Following my last post whereby I detailed mine and Josh's expedition of walking the Gritstone Trail in one day - https://www.carajasminebradley.com/post/walking-the-gritstone-trail-in-one-day - I have had a number of messages asking me various questions. I thought I'd compile a list below for anybody interested in tackling the hike themselves. Please feel free to message me with any further questions you might have about the Gritstone Trail!
* This blog was originally published after our first Gritstone walk in August 2021. It has since been edited and added to following our 2022 and 2023 walks. *
So, walking the entire Gritstone Trail (56km/ 35 miles) in one day – what made you do it?!
Walking the Gritstone Trail has been an ambition of Josh's ever since I met him.
The past year or so has been tough on our mental health for various reasons, and how better to prove that we’re still standing than by taking on an ultra fitness challenge, all the while ticking something off our bucket lists?!
Why did you decide to do the route ‘backwards’ – e.g starting in Kidsgrove and finishing in Disley?
Honestly? For no other reason other than that there’s an INSANE Chinese restaurant/ takeaway in Disley (shout out to Mr Chongs!) which we figured would be our ultimate reward if we succeeded in the challenge.
To be honest, there's no right or wrong way to walk the trail; it doesn't really make a difference is you start at Disley or Kidsgrove. The choice is yours.
... Although I can't sing Mr Chongs' praises loud enough. 😂
Did you train for the Gritstone Trail?
Not specifically, although we are both fairly seasoned walkers and very active. I tend to cover 100k+ every week, combining walking and running, and I run at least a half marathon every weekend (sometimes 25/30k).
It's good to remember that this is a challenging walk, with five major peaks (and many other vertical hills along the way), covering 1,500m of elevation. I would say that it's probably best to be confident in your ability to walk at least 25 miles - over hills - before attempting to do it in one day.
Much of the course is pretty isolated (with bad phone signal), and over the past three years, we've hardly seen anybody on the trail apart from at the major points (Teggs Nose, White Nancy, etc). If you suddenly felt unable to continue, or you obtained an injury, the chances of getting help may be fairly difficult.
What did you take?
* Head torches (due to our early start in the dark)
* A medical kit, containing blister plasters, normal plasters, antiseptic wipes, Paracetemol, etc
* Loo roll (for those inevitable wild wees...)
* Hand sanitiser
* A cagoule (because despite the forecast stating bright sunshine and temperatures of 19 degrees, you never can trust the English weather...)
* Spare shoes
* Spare socks (the only available pair I could find while packing at 3am were decorated in alligators with donuts for bodies – not the most sophisticated choice, but a much welcomed treat mid-walk after my original socks holed at the big toe)
* Three portable phone chargers (might have been a bit of an overkill, but I am also the girl who also packed a USB stick with all of my writing backed up on it in-case there was a house fire while we were out and my laptop was destroyed. Yes, I am that much of an over-thinker...)
* The Gritstone Trail Walkers Guide, printed from the Cheshire East Council website - https://www.cheshireeast.gov.uk/leisure,_culture_and_tourism/ranger_service/countryside_sites/the_gritstone_trail/gritstone-trail.aspx
What food/ drink did you pack?
Even though we were up at 3am and left the house just before 4am, I still made sure I had some crumpets as a VERY early breakfast, just to give me that initial carb-boost.
* A high-calorie chocolate bar (a biscuit and raisin Yorkie for me!)
* A bag of sweets to help me through the energy-slumps
* Crisps (beef Hula Hoops, because it's almost impossible to find Discos nowadays...)
* Dried fruit
* Cereal bar
* Shop-bought pasta salad
* A bread roll
* Two litres of water each (this wasn’t anywhere near enough – I would recommend at least 4 litres per person. Definitely better to have some spare in-case you do get caught short and have to make an unplanned overnight stop).
What would you recommend wearing?
We were lucky with the weather in 2021 and 2022 (20 degrees), so could quite comfortably wear t-shirts, a light jacket and leggins/ walking trousers.
Footwear wise, I got away with my New Balance 530s (which I wear for running). I chose these as they are much lighter than walking boots, which proved a real saviour when my legs started to feel like led after numerous miles and peaks!
