bit too much. I tearfully regaled Teddy with the tale of this overblown romantic gesture, he looked on like I had slightly lost the plot. I was honestly not crying….honestly.
Where would a walk be without a Cow story? We’d passed through many fields by the time we reached the British Wildlife Trust HQ. However, these guys were something else, I think we’d arrived at a feeding time? Or a milking time perhaps? And the corner of the field we needed to traverse was blocked by a herd, to make matters trickier the field beyond this there were also far too many cows for my liking. In the depth of this bovine dilemma, we perched on a fence, waiting for the answer to come to me. In what can only be described as a divine act of coincidence, four chaps (the first people we had really seen all day) turn up, also doing the trail. We all vaulted a fence avoiding the first herd but needed to sneak our way around the second. When they all started to head towards me, I really had to avoid the temptation to shout ‘leg-it!’
I am not overly familiar with agricultural terminology, but the section of the walk between Tushingham and Grindley Brook saw me repeatedly whipped in the face by six-foot corn. Ted really enjoyed this bit. At one point we met a wild Dog who was truly living the dream running in and out of this corn field with no owner in site. I could actually write a novel about the glorious dogs we encountered throughout this whole walk. Spurred on by our newly acquired canine friend’s lust for life we stumbled upon civilisation.
You cannot imagine the excitement I felt at being able to purchase a pint of the finest carbonated, soft drink and a packet of Cheese and Chive crisps. Miraculously Teddy’s legs had recovered at this point and he played tirelessly with a little friend he made in the beer garden, as if 31 miles had never happened. After this much needed refreshment the only issue was prising him away.
I had been told that the last stretch could be a little dull. But I actually really enjoyed a gentle stroll down the canal, it’s nice how the last section would be almost impossible to get lost on, so I could finally stash away the guidebook and feel less vulnerable. Ted’s energy was truly zapped by this point and I feel like we were stopping a lot again, it was fun though to see leisure boats battling against quite advanced lock systems and I feel like everyone including me was unified in their ineptitude.
A Sandstone archway constructed on the edge of a park in Whitchurch marks the end of the trail. I felt a massive sense of achievement (perhaps also a little relief) at this point and so, so proud of Ted. Despite initially saying he probably will never ever walk that far again; he’s also not stopped talking about it weeks on and has asked when the next Bank holiday is so we can do it again.
The Freet Mudees throughout the journey never failed us, we emerged blisterless and with none of the usually achey foot feelings I would usually associate with such a walk. They’ve been stashed away for now along with some amazing memories, we’re very much looking forward to our next big adventure!
For more details on these fantastic walking boots please visit our Freet brand page