Its about 5 years since I last walked the Sandstone trail with Frank. I go walking 3 weekends out of 4, and its usually around Helsby/Frodsham/Runcorn. When that Whore of the trail, Tony suggested doing it again, what could I say.
Its normally done as a 2 day walk from Frodsham to Whitchurch with an overnight stopover in between.
I remember the path being fairly easy to navigate with sign posts. The main problem I encountered last time, was actually finding the accommodation at the half way point and the train station at the end. I decide to print out maps of both along with train/bus timetables and I program all relevant numbers into my mobile.
The plan for food, is bacon sandwiches, to start us off on Saturday (and make extra, which we will wrap in tinfoil, for breakfast on Sunday). Sandwiches for lunch on Saturday and Sunday. Various trail snacks (crisps, chocolate bars and sausage rolls) and Saturday evening meal in the Pheasant pub with a few pints.
We will be sleeping in a camping barn. Its basically a big stone tent. I take a gas stove, for heating up drinks along with my Trangia mini kettle, titanium mug and fork and spoon.
Sleeping bag and kip mat will be my bed for the night (these 2 items, weren’t cheap, but when you see the size and weight, you know its worth it). Torch, mobile, minimal wash and first aid kit. Trainers and a clean T shirt for my visit to the pub.
Overall, I’m trying to travel as fast and as light as I can. My daysack is only fractionally heavier than the one I carry to work.
An early start was needed, so Tony came over to Chester on Friday evening, and we had a few cans and ate fried chicken, while watching Fringe.
In the morning, organisation was a bit of a missed opportunity, but we finally got the train on time, and after 13 minutes, were standing in Frodsham.
The first part of the trail, involves walking up a fairly steep hill, to the Frodsham monument. Once there, its mostly downhill or flat.
There are a couple of different variations on the route (we had a map, but the route is fairly well signposted).
You can see from the picture above, where the trail takes its name. This is my favourite section, and I’ve walked it a dozen times, frequently branching off, to Helsby, or the road route to Delamere Forest.
We pass by a car park, which is normally closed in the evening due to the unsavoury pastimes of some of its evening occupants.
An entirely different type of dogging is taking place today. Loads of vans, dogs, and dog sledge’s with wheels are in attendance, as there is some kind of Dog sledging competition taking place.
I’m a pretty live and let live sort of guy, but personally, it annoyed me that the quiet of the countryside was broken by the screeching and howling of literally hundreds of excited dogs.
We continue walking, then tragedy strikes. We realised, that instead of being near to the half way point, we are actually only a third of the way along.
Frustrated further, as we accidentally leave the trail twice, and have to walk miles along country roads, to re-join it. We find ourselves walking through endless boggy fields (some of them, completely waterlogged). Darkness falls.
On this part of the trail, you move into a field, and then exit into the correct field, when you see a yellow SST sign. Fine in the daylight, but at night, you sometimes have to peruse the entire perimeter of the fence, with a torch, to find the exit. This slows you down significantly.
We finally reach the Canal at Beeston. After 40 minutes of searching, we cannot find the next leg of the path. We end up walking about 2 miles, up the tow-path, to central Beeston. We set off walking towards Burwardsley, where our accommodation awaits.
We are cold, hungry and tired, but drink some water, eat a bar of chocolate, and summon all our remaining energy for the final leg of the days journey.
After around 30 mins, the owner of the barn, Mandy calls us and asks if we would like picking up. Delighted we say yes, and 10 minutes later, we are sat in a warm car on our way to the barn.
We arrive at the Old Smithy camping barn in Burwardsly.
Once inside, it was much more elaborate than I had expected and rather cosy. I had expected it to be like the mountain bothy’s that you find in Scotland, but it had tables to congregate and eat, a sink with running water, an area for cooking, a flushing toilet and a separate room, with a raised area for sleeping.
Candle lanterns illuminate both rooms, and give it a boyhood den feel. There are even blinds over the windows to keep out the cold.
I light the Stove, fill up the Trangia kettle, and with hot chocolate in hand, I relax for the first time that day.
Along the way I’ve turned my ankle, and in quite a lot of pain. Against my better judgement, I sack of the pub, eat some sandwiches and go to sleep.
The following morning, my ankle has swollen.
Its not going to be possible to complete the trail. After paying for our nights accommodation (a bargain, at £5 per person) its decided that well walk to Tattenhall and get the bus.
As we reach the Tattenhall, I see a sign for Chester, 8 Miles. Although I’m still in pain with my foot, I cant be bothered to just sit around for 2 hours, until the bus arrives, and we set of walking. After 3 miles, we realise that there are roadworks, and the bus wont be stopping here. 5 more miles home.
The good news, was 1 mile away, was Christleton. We join the Canal, and walk the 4 miles home along the Canal towpath, one of my favourite walks around Chester.
Once home, Tony gets the train back to Chester, I have a bath, then sleep for 4hrs.
We’re having another crack at it, on the 20th of November !.