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Great walks to spot deer in Cheshire's stately homes

Deer in snow and sunset at Lyme Park. Paul Moore Photography/ Getty
Deer in snow and sunset at Lyme Park. Paul Moore Photography/ Getty

Christmas is all about tradition. But one festive ritual of recent years is less than welcome: tales of rip-off ‘winter wonderlands’, with hungover Santas, ponies with sticks for antlers and zero-hours elves smoking sly roll-ups behind the portable loos and avoiding the punters seeking refunds.

We have a much more wholesome alternative. While we can’t promise you a white Christmas or a sighting of the big man and his sleigh, here are three short family walks where you are guaranteed to see British deer species in picturesque parkland settings. And all three venues are hosting (reputable) Christmas events and festive attractions you could incorporate into your day trip.

Great British Life: The Cage, a 16th-century hilltop landmark at Lyme Park, in winter. (c) Kurt ThomasThe Cage, a 16th-century hilltop landmark at Lyme Park, in winter. (c) Kurt Thomas

Lyme Park deer walk

The house at Lyme is open daily for Christmas from December 1 to 24 and hosts Animal Crackers, an event designed by the Strange Train Company that ‘takes you on a self-guided visual journey of mischievous merrymaking through the house’. There is also a programme of winter walks. See nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme for details.

This slightly rugged, hilly walk leads you from the central car park through the northern and eastern areas of the National Trust property, including the deer sanctuary where the estate’s historic herd of red deer roam, returning via the superb but windswept viewpoint of The Cage.

Compass Points

Area of walk: Lyme Park near Disley

Start point: Main car park SK12 2NR

Distance: 3½ miles

Time to allow: 2 hours

Map: OS Explorer OL1 Peak District – Dark Peak area

Refreshments: Servants’ Hall, Timber Yard Café

Practicalities: Family admission to Lyme Park and gardens with a car costs £15 or you can walk in for free from Disley and elsewhere. The Park is closed in the evenings. Paths may be muddy in places or slightly rocky, and there are a couple of moderate climbs. Not suitable for buggies.

Great British Life: Lyme Park map. OSLyme Park map. OS

The Walk

1. From the corner of the car park by the kiosk, follow the stepped path by the wall up to the Lyme Hall entrance. At the main entrance, follow the road on the left that curves right past a rocky outcrop on the left, and then bear left of the Stables. Continue uphill with views left to The Cage, continuing to a round copse at the top of the hill with wide views. The deer sanctuary is below and to your left. Descend gently to the East Lodge, where you continue through a gate out of the park. The track narrows to a path and descends to Bollinhurst Bridge and its adjoining footbridge. Climb out of the valley for 250 metres to a junction of paths with a Gritstone Trail fingerpost.

2. Turn left through a metal hand-gate. Rather than following the obvious Gritstone Trail path ahead, turn left across the grass, with a wood on your right. In the bottom corner, go through a kissing gate into trees. Follows the path beyond to a stile, with a wall on your left. Continue along the wall through a series of fields until you meet the lane to Cock Head Farm.

3. Cross straight over through a wooden hand-gate and skirt to the right of the farm to a metal kissing gate. Cross to meet a track that enters some woodland through a further kissing gate. Follow the track until it meets the reservoir service road, where you turn right. This metalled road meets the end of Red Lane by some ornate gateposts. Turn left back into Lyme Park and walk down to the toll booth.

4. Turn left and cross the stream, then take a path on the left across the grass that shortly climbs a fairly steep slope. Continue until you meet a stony track, beyond which the gradient decreases. The track skirts to the right of the summit; leave it to follow the path up to The Cage.

5. Beyond the building, which was built in 1524 either as a hunting lodge or watchtower, continue along the ridge as it descends to Lyme Hall. Bear right and follow the stepped path back to the car park.

Great British Life: The Grade ll* Listed sawmill at Dunham Massey. David DunfordThe Grade ll* Listed sawmill at Dunham Massey. David Dunford

Dunham Massey deer walk

Dunham Massey’s Christmas spectacle, with twinkling lights and giant glowing deer, runs from November 17 to December 31 – see nationaltrust.org.uk/dunham-massey for details.

