Between Peak and Plain: west from Whaley Bridge
Mike Smith discovers more of the High Peak's picturesque and intriguing places driving westwards from Whaley Bridge
The main street of Whaley Bridge terminates at a road junction where signposts direct motorists to three optional destinations: Chapel-en-le-Frith to the east, Buxton to the south and Macclesfield to the west. We will be following the road to Macclesfield, which runs up hill and down dale through beautiful countryside and twists and turns its way through the foothills of the Pennines before they give way to the Cheshire Plain. If we think of this road as a meandering river, we will be exploring a number of its tributaries along the way, in order to discover some of the secret places of the western Peak.
HORWICH ENDThe cluster of houses, pubs, shops and eating places around the crossroads is known as Horwich End. Located a few yards from the White Horse Inn, which sits centre-stage at the road junction, is a popular fish and chip shop known as ‘Frydays’. The original owners, Denis and Tracey Griffin, leased out the premises for some time after leaving to start a new life in France, but they returned a year ago in order to allow their children to attend school in the UK. They now work in the shop alongside their eldest son, George, and use a mobile unit to satisfy the demand for fish and chip meals at wedding receptions.
Half a mile above Horwich End, we take our first diversion by following the delightfully-named Linglongs Road to the secluded hamlet of Taxal. Surrounded by woods and protected by hills, this is one of the hidden gems of the Peak. A former inn, known as The Chimes, is now a private house, but the occupants display the name on a neat bell-shaped sign. The tower of the hamlet’s little church dates from the 16th century, but the nave was rebuilt in 1825, only to be restored again in 1889, in order to remove ‘the many ugly and objectionable features left by the architectural spoilation of 1825’. The church has two fascinating memorials. One slab commemorates 18 members of the Jodrell family who died between 1375 and 1756. The family owned a great deal of land in the locality, including the plot now occupied by Jodrell Bank radio telescope, and one of their members, Roger Jauderell, was killed at Agincourt in 1415. Another memorial is dedicated to Michael Heathcote, ‘Gentleman of the Pantry and Yeoman of the Mouth to his late Majesty George II’ – in other words, the King’s food-taster.DUNGE VALLEY HIDDEN GARDENSAfter returning to the main road, we cross into Cheshire, before taking another short diversion to the ‘hidden gardens’ of the Dunge Valley, which sit astride the border between Derbyshire and Cheshire. Until David and Elizabeth Ketley acquired the valley in 1976, it was merely a deep, dark crevice in the moor. It is now a riot of colour, with 500 different species of plants, including rhododendrons, azaleas, and magnolias, set alongside a stream fed by a spectacular waterfall.Some of the original seeds were brought back by David from his treks in the Himalayas, but the couple are forever adding plants to the garden, as well as making and maintaining pathways, bridges and ponds, carrying out conservation projects and creating habitats to encourage wildlifeKETTLESHULMEBack on the main road, we take a series of ups and downs towards Kettleshulme, a picturesque village with old stone cottages, a garden nursery, managed by David G Ross, a village hall and a school, as well as a vicarage for a church that was never built. Fortunately, the relationship between the Anglicans and the Methodists of the village is so good that use of the Methodist chapel is shared.Standing out from the little stone-fronted cottages is the large, white-washed Swan Inn, situated alongside a deep dip in the main road. Although the pub’s house beer is Marston’s Burton Bitter, it has many other brews, including those from local micro-breweries. Seafood is a speciality on the menu.In common with inhabitants of other villages along the Macclesfield Road, the people of Kettleshulme put their creative talents to use in September’s scarecrow festival, when passing motorists are likely to see the likes of Postman Pat and Humpty Dumpty sitting quietly in cottage gardens or on roadside walls.HARROP FOLD FARMAfter following yet more undulations and twists and turns, we reach Harrop Fold Farm, accessed by a track which descends to a beautiful 17th-century farmhouse, where members of the Stevenson family run an enterprising business, which includes five-star self-catering accommodation or bed and breakfast, Michael Moore’s day and residential courses in watercolour and oil painting, and Leah’s Pantry, which offers ‘demo and dine’ courses and instruction in creating cake pops, canap�s and ‘witty and pretty cupcakes’. Not surprisingly, Harrop Fold Farm has received a clutch of tourism awards.THE JENKIN CHAPELBy diverting along a lane running from the main road to Saltersford, we can head for the Jenkin Chapel. This little church, built in 1733, is set beside the intersection of three ancient moorland trackways and is one of the most isolated