Gritstone ChallengeCovering the whole of the Gritstone Trail in Cheshire, England, in one day is certainly no easy task. I had expected a lot of climbing but hadn’t anticipated quite how much the Trail actually ascends and descends, plus 35 miles in one day was going to be a big ask considering my current fitness levels.

The race registration was at Disley Community Centre, near Stockport, which meant a lovely 4am start Sunday morning to catch the coach from Disley at 7am which was to take us to the start at Kidsgrove Station, near Stoke-on-Trent.

Race organizer Rich had asked the council several times to open the loos at Kidsgrove Station for us and had been assured that they would be… so of course they weren’t… picture a load of well hydrated endurance nutters all desperately trying to find a private spot to answer nature’s call!!

As I expected most of the others were really fit and serious ultra runner types, and as I am, of course, a plodder I hung towards the back, starting with a slow jog along the canal. These three miles along the tow path are the easiest part of the whole route, but it didn’t last, as the steep pull up to Mow Cop soon had to be endured. It was very warm and I was already soaked with sweat, which is quite normal for me.

The view from Mow Cop- with Jodrell Bank

The view from Mow Cop- with Jodrell Bank

We were following Gritstone Trail way markers in the form of finger posts or small white or yellow signs with a ‘G’ in the middle of a foot print. I went wrong at Mow Cop… instead of walking in front of the folly- known as Mow Cop castle- and rejoining the road, I walked by it and ended up losing the way markers. Getting lost on an event is just awful, especially when you are up against time. Luckily a couple of ladies walking their dogs saw me marching back and forth in frustration and put me right, but I cursed myself for the time I had lost.

Mow Cop Castle

Mow Cop Castle

The view from

The view from The Old Man of Mow Cop

From The Old Man of Mow Cop (a huge gritstone pillar left over from quarrying activities), the trail dropped down towards a road with extensive views in all directions, with the Cheshire Plain and the huge white disc of Jodrell Bank to the left and the high moors of the Peak District to the right. I must say, this has to be one of the most scenic trails I have done; the views were awesome pretty much all day as we kept to the higher ground.

View towards Edge Hill

View towards Edge Hill

The next objective, Edge Hill, was negotiated after a short road stretch, and then there was a welcome joggable descent to a track along a disused railway and the first self clip, before crossing fields to the first manned checkpoint at Timbersbrook picnic area. I stopped for a mug of fizzy coke and some flapjack and as I left the checkpoint a couple asked me what we were all doing, so I told them- they looked impressed but thought we were crazy!!

The trail immediately climbed steeply up large ‘steps’ towards The Cloud and I soon regretted the coke as my stomach started to churn! It was so hot my eyes were stinging from the sweat dripping into them and at one point I honestly wondered whether I was actually having a heart attack. Thankfully the path levelled off a little once some woods were reached and I made it to the top, where I managed an undignified scramble up the trig point on the summit to use the self clip placed there.

The view from The Cloud

The view from The Cloud

There was a good track off The Cloud downhill all the way to the road, ideal for a gentle jog, before the trail joined the Dane Valley Way for a brief encounter, along a gentle downhill path winding round the hillside through flocks of sheep to Barleighford Bridge.

I had to cherish the downhill whilst I could because it was soon back to climbing. The road over Wincle Minn was reached by a steep ascent through lush fields and a rough, stony track, and as I climbed I just wanted to get  to that road. In my mind’s eye I saw Wincle Minn as a gently sloping road with a nice long descent and I couldn’t wait, plus I had only a couple of inches of water left and was feeling thirsty. I regretted only taking one water bottle with me as I ran out of water a few times and suffered for it.

However, when I finally reached the road, to my utter dismay it went up, up and up as far as I could see… and then when I got to what I thought was the top I could still see the road snaking its way unrepentantly uphill! Cursing, I told myself to suck it up and get on with it, but it was quite brutal, especially as there was no shade and it was proving to be a really warm Autumn day. I seemed to be taking forever to reach the second manned checkpoint and this was the lowest point for me as I began to seriously doubt I’d make it. I could see the next ascent, green Croker Hill with its huge white transmitter mast, just beyond the summit of Wincle Minn which promised more climbing, but my legs were starting to protest against this cruel treatment.

Looking towards Croker Hill

Looking towards Croker Hill

Finally I reached the top and had a few minutes respite before the climb onto Croker Hill, more panoramic views and a long descent to the next checkpoint, where there were crisps- mmm… a bit of salt is always welcome on a hot day. In true Mature Plodder style I was happily in last place, but caught up with two ladies at the checkpoint and we walked together.

