On Saturday 27th August 2022 - Josh and I completed the Gritstone Trail in ONE DAY for the second year running.
The Gritstone Trail is a walking route running between Kidsgrove and Disley, taking in five major peaks along the way: Mow Cop, The Cloud, Tegg’s Nose, White Nancy and Bow Stones.
In total, the route covers 35 miles/ 56km. The recommended time-frame for completion is three days... This year, we walked the whole thing in 14 HOURS AND 41 MINUTES! That’s over two hours off last year’s time!
While I enjoyed our first Gritstone dabble last year, there were some horrifically stressful moments along the way, e.g being eyeballed by a field of cows, getting lost TWICE, convincing myself of imminent, Wuthering Heights style death on the moors, and a LOT of bickering.
It was our first time ultra hiking, and we made a number of errors, the worst of all being that we took far too little water.
We always knew that we wanted to do the Gritstone again and took all of our mistakes as learning curves which definitely paid off.
I had such a brilliant time this year, and am genuinely gutted that it’s over!
✨ Last year’s blog: https://www.carajasminebradley.com/post/walking-the-gritstone-trail-in-one-day ✨
✨ And last year’s Gritstone Q&A blog:
Our alarm went off at 3am.
It felt pretty weird to be standing in my kitchen in the small hours, making cheese and Marmite rolls.
“You off on holiday?” The driver asked as we tumbled into the taxi laden with bags and Marmite sandwiches.
“We wish!” We laughed.
We arrived at Kidsgrove Station in darkness and set off at 4:30am, head torches lighting the way down the canal.
The mist – teamed up with the cutting canvas of the night – made it impossible to see in parts, which isn’t really what you want when stumbling down canal towpaths the width of bloody shoelaces.
The mist was a very unwelcome addition to the morning, I’ll be honest. It was so dense, it genuinely felt as though someone was stroking my face with their icy palms. It didn’t half give me the heebies!!
I think I must also currently be the most hated person in the spider community too; the amount of cobwebs I had to force my way through was unbelievable. There were literally hundreds of them strewn across the path, glistening in the mist.
Those first few kilometres really were like a set from a horror film.
We reached the summit of the first peak – Mow Cop – at 05:38am.
Sweet mother of Christ that ascent doesn’t get any easier! I swear I heard my calves scream at one point.
It was from Mow Cop that we watched the sunrise last year. This year, we beat the sun, so it was a case of a few quick pics, head torches on, and we were back on our way.
Peak One: Mow Cop.
(Obligatory head torch selfie 🤓)
Wandering along the road-section of the course between Mow Cop and The Cloud was a sensational section of the walk.
The night was pushed aside as the dawn sleepily rubbed its eyes and yawned across the landscape. The mist evaporated, leaving the rolling meadows encrusted in its crystallized kisses.
All was still. Time meant nothing. The hands of the clock, our footsteps, the pace of life... It all just fell away into the nothingness of this magical hour.
It was as if the world was holding its breath.
Watching nature so humbly perform its blessings was nothing short of privilege.
And this is why I like to exercise in the early, early morning. The world just seems different when most of its inhabitants are asleep. It’s purer, more beautiful.
The early hours of the morning behold moments that are only granted for the star-gazers who have previously been spellbound by its bewitching power.
On the road between Mow Cop & The Cloud 😍
We passed through the farm where we’d been literally chased by goats last year.
To my horror, I saw the exact same goat poke its head out of its shelter and beam at me with its toothy grin. Think Olaf, but in goat form.
He appeared to take mercy on this year and allowed us to pass without clearing a fence and charging at us, as has been his ‘welcome’ 12 months ago.
Saying hello to old pals…. 🤣
At 08:22am, we reached The Cloud. (Don’t even talk to me about ‘those’ steps. My calves weren’t just screaming, they were bellowing.)
Daybreak engulfed the skyline. The sun filtered its rays across the Cheshire Plains, but the air was laced with a refreshing breeze. It was already looking like a beautiful day.
We had a snack (beef Hula Hoops: a highly nutritious breakfast for two intrepid hikers...) and moved on.
Peak Two: The Cloud 😍
A beautiful morning at The Cloud ❤️
The worst part of the course BY FAR was the section between The Cloud and Tegg’s Nose. There was one particular part which was completely and utterly overgrown. And when I say overgrown, I don’t just mean a few dandelions here and a handful of thistles there; I mean head-height weeds and angry, thorny branches snaking across the undergrowth. This went on for a good two kilometres. To put it bluntly, it was bloody awful.
My legs were absolutely covered in nettle stings and scratches, and I lost count of how many times I was viciously walloped across the face by wayward ferns. I was beginning to wonder if they had some sort of personal vendetta against me; I do actually own a pair of ferns, and they’re not much better. I’ve never encountered such a needy plant.
All of this literal torture was ‘rewarded’ by the picturesque (not) sight of the telecommunications tower up Croker Hill. We agreed that this stretch is our least favourite of the Gritstone.
Although the Gritstone is notorious for its five major peaks, there are many other hills along the way – some almost vertical in their elevation.
In a desperate attempt to boost morale, we sat down in the middle of the farm path and ate Yorkie bars.
The ascent up to Tegg's Nose - that terrain though! 🥵
The climb up to Tegg’s Nose is tough (mostly attributable to the uneven terrain), but the views from the top make every step so worth it.
The rugged hillsides roared with heather and gorse, creating a ferociously-stunning spectacle of colour.
Tegg’s Nose sits snugly in the middle of panoramic countryside. I stood at its peak looking out over the emerald patchwork and felt so ablaze with energy and passion.
I just wanted to drink in the entire landscape - bottle it up and preserve it, use it as my own personal drug; my high.
