Search Results : cheshire

Feb 102018

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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‘Heavy, persistent rain – gale force winds – weather warnings issued!’

The forecast for south Cheshire sounded dire. This was nothing new, however. Last time we’d stayed at the Cholmondeley Arms, fallen trees had blocked all the roads and a power cut had necessitated a candle-lit, rug-wrapped evening in the old schoolroom-turned-pub.

We glanced outside. A racing sky and scurrying clouds, but no downpours on the horizon. Shall we? Shan’t we? Oh, come on, let’s give it a go.

The wind blustered round Wrenbury’s old sandstone church of St Margaret. Inside were wide arcades, a maze of box pews, and a fine memorial to Stapleton Cotton, Viscount Combermere, Governor of Barbados, C-in-C of the Leeward Islands, Ireland and the East Indies. Also a box pew for the parish dog whipper, a post sadly in abeyance these days. The dog whipper kept canine upstarts in order during services with a 3-foot rod and a pair of dog tongs. It must have been quite a challenge.

Out in the fields lay glinting pools, witness to the impermeability of the glacial clay spread across this gently undulating landscape. The wind hissed in the leafless hedges and tossed parcels of rooks about the sky. Ashes and oaks roared as we trudged by.

In Aston we passed the Bhurtpore Inn, named for a victorious siege conducted by Lord Combermere in 1825. Old wars of empire seemed very far away, though, as we crossed Paradise Bridge in a dell of restless oaks, and forged north across beet fields and clover pastures.

A sweet treacly smell blew after us from a feed mill downwind. At the half-timbered old farmhouse of Sound Oak young cattle munched hay in their sheds. A last stretch across squelchy fields and we were following the grassy towpath of the Llangollen Canal back towards Wrenbury. At Baddiley Lock water chuckled down the spillway and ran rippling and flirting with the wind under bare boughs of oak and aspen.

If we’d taken heed of that portentous forecast, we would have missed out on a wonderful blowy walk, the canal waters spattered gold with oak leaves, and this stretch of winter country, green and quiet, under its racing sky.

Start: Wrenbury station, near Nantwich, Cheshire CW5 8EX (OS ref SJ 601471); or Wrenbury village, CW5 8HW (OS ref SJ 593477)

Getting there: Rail to Wrenbury station; bus 72 from Whitchurch
Road: Wrenbury is signed off A590 (Nantwich-Whitchurch)

Walk (7¼ miles, easy, OS Explorer 257): From station, follow Wrenbury Road past industrial estate on left. In 100m, left (stile, ‘South Cheshire Way’/SCW) diagonally across field to road (604469). Left; in 300m, right (607470, kissing gate, SCW) across field, paddock, plantation to road in Aston (610469). Left past Bhurtpore Inn. On left bend, right up Woodcotthill Lane (609472). In 20m, right (SCW); in 300m, in 3rd field, fork left off SCW (612472, kissing gate, yellow arrow/YA).

Half right across field to hedge (614473); left along it to cross Paradise Bridge (614475). Field edge path north for 700m to road at Sound Hall (614481). Right; in 100m, left (YA) across field. Through gate; aim across field, and follow hedge on right (617484), then railway on left (618486) to road (619489). Left; in 240m, left (618491) up Sound Oak Farm drive. Pass to right of house; on across fields for ½ mile to road (608495). Left to steps down to canal; left along towpath for 2 miles to Wrenbury Bridge (590480).

Left along road to Wrenbury (NB Alternative Start). Right opposite church down New Road (593477, ‘Marbury, Whitchurch’). In 700m, opposite Smeaton Hall drive, left (590471, gate, SCW) across fields. Aim left of battery sheds (593470); stile, then 2 fields to Wrenbury station.

Conditions: Fields can be very wet!

Lunch: Dusty Miller, Wrenbury Bridge CW5 8HG (01270-780537)

Accommodation: Cholmondeley Arms, Wrenbury Rd, Malpas SY14 8HN (01829-720300, – fabulous, candle-lit pub-in-a-schoolroom, friendly and comfortable.


 Posted by at 01:22
Dec 172016

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The Crag Inn at Wildboarclough lies tucked down in a quiet valley of easternmost Cheshire. The wild gritstone hills and moors of the Peak District rise all around. The farm buildings of the district are dark and solid, but the field walls sparkle with chips of mica on sunny afternoons such as this. Old stories say that the last wild boar in these hills was hunted down to death in this steep little valley. That might not be strictly true – but when were local legends ever the better for being plain, provable fact?

I followed a field path west along the flanks of the Clough Brook, then up the cleft below Oakenclough. Stopping to listen, I could not hear a single sound but the trickle of the brook. Over the damp shoulder of High Moor and down to the Hanging Gate Inn on its escarpment edge, with a most tremendous view out west over tumbled farmlands to the Cheshire plain stretching into misty distance.

