I’m giving up the gym – I’ve decided. It was useful for a time, but I find myself going less and less and the membership doesn’t go down when I don’t use it, so I’m sacking it. But that does mean I’m going to have to be a bit more disciplined about other forms of exercise. So I’ve started doing my local “dog walks” again.
I call them “dog walks”, but I don’t walk the dog anymore, she’s getting old now and the joints in her back legs are stiff and she limps after a few hundred yards – she’s more than willing to put up with this, but she suffers cruelly for it the next day. On bonfire night last year she ran herself daft around the garden, chasing the firework in the sky – the next day she couldn’t walk – I had to carry her to the garden for a pee and bring her her food in bed!
But they are still my “dog walks” and this is the story of a fairly typical one. This particular one is 3.6 miles long and takes me just a tickle over an hour if I’m walking it quickly. I have several others of varying lengths, all variations on this theme, and I use those depending on how much time or energy I have available at the time.
We start off by leaving the house and taking the footpath at the back of the house, through the estate and down through the woods where the local kids try to burn down the trees and make jump ramps for their bikes.
The path leads to “dog shit alley” – now closed to public vehicle access, but still full of little brown steaming land-mines and smelling strongly in the summer months. At this time of year you can play land-mine roulette by kicking the little piles of shit off the road as you get to them. Most will be frozen, but some will not be! Land-mine roulette is not a game for those with new shoes on.
The gravelled lane leads down through trees, alongside the railway – it’s a black as a miners armpit down here after dark, so headtorch is required.
We pass “lonesome cottage”, my name, not theirs and then cross over the railway, always ready to wave at the Virgin Pendolinos as they scream past beneath you.
The railway crossing brings us to open fields and countryside. We are only 0.6 miles from home and already we’re in green open spaces. The lane leads down to a railway access road, used by engineering teams’ vehicles.
The junction is currently flooded, but the cold weather has frozen it pretty well. I can just about walk on it without it breaking. Here we turn left to follow the line of the railway. Turning right takes us to a small industrial estate.
The green fields are normally empty – I’ve seen them filled with sheep sometimes, but I’ve never seen a crop in them – we follow the access road for about 0.5 miles until we turn left again to go back under the railway.
We duck beneath the arch of the railway bridge and then another road bridge a few hundred feet further on. There’s a caravan park here and the closest geocache to my home. The path through the tunnels is steep and slippery in the current icy conditions. At the bottom of the path is a small car park for the anglers who string themselves out along the river.
Here there is a swing bridge, rarely swung anymore as the narrow boats can fit beneath it and very little else uses the Weaver Navigation, which is half river, half canal. There are plenty of herons along this section of the walk and today was no exception.
At the car park we turn left and follow the canal, where we pass a small fishing pool separated from the canal by the tow path, now completely frozen so the fish are safe for a day or two.
The canal used to transport rock salt from the mine, one of the last remaining rock salt mines in the UK (if not the last), but now it all goes by road. Wherever you are in the UK, your local council probably gets some of its rock salt from this mine in Winsford, this is used for gritting the icy roads. During the year the mine builds up huge stockpiles of rock salt, covered in black plastic to protect it from being washed away and then as winter approaches, convoys of lorries haul it away to all corners of the country.
Here you can see the dome where the rock salt is deposited from the conveyor belt that has brought it up from the mine below. Trucks queue patiently to be filled by the all too few tractors which use huge scoops to slowly deplete the stockpiles and fill the bellies of the waiting beasts.
We leave the noise and the bustle of the mine behind and walk along the tow path for a while, looking out for cormorants, grebes and other waterfowl. The industrial landscape on the opposite bank soon softens to trees and shrubs lining the mine access road.
We approach another frozen fishing pool, beside the canal. This one is covered in hundreds of rocks and sticks where people (including me) have tested the strength of the ice. On the opposite side of the canal you can see a huge stockpile of rock salt beneath (silver this year) protective covering, weighted down with hundreds of bags filled with rock salt.
We walk into the low lying sunlight now, through a small birch wood and still not far from the canal.
I can keep left here for a shorter 2.5 mile walk, or head down to the right for a 3.5 mile circuit or an even longer 4.5 mile walk. We turn right today, the weather is fine and I have time still in my lunch hour.
Back beside the canal again, this time with a factory on the left behind a screen of trees. No noise from this factory but it produces wonderful smells – it seems to process detergents or fabric conditioners, as the smell it produces smell just like the washing machine after a load has been completed.
After a mile or so of canal side walking we head left, up the slope and back towards the road that will take us home. There is a maze of tracks around here, so endless variations are possible from this point.
We exit the canal-side walk through the car park by the Warden’s portakabin. The car park now has a ridiculous closing time of 16:15, at which point the barrier is closed and loc
ked and anyone wanting an evening walk must park on the road. Fear of gypsy encampment, a very real fear in this part of the country, has forced many landowners to block off open spaces and impose car park closing times. The local supermarkets have all suffered in the past from dozens of caravans turning up in the night and setting up home by the recycling bins – not any more though – they’ve all learnt their lesson and they all have barriers.
We are also close to Ford’s of Winsford, one of the moat popular Car Supermarkets in the country. I’ve seen cars with the FOW logo on their back window as far apart as Heathrow Airport and Inverness. It’s a great place to buy a car and very handy for us.
Finally, we pick our way back through another small grove of birch trees, back to the estate and a warm brew today.
So, if you’ve followed me all the way round my 3.6 mile walk, I hope you had a good time and seen one or two things of interest along the way. I now do this walk most days – with one or two variations – sometimes I walk it backwards (not walking backwards you understand, but in reverse), but this is definitely the “right way” round.