Peak & Northern Footpaths Society (est.1894)

Changes Afoot on East Cheshire’s Principal Long-Distance Trail

David Gartside, Footpath Inspector

This article is from Signpost 61, Autumn 2019

The Gritstone Trail will be well-known to many PNFS members. Running generally north-south for 35 miles/56 km from Disley to Kidsgrove, it follows the western edge of the Peak District, affording some excellent hill-walking relatively close to well-populated areas and public transport links. Given reasonable weather, there are splendid views to be had at various points along the route – not just over the Peak District and the Cheshire Plain, but also further afield such as the West Pennine Moors, Liverpool Cathedral, Welsh hills beyond Wrexham, Breidden Hills near Welshpool, and the Wrekin at Telford. The ‘Twin Trails’ - the Gritstone Trail, and its sister, the Sandstone Trail (Frodsham-Whitchurch) - are currently the subject of a significant improvement project, led by two local authorities, Cheshire East Council, and Cheshire West and Chester Council, and including many local partners. The Twin Trails Improvement Project is funded by the Rural Development Programme for England (2014-2020), as part of the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

The project is designed to ensure that both trails are valued and to increase the number of both day and overnight visitors, thereby offering not only commercial benefits to local business, but also health and well-being benefits to all those using the trails. At a practical level, this has seen major improvements to signposting and way-marking, more interpretation boards, the replacement of some stiles with accessible gates, and improvements to paths. An example of the latter is Congleton FP51 – one of ‘my’ paths. Though relatively short (74 m) it forms a key part of the Gritstone Trail between Bosley Cloud and the picnic area at Timbersbrook. In its short length through mature woodland it includes a very steep section down from Gosberryhole Lane, followed by a section below the spring line over very muddy ground to Tunstall Road.

Prior to the Twin Trails project, walkers had to negotiate an elderly, gently decaying, staircase through the steep section, as well as a gingerly picked route over occasional stones, tussocks, and bits of wood in the muddy area. At some stage in the transit, it was almost inevitable that most walkers’ luck would run out, and some embarrassment would be incurred. Now, thanks to the project, FP51 is transformed, with a completely rebuilt and lengthened staircase, improved drainage below the spring line, a well-surfaced path through the muddy area, and safer access to Tunstall Lane. What had previously been a grim section of the Gritstone Trail, to be endured rather than enjoyed, is now a good advert for the Trail’s delights. The difference in elevation between its two ends does of course remain, but at least one can now pause for breath in stable conditions!

In a nearby separate but complementary project, the National Trust has addressed issues caused by mountain bike riders at its Bosley Cloud property. For many years there has been unauthorised use by mountain bikers, leading to inevitable conflict between walkers and riders. Attempts to prevent access by mountain bikers have failed, with paths and heathland eroded, and gates, stiles and signage being vandalised. The Trust has now entered into a licensing-based partnership agreement with the newly-formed Congleton Mountain Biking Group. Together they will create and sign routes for mountain bikers, clearly defining routes shared by walkers and bikers. Usage will be restricted to members of the Group who will display an annual colour-coded label on their cycle helmets. Members have signed up to a code of conduct and trail etiquette as part of the licensing agreement. Will it work? It remains to be seen. The previous ban didn’t work because there were insufficient resources to enforce it routinely. The new arrangements means that the Group have a vested interest in ensuring compliance amongst their fraternity for fear of losing their new-found facility. So they have to meet the challenge of maintaining good practice. Time will tell.

Next: Footpath 49 South Darley

Page title:Changes Afoot on East Cheshire’s Principal Long-Distance Trail
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