The bare stone bluff of Tegg’s Nose lifted its dark grey hump ahead as I walked north along the waymarked Gritstone Trail that knits together a fine string of these coarse sandstone hills. Hawthorns were thick with scarlet berries, or ‘peggles’ as the great naturalist Richard Jefferies used to call them. I tested them with a squeeze of the fingers: still hard as rock, so that I wondered how the fieldfares and redwings of winter were going to gobble them down.

Ridgegate and Trentabank reservoirs gleamed dully between their pines and silver birch trees. A tremendously cheery party of U3A walkers met me on the way up to the moors, their cheerful chatter and rosy cheeks the perfect advertisement for the benefits of walking in one’s riper years.

I forged ahead across the sedgy uplands on a pitched path that led to a scramble up to the gritstone peak of Shutlingsloe, the ‘Matterhorn of Cheshire’. At the summit of this mini-mountain I was lord of a hundred-mile view from the Pennines to the Trent, the Long Mynd to the Clwydian Hills of Wales. A few minutes to stand and stare, and I was scrambling down for the homeward path to Wildboarclough.

Start: Craig Inn, Wildboarclough, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 0BD (OS ref SJ 981685)

Getting there: Wildboarclough is signed from A54 Congleton-Buxton road at Allgreave.

Walk (7½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL24):
From Crag Inn car park, right along road. Immediately right through wicket gate (yellow arrow/YA). Bear left, parallel with road, and follow grassy path across 7 fields (gates, YAs, coloured circles). 2 fields beyond High Nabbs farm, path rises to angle of wall (970681). Right across stile (circles, YA); left along lane. In 600m, right at road (964685). In 300m at Greenway Bridge, right (963687, YA) along river. In 300m, cross Highmoor Brook by footbridge (963690). Follow YAs, then permissive path below Oakenclough house. Cross drive (961695); left through gate (YA), up by wall. Through gate at top; ahead on grassy track to corner of wall (959696). Ahead with wall on right; at end, right through gap; left over stile, down fenced track to cross road at Hanging Gate Inn (952696).

Down side of pub; right through kissing gate on path down to road (951698). Left for 150m; right over stile and follow Gritstone Trail/GT markers north for ¾ mile. Approaching Greenbarn, fork left (952710); in 100m, right through gate (GT). Skirt to left of house; through gate onto drive. Left; in 50m, GT on telephone pole points left, but fork right down through wicket gate. Left (YA) to cross footbridge; on up steps to path junction at Ridgegate Reservoir (952713).

Right (‘Shutlingsloe’); follow path along south edge of reservoir, then through woods to road (959711). Turn right on ‘Walkers Only’ path on right of road. In 200m pass Macclesfield Forest info board; in another 150m, bear right (963711, ‘Shutlingsloe’). In 100m fork right uphill. Follow ‘Shutlingsloe’ for 1½ miles through trees, then across moor to Shutlingsloe summit (977696 – short steep climb to top). Follow path to south end of summit; short steep scramble down and bear left; path across moor down to farm road (983691). Right to Crag Inn.

Conditions: Some boggy bits; steep ascent/descent of Shutlingsloe peak.

Lunch: Crag Inn, Wildboarclough (01260-227239, or Hanging Gate Inn, Potlords (01260-400756, – both closed Mon/Tues

Accommodation: Stanley Arms, Bottom of the Oven, Macclesfield Forest SK11 0AR (01260-252414, – warm, cheerful place; good food and welcome

Info: Macclesfield TIC (01625-378123);;;

 Posted by at 01:52
Oct 242015

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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As we left the Pheasant Inn at Higher Burwardsley, a Sunday cavalcade of veteran tractors was spluttering up the hill – red, blue, orange, green and yellow; Fordson, Ferguson and Field Marshall. It was a salutary reminder that here is working farming country. Walkers exploring this beautifully kept, beautifully ordered corner of Cheshire have a great wooded ridge at their elbow, sheltering a scatter of lovely old half-timbered farmhouses, and a view sweeping west into Wales and the distant blue line of the Clwydian Mountains.

The cattle at Wood Farm were frisking in their pastures. Bull calves shoved their blunt little heads together in play-fights, then kicked up heels and tails as they went bucketing away at the gallop.

Walking the walled lane at the foot of the Peckforton Hills, we found crinkle-edged harts’-tongue ferns sprouting from chinks between the sandstone blocks. It’s sandstone that shapes this landscape, particularly the great ridge that undulates north to its outermost crag where Beeston Castle stands. The castle occupies one of the most sensational sites in England, right at the lip of a 330-ft crag, with a superb prospect across 30 miles of country in all directions.

We looked round the exhibition down at the castle gateway (bronze axe heads, stone spinning weights, Normans and Plantagenets, Civil War bullets and drinking flagons), then climbed through the massive sandstone gatehouse and wall towers of the outer ward, and on up through pine trees to the inner ward gatehouse and the tiny, lumpy stronghold at the peak. Pennine and Welsh hills, Liverpool Cathedral, the Wrekin and Chester – all lay there in open view, with the Victorian folly of Peckforton Castle rising on its crag a mile away southward.

