“Tofu in satay sauce, noodles and seaweed,” I sniffed. “And some prawn crackers.”
“I’ll order it now and keep it in the oven for when you get home,” my Mum replied on the other end of the phone. “Keep going - you’ve nearly done it. Just 10 kilometres to go...”
About four weeks ago, my husband and I hatched what some might have described as a ‘foolish, overambitious and downright bizarre’ plan.
I’m still not entirely sure how the idea came about, but for some reason, we decided that we were perfectly capable of walking the Gritstone Trail... In one day.
The Gritstone Trail is a 56km/ 35 mile hike running from Disley all the way to Kidsgrove, taking in Cheshire chocolate-box villages Pott Shrigley, Bollington, Rainow and Macclesfield en-route.
56km? Meh, I’ve ran marathons, so what’s another 14km on top of that? I mean, how hard can it be, really?
*Mentally inserts a photo of my post-Gritstone, blood-oozing feet right here...! And THAT’s the difference between 42 and 56km!*
Still, at least I was more prepared than my husband who, when asked how his training was going, replied, “Well I went to Aldi at lunch, and that’s a mile, so it’s basically just like walking to Aldi 35 times.”
We opted to do the route backwards - starting in Kidsgrove - for no other reason other than because there’s an incredible Chinese takeaway in Disley which we planned to reward ourselves with if we completed the challenge.
Our taxi dropped us off at Kidsgove station at quarter to five in the morning on Saturday 28th August. The weather forecast was on our side, and promised to boast early morning sun and temperatures of 19 degrees.
It was pitch black for the first hour or so of our walk, so we donned our sexy new head torches. Armed with a knee brace, blister plasters, three portable phone chargers, a birthday cake flavoured protein bar and enough food to last the average family of 15 for a year, we powered on.
The first disaster of the day occurred pretty early on into the hike, which didn’t exactly make for a very promising start. Somehow, we managed to miss the first turn off the canal and walked an extra 2 kilometres out of our way, meaning we had to then walk a further 2 kilometres back, resulting in us being a total of 4 kilometres behind within the first hour.
It didn’t seem so bad at the time but later on, when we kept having to deduct 4 kilometres from however far we’d walked, it was so utterly soul destroying.
We were soon back on track and heading towards our first peak: Mow Cop.
After being left absolutely dumbfounded and potentially a little less mobile by the insanely steep climb up, we were rewarded by the site of the sun rising over the castle.
It wasn’t even 7am, and we were lucky enough to have Mow Cop to ourselves.
The sky was suddenly ablaze with a ferocious shade of cobalt blue as the sun dramatically shoved the moon aside and took centre stage. In terms of the outlandish state of affairs that is the British weather, we truly couldn’t have picked a better weekend!
Leaving Mow Cop behind, we rambled through the countryside towards Bosley Cloud.
This has since become one of our favourite spots in the UK. The views from the centre point of The Cloud are so panoramically stunning, they require a generous dedication of attention. The spanning views take in the endless Cheshire plains and the iconic Jodrell Bank. An emerald patchwork of perfection, the countryside tumbled into the horizon as far as the eye could see.
There was something really quite emotive about standing at the top of the aptly named Cloud, watching the daybreak across the county below.
I have debated writing the next section in the fear that people may think that I was suffering from some sort of mental crisis or delirium, but as I have photographic evidence, I’m just going to come right out and say it...
We saw a kangaroo. A real, large as life goddam kangaroo. In Cheshire.
Personally, I thought my birthday cake protein bar had tipped my sugar levels and sanity over the edge, but it appeared to be on some sort of farm, so I can only guess that it belongs to somebody.
... And I thought Marmite our Syrian Hamster was a funky choice of pet!
Things I expected to see while walking the Gritstone Trail: the back of an ambulance.
Things I didn’t expect to see while walking the Gritstone Trail: a kangaroo.
Don’t believe me? See for yourself!
We were amazed by how quiet the entire route was. Being a Bank Holiday – and one blessed with unexpected glorious weather at that – we’d presumed that walkers would be out in their masses. Actually, we must have only seen about 20 other people during the whole walk.
The infinite walls of the countryside felt like ours and ours alone.
The miles ticked away under our [rapidly blistering] feet.
The countryside passed by in a blur of some very livid looking cows, a savage goat that cleared a gate to chase us off its drive, and numerous pathways decorated with thistles and stinging nettles that seemed intent on snaking their way around our shins.
I was left devastated by the fact that my packet of Liquorice Allsorts contained only ONE pink bobbly sweet, and no Basset whatsoever. There’s a time and a place to ruins someone’s sugar addiction, and 30km into a 60km hike is not the one. I ended up having to sulkily snatch a handful of wild blackberries to feed my cravings instead.
By the time we reached the halfway mark, we looked like we’d stepped off the set of Jurassic Park, what with thorn-induced scratches embellishing our arms and sunburn tainting our shoulders.
The next landmark we came to was the telecommunications tower at the top of Croker Hill, somewhere between Bosley Cloud and Teggs Nose.
We grabbed a five minute break in the shade, relishing the feeling of the cooling grass against our sizzling arms.
We were half way there.
In terms of aches and pains, we actually surprisingly felt okay at this point, but we still had a long, long way to go.
I was a little worried about hitting the 34km mark, as this is where I start to mentally crash during marathons.
We sang Heather Small ‘Proud’ into the deserted countryside to boost morale, putting on Heather’s iconic voice for effect. (... Looking back, it’s not really any wonder that we were chased by goats and eyeballed by cows.)
Teggs Nose was a slightly more challenging climb, attributable to the fact that it coincided with the day’s peak heat.
Once again, the views well and truly made up for the uphill trek. The hillsides were illuminated by a blazing purple blanket of heather.
