Walk of the month: Cheshire
If you think this county is too flat for a decent walk, consider its Sandstone Trail, says Mark Rowe
Sunday 04 November 2007
A year or so ago, I was walking on the western edge of the Peak District when a friend pointed out the Cheshire sandstone ridge far to the north west. Not knowing that Cheshire even had a ridge, I made a mental note to explore it when I got the chance.
It was a good decision: the ridge of sandstone that rises from the Cheshire plain effectively divides the county into an eastern and western lowland. It also forms the backbone of the Sandstone Trail, which runs for around 30 miles, joining the towns of Frodsham and Whitchurch, just over the border in Shropshire. Well waymarked, this is a real gem of a walk that takes in native woodlands, castles, vertiginous rocky outcrops, and Iron Age forts.
The walk begins in Frodsham, easily reached on the Chester-Manchester railway line. Walk up Church Street, which forms a T-junction with Main Street and the Bear's Paw pub. Look out for the Grade II-listed telephone box, known as a "vermillion giant", one of just four left in the country that dispenses stamps and offers a post box.
At the top of the town, take the right-hand path up some steps, signposted for the Sandstone Trail. The trail is well waymarked with a distinctive black boot with a yellow S on it. At the top of the path, cross into Bellemonte Road and then bear right up Middle Walk to begin climbing into the woods. A series of switchbacks guides you to the war memorial and some unexpectedly striking views. Twelve miles north is Liverpool's skyline, while Snowdon can be seen on a clear day.
The path strikes west, following the contours of the sandstone ridge and its outcrops as it drops into woodland. In good weather, the route is utterly enchanting, with autumn leaves casting shadows on the pink stone. Follow the waymarks until you come to a T-junction with the Sandstone Trail pointing both ways, where you should take the right turn, signed for Delamere.
The path drops down Baker's Dozen steps into Dunsdale Hollows before climbing up via steps cut into rock. As you walk along try to spot the remains of Woodhouse Hill Fort, where several Iron Age families would have lived. The woodland is full of native species, though large clumps of rhododendron are encroaching on the woods.
The track, well waymarked for the Sandstone Trail, follows several woodland paths below Snidley Moor, which is managed by the Woodland Trust. Volunteers have cleared some of the rhododendron and replanted the banks with oak and other native trees. The paths eventually lead to you to a road, the Ridgeway, where you turn left and then right up some steps into Ridgeway Wood.
Cross the brook then follow field edges to Commonside. Go over the stile opposite and through the fields below Alvanley cliff to the road at Yarangall Green. Cross over and go through two small fields to Manley Road. Turn right, then left along the pavement of the main road (B5393). After just over a mile turn left through a kissing gate, opposite Pingot Lane. Follow field edges to New Pale Road.
Turn left and follow the lane to the corner. Take the open track straight ahead into Delamere Forest Park. The park is just a small remnant of the ancient hunting forest of Mara and Mondrum. The western and northern parts of the forest are popular with cyclists, but before long you are likely to be on your own as the path loops around the northern perimeter before dropping back down to Ashton Road and the Barnsbridge Gates car park.
Cross over and follow the Sandstone Trail waymarkers. The path crosses a railway bridge, passes Eddisbury Lodge and then ploughs a route due south to the A54. Just before the A54 the trail crosses the line of Watling Street, the Roman road from Chester to Manchester. Cross this busy road with care and then drop down to the steps, cross the brook and follow the tracks through Primrosehill Wood.
Where the path bears right, signposted for Summertrees teashop, make a quick detour left down the magical fern-lined miniature gorge known as Urchin's Kitchen, carved out during the last ice age. Back on the trail, the trail leads to the teashop (closed Monday and Friday). From here, the Sandstone Trail heads south, but if you are travelling on public transport, the best option is to turn right and follow the lanes back to Kelsall for a bus to Chester.
DISTANCE: 11 miles
OS MAP: OS Explorer 267
Further information: Mark Rowe stayed at the Chester Grosvenor and Spa (01244 324024; chestergrosvenor.com), which has rooms from £195 per night. Frodsham is served by trains from Chester. Kelsall is linked by an hourly bus to Chester. Contact Cheshire Traveline (0871 200 22 33). For information on walking in Cheshire, visit cheshire.gov.uk/ countryside/Walking/
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