It’s claimed that in December 1643 eight royalist desperadoes forced the surrender of the Roundhead garrison after they climbed the western crags. Some say the treasure of King Richard II lies at the bottom of the castle’s 330-ft-deep well. Whatever about all that, it’s certainly a hauntingly beautiful spot. Walking back to Burwardsley I kept turning round to gaze at the castle on the crag, an image to fix in the inner eye and carry away with me.

Start: Pheasant Inn, Upper Burwardsley, nr Tattenhall, Cheshire CH3 9PF (OS ref SJ 523566)

Getting there: Burwardsley is signed from A534 between Ridley (A49 junction) and Broxton (A41 junction)

Walk (6½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer 257. NB: online map, more walks at Right out of Pheasant car park; along lane. In 300m, left down field (524568, fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) with hedge on left. Over stile (‘Eddisbury Way’/EW); down to road (522571). Right; follow EW round Outlanes Farm; on across fields. Approaching Wood Farm, cross double stile (519577, EW); half left across stile by gate; right along field edge. Over stile at far end (522578); half left across field, through boggy dell (YAs). Half left across field beyond, to fingerpost at far top left corner (527580). Follow lane to join Sandstone Trail/ST (533583). Ahead on ST for 1 mile, crossing road (539588), to reach next road (540590). Ahead to Beeston Castle (537593). Return along ST for 2¼ miles to road just east of Higher Burwardsley (529567). Right to Pheasant Inn.

Snack: Sandstone Café near Beeston Castle gatehouse

Lunch/accommodation: Pheasant Inn, Upper Burwardsley (01829-770434, – efficient, comfortable, very popular inn.

Beeston Castle (EH): 01829-260464,

Walking Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail by Tony Bowerman (Northern Eye Books);

Information: Chester TIC (01244-405340);;

 Posted by at 01:18
Feb 222014

Last night this terrible winter tried to outdo its worst. First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We sat huddled by candlelight round the log fire of the Cholmondeley Arms in the throes of a power blackout across south Cheshire with hurricane winds sucking at the doors, rain lashing the darkness outside, and toppled trees cutting off the roads in all directions. Drama and chaos everywhere, and a cosy fatalism round the fireside. This morning, all change – gentle breeze, blue sky, cold sunshine, the hedges littered with broken branches, the fields streaked with silver fleets of flood water. ‘You could actually see the barn roof trying to lift off,’ said the farmer at Grindley Brook Farm as he cleared his drive of timber.

This countryside, a maze of small drumlin hills and kettle-hole lakelets, was shaped by the melting glaciers some 10,000 years ago. As we gained height up the hummocky ground around Hinton Bank Farm, we were treated to a wonderful panorama of the hills across the Welsh border, from the knobbly volcanic upthrust of the Breiddens in the south to the broad cones of the Clwydian Hills out west. Between them rose the high cliffs of the Berwyn range, painted dazzling white by last night’s terrific blizzards.

Storm-bedraggled sheep lay soaking up the temporary sunshine in the fields round Wirswall. This is rolling, bumpy, hard-riding country. I thought of Randolph Caldecott, the Victorian bank clerk and graphic genius who lived at Wirswall. As a child I loved his illustrations for favourite books such as The House That Jack Built and The Diverting History Of John Gilpin, full of broad-bottomed old gents courting pretty fair maids and getting tossed into ditches by stampeding nags.

We squelched and slithered across red mud fields from Wicksted Old Hall down to the glacial kettle-hole of Big Mere, where great crested grebes with glistening chestnut cheeks bobbed on the steel-grey water in pre-courtship practice. We passed Marbury’s pink sandstone church, sunlit on its knoll, and went on to Marbury Lock and a great arc of towpath beside the Llangollen Canal.

The copper-brown canal ran glinting between the inundated fields. Three hungry buzzards circled mewing over a waterlogged marsh, a flotilla of swans sailed as white as snow on the floods below, and green catkins hung from hazel twigs and wriggled in the wind like lambs’ tails, a whisper of spring somewhere beyond these winter storms.

Start: Horse & Jockey, Grindley Brook, Cheshire SY13 4QJ (OS ref SJ 522432) – park at pub; please give them your custom!

Getting there: Bus – Service 41 (, Whitchurch-Chester.
Road – Grindley Brook is on A41 Chester road, just NW of Whitchurch

Walk (8 and a half miles, easy, OS Explorer 257. NB Detailed description – highly recommended! – online map, more walks at From Horse & Jockey cross A41 (careful!); follow Bishop Bennet Way/BBW left of garage; over canal, through railway arch; through gate on left (‘South Cheshire Way’/SCW). Aim for stile (SCW) just below Grindley Brook Farm. In next field, right through gate; on along hedge. At far end of field, left over stile (529435); right through gate (SCW) and follow sunken lane. In ¼ mile, where lane widens on left, turn left over stile (534434, SCW). Bear right onto track that skirts left of Hinton Bank Farm to cross A49 (538432, BBW).