Despite the fact that we were slap-bang in the middle of a gruelling ultra-hike, I was so overcome with exhilaration. I want so much more of this! I never want to stop exploring, or challenging myself, or working alongside my body to generate a deeper connection to my own being.
I love my life, and I LOVE days like this!
Peak Three: Tegg’s Nose 😩😍
Absolute dream ❤️
As we were two hours ahead of schedule, we decided to pop into the little cafe at Tegg’s Nose to top up our refreshments. We spotted that they were selling Gristone Trail t-shirts, so obviously we had to have one!
The gent at the cafe was lovely, and wished us luck as we headed out with our granola and t-shirts.
Posh & Becks - NOT 🤣
The route between Tegg’s Nose and White Nancy is my personal favourite part of the Gritstone. Combining serene woodland trails and gorgeous ‘chocolate box’ villages, this section of the walk boasts true fairytale settings.
Despite the miles clocking up beneath our feet, I felt so relaxed! I know that sounds dead daft as ultra-challenges are generally expected to be anything but pleasurable, but I really was relishing every second of our expedition.
The fact that we were more aware of the course this year spared us the time to appreciate the route a whole lot more.
Last year, I enjoyed the Gritstone Trail, but mostly, I endured it. This year, I LOVED it.
Pure happiness. ❤️
We arrived at White Nancy over two hours ahead of last year’s time.
By this point, we were feeling confident that we were going to get home before dark.
We celebrated by playing some music as we trampled along to Bow Stones.
Young Folks, by Peter Bjorn and John.
This was a definite hike highlight for me: meandering along in the late afternoon sun, through stunning woodland shrouded by opulent hills, listening to music with my best mate, knowing we were just hours off victory.
For most people, walking 35 miles over 14 and a half hours with their ex would be a definite idea of HELL, however there's genuinely nobody else I'd rather do these crazy challenges with!
Peak four: White Nancy 😁
(Note to self: stop doing the peace sign in photos - you are no longer in year 10 and it is not 2009…)
At 6pm, Bowstones loomed into view over the moorland.
Our final peak, and 51k down!
As has become tradition, we called my Mum with our Chinese order (soft noodles, seaweed and tofu in satay sauce for me!), and then it was simply a case of descending Bow Stones and heading into Disley village, ticking off the final 5k of the trail.
Making friends with these cuties at Bowstones 🥰
Our tracker ticked over 56k as we arrived at Disley train station. We’d done it – AGAIN - and this time in 14 hours and 41 minutes!!
Completing the walk in daylight made all the difference.
Last year, we finally got back to my Mum’s at 9:30pm, and it was pitch black. We ate our takeaway at 10pm and hardly had any time to freshen up or process what we’d done. We went to bed at 11pm and tried and failed to force sleep, which resulted in us devouring a whole tub of ice-cream at 5am, wide awake.
This year, we got to my Mum’s at 7pm, had a shower each, leisurely ate our Chinese takeaway, watched White Chicks, scoffed some of my Mum’s legendary homemade blackberry crumble, then went to bed at 11pm. I reckon I fell asleep within minutes, and didn’t wake up until half 8 Sunday morning.
I felt surprisingly fresh when I got up! My glutes are a little achy again, and my feet are – inevitably – sore, but I don’t feel a total wreck. I’ve even been out for a walk this afternoon and I feel fine.
Can I also just take this opportunity to publically thank my Mum? Not only did she ply with us a Chinese takeaway and blackberry crumble but she also made us a full English breakfast the morning after! And she had filled the bathroom with peppermint foot cream, muscle soaks and bath salts upon our return as well.
She even stood at the front door clapping when we approached her house.
BEST Mum EVER!!
As was also the case last year, she was very much a huge part of our Gritstone adventure. ❤️
Don't even... 🤤
Elated doesn’t even come close to describing the feeling of completing an ultra-hike. The sense of achievement swells from within and radiates externally. I wanted to wrap my arms around myself and give my body a hug!
Someone once told me that the human body knows no limits. The more time I spend with my body, listening to it, nurturing it, and gently challenging it, the more I am coming to realise how true this sentiment is.
Walking into Disley Village from Bow Stones - look at the sunset over Lyme Cage! 😍
Over the past eight years – armed with anorexia - I have beaten my body, both physically and mentally. I blocked out its cries and pleas and I pushed it to breaking point. I always saw my body as something separate from myself – a nameless inconvenience that was simply there for me to bully and belittle in favour of desperately scratching around for some sort of control.
In June last year, I took up competitive running and my whole narrative changed in terms of the way I see and treat my body.
I have been left staggered by the sheer strength of my body.
I have learned to trust my body, and above all, listen to it. I’ve gained muscle, I’ve put on weight, and I’ve watched my body change right before my eyes. In the past, this would have rendered me with panic as the control I so blindly chase crashes through my fingers. I no longer feel that fear. I know that the retention of weight and the addition of muscle is simply my body flourishing under the love I am striving to gift it with.
My body is transforming every day, and it’s a privilege to share in and contribute to these moments.
It might sound dramatic, but sometimes it really does feel as though I have been given a second chance at life. I see things differently now.
And while anorexia is still very much a part of my life (and probably always will be), I now battle against anorexia, not for it. In the past, I was anorexia’s puppet burning with my mission to destroy myself from the inside out.
Now, I stand tall in my body and I fight for it.
I fight for days like today; days that fill me with pride. Days I know will forevermore remain in the treasure trove of my mind – their duty to remind me of my determination and, indeed, that the human body knows no limits.
Peak Five: Bowstones! WE DID IT!! 😍
Cara Jasmine Bradley
#gritstonetrail #cheshirewalks #bowstones #whitenancy #teggsnose #thecloud #mowcop #lymepark #disley