For a number of years it has been an annual treat to enjoy the hospitality of John and Anne Nuttall, who kindly invite a number of people to stay at their home in Congleton. John and Anne are one of the most respected guide book authors in Britain, having produced a number of prize winning books including the Kiddiwalks series, The Tarns of Lakeland and their definitive guides to the P15 2,000ft’s of England and Wales.
Each visit is usually centred on good walks, good conversation, excellent food, copious amounts of wine and an occasional visit to a National Trust property if the weather is unfavourable. This year’s visit was over 7th – 9th August, as with most things centred on the hills, the five day weather forecast was scrutinised and did not look at all welcoming with heavy thundery downpours predicted.
The last few visits have been by the motley crew of G&J Surveys and their more attractive better halves. John and Jenny, and Graham and Janet arrived on the Thursday evening, whilst I headed over early on Friday morning arriving at 7.15am in time for a welcoming breakfast. The journey from Welshpool to Congleton passed through early morning sunshine and a thickening murky grey mass of humid air. As the afternoon’s forecast predicted heavy thundery downpours we headed to the hill as soon as breakfast was over with.
John and Anne decided to visit The Cloud, a 343m high Marilyn to the east of Congleton at SJ 904 637. We were parked and walking by 9.20am, the walk had been devised that we could extend it or shorter it, dependent upon the arrival of those heavy downpours.
We approached from the south-west on part of the Gritstone Trail which is a 57km (35 miles) long distance footpath from Disley to Kidsgrove. The initial ascent was through woodland leading up to open hillside of heather and rock outcrop. Although the humid murk of the morning encircled us the summit greeted us with sunshine and overhead blue sky.
|Approaching the summit of The Cloud (SJ 904 637)|
As the weather was holding John and Anne opted for the slightly extended walk and directed us down the south-eastern ridge. We then followed footpaths over fields laden with electric fences with their accompanying warning signs, all rather quaintly misspelt and added to by Mr Barnard!
|John's tongue-in-cheek handiwork below|
Anne pre-warned us that this descent route took us to an unexpected surprise, I instantly thought of an ice cream shop and although incorrect in my guess, we were certainly not disappointed as we were led towards The Bridestones. This is a Neolithic chambered cairn. In 1764 it was described as being 100 metres long and 11 metres wide and comprising three separate compartments.
Although time has ravaged its appearance with many stones having been used in the construction of the turnpike road and others appearing in near-by house construction, it is still an impressive site. Only one of its origin three compartments now remains, and its exterior stones have undergone a number of unfortunate events including being split by a picnicker’s bonfire, to having one of the two remaining portal stones being reputably split by an engineer from the Manchester Ship Canal whilst demonstrating a detonator.
|The chambered cairn of The Bridestones|
Beyond The Bridestones we used a combination of footpaths, tracks and lanes to take us back to the awaiting cars. As we arrived back at John and Anne’s house we de-camped to the back garden for a sit down and mugs of tea. The sky towards the north-west was building its deep grey murk to a crescendo that culminated in rumbles of thunder and heavy rain. When this arrived we de-camped indoors and waited until it had passed.
As the rumbles of thunder ceased and the sun broke through we headed off to Little Moreton Hall, which is now a National Trust property situated a few miles south-west of Congleton. The house is an excellent example of a moated half-timbered manor house in the Tudor tradition with the earliest parts of the house dated to the beginning of the 15th century.
|Little Moreton Hall|
The house was originally constructed by William Moreton who was a wealthy Cheshire landowner and later added to by subsequent generations of the Moreton family. The building is unusual as it has three asymmetrical ranges that form a small rectangular cobbled courtyard.
|Little Moreton Hall takes in three sides of the small rectangular cobbled courtyard|
It is renowned for its Long Room which is a second storey glazed gallery running the length of the south range’s upper floor, the weight of which has caused the lower floors to warp and bow. This room is now supported by an ingeniously hidden iron frame that spreads the weight of the load evenly to the exterior walls.
We joined a guided tour of the lower floor which added detail and understanding to the property, giving its history of construction as well as how it was used as a family home. We were led from the cobbled courtyard through a porch and screens passage to the Great Hall whose floor is now flagged, although originally it probably would have been lain with rush covered earth. One of the highlights of the house was re-discovered in 1976 behind wooden panelling, where the original painted panelling was uncovered depicting scenes of a biblical nature with the story of Susanna and the Elders from the Apocrypha being painted.