Up drive opposite; skirt left of Hinton Old Hall’s half-timbered cottages (540433); on along green track, then sunken lane (SCWs) to road (544436). Left through Wirswall, past Wirswall Hall and BBW noticeboard. Don’t follow BBW to left, but continue along road. In 250m, on left bend, turn right (548441, fingerpost, SCW) along drive to Wicksted Old Hall. Bear left round Hall; over stile beyond (SCW); in next field, before reaching pump house, turn left across field (554439, SCW, ‘Marbury’ fingerpost). Over stile (SCW); aim just left of trees and pits ahead to go over stile (555442, SCW). Aim half left; turn left over double stile halfway down left-hand hedge (SCW). Across next stile (SCW); past grassy knoll of Buttermilk Bank; ahead down slope, aiming right of The Knowles house to cross stile (558450, SCW). On along right (east) bank of Big Mere; on (SCW, stiles) to road near Marbury church (562455).

Right for 150m; left (SCW, kissing gate/KG) along drive. Go between cottage and outbuildings (KGs, SCW); on along hedge to road (565459). SCW turns right here; but you cross road (KG, fingerpost) and walk up hedge to cross stile. Left (yellow arrow/YA) to cross stile between prominent tree and hunting stile (564462, YA). Down field slope to cross Church Bridge on Llangollen Canal (562464). Left along towpath for 4 miles to return to Grindley Brook.

Conditions: Some very boggy patches

Lunch: Horse & Jockey, Grindley Brook (01948-662723)

Accommodation: Cholmondeley Arms, Cholmondeley, Cheshire SY14 8HN (01829-720300; – friendly, characterful pub in a former school

Information: Chester TIC (01244-405340);

 Posted by at 01:00
Feb 092013

Flakes of snow in the chilly Cheshire air, and snow on the ground in Delamere Forest.
First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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Ghostly fingers of white crept along the black boughs of the trees, and snow blanketed the slopes where tobogganers went careering downhill, whooping their heads off.

There’s something liberating about being out in the snow. A sort of general loosening of the braces takes place. Dogs in knitted coats barked and scampered, their snouts whitened; grownups nodded ‘Howdo?’, and little kids came zooming by without thought for life or limb. Delamere Forest, packed with people at play, looked like one of those Frost Fair etchings from the Little Ice Age – a far cry from its Norman heyday as a hunting preserve of the Earls of Chester, when common folk entering the forest could expect to be flogged, blinded or hanged. Thank goodness for the Forestry Commission and today’s open-doors policy for all.

As we climbed the broad white track up Old Pale Hill, the cries and shouts from below faded to a faint babel against the gentle murmur of wind in the conifer tops, a sound paradoxically reminiscent of seaside holidays. Up at the summit we found the view obscured by flurries of snow. We scraped the snow off the topographical plaques and imagined the fair-weather prospect over seven counties and to all quarters, from the Berwyn Hills in Wales to the Liverpool skyline, and out east to Kinder Scout nearly 40 miles off, where Derbyshire slips over into Yorkshire.

We descended through snow banks dinted with fox and rabbit tracks and set out on the second half of this figure-of-eight walk, round the perimeter of Blakemere Moss. This big forest lake is formed of a pair of kettle holes, huge hollows left behind when trapped ice melted after the last glaciation 10,000 years ago. Cheshire is full of these ancient Ice Age lakes, and Blakemere is one of the biggest.

Today the moss lay as though under enchantment, a great scapula of glass-green ice scattered with snow patches and concentric lines of freeze ripples, the whole lake fixed and transformed. We walked its margin in a wintry silence, looking across to where a standing stone on Old Pale summit broke the skyline, tiny and sharp as a chip of black ice.

Start: Delamere Forest Visitor Centre, CW8 2JD – near Northwich, Cheshire (OS ref SJ549705). Parking £4/3 hrs, £6 all day.

Getting there: Train ( to Delamere Station (½ mile). Road: Delamere Forest is signed off B5152 between A556 (Northwich-Chester) and A56 at Frodsham (M56, jct 12)

Walk: (4½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 267; Forest Trail map available at Visitor Centre): From Visitor Centre, right along road. At far side of Old Pale car park on left, pass ‘Old Pale Woodland’ sign (547703). Trail ascends through trees. Pass Post 11 (‘Delamere Loop’); broad path uphill to standing stone at summit of Old Pale (544698). Follow fenced track east away from masts towards farm; in 150m, left (Post 7) downhill. Across track at forest edge (546698); on downhill. At Post 9 (552700), left through hedge, right along lane; in 100m back through hedge; fork left to road (552704). Left; in 100m, right across railway; in 50m, right on waymarked Blakemere Trail. At Post 16 (554708) left, anticlockwise round Blakemere Moss. In 1½ miles at Post 61 (546711) right on Delamere Loop. In 150m, left (‘Visitor Centre’). Pass Linmere Moss; in another ⅓ mile, cross railway (551705); right to Visitor Centre.

Delamere Visitor Centre (café, shop, toilets, info):; 01606-882167 – open daily, 10-5. Café:

 Posted by at 02:42
Jul 022011

Where Staffordshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire rub up against one another, it’s beautiful walking country. Wild moors, steep little valleys, sparkling rivers, lonely sheep farms and villages – the western edge of the Peak District has them all.First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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We didn’t really know the area well, but we didn’t need to; a random jab of the thumb on the map alighted on the hilltop settlement of Flash, and we were in for an absolute treat of a walk.

