Sunday, 11 April 2010

Big lad walks the High Peak Canal


A week of dry warm weather had been predicted, so I booked a day off and headed out towards the Chinley/New Mills area for a yomp.

I started at New Mills, having walked up the hill towards Newtown station to join the Peak Forest canal.

I noticed en route that the North Western, a Robinsons pub near the station, had not only closed, but been turned into flats. I had been a few times when filling in time waiting for a train, they always seemed to have cask Robbie’s Mild on, and maintained a traditional interior layout of different rooms.

No doubt the loss of another old interior will have been softened by the money made on the deal, which is weird for Robinson’s, since they own a number of pubs on the National Inventory.

I walked along the canal in the sunshine, and took the left fork just before Whaley Bridge towards Buxworth basin. The Navigation wasn’t yet opened so I missed the chance of a pint,instead I headed on following the river and the canal, before heading up Jane Lane to follow the Buxworth to Chinley road.

I soon found the turning I wanted, which heads down to a large works and then very sharply uphill into Whitehough. I got to the Old Hall Inn at 10 minutes before opening, but cheekily went in since the door was ajar, and asked if it was OK to be served, which it was.

The Old Hall has, I think, 7 handpumps and a cider pump, this time dispensing JB West Sussex cider. I went for a pint of Brampton Stout first, although I it was perhaps the strongest flavoured beer on offer. Having worked up a slight thirst it didn’t seem to last long so I moved on to my next pint. This was a fantastic Marble W34, apparently the weird name reflects it being a trial brew.
This was an expectedly hoppy beer at 4.7%, and was a nice way to prepare for the slog up the hill that awaited me.

Leaving Whitehough behind, you cross the A6 and head uphill before taking a lane on the right and following a track up onto Eccles Lane, which follows the contours of the shoulder of Eccles Pike. It’s a hard slog, and the path isn’t particularly good, but the views back to Chinley are impressive.

Once on Eccles Lane I rounded the edge of the Pike and started making a gradual descent down the other side towards Tunstead Milton. I could see my next destination bathed in sunshine ahead, that being Combs reservoir (I did wonder if this was a spelling mistake, since this is clearly the spelling of “combs” which you use to comb your hair. However, the road sign says Combs, so it must be correct…. ).

Making my way down through the fields was quite easy, although not having anything unhelpful or foolish like a map meant a couple of slight detours to find stiles. The path brings you out after a really marshy walk by a stream onto Chapel en le Frith golf course. The waymark points straight across, so I walked in a straight line, noticing posts along the way, before I lost the line of the path.

A quick trawl through the brush at the edge of the course revealed a low waymarked post, and I popped through the boundary hedge and out onto the main road. Here I saw the Hanging Gate at Tunstead Milton (or Cockyard, not sure which), so nipped in for a look. There is 1 handpump dispensing Theakstons best, but given that this is ostensibly a food orientated pub, it’s better than no real ale at all, and not too bad at £2.50 a pint.

I pressed on towards Chapel next and took the right hand road into Combs. I got to the Beehive earlier than expected, just in time to order a chip butty with my beer. The Beehive is also another food orientated pub, and I have only ever been during the week, and every time it has been packed out. They must have good reputation for food – it’s certainly mentioned on their website, and is sensibly priced and comes in generous portions – but it’s probably less well known for its beer.

The beer is not cheap, but for a pub that doesn’t even allude to real ale on its website three beers is good going – Bass, Copper Dragon Golden Pippin and Three B’s brewery Honey Bee were on offer on this visit. I opted for a pint of Bass, as well as half of the Honey Bee.

I had anticipated leaving before 15.00 in order to keep up with my desired timetable, so I was pleased to be making time in leaving at 14.40. I took the lane at the left of the pub and headed towards Spire Hollins farm. I carried on up the steep hill to a wide junction, where the tarmac road turns left to a dead end and a track heads off right.

This is Long Lane, which takes the most leisurely available route over a dip in the hills to drop down into Fernilee a couple of miles later. The track is well worn and quite stony in places, but affords fantastic views back to Combs and the reservoir and Eccles Pike.

Aware of the time limit set by the last bus from Kettleshulme, I pushed on and made good time, joining Elnor Lane on the other side then cutting diagonally down to come out at the Shady Oak at Fernilee.

