Every year, Josh and I say we’ll never do it again.
Our feet wince at the sheer memory of the blisters they have succumbed to over the years.
Even the mere thought of it makes my calves cramp.
… And then August rolls round and Josh will say, “Have we got any plans for the Bank Holiday?” and I’ll reply, “Nah. Shall we walk the Gritstone Trail in one day again? Shall we walk 56k/ 35 miles FOR FUN?”
Yeah, why not!
In 2021, Josh and I set out on a mission to smash Cheshire’s infamous Gritstone Trail hike in one day.
Oh, that first year was all fun and games! We got lost twice, added 5k onto the route, got chased by a startlingly aggressive goat, had a blazing argument on the moors, and had such bad adrenaline-fuelled insomnia that we found ourselves eating prawn crackers and watching Not Going Out at 5am. Tbh, looking back, I don’t know why we even agreed to give it another go.
Last year, in 2022, we felt slightly better prepared to tackle the beast, and were chuffed to finish the walk in 14 hours. As I said in my 2022 blog, the first time, I simply endured the Gritstone; the second time, I absolutely loved it.
While our second Gritstone pilgrimage was still tough, we felt so much more relaxed and able to enjoy the scenery without the worry of taking a wrong turn.
Last weekend, in August 2023, we set out determinedly for round three. As we’re now pretty confident in our ability to complete the challenge, we were desperate to get our time down to 13 hours.
This year - as well as taking our battered old copy of the Cheshire East Gritstone Map - we downloaded the 'All Trails' app (free from the app store), which was hugely helpful. Although we've walked the trail twice before, it can still be confusing at times, and if you lose concentration for even a minute, you can miss a turn and find yourself miles off course. The app was brilliant, and the live map worked even in areas that we had no signal.
Keeping to tradition, we donned headtorches and set off walking from Kidsgrove Station just before 4:30am.
Mow Cop before sunrise 🌙
We didn’t stop once, even when tackling the killer Mow Cop Mile and the revoltingly steep ascent of The Cloud.
Does life get any better than devouring a breakfast of beef Hula Hoops and fizzy fang sweets at half past 6 in the morning, while watching the sunrise from a random field in the middle of nowhere? 😍 THIS is why we do it. ❤️
Every year we have these moments whereby we just feel like we're the only people in the world. Our annual super hike temporarily removes us from the fast pace of life and brings us back to basics. I wouldn't change those moments for anything.
The sunrise, and not a soul in sight... Bliss! 🧡
We were happily reacquainted with our kangaroo friends (honestly, don't ask, just read 2021's blog. Sometimes, things are too random to even begin to explain. Basically, there's a field of kangaroos near The Cloud. I don't know why, and I don't know how. When we saw them that first year, I genuinely thought we were hallucinating after OD'ing on Haribo Starmix.)
We also reunited with the rogue goat that cleared a gate and chased us the first year. He seems to have mellowed with age, thank God.
There he is on the right: our guy. Despite chasing us the first year, he has become a bit of a mascot on our Gritstone walks.
Unfortunately, the weather hadn't been great leading up to the walk, which meant the paths and fields were basically mud baths. This was a new challenge for us, as we've been very lucky with the weather over the past two years. In 2021 and 2022, I actually wore my New Balance running shoes to complete the trail which were a faultless choice, and felt so light. There was absolutely no chance of that this year, and I ended up donning my walking boots.
The weight of my boots combined with the boggy paths made the going really tough, and zapped a lot of energy from the offset.
The weather on the actual day of the walk didn't exactly help matters, either. I know I'm going to sound so bloody British, but... 'It just couldn't make it's mind up!' 🤣 Seriously! One minute it was pouring down and the sky was grumbling intimidatingly over head (exactly the sort of threat you want while walking through woods... NOT), and the next, it was bright sunshine. I reckon I wasted an hour just continuously taking my coat off and putting it back on again.
Sunglasses on, umbrella up. Sweating our backs out, shivering with the cold. All in the space of ten minutes - mega. Just what you want for 36 miles!
Achieving our 13 hour target certainly wasn't going to be easy, and it was about to get that bit trickier...
Contrary to the expression, I was actually kinda' enjoying hiking across the rainy moors! 🤣
'Say what you will, the countryside is still...
What I'd give once more to live right out of town...'
Max Bygrave 'Out of Town'
At around 23k, shortly after we'd passed The Cloud, Josh suddenly fell while going over a bridge. The mesh grip underfoot had been pulled away, leaving the slippery wooden surface exposed.
He hit his back and thigh on the way down, as well as face planting a particularly grizzly patch of nettles. He was really winded, and just like that, our 2023 Gritstone dreams were temporarily dashed.
Where there’s blame, there’s a claim! Cheshire East Council – I’m gunnin’ for ya! 😉
It was a real Titanic moment…
Me: “I can’t leave you!”