In spite of its racy name, Flash is a modest place. In 1820 Sir George Crewe judged this moorland hamlet ‘dirty, bearing marks of Poverty, Sloth and Ignorance’. Nowadays the New Inn’s sign proudly proclaims it the ‘highest village pub in the British Isles, 1518 feet’. The views from here across the Staffordshire moors are immense, a curve of green meadows rising to sombre uplands of bracken and heather, their skyline broken by jagged, wind-sculpted sandstone tors.

This morning the sky raced blue and silver, trailing thick grey belts of rain. The wind shoved us impatiently away from Flash, scurrying us up and over Wolf Edge with its canted rock outcrop. A dip on a rubbly path through dark heather and we were skirting Knotbury Common where peewits creaked and tumbled like toy stunting planes. The road to high-perched Blackclough farm lay gleaming with water and humpy with rain-pearled sheep.

Blue sky now, glints of sun and a big boisterous wind. Huge grassy spoil heaps and an ancient industrial chimney marked the long-defunct colliery at Danebower. We dropped down the steep, winding valley of the infant River Dane, a lovely green dell with a flagstone path across rushy bogs, the hills tightly enclosing the river which sparkled and gushed over step-high falls it had shaped in its sandstone bed. By the twin bridges at Pannier’s Pool the Dane dashed in cascades through a miniature gorge, a perfect picnic spot.

We crossed the open moor, its walls as loosely assembled as Connemara stone walls, and came down to Gradbach bridge. A handsome cream-washed house with a circle of crocuses on the lawn; a Methodist chapel beyond, very plain and dignified; the stone-built bridge over the rushing river. Simple and perfect, this whole assembly.

Back through pony paddocks and sheep pasture where a Swaledale ram with tremendous curly horns followed us a good step of the way. Then a last stretch where the wind, now at our backs like a comrade rather than in our faces like a bully, pushed us all the way up the lane to Flash.

Start & finish: New Inn, Flash, Staffordshire SK17 0SW (OS ref SK 025671)
Getting there: At Rose & Crown, Allgreave (on A54 Buxton-Congleton), take side road (‘Quarnford’) to Flash.
Walk (8½ miles, moderate, OS Explorer OL24): With your back to the church, take lane that forks right past New Inn. In 150m, right (fingerpost, yellow arrow/YA) to pass houses; right (YA) up field, aiming for post. Continue over wall stiles (YAs). In ¼ miles, left (024676; YA) past stone outcrop and over Wolf Edge. Aim for fence; follow it down to road (020681). Left; in 100m, right up farm lane. Opposite Knotbury farm, right through gate (017682; fingerpost) on gravel track that bears left over Knotbury Common, down to road (015689). Left over cattle grid; up road past Blackclough farm. Follow track north beside wall for ½ mile to walk through Reeve-Edge and Danebower quarries. Descend to cross stream by stepping stones (014699; YA). Up bank and turn left (fingerpost, ‘Dane Valley Way’/DVW). Follow track nearly to road, then slant left downhill by chimney (010700). Path by River Dane (stiles, YAs, DVW) for ¾ mile to the two bridges at Pannier’s Pool (009685).

Here DVW crosses bridge; but you keep ahead on right bank of river on permissive path under Three Shires Head. In ⅓ mile ignore YA pointing left; continue uphill on main track to road at Cut-thorn (002681). Forward past house; left over stile (‘Access Land’). Follow wall, then path over moor. In ¼ mile, just short of gate in wall ahead, fork left to cross stile (998683). Follow left-hand of two YAs by fence, following track as it curves left across Robin’s Clough stream and runs south over moor. In ¾ mile follow track past house and down to road at Hole-edge (001671). Right past Bennettshitch house. In 100m, left off road (fingerpost), steeply down to road by Methodist chapel (001664).

Left across River Dane; round left bend; immediately left (fingerpost) past Dane View House. Through gate (fingerpost) and follow path with wall on left for ¾ mile through 6 walls. Just before corner of 7th wall, by a ‘Peak & Northern Footpath Society’ notice on pole (009671), turn right downhill. In 200m, left at another PNFS notice (‘Flash’); aim across fields to pass Wicken Walls farm (014672). Ahead with wall on left; down across stile; steeply down rocks to river (016672). Cross footbridge (‘Flash’); steeply up bank, over stile; bear right up path which curves to left with wall on right (YAs). Follow path to drive of Axe Edge Green farm (020672). Right for 100m; left up to road (021671); left to Flash.

NB – Detailed directions (recommended!), online map, more walks: Click on Facebook “Like” link to share this walk with Facebook friends.