The middle floor gave access to a number of rooms with the first of two garderobes investigated, peering through their customary circular hole in a wooden planked seat there was naught but fresh air as the view downward went straight to the murky waters of the moat, when Anne peered over the precipice she commented that you could lose a small child down there!
The crowning glory is no doubt the Long Gallery on the upper floor, a remarkable room that unbelievably has stood the test of many centuries with its wooden floor contorted and bowed and a side room seemingly falling off the end of the house as its far corner tapered downhill at an unnatural angle.
|The Long Gallery takes in the whole upper floor of Little Moreton Hall|
We wandered around the rear garden just before the property was closed for the day, and then headed back to John and Anne’s for a relaxing evening taking in a many coursed Chinese takeaway and photos from a recent walking holiday John and Anne had had on Tenerife.
Friday dawned with blue skies and a forecast of sunshine all day, so we headed toward Lathkill Dale, which is one of the five dales that make up the Derbyshire Dales National Nature Reserve which covers 144 hectares. This walk had been suggested as a flower walk, something that John, Anne, Graham and Janet meet up occasionally during each year to do.
A flower walk is similar to hill bagging, but it involves flowers, each variety and species was neatly catalogued by Janet as books were carried, brought out, with pages flicked through and read, with magnifying glass sometimes used to distinguish if it was hairy or non-hairy, or if the flower had black spots or if it was devoid. As a person with very little knowledge of our much varied and beautiful flora the whole experience was rather fulfilling as one small flower was examined, named, catalogued and off we went again at a leisurely amble, heads bowed to the ground scrutinizing the smallest of small flowering thingies that sprung from the earth.
|The initial part of the walk was over fields as we headed toward Lathkill Dale|
The flower spotting was punctuated with butterfly spotting as the sun brought to life the succulent colours of Red Admirals, Green-veined Whites and Peacock’s. All were followed as they delicately fluttered from one flower to another. I spent most of the day feeling contentfully lazy as the slow pace of the walk seemed to encourage tiredness.
|Flower spotting was punctuated with butterfly spotting - the Peacock butterfly|
The initial part of the walk was over fields ripe in late summer grass with cows munching away showing occasional signs of inquisitiveness as we walked past them. The fields were connected by woodland that led down steep stone steps to the hidden dale squeezed at the bottom of a deep cut limestone valley where the slow moving River Lathkill ebbs its way forever downhill.
We stopped for lunch as the sun cast warmth on the limestone outcrops, the dale proved a popular spot as people of all sizes said their ‘hello’s’ as they passed, footwear of all varieties was also on show, from the sturdy hillwalking boot, to hessian slip-ons and polished shoes.
|Limestone outcrops overlooking Lathkill Dale|
By now the flower count had passed 40, and as 50 approached we continued following the River Lathkill on its downward passage. The dale was once a hotbed for lead mining and the remains of the 19th century Mandale Mine with its aqueduct and ruined pump house, which was used in an attempt to keep the mines drained and workable, can still be seen today.
|Greens of the River Lathkill|
|Following the River Lathkill down Lathkill Dale|
|Tranquility in Lathkill Dale|
As the flower count topped 70 we crossed the river and left the dale ascending on a track toward Meadow Place Grange, a working farm whose inner yard still retains its old medieval lay out.
|Jenny and Janet passing through the inner yard of Meadow Place Grange|
Beyond the farm, fields of friendly cows directed us back toward the aptly named Quiet Lane and the last few hundred metres back to the awaiting cars, the flower count had topped out at 79 with such exotic species as Enchanters Nightshade, Nipplewort and Hairy Bittercress being found.
|The flower count reached 79 with Small Scabious being one of the most beautiful|
|One of the friendly cows|
The two days spent in the company of John and Anne did not disappoint, these visits are always good, as they are full of variety and interest, but they are also a welcome opportunity to re-visit friends of many years and visit new places, be they hill, house or dale. Thanks John and Anne for another great couple of days!
|Anne, Janet and Jenny with the village of Over Haddon in the background|