Walk Four – Ellastone to Croxden Abbey, 6.25 miles
Weather – Gloomier and greyer than a gloomy day…
At least it was dry and as it was only a short leg today we decided that the weather wouldn’t impinge on our enjoyment. Shock horror, we didn’t follow the Limestone Way – that went south and we went west-ish. An unremarkable start as we ambled from Ellastone church and were soon on the familiar sheep and cow pasture, treading lightly uphill on a gentle gradient. Looking back to the start we could see that todays views were going to be limited to misty greyness of buildings, trees and pasture – with a little bit of green here and there. Kerry decided on some gymnastics over the first stile, with an unsuccessful backflip scoring nil point for style – I offered to walk back and walk another day but she soldiered on. Up over the first hill we emerged onto a lane into JCB territory, with neatly clipped hedges and verges, and trees bristling with security cameras. The land around the JCB estate is kept in a pristine condition, and unlike the rest of Staffordshire the footpaths were clearly marked. There are very discreet entrances to the paths that run through the estate – nicely arched passage through the stone wall surrounding the area.
Signs abound warning of imminent death by JCB diggers as we passed through the area where they test the vehicles – I wonder if there are JCB spotters like there are train spotters? They do however look after anyone walking through the area, with well marked paths that go where they are meant to. We could hear one or two but couldn’t see any until later on when driving past the JCB headquarters. Moving on from JCB land , we skirted around some of the lodges at Alton Towers and down a gentle descent through woods beneath some sandstone cliffs at Ina’s Rock. The River Churnet was crossed by a wooden slated bridge, and followed before heading uphill on a muddy path to the village of Alton. There is a medieval castle here but not much left of it on the ground. The surrounding buildings are Gothic revival and are in use as a residential centre for youngsters. We continued into Alton and sat down at a round tower for a very brief stop before walking down a lane heading south to Gallows Green and Jeffrey Meadow beyond. It was all nicely downhill and appearing out of the gloom in the distance was Croxden Abbey – I’d never heard of it before. It was a nice spot to end the day and interesting to explore the English Heritage site – a road runs through the middle of the Abbey and it’s owned by the adjacent farmhouse – imagine that as a back garden for the kiddies! The 12th century abbey at Croxden was home to 70 Cistercian monks at its peak. Although converted into a farm after its suppression in 1538, the remains are impressive, including towering fragments of its 13th century church, infirmary and 14th century abbot’s lodging, and a drainage ditch for the latrines – lurvely.
Dull, dreary, dismal, depressing, dingy and let’s throw in a G for gloomy! Not inviting walking weather but, hey ho, at least it wsn’t raining. Once again we did the usual car shunting, my car was left in the middle of nowhere….well it was parked outside a ruined abbey so I figured it would have celestial security! Pete, having just got the keys to a new motor, chose to leave his in the safe village car park opposite the church and hopefully the ‘keen eagle eyed locals’ of Ellastone.
A trot along from the car park the route emerged into big wide open fields gracing soft sloping Staffordshire hills. Three stiles further on and I decided to have a go at advanced gymnastics despite having no training whatsoever. The weight of my rucksack, a high and slippery stile and I was left dangling like a bat. My left inner thigh felt like it had been sanded raw by the stubble of a sumo wrestling Desperate Dan, who had also grabbed my ankle and wrapped it around my neck. Pete gawped helplessly. With ankle, thigh and crotch sore I limped on, with Pete, for once, keeping up with me. We reached a nearby lane and gradually over the next mile the pain eased. A finger post directed through a gap in a wall onto land owned by JCB. Much of the land and buildings around these parts are in their ownership and appear to warrant much fencing and CCTV. The attractive landscaped valley with lake is a proving ground for JCBs thus signs warned the walker to stick with the path. Yellow arrows guided us up through woodlands and over to the boundary of Alton Towers. No thrill rides for Pete today, he gets that from his new motor! We skirted some unusual quirky lodges and where the path split into three with no indication which way to go we opted for the middle one. It lead us gradually downhill through woodlands hidden with giant outcrops of brooding rocks. Hosted by trees, their roots lashed like lassoes strangling the rock beneath.
Our path crossed a disused railway line, now, as so many are, a footpath. Beyond was the River Churnet, crossed by a narrow footbridge. We meandered uphill through the dark treacle mud. A farm track rutted with stagnant liquid mud led to a lane down into Alton. Past the castle, we stopped and sat on the stone steps of a round lock up, for chocolate. As light dimmed, the murky mist seemed more dense and light was ebbing, so not hanging about, we proceeded south to Gallows Green. Dogs on their last walk of the day argued with other dogs. The wet grass of the next few pastures cleaned our boots until a ploughed field flanking a hill top clogged them up with an abundance of the stuff. A few inches higher we passed through a gate and downhill. The ghostly vision of Croxden Abbey ruins grew darker as we got closer. A lane to the car cut through the impressive towering 12th century ruins. I imagined, many centuries ago, when it was thriving, travellers welcomed in for shelter and food. Celestial security had protected my car, but before setting off we explored the ruins. The drive back was via the Duncombe Arms at Ellastone, a very fine, smart and cosy establishment for much needed refreshments. I hope they didn’t notice the state of our trouser bottoms after all the mud wading.
NOTE – CLICK ON PICTURE TO BE TAKEN TO FLICKR AND THE ALBUM OF THE WALK.