places of worship in the country. Although the chapel has a little tower and an outside staircase leading to a gallery, it looks more like a Georgian house than a chapel.RAINOWReturning to the main road, we head for the village of Rainow. A large chapel, now disused, and the equally imposing Church of Holy Trinity command the summit of the road which drops steeply to the centre of the village before making an equally steep climb to the dwellings on the far side. According to a local saying, ‘In Rainow, it’s uphill on the way there and uphill on the way back’.Rainow is one of the most desirable places of residence in Pennine Cheshire. Most of its houses are stone-faced but, unusually for these parts, some are brightly colour-washed. With two attractive pubs, a good school and a well-used institute, this is a very active village with a lively community spirit.JANE OSMONDJane Osmond creates etchings and prints which capture the harmonious character of the local landscape because they rarely contain more than two colours – the green of the moors and the grey of the walls and buildings. As a student, she had concentrated on illustration, but a visit to Norway on a scholarship converted her to landscape painting. Recalling that she was picked up on her return by her parents, who took her to the cottage near Macclesfield that they had acquired during her absence, she said, ‘I was amazed by the beauty of the countryside and I’ve been trying to depict its special quality ever since.’Jane’s pictures are displayed in her Rainow studio at Cesterbridge Cottage and sold at the Treacle Market, an art, craft, antiques and food event held in Macclesfield on the last Sunday of every month.POTT SHRIGLEYRather than continuing along the main road to Macclesfield, we can backtrack and take a side road signposted to ‘Bollington’, from which we can turn off to Pott Shrigley, a picturesque little place that would fit most people’s idea of the perfect English hamlet, were it not for the absence of a pub. At one time, there was a pub, which was owned by the Lowthers, who were Lords of the Manor. Some say it was closed down by Lady Lowther when she smelt alcohol on the breath of her groom, while others contend that the watering hole was shut because the bell-ringers were spending too much time there.One cottage in the village has mock half-timbering, while many others have an array of Gothick windows. The church, situated at the convergence of three rural roads, is surrounded by a churchyard with fine trees and a large preaching cross. Pott Shrigley’s school, founded in 1492, was extended in the 1960s and has an attached village hall.SHRIGLEY HALLPott Shrigley is an amalgamation of the two former hamlets of Pott and Shrigley. Pott Hall, now converted into apartments, stands on one side of the village and Shrigley Hall stands on the other side in extensive parkland. The latter was built in 1825 for William Turner, a Blackburn mill-owner, but was later used as a school by members of the Order of Salesians of Don Bosco, who added a large chapel.The grand mansion is now a four-star Barcel� hotel, golf and country club, with 148 bedrooms and a superb 18-hole championship golf course. Over the main staircase of the hotel, there is a huge dome, whose painted ceiling makes a double impression because it is reflected in a large mirror on the landing. The adjacent chapel houses a function room and a leisure club with gymnasium, pool, sauna and beauty salon. Needless to say, this hotel is a perfect base for visiting the Peak District and Cheshire.THE SHRIGLEY ABDUCTIONThe fabulous views over the Cheshire Plain from the hotel indicate that our journey between Peak and Plain is over, but there is one final story to relate. In 1826, Ellen Turner, the 15-year-old heiress of Shrigley Hall, was taken from her boarding school in Liverpool by a dastardly scoundrel called Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who convinced the headmistress that Ellen was required to return home to her sick mother. Rather than taking her home, Edward took her to Gretna Green, where he married her, before whisking her off to Calais, where the newly-weds were tracked down. Edward was arrested and subsequently imprisoned. The marriage was annulled by Parliament, but the story ends badly for Ellen, who married one of the magistrates involved in the case and died in childbirth at the age of nineteen.VISITOR INFORMATIONTaxal Church is open Sat, Sun, Bank Holiday Mondays from 12.30 to 3.30pm Easter to SeptemberDunge Valley Gardens open March to September 01663 733787 www.dungevalley.co.ukDavid G Ross’ Garden Nursery at Kettleshulme is open to the public at weekends and Bank HoldaysHarrop Fold Farm accommodation, art and cookery courses 01625 560085 www.harropfoldfarm.co.ukJane Osmond’s Studio Gallery Cesterbridge Cottage, Rainow 01625 612478 www.janeosmond.netThe Treacle Market Macclesfield, the last Sunday of every month www.treaclemacclesfield.co.uk Shrigley Hall hotel, golf and country club 01625 575757 www.barcelo-hotels.co.uk/shrigleyThe Shrigley Abduction by Abby Ashby and Audrey Jones, published by Sutton ISBN: 0750932805