Lunch: New Inn, Flash (01298-22941) – open daily evenings, Fri-Sun lunchtimes and evenings (no food, BYO sandwiches); or picnic by Pannier’s Pool.
More info: Leek TIC (01528-483741;

 Posted by at 02:21
Oct 172009

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A fine morning of blue sky, a brisk north wind, and the vast open spaces of the Cheshire plain soaking up the early autumn sunshine. Warblers sang loudly in the woods above Higher Burwardsley as Jane and I set off from the very hospitable Pheasant Inn to explore the heights and the breathtaking views along the Sandstone Trail. This splendid three-day path hurdles the upthrust of Cheshire’s backbone, a sandstone ridge that runs from the River Mersey south to the Shropshire border.

In the oak and birch woods of Bulkeley Hill, sandstone steps gleaming with mica chips bought us quickly up to the ridge. Following its east-facing lip, we looked out between twisted old sweet chestnuts over the steep 300-ft plunge of the escarpment to chequered farmlands lying in the sun and the shadowy rise of the Pennine hills on the far horizon. A set of narrow gauge railway lines plummeted away down the incline; installed 60 years ago by water engineers, and long disused, they still cling precariously to the slope.

A succession of viewpoints claimed our tribute of gasps and whistles – Name Rock incised with names of walkers and lovers, overlooking Bulkeley village; Rawhead, the highest point on the Sandstone Trail at 746 ft, facing west towards the loom of the Welsh hills; the Iron Age hillfort of Maiden Castle, looking south to the rise of the Long Mynd in distant Shropshire. Below the heights, the soft sandstone ridge had been scooped by wind and weather into caves and hollows – the damp ferny hollow of Dropping Stone Well; a bulging cave under Rawhead where dusty green lichen harmonised to perfection with the dusky pink of the stone; Mad Allen’s Cave on Bickerton Hill, the home of an erstwhile hermit. And punctuating all, the view back northwards to the pale 13th-century walls of Beeston Castle on its wooded knoll.

We gathered succulent bilberries on the lowland heath of Maiden Castle, and descended with reddened fingers and tingling mouths into the meadows on the west of the great ridge. The homeward path was spiced with individual pleasures – a Methodist church at Brown Knowl like a turreted mansion in a Gothic fable; Harthill’s little chapel, school and gabled estate cottages on the green; and a last swing back along the Sandstone Trail towards the Pheasant Inn, with a giant sunset spreading gloriously all over the western sky.

Start & finish: Pheasant Inn, Higher Burwardsley (OS ref SJ 523566)

Getting there: M6 to Jct 16; A500 to Nantwich, A534 towards Wrexham. At Fuller’s Moor, right (‘Harthill, Tattenhall’); past Harthill, right to Burwardsley; then follow ‘Pheasant Inn’. Park at inn (NB Please ask permission and give inn your custom!).

Walk (11 miles, easy/moderate grade, OS Explorer 257): From Pheasant Inn, left to crossroads; left up Fowlers Bench Lane, over crossroads (ignore ‘Sandstone Trail/ST’ to left). Follow lane to gatehouse at Peckforton Gap (526559). Right along ST (yellow arrows with footprint) for 4 miles to Maiden Castle (498529). At foot of descent beyond Maiden Castle, ST turns left (496528); bear right here (yellow arrow/YA) down shallow stone steps, following YA through scrub. Go through gate; in 150 yards, at National Trust ‘Bickerton Hill’ sign (493531), right for ¼ mile to T-junction in Brown Knowl (495535). Right; follow road past church, for ½ mile to A 534 (497542). Left for 150 yards; cross (take care!); through kissing gate (fingerpost); down field edge; cross brook. Uphill to skirt left of Park Wood; follow YAs to Harthill (501552). Right along road for 50 yards; left down Garden Lane (fingerpost) for 250 yards, then uphill on left of hedge. At top of slope (506553), left to 2 stiles. Cross right-hand one (YA); climb through Bodnook Wood. Cross paddock, then track (YA); climb slope to lane (509552); left (YA). Pass entrance to Droppingstone Farm (512553); continue below wood for ¼ mile to meet ST (515552). Follow it past Rawhead Farm drive; in 50 yards, left over stile (519552); follow field edge to cross stile at corner of wood (522553; YA). Left along track for ½ mile to Peckforton Gap gatehouse; follow ST for nearly ½ mile to road (527566); left (‘Pheasant Inn’) to car park.

NB Many steps, some unguarded cliff edges on Sandstone Trail! Extra care crossing A534!

Lunch: Picnic; or Coppermine Inn (01829-782293) on A534 at Fuller’s Moor.

Accommodation: Pheasant Inn, Higher Burwardsley (01829-770434; – excellent country inn; good food and friendly welcome

More Information: Whitchurch TIC, 12 St Mary’s Street (01948-664577;;

Guidebook: Walking Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail by Tony Bowerman (Northern Eye Books) –;


 Posted by at 00:00
Oct 172020

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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A bright, windy morning after overnight rain in this finger of land where Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire eye each other across a muddle of county boundaries. ‘Loggerheads’ is an old country word for ‘idiots’ – something to ponder as we set out from the village into the ancient thickets of Burnt Wood.

Here a tuberculosis sanatorium once stood. The patients were often wheeled outside in their beds to breathe the fresh air of the forest that was thought to alleviate their symptoms.