Descending Croker Hill towards the second check point

Descending Croker Hill towards the second check point

It is amazing what a difference it makes having company. I felt so much better and almost had a spring in my step as we approached Tegg’s Nose. It didn’t last! Tegg’s Nose must be one of the steepest climbs I have ever encountered, mainly made up of those huge stone and wood steps which are a nightmare for those of us with short legs! The two ladies I was walking with discovered that their respective partners, who had run the event, had both finished joint second, which was amazing.

Finally the beast that is Tegg’s Nose was conquered, and the flagstone descent made to the visitor’s centre, where there was another charity event going on and we were very kindly given a bottle of water and a banana each by their organiser to keep us going!

Rainow's rainbow

Rainow’s rainbow

After a gentle and pretty stretch through fields to Rainow, where we actually saw a rainbow, a really steep but mercifully quite short climb to the top of the narrow ridge of Kerridge got the legs burning again just nicely. At the northern end of the ridge a curious white monument is passed, sticking up proudly like a cold nipple. Known as White Nancy, it was built in 1817 to commemorate the English victory at the Battle of Waterloo.

White Nancy

White Nancy

It wasn’t far to the last manned checkpoint at the road at Oakenbank where one of the ladies I was walking with decided to stop as her knees were really painful. She was happy though as this was the farthest she had walked in one day, so we were chuffed for her.

The two of us pressed on, determined to complete as many of the remaining seven miles as possible before darkness fell. We headed out and uphill, legs protesting and burning, lungs heaving, over a vast expanse of moorland where the way markers for the Gritstone Trail are rather erratic and seemed to send us zigzagging randomly over the moor. I must admit I had had enough at this point and just wanted to finish, and had I been on my own I would have thrown a tantrum. The tops of my legs were aching after all the climbing they had done and I felt exhausted. We were losing the light which concerned me as this is the remotest part of the whole route and I didn’t fancy picking my way over rough, tussocky grass in the dark.

Luckily we found the way to the road without too much trouble, and the track over the highest part of the trail, the moorland of Sponds Hill, was mercifully gentle. Twilight was drawing in in quite a spectacular fashion as we passed Bowstones and descended through Lyme Park, passing the stately home where Pride and Prejudice was filmed (and THAT scene of Colin Firth walking out of the lake, ladies!) before walking the long road- uphill of course- out of the park in semi-darkness.

I could see the streetlights of Disley but it seemed to be taking forever to reach them. We succumbed to complete darkness as soon as we left the park and entered a copse, and I put on my head torch when we turned down an awkward rocky path towards the road. We were surprisingly enough maintaining quite a strong pace and my legs had actually recovered a little, although this could have been the Nurofen tablets I had taken a couple of hours earlier kicking in.

It was such a relief though to reach the Community Centre and see Rich waiting for us although I felt rather guilty at making his already long day even longer. We didn’t make it in the 12 hours- we took 12 hours and 33 minutes- and were joint last, but he congratulated us and we gratefully received our certificates. After a really welcome meal of a jacket potato, rice pudding and coffee I turned the car towards home, bath and bed.

This was a great event- really scenic, tough and well organised, thanks to Rich and Wendy of Beyond Marathon, plus all the other volunteers who gave up their time. I really hope it becomes an annual fixture… I would love do it in under 12 hours next time!

Our route followed the Gritstone Trail, which  is 35 miles long linear long distance path in Cheshire, England, from Disley Station near Stockport to Kidsgrove near Stoke-on-Trent. It starts and finishes at a railway station, which means that both ends can be accessed fairly easily.

It is quite a tough trail, with some considerable climbs and descents, although most people walk it over three days, not twelve hours! Taking a few days over it would allow time for exploring and to savour the route.

There is more information on the Gritstone Trail and route details here. The route is also marked on Ordnance Survey maps, and the following maps cover the trail;

Explorer series Scale 1:25 000;
The Peak District (OS Explorer Map): White Peak area. Buxton, Bakewell, Matlock & Dove Dale.

Stoke-on-Trent & Newcastle-under-Lyme OS Explorer Map 258

Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Congleton (Explorer Maps): Altrincham, Knutsford & Sandbach (OS Explorer Map) (there is some duplication on the Peak District Explorer map and this map, so both may not be needed)

Landranger series 1:50 000;
Stoke-on-Trent and Macclesfield (Landranger Maps) (OS Landranger Map)

Landranger Maps: Manchester and Surrounding Area Sheet 109 (OS Landranger Map)

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