Josh: “There's no point in both of us quitting. I’ll walk back to Timbersbrook and get a taxi."
Me: "No! There's absolutely no way I'm leaving you."
Josh: "Honestly, I'll be fine. I reckon you can still do it in 13 hours."
... You know me - always up for a challenge! 😏
Me: “Okay, see you later.”
And off I trotted.
Literally no more than 5 minutes later, I found myself ankle deep in a bog. 🙃
Now here's something I learned during the course of that hike: waterproof boots are only waterproof to an extent, and that extent is not sustained by somehow wandering into the middle of a swamp.
I had to walk 33k with full-on puddles in my boots. Yes, I'd packed spare shoes and socks, but as the whole trail was so wet and muddy, it would have been pointless to change. So I soldiered on, making actual sloshing noises with every footstep.
I do apologise if anyone reading this has a phobia of feet, because I can guarantee that the next few lines will honestly make you retch and cringe.
When I finished the walk, I took my boots off and was actually able to wring my socks out.
My feet… Oh God. My feet were a strange lilac colour and all shrivelled and wrinkled, as if I’d been in the bath for too long. One of my toenails had turned purple. Utterly delightful.
I self-diagnosed trench foot and spent the evening fretting over possible amputations.
Two peaks down. Up next: Tegg's Nose! 💪🏼
I was so determined to achieve mine and Josh's 13-hour goal that I genuinely didn't stop once from the moment I went on alone.
There I was, striding through the Cheshire countryside on my own, listening to Right Now by Atomic Kitten, knocking back hunks of olive bread with all of the finesse of feeding time at the zoo.
The rain kept coming and going, and the peak afternoon sun blazed down. Wearing a cagoule in those conditions is probably one of the most vile feelings in the whole world, topped only by wet feet, which I was also plagued with.
At one point - somewhere between The Cloud and Croker Hill - the paths were so overgrown that the weeds were above head height. I mean, at 5 foot, I'm aware that I am what some may call 'vertically challenged,' but still!
That particular strecth went on for an agonising 2km.
20 minutes of being continually slapped across the face by ferns...
The Croker Hill section is probably the least interesting part of the trail, but the telecommunications tower is a good halfway marker.
If I'm being completely honest, I wasn't a fan of fact that one of the trail paths was gated off with a 'Beware: Bull in field' sign. There was no other way round, so I had no option but to open the gate with bated breath. I don't know what my plan was, really. I still had a freezer bag of dry Cheerios in my pocket that I thought I may be able to bribe said bull with if it charged.
Thankfully, I escaped the field without seeing any bulls and was therefore spared of having to unveil my fruitless plan...
The rocky climb up to Tegg's Nose was as challenging as ever. I really do despise that terrain, although the spanning, heather-clad views from the top make the struggle worth it.
Climbing Tegg's Nose. You can also see the telecommunications tower - where I walked from - in the distance! 🥾
Once Tegg's Nose was out of the way, I had my favourite section to look forward to: the walk to White Nancy.
The scenery between Tegg's Nose and White Nancy is just out of this world. It's like waltzing into a fairy tale land; quaint pathways laced with sprawling blackberry bushes, and a thick canopy of emerald leaves overhead... 💚 I always really enjoy this part of the walk, despite the inclines that seem to pop up at random every year.
That's the thing about the Gritstone - the five main peaks (Mow Cop, The Cloud, Tegg's Nose, White Nancy and Bow Stones) are testing enough, but it's the smaller, steeper hills that are sprinkled generously throughout the trail that make it really tough.
With White Nancy out of the way, I ploughed on for Bow Stones, which was when the heavens really decided to open.
The feeling of seeing Bow Stones finally come into view over the moors after over 50km of walking NEVER gets old. 😍
The best thing about walking the route from Kidsgrove to Disley is that once you've navigated Bow Stones, it's literally all down hill into Disley Village from there.
The stunning walk down from Bowstones 🥰
Now... are you ready for my time reveal?!
Despite the commotion along the way, I completed the entire Gritstone Trail in 10 hours and 34 minutes! That’s six hours off 2021’s time, and four hours off last year’s. 🎉😍
I might have had feet that resembled a Shar Pei, but I was absolutely BUZZING!!
I finished just after 3pm, which was too early even for a traditional Mr Chongs Chinese takeaway!
So... Now that our time goal has been smashed, would we walk the Gritstone Trail in one day for a fourth time?
I'd love for us to do it in sub 10 hours, and I'd also really like to take part in the Gritstone Grind ultra run, too. For now though, the next mission on our agenda is walking the Sandstone Trail in one day.
🌙 Oh, and btw - the sleep you have the night after walking the Gritstone Trail in one day is unrivalled. I usually try to hang on until 10pm, then I throw the windows wide and drift off under the night breeze. This year, I slept through until 7pm, and woke to the sound of the rain against the window. Bloody beautiful!
Cara Jasmine Bradley ©
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