It was a peaceful stroll under the old oaks with their tangled understorey of holly. Patches of heath, flushed purple with heather, gave way to a brackeny track bordered by silver birch and richly golden gorse.

A stony lane led south out of the trees, between pastures where rams had marked the rumps of dozens of fat ewes with orange and blue raddle. Over in Wales the abrupt, wave-like peaks of the Berwyn ridge rose on the western skyline, an eye-catching counterpoint to the gentle roll of the Staffordshire countryside.

At Park Springs Farm three guinea fowl took fright at our approach. With a volley of unearthly whirring screeches they ducked their heads and scuttled off like a gaggle of old ladies in bulky grey cloaks.

A deep-sunk lane buttressed with great slabs of sandstone led past The Nook farm. The barns bore diamond patterns in their gables, some anonymous bricklayer’s careful work in a previous generation. Red-bodied darters hovered and settled on the wooden paddock fence, and the last of this year’s swallows went zigzagging above the lane, fuelling up for the long migration flight to Africa.

In the wooded dell of Lloyd Drumble there was a trickle of water under the sycamores. Along the lane to Hales the hedges were full of rosehips the size and lustre of cherry tomatoes. Over a gate we caught a glimpse of the slope where a Romano-British villa once stood, with a view of trees and far hills that can’t have changed greatly in 1500 years.

From the little hamlet of Hales, Flash Lane led north past Blore Farm, its red brick ornamented with black corners. The path wound back to Loggerheads via the outskirts of Burnt Wood, where plump black sloes hung in the hedge and crab apples bobbed at the end of laden boughs.

Start: Loggerheads PH, Loggerheads, Market Drayton, Staffs TF9 4PD (OS ref SJ 738359)

Getting there: Bus 164 (Market Drayton – Hanley)
Road – Loggerheads is on A53 (Market Drayton – Stoke-on-Trent)

Walk (6½ miles, easy, OS Explorer 243): Left along A53; in 70m, left (Kestrel Drive). In 500m, left (Woodpecker Drive, 735355); on into wood. In 150m, over crossways. In 300m, left at junction (734349). In 700m, at 8-way junction (739351), take second track on right. In ¼ mile, ahead through bushes to stony track (742349). Right. In ¾ mile, leave trees over stile (739339); in 75m, left over stile; along hedge. At field bottom, through gate (738336); ahead to gate; left along track. In 300m at Knowleswood (737332), right up track. In 250m, left (734332); in 350m, right (734329) passing The Nook (732329) and Keeper’s Lodge (727334). In 1¼ miles in Hales (719338), right up Flash Lane. In ½ mile, keep right of Blore Farm buildings (721346, ‘Short Walk’). In 200m, left through hedge (723347, stile, ‘Newcastle Way’) for 1 mile to A53 (736359). Right to Loggerheads pub.

Lunch: Loggerheads PH (01630-296118, – the Loggerheads PH advises booking.

Accommodation: Four Alls Inn, Market Drayton TF9 2AG (01630-652995,

Info: Market Drayton TIC (01630-653114);;

 Posted by at 01:34
Jan 192019

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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The trains of the Cromford & High Peak Railway – first drawn by horses, then by steam locomotives – ran through some of the most beautiful landscapes in the Derbyshire Peak District. Where horses once plodded with coal and limestone, and tank engines puffed with sparse numbers of passengers, cyclists and walkers now follow the narrow curves of the line, rechristened the High Peak Trail.

On a superb morning, crisp and cold, we joined the trail at Hurdlow. Either side the limestone landscape rolled away, intensely green under the low sun, an upland broken into sharp peaks and shadowy valleys.

At the vast open chasm of Dowlow Quarry we left the High Peak Trail for stone-walled lanes with wonderful high prospects south into a countryside so fractured it resembled a choppy sea. A knobbly path led us in the shadow of High Wheeldon, a conical knoll presented to the National Trust as a war memorial to men of Staffordshire and Derbyshire killed in World War Two.

Down in the lane to Crowdecote they were herding cattle between field and farm. Those in the lane bellowed and trumpeted, and those in the adjacent fields returned the compliment. ‘Bit lively,’ grinned the farmer waiting to turn them into the farmyard.

Crowdecote clung like a limpet to its steep, sunny hillside. Beyond the hamlet there was ice in the hoof pocks of the bridleway, and frost blanketing the fields on the shadowed side of the dale. Limestone outcrops scabbed the high slopes. Pale grey field walls striped the pastures, footed in their own black shadows, resembling giant claw scratches in the ground.

The path led past the crumpled hillocks where Pilsbury Castle once stood – a pair of baileys and a motte, built by the Normans shortly after the Conquest to levy tax on the traders that used the ancient packhorse route through the dale.

We followed the old way through uplands of sheep fields, past standing stones whose edges had been rubbed shiny by sheep easing their manifold itches. A dip and climb past Vincent House farm, another past the farmyard at Darley, and we were bowling along the High Peak Trail towards Hurdlow with sublime hill scenery unrolling on either hand.

