Cheshire Walk - Farndon

Keith Carter explores a riverside route around the former strawberry fields of Farndon

Farndon was formerly known as Ferendon, or so it appears in Domesday Book. There would have been a crossing of the river here, either a ferry or a ford at least until the bridge was built. This solid, buttressed structure is made from sandstone and was the scene of fighting during the Civil War, my favourite, if one can be said to have a favourite war.

Charles I’s Master of Music, William Lawes came from Farndon, himself killed at Rowton Moor in 1645 to the king’s distress. He is said to have written “I much mourn in death him whom in life I loved”, a wonderful way of putting it. It is easy to see that holding this bridge across the Dee between England and Wales was crucial strategically. It’s certainly narrow, the road across it is now controlled by traffic lights.

Coming from the direction of Holt, that is from the south, look for a concealed opening on the far side on the right. Turn down here and there is parking for cars, a good place for leaving the car to do this month’s walk. Cross the road to a footpath sign and go down a bank to the riverside, keeping the river on your left.

The unchecked vegetation has grown so high as to block the sight of the river initially but the sight to the right of Farndon Cliffs is impressive here, sheer sandstone cliffs with the gnarled roots of trees clinging to them, a geological feature of curiosity.

As we make our way along the riverside path we find ourselves skirting round a series of wooden chalets, some merely cabins, which seem to have multiplied like a refugee camp. The name for those who live beside rivers is ‘riparian’ from the Latin ‘ripa’ meaning bank and there’s quite a population of them here. Presumably these huts were originally fishing shacks which over the passage of time have expanded into permanent dwellings.

We follow the path, every so often passing through modern galvanised kissing gates past a series of these chalets until the path enters an enclosed area before emerging into a broad open field where cows graze right down to the river’s edge, and into it when they need a drink. Considering a dairy cow drinks 30 gallons a day, you have to hope the river doesn’t run dry.

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Farndon was famous for strawberry growing between the wars but then when World War Two broke out all spare land was turned over for growing grain and the strawberry business never recovered. Itinerant workers would flock to the village at picking time. They were known as ‘dodgers’ and I’m sure spent a lot of their back-breaking day’s wages in one of the village’s four pubs, celebrated in the local rhyme:

The Mason’s Arms will lose its charms The Raven it will fly, We’ll turn the Greyhound upside down And drink the Nag’s Head dry. The Mason’s Arms has certainly lost its charms as indeed has the Nag’s Head, both long closed.

Our walk continues, the river making a broad sweep to the right and we enter a wood, emerging by a cluster of chalets looking onto a series of rectangular ponds where fish are bred to supply the numerous fishing lakes and reservoirs. The keeper came to check on us, politely suggesting we should move on.

This was not a public park after all.

Once we got talking he relaxed and told us about his work keeping the fish fed and the predators at bay, including kingfishers which he hated and cormorants and herons which he had a license to shoot. He seemed to have the dream job, looking after his fish, so good luck to him.

From the lakes the path moves left past a green garage, goes through two gates then turns right away from the river briefly cutting off the corner of an ox-bow shaped bend. Go through a field, cross a track and enter the next field via another of those ubiquitous kissing gates. Keep along the left hand boundary then leave the field at a gate close to a chalet with the name of Meg’s Place.

Enter the next field, following the hedge line on the left and exit by a kissing gate to find yourself in a stand of immature poplars, tall and straight, their leaves rustling in the breeze like the whispering congregation in a church before the service starts.

A path breaks off to the right with an arrow on a post, the way cut through an area completely colonised by the invasive Himalayan Balsam which blights the English countryside. If you see it, pull it up. The roots are only weak and they can be easily pulled.

We leave the trees by turning right when we meet an established track leading to a metal gate then continue on a dead straight green path until we reach a meeting of paths. Here we have a choice: we can either turn right to continue our walk or keep forward into the village of Churton for a pint in the pub. It’s only a third of a mile from here and well worth the effort. If you make this short detour or grit your teeth and avoid it, where the paths meet take an earth path along the edge of a cultivated field as far as two large barns, apparently disused.

Turn right between them and at the next junction turn left. Stay on the earth track by which the tractors access the fields, here sown with maize and wheat. When the path bends left leave this track and keep ahead on a green lane, becoming aware of the industrial units over the hedge to the left. A monument can be seen, a single pointed stele, slim and elegant on a plinth guarded by stone lions commemorating Major Barnston who fought in the Crimean War and was killed during the Indian Mutiny.

The green lane ends at Brewery Lane by a gabled bungalow called Glebe Garth and we stay with it into the village. Turn right at the T-junction and walk down through the village to the bridge and our walk ends where it began.

Compass points

Area of walk: Farndon

Map: OS Explorer 257 Chester and Middlewich

Distance of walk: 5 miles

Time to allow: 3 hours

Refreshments: The White Horse, Churton.

Toilets: By the bridge in Farndon

Further research: www.chestertourist.com/farndon.htmLANCASHIRE.