The little cafe at Teggs Nose was nothing short of a blessing! There are very few places to replenish recourses along the Gritstone Trail, so this was such a lifesaver. We stocked up on bottles of water to get us through the last half of our ultra-marathon walk.
White Nancy came and went, and then somewhere between there and Sponds Hill, something went dreadfully, spectacularly wrong.
The Gritstone Trail is very well signposted, but there was one point whereby the arrows appeared to be pointing in completely the wrong direction. We initially took the path we assumed they were directing us towards and ended up inadvertently taking a kilometre long detour through a field in the middle of nowhere before realising that we had strayed way off course. Given the 4km diversion at the start of the walk, we could have well done without this, especially given the fact that time was of the essence and daylight was a precious resource.
I confess: a few swear words and threats of divorce may have been exchanged at this point.
Now heading in the right direction, we were on the home straight. Our pace had decreased, and we were low on food, water and energy.
There was no more singing Heather Small, which I’m sure pleased anybody within a 50 mile radius of my disastrous, warbly drone.
Four hours sleep and 50km of walking started to catch up with us.
As our Map My Walk app announced that we’d finally hit 50km, my husband sighed and stopped in his tracks.
“This is impossible. We should have just 6km left, but because we’ve now gone wrong twice, it’s added another 5km to the walk, meaning we’ve got 11km to go.”
I winced at the words. I had known all along that this would be the case, but hearing the truth out loud was almost as painful as my overworked calves.
The sun was dwindling, slowly retracting its rays and dimming its light.
The moors around us were totally desolate, apart from a few cows that I have to admit I didn’t trust.
I had a vague idea of where we were, but I was terrified of being caught on the middle of the moor when the night rolled in. I knew it was a very unsafe prospect and understood that we’d become completely disorientated and therefore unable to accurately follow the signposts to end of the trail.
“We can’t give up now,” I croaked, before bursting into tears. “Oh my God we’re going to get lost on the moors in the dark! This is how people die! We need to RUN! Do you reckon you could jog the last 10km? Don’t make eye contact with the cows! We’re going to have to drink pond water to stay hydrated! Stop eating the Doritos!! They need to last us till morning now, unless I can find a blackberry bush. How much food have we got left?”
My husband opened his rucksack to reveal a packet of Fridge Raiders, half a bag of Cool Original Doritos, and one strawberry pencil.
“OMG we actually are going to die!” I shrieked.
I started legging it up the moors – carried by adrenaline and wild hysteria – clutching half a bag of Cool Original Doritos, like a scene from Wuthering Heights gone very wrong.
What to do when you’re on the verge of a panic attack and faced with the dilemma of potentially spending the night on the moors with half a packet of Doritos and a herd of demonic cows?
Despite being 27 years old, the only logical thing I could think to do was to call my Mum.
She’s walked the Gritstone Trail before and also happens to be the most practical person I know. She managed to calm me down and reassured me that we weren’t far from home. With the promise of a Chinese takeaway upon our arrival at her house, she encouraged me to keep going.
Holding hands, we gritted our teeth and determinedly endured the last 10km of our mammoth hike.
We both cried when Bow Stones came into view. A mix of exhaustion, relief, pain and pride cascaded over us.
The sun set with a defiant swoop just seconds after we’d reached this pivotal moment, and then the countryside was plunged into the day’s dark finale.
We had made it in the nick of time!
We arrived at my Mum’s house at half past nine at night.
Our much-craved Chinese takeaway was laid out on the table, and a bowl of Mum’s notoriously delicious homemade blackberry crumble bubbled away on the side, fresh out of the oven.
A foot spa and peppermint foot lotion had been positioned in-front of the TV.
(My Mum is the absolute BEST in the world, and it’s not up for debate!) ❤
We did it: we walked the entire Gritstone Trail in ONE DAY.
In the end – taking our two wrong turns into consideration – we walked a total of 61km / 37.9 miles in 16 hours and 45 minutes.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Now that I am familiar with the route, I would totally take on this challenge again when the days are longer. I won’t lie... I do have my eye on the Gritstone Grind run next September!
Just six months ago, my husband was struggling so much with his mental health that he couldn’t even get out of bed. He was stuck in a vicious cycle of binge eating and self-loathing. The furthest he had ever walked prior to the Gritstone was 21km, and that was over two years ago. Now, he’s lost almost three stone and has completed a hike that a lot of seasoned walkers struggle to take on in the timescale of one day.
Before I got back into the competitive running scene a few months ago, I was well on my way to another anorexic downward spiral. Seeing the results my body has produced week after week in the form of personal bests has totally mesmerised me and given me a new found respect for it.
My body – the body I have so unfairly punished for years – still stands by me every single day. I say this in every one of my articles and after every one of my running endeavours, but my body and the resilience it beholds amaze me beyond belief.
The things I have achieved this year in terms of my running and the overwhelming pride I have felt thanks to my body make me want to kick anorexia to the curb once and for all. I owe it to my body to nourish it with the love that it so generously gifts me with in spite of the cruel treatment I have inflicted upon it.
For my husband and I, this was so much more than just a walk, or even a fitness challenge. This was something to prove to our demons that we’re stronger than they are.
People said we were crazy when we announced our plans to tackle the Gritstone Trail in one day. At times, we did think that we had bitten off more than we could chew, but deep down, we knew that 61km is a hell of a lot easier than being paralysed by mental illness. So we vowed to keep walking, to keep moving forwards, to stun our demons into silence one step at a time.
The human body is incredible. Where our minds so often fail us, our bodies remain to be the driving force that reminds us of our inner strength time and time again.
Cara Jasmine Bradley
✨ To read my Gritstone Trail Q&A article, click here: https://www.carajasminebradley.com/post/q-a-s-walking-the-gritstone-trail-in-one-day ✨
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