The only thing I will say about wearing running/trail shoes is that they may get a bit wet. Even if it's a sunny day, a lot of the trail snakes through fields (especially early on), and the grass is usually still dewy.
IMO walking with wet feet is one of the most torturous feelings in the world, so I'd suggest taking a spare pair of shoes/boots and some spare socks, just in case.
In 2023, we walked the trail on a wet and stormy day. It has rained for weeks prior, which made the going really rough underfoot. I wore my waterproof Timberland walking boots, and still ended up self-diagnosing trench foot.
Despite my chunky, waterproof boots, my feet were absolutely sodden. Some of the fields had practically turned to bogs, with no way around around them other than straight through. At one point, my boots were totally submerged in mud and water as I waded through a bog, ankle deep.
Parts of the trail are massively overgrown with nettles, so even if you are planning to do the walk on a hot day, I still think it's best to wear leggins/long pants and a jacket or long-sleeved t-shirt.
How long did it take you to walk the Gritstone Trail in one day?
2021: 16 hours 45 minutes (got lost and added 5k onto our route, so ended up covering 61k instead...)
2022: 14 hours 41 minutes
2023: 10 hours 34 minutes
Each year, we have started walking at 4:30am to give us as much time as possible to complete the trail. We usually walk for an hour or so along the Kidsgrove canal up to Mow Cop in complete darkness, but this isn't really an issue with head torches.
Was the trail easy to follow?
Yes – for the most part. The route is well marked by yellow and black discs with a ‘G’ in the middle, but there are sections where this is a little confusing.
For example, during our first walk in 2021, we arrived at a field in the middle of Rainow and were left totally baffled by discs. They appeared to be prompting us to walk uphill through the field, when in actual fact, this led to a dead end. We had to retrace our steps, climb back over the stile, get back onto the road, and carry on for a few minutes before discovering the trail again.
In 2023, we downloaded the 'All Trails' app (free from the App store), which was a real game changer! We were able to navigate the entire trail through the app, which worked even in low-signal areas.
Were there any places to buy refreshments along the trail?
No, apart from a small but well stocked cafe at Tegg's Nose, but that really is it in terms of opportunities to replenish food and water supplies. As of September 2021, The Tegg’s Nose Tea Room opening hours are as follows: Tuesday to Sunday, 9am – 5pm.
What was the hardest thing about walking the Gritstone Trail in one day?
2021: Getting lost, twice. As I said in my article, adding 5km on to the 56km trail didn’t seem quite so bad when it initially happened within our first hour of walking, but my God it caught up with us around the 50km mark. Time stood still between 40 and 50km – we didn’t appear to be moving any closer to the finish line.
The route is also full of steep climbs in the form of lots of steps and random grassy hills that seem to appear out of nowhere. The elevation was relentless!
2022: The overgrown sections. Even my face was covered in nettle stings and thorn scratches.
2023: The weather. The rain had turned large sections of the trail into a muddy mess. Wading through it took so much more effort and energy. Josh also had a fall at 23k, which meant he was unable to carry on. I walked the remaining 33k on my own.
And what was your favourite part of the Gritstone Trail?
2021: Watching the sunrise at Mow Cop was pretty special, especially as we were the only people around and the world felt like it was in the palm of our hands. But I’ll also never, ever forget that feeling of total elation when Bow Stones came into view over the moorland after a gruelling 16 hours of walking.
2022: Feeling as though we'd earned our little cake break at Tegg's Nose cafe. We were on course to beat the previous year's time, so we blissfully had time to relax and refuel.
2023: Actually finishing the trail in daylight, before half past 3 in the afternoon!
How did you feel afterwards?
2021: Completely and utterly in love with Mr Chongs noodles and crispy seaweed!
No, in all seriousness, I personally found the hike more mentally challenging than I did physically. (I don’t reckon anything will ever compare to the pain I felt after running my first marathon, when I spent the following 7 days unable to even put my own tights on.)