This is a large roadside pub which had closed down a couple of years ago, luckily its now reopened by its present owners, and doing food and good real ale - a sign outside mentioned Marston’s Burton bitter for £2.00 a pint, so I went in with high hopes. I noticed that Jennings Snecklifter, one of my favourite beers, was also on, and without pushing it ended up getting a pint of that for £2.00 as well. The landlord is intending to have one beer on at a time at £2.00, but had kindly extended the deal for me rather than have beer in the lines going off. At present the pub is open all day and offers a lunch service for groups, such as preparing a buffet in advance for walkers. Perhaps unwisely I had two pints of Snecklifter, but I knew I had to get off for the final slog.

Almost opposite I picked up a lane and then a track into the Goyt Valley, and then tried to find the quickest route up the maze of paths to get onto Ling Longs Lane, which loops between Taxal and Overton Hall Farm. Having had minor problems negotiating the farm at the Sitch where the only path which seemed to take you anywhere ended up at a locked gate, I joined the Midshires Way and walked up the steep hill to Overton.

The next part is a very, very steep scramble uphill to Taxal edge, after which you start dropping down towards some woods and can head up to Wingather Rocks. On this occasion, I turned right before the woods and to a farm on Taxal Edge. This brings you (likely panting and breathless, after the ascent) out on the road to Clayton Fold.

I headed right for what was quite a long way (longer than I remembered) before finally reaching the hamlet of Clayton Fold and heading down the lane (unsuitable for motor vehicles the sign warns, but if you have a 4X4 or an old banger it makes a nice route into kettleshulme) past the farms to come out at the impossible tight junction next to the Bulls Head.

Kettleshulme is lucky in having two pubs that sell good beer to choose from, and its proximity to the lane end makes the Bulls Head a good first choice. There were two beers available, Storm PGA from nearby Macclesfield and Weetwood Old Dog bitter. I understand the Weetwood is a regular, and given its not a beer you usually see in Sheffield I had a pint of that. The Bulls Head is a steadfastly traditional looking pub outside, with Boddingtons signage, and inside it retains 3 drinking areas in 2 rooms, and has a lot of comfortable fittings and furnishings. It was a relaxing setting to enjoy my beer, so I sat in the bar looking through the sloping doorway at the pub dog soaking up the last rays of sun poking through the windows.

I had arrived in Kettleshulme a bit earlier than planned at 5 to 6, so had time to visit the famous Swan Inn, purchased by locals after it faced closure and conversion to private residence.

There was Marston’s Bitter and a honey beer on offer, along with Wylam Gold Tankard from Northumberland, so I went for a pint of that. The second half of the bar area was filling up with diners an it looked busy, which is good to see bearing in mind its brush with extinction. It retains 3 rooms – that’s if you count the immensely tiny snug next to the end of the bar as you enter. Either way it’s a great pub, offering good beer choice, and along with the Bulls Head, makes kettleshulme an enjoyable village to visit.

All too soon I had to leave and catch the bus into Whaley Bridge, once at which I went to the White Hart on the bridge at a crossroads before Horwich End. I only stopped for a half of Old Peculier from a range of 2 or 3, not least because I was feeling a little tired by now.

I still had time for a pint in the Shepherds Arms on Old Road, a fantastic Marston’s pub also retaining its individual rooms, with a small bar room dispensing 6 real ales, mainly form the Marston’s W+D range. The guest on this occasion was Holts Sixth Sense, which I had a pint of.

I then caught the bus to New Mills Newtown and walked down to the Rock Tavern overlooking the valley and the trail to the millennium walkway. I got a well kept pint of Robinsons mild, and although not heaving, it was good to see a good mix of people in for a chat and a drink.

My final stop came after returning to Sheffield, when, for reasons that now seem a spot unclear, I went for a final drink in the Sheffield Tap, where I had halves of Thornbridge brewery Seaforth and Kipling, before sloping home for a kip and to try and ignore the burning pain in my feet.

Overall the walk is somewhere between 14 and 17 miles, and features three main hills, but is full of spectacular views, pubs to enjoy and if necessary, for instance at Tunstead Milton or Fernilee, the chance to abort early and catch the bus. All in all, a very enjoyable Cheshire and Derbyshire slog.

Next, details of a few real ale gains in my local area, and I promise, part 3 of the Wales trip.*

*Update, several years later - I never got round to part 3! Sorry about that....