Start: Hurdlow car park, Sparklow, Derbs SK17 9QJ (OS ref SK 128659).

Getting there: Bus 442 (Ashbourne) to Bull-i’-th’-Thorn (½ mile by footpath)
Road – Hurdlow car park is off A515 between Pomeroy and Parsley Hay.

Walk (9½ miles, cyclepath and well marked field paths, OS Explorer OL24): North-west along High Peak Trail for 1½ miles to end (111673); left on Cycleway 68. In ½ mile, right on lane (109665) to cross road at Wheeldon Trees (102662). Through gate (fingerpost) down to NT High Wheeldon notice; right downhill (yellow arrow/YA) to road. Left to Crowdecote. Just past Packhorse Inn, left along lane (101652, ‘South Peak Loop’ bridleway). Follow SPW (blue arrows) through fields. In 1 mile pass Pilsbury Castle mounds (115639); left through gate; fork left up footpath; follow YAs over hill, crossing one road (121634), then another at Vincent House farm (137632). Through farmyard (YAs); up right-hand of two parallel tracks. Follow ‘Parsley Hay’ and YAs to cross road at Darley Farm (142637). YAs through farmyard, up field edge to High Peak Trail (143639); left for 2 miles to Hurdlow car park.

Lunch: Royal Oak, Hurdlow SK17 9QJ (01298-83288, – busy, friendly pub near car park.

Accommodation: Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Longnor SK17 0NS (01298-83218;

Information: Ashbourne TIC (01335-343666);;;

 Posted by at 01:13
Jun 032017

First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
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When the Ward family from Cheshire bought an estate on Strangford Lough in 1570, Ireland was a rough and dangerous place for English settlers. The fortified tower the newcomers built and named after themselves, Castle Ward, was fit for the times. But the house that their descendant Bernard Ward built two centuries later in his beautifully landscaped park was a luxury home, better suited to easier times.

Bernard and his wife Anne could not agree on an architectural style, so they settled for a pragmatic, his-and-hers solution – the south frontage conforming to Bernard’s severely classical design, the north half that faced onto Strangford Lough in Anne’s exuberant Strawberry Hill-inspired Gothic. Inside, the décor carries on the inharmonious theme: Bernard’s rooms are of plain and perfect proportion, Anne’s a riot of onion-dome plasterwork ceilings and Turkish windows.

The National Trust have laid out several colour-coded and waymarked trails through the Castle Ward woods and parkland, and we chose the Boundary Trail that skirts the demesne. There was a bizarre start to the walk, as a silhouette familiar from TV hove in view – the grim stronghold tower of Winterfell, ancestral hall of the Stark clan from Game of Thrones. Remembered as a blackened and smoking ruin full of corpses, there was a curious frisson in finding the real thing standing tall and unblemished – the original fortified tower of the Wards, commanding a really superb prospect of the silky blue waters of Strangford Lough.

Beyond the forbidding old tower the trail led away north along the lough shore, where green and orange seaweed wafted a pungent iodine whiff across the path. An old crowstepped boathouse stood out in the water on a low promontory. Across the inlet the harbour town of Portaferry lay under its hummock of a hill, guarding the narrows where Strangford Lough’s tidal waters meet the sea.

Soon we turned our backs on the lough and followed the path under a clearing sky through sycamore and oak woods carpeted thickly with bluebells. The green parkland of Castle Ward lay in sunshine, gleaming with gorse bushes and buttercup drifts. Coot chicks meandered across a rushy pond, their fuzzy scarlet heads frantically bobbing. Goldcrests twittered sweetly high in the treetops of Mallard Plantation, where bell-like white flowers of wood sorrel still nodded among their trefoil leaves.

From a viewpoint on the demesne wall we looked out west across gold and green lowlands to where Slieve Croob and the neighbouring Mourne Mountains stood veiled in warm grey haze. Then we turned back towards Castle Ward through quiet pastures where the cows and calves gazed stolidly at us before resuming their steady munching.

Start: Castle Ward car park, near Strangford, Co. Down BT30 7LS (OSNI ref J572493) – moderate charge, NT members free

Getting there: Castle Ward is signed off A25, 1½ miles west of Strangford

Walk (8 miles, easy, OSNI 1:50,000 Discoverer 21; Castle Ward Trails map available from Visitor Centre; online map, more walks at From main car park, right towards Visitor Centre. Before archway, take path on left (‘Trails, Winterfell’). Follow ‘Winterfell’ to Old Tower and gateway beyond. Left along shore, and follow ‘Boundary Trail’ and red arrow waymarks for 8 miles, back to car park.

Conditions: Very well waymarked throughout. Path is shared with cyclists. No dogs between March and October (livestock in fields).

Lunch/tea: Castle Ward teashop

Accommodation: The Cuan, Strangford BT30 7ND (028-4488-1222, – friendly, family-run hotel

Castle Ward (National Trust): 028-4488-1204,

Info: Downpatrick TIC (028-4461-2233);,

The January Man – A Year of Walking Britain by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday, £14.99).

 Posted by at 01:56