Josh suffered very bad blisters after the Gritstone Trail. I think we counted 9 at one point. His knees have also been causing him a lot of pain since, although his knee brace succeeded in warding off any aches during the actual hike.
For me, the aches and pains were refined mostly to my glutes, calves and the backs of my ankles, however, this did pass after a day or so.
We did the walk on Saturday – it’s now Tuesday, and I managed a 5k run this afternoon. I swore not to push myself and promised I would stop if I felt any pain whatsoever, but surprisingly, it was one of the most enjoyable runs I have had in weeks!
Everyone is different – it’s about listening to your body and granting it all the time it needs to recover and heal.
For us, the weirdest thing to follow our mammoth trek was the insomnia! The night before the trail, we went to bed at 11pm, and got up for our taxi at 3:30am. You would think that a combination of 4 and a half hours sleep and 61km of walking would result in the BEST night’s sleep EVER once we finally returned home... Nope!
The pains in our legs prevented all attempts of sleep, and at 3am, my raging cravings for prawn crackers were so intense that I found myself creeping through the house in search of the leftover Chinese takeaway. I think my body must have subconsciously been craving salt!
Hunger rampaged through my body in the hours after the hike; I've never known anything like it. It was the total opposite to the aftermath of any marathon I have ever run, whereby I supply spend the following 24 hours feeling pretty sick.
Anyway, in the end, Josh and I just accepted that we weren’t going to sleep and hauled the duvet downstairs, where we sat up watching Not Going Out and eating ice-cream and prawn crackers until daybreak.
I think the lack of shut eye might have been attributable to a few hike-related factors, including adrenaline, muscle cramps and dehydration.
2023: My feet were wet for over 40k of the walk, and were so sore afterwards. When I took my socks off, my toes were all shriveled as if I'd been in the bath for hours. (What a stunning image. Apologies if anyone is trying to plan a lovely walk while eating their tea...!)
Is there anything you would have done differently?
2021: We would have definitely taken more water.
Also, ideally, we would have liked to have had more daylight so that we didn’t end up tackling the first and last hour of the trail in complete darkness. In hindsight, the peak of summer before the winter nights start to draw in might have been a better time to do it, but we got by – just!
2023: I wish we'd known about the All Trails app in 2021 and 2022! It would have saved so much hassle, second-guessing and minor wrong-turns.
Would you do it again?
2021: Yes - 100%!
It’s funny; the pride you feel after completing a challenge like this by far outweighs any of the pain experienced along the way. (... Not sure my calves agreed that night as they cramped up TO HIGH HEAVEN repeatedly for about five hours straight.)
2023: I was really pleased to have walked the Gritstone Trail in under 11 hours this year, taking six hours off our 2021 time, and four hours of our 2022 time. I'd love to do it again in under 10 hours.
I do also fancy trying the Gritstone Grind run next year. As the cut off is 12 hours and I have now walked the trail in under 11 hours, I'm confident that I could maybe do it.
We also have our eye on the Sandstone Trail for our next big hike.
Accept that it’s going to be tough at times, and know that your ability to laugh at yourself is going to be your most powerful tool for perseverance!
I think I might have gone insane at around 44km had Josh not fallen down a hill and left me bent over double with laughter.
We saw a kangaroo and we randomly started beat boxing to the tune of my morning alarm – there were times on that trail where I really did think I had lost the plot!
It’s okay to admit that you’re struggling (to be honest, if you manage to walk 56km without struggling, please tell me your secret and I will pay you generously in jelly beans). I won’t even lie to you: I bloody cried!
Blood [blisters], sweat (Josh) and tears (me): we certainly went through the motions of an ultra-marathon hike alright!
✨ WE DID IT AGAIN IN 2022! SEE UPDATED BLOG HERE: https://www.carajasminebradley.com/post/gritstone-trail-in-one-day-again ✨
⚠️ ANDDDD IN 2023, WE DID IT AGAIN AND TOOK SIX HOURS OFF OUR ORIGINAL TIME! https://www.carajasminebradley.com/post/walking-the-gritstone-trail-in-one-day-2023
Cara Jasmine Bradley
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