Route plotted – a 13 mile challenge linking four local landmarks – kit packed, ready to go. Clear December skies forecast, perfect for a Shutlingsloe sunrise; I just need to get up there in time. I park in a lay-by approaching Wildboarclough. It’s approximately 1 mile to the summit and I have allowed myself 20 minutes. I start to run. It’s a cold, frosty morning and the sky is turning beautiful shades of pink.
I’m soon out of breath - uphill running is tough. I carry on as best I can, walking every so often for a breather, and follow the lane alongside a wood. I find the path to Shutlingsloe, via Banktop, and the climb becomes steeper. I have to walk, and then scramble, the icy stones making it hard going. Whilst steep, the climb is short, and I’m soon at the trig point (506m). The sun is rising ahead of me, turning the sky bright orange; I turn around to see pastel pinks with a full moon over Manchester - breath-taking.
I stay for some time, looking around in wonder. I realise I’m getting cold; despite my gloves, my hands won’t bend. Time to go, back the way I'd come, the frost glistening on the grass, it is so still and quiet. I return to the track and continue on my way, heading towards Clough House.
Crossing a farm yard, I find the stony track along Cumberland Brook, a gradual ascent and quite hard going but I manage to keep running for most of it. Arriving at a ford, I turn right towards Three Shires Head. I’m completely alone, running along, just about getting the feeling back in my hands, enjoying the silence. Running uphill, I approach the A54 crossing.
On the other side of the road the footpath is less obvious, I run across fields, I hope this is right! Criss-crossing very wet ground, I’m relieved to join a more obvious track, this should be the Dane Valley Way (DVW) - it is. I arrive at Three Shires Head, a collection of bridges and waterfalls and the joining of Cheshire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. There is no-one else here this morning - a contrast to the last time I was here in May. Second check point completed.
I need to continue along the Dane Valley Way, but which side of the river should I be on? It's not clear on my map and I don't want to get this wrong. I dither a bit, then get a grip, cross the bridge and turn right. I run alongside Turn Edge and check the joining footpaths - yes, this is the path I want - good. I continue along a farm track, approaching a flock of sheep having breakfast, they turn to watch me, but don't run away. I continue up towards houses, less confident now. I stop and check my map, I'm in the wrong place. I turn back and find a footpath sign to follow, not too wrong and I soon see a DVW sign again.
Back on a downhill grassy track, muddy, but clear, with several stiles and DVW signs, I put my map away and pick up speed, running across the fields to a small country road and a cluster of houses. After a very short road section, I find the path again. Near the river now and very boggy. I splash my way to a river side path and continue my journey. Flat, but hard going, I see that the road is running parallel and hop over the wall. Easier going; but slightly up hill again. I see the entrance to Gradbach Mill – I’m going the right way - I pass the mill and cafe (closed due to Covid) – slip along a muddy path and run over the river bridge. I'm at the edge of Forest Wood and near Lud's church, which is well sign posted. This path is steep, keep going, onwards and upwards. I've made it to the church - how to get in? Climb over some boulders - this doesn't look right. I'm about to climb down some sort of cliff. Back track. Keep going - this is better, I recognise a low wooden fence and enter Lud's Church, an unexpected, atmospheric gorge, with a muddy floor and tall walls covered in ferns. I carry on climbing to exit nearer to the top of the ridge.
I'm determined to run to the Roaches trig point (505m). There are great views from the ridge with blue skies, and more people now as it's a respectable time. I cross a road and it becomes hard going uphill, but an easy path to follow, steps and slabs. I reach the trig point - brilliant - I'm very satisfied. I turn and retrace my steps. I return to the road crossing, remembering buying ice cream from the van here one summer, but not today.
I turn right and run down by the dry stone wall, back to the woods, along a forest trail on the edge of the hill side, careful to make sure I don't fall. I reach the bridge across the river and return to Gradbach mill.
My map shows a nice straight line back to Wildboarclough - I need to get better at reading contours - it's up a steep rise and I'm tired, but I keep going. The sun is shining, I'm in the beautiful countryside, I can do this. On I go, following the path, I walk a bit and reach a minor road. I look back - the sun is bright and the hills look stunning.
I carry on, the permissive path turns to stones, very hard to run on, I balance on the tufts of grass on the sides and keep going. I cross the A54 again and see the final stretch back to Wildboarclough. Mud and boggy ground, but nearly there. I follow a pretty stream to reach the road and turn left. I look for my car, I really hope I've gone the right way - finally I see the lay-by. Thirteen miles run; adventure complete.