This is an easy, level walk through the deer park starting from the main car park, though parts of it may be muddy after wet weather. Dunham Massey has a large herd of fallow deer. You are asked not to feed the deer or approach them too closely, and your dog should be kept on a lead within the deer park.

Compass Points

Area of walk: Dunham Massey

Start point: Main car park WA14 4SJ

Distance: 2¼ miles

Time to allow: 1½ hours

Map: OS Explorer 276 Bolton Central, Wigan & Warrington

Refreshments: Stamford Café/Stables Restaurant

Practicalities: Family admission to park and gardens with parking costs £23.40 for NT non-members; entry is free if arriving on foot. Wellies recommended.

Great British Life: Dunham Massey map. OSDunham Massey map. OS

The Walk

1. From the main car park, head for the entrance and take the path to the left of the visitors’ centre. Follow the middle path through the garden, turning left to the lakeside for your first views of the main house. Turn right and follow the waterside path through a gate and past Barn Cottages on your right. Continue past the old tree on your left, and past the carriage house and stables (visited later), also on your left. Turn left at the rear of the sawmill to a junction of metalled drives, where you follow the road round to the right and double back in front of the handsome mill building (walkers with buggies should continue ahead instead, past the main house, and turn right onto the Main Drive, skipping to step 3).

2. At the edge of the park, ignore the footpath over the ladder-stile in front of you, instead, turning left inside the park wall. This unsurfaced path winds through the woodland, close to the wall, to an obelisk. Beyond this landmark, the path trends gradually left to meet the drive known as Farm Walk. Cross straight over and follow a path to the right of a reedy pond, past a couple of benches. Bear left, over a boardwalk, to the Main Drive.

3. Turn right and follow the drive to its end, passing the old slaughterhouse partway along on your left. When you reach the T junction in front of the park wall, turn left.

4. After about 400 m, turn left onto a path between two lines of fenced-off trees. There were lots of rutting Fallow Deer in this area when we checked this walk in late October. This path leads to Charcoal Drive, another main thoroughfare within the park, in view of the Deer Barn. Turn left along Charcoal Drive and follow it back towards Dunham Massey Hall.

5. Bear left then turn right and walk up to the southern façade of the house. Turn left here and pass through the archway beneath the cupola of the carriage house. Turn right to return to the car park.

Great British Life: Winter at Tatton Park. (c) Sue Burton Photography/GettyWinter at Tatton Park. (c) Sue Burton Photography/Getty

Tatton Park deer walk

There are various Christmas events at Tatton Park including an Alice-themed event, Wonderland in the Mansion, from November 21. See tattonpark.org.uk/Christmas for details.

This mostly easy, level walk explores the northern part of the Tatton Park estate, where the visitors thin out and the red and fallow deer mostly have the park to themselves. The return is via the Old Hall and scenic Melchett Mere. A bit of ‘deer prudence’ is required: signs ask you to stay at least 50 metres from the animals.

Compass Points

Area of walk: Tatton Park near Knutsford

Start point: Main car park WA16 6QN (entrance WA16 6SG)

Distance: 2½ miles

Time to allow: 1–1½ hours

Map: OS Explorer 268: Wilmslow, Macclesfield & Congleton

Refreshments: Stables restaurant, Gardener’s Cottage tea toom

Practicalities: a mixture of surfaced roads and unsurfaced path, mostly OK for rugged buggies, except for the path by Melchett Mere. Family admission (including admission to a single attraction) £21.

Great British Life: Tatton Park map. OSTatton Park map. OS

The Walk

1. From the main car park, head out to the service road and turn right. Carry straight on where the road to the farm heads left, then bear left through a gate by a cattle grid and pass the rear of Tatton Hall. An information panel on your left explains the environmental value of the old trees on the estate. At a fork, take the left turn, heading towards the Rostherne exit along a tree-lined avenue. About 500m from the fork, when the drive bends slightly left, turn right onto a track.

2. Go straight on at a crossroads, on a track that shortly fizzles out to just a grassy trod. Keep right of a copse on the left as you approach a second copse at the edge of the deer park. By the second copse, pass a bench and follow the path round to the right. Keep right of a gate, staying within the deer park, and follow the path to skirt a third copse on your left and pass above the end of a boggy dip. At a post beyond, bear right past Millennium Wood (on your right). Cross another grassy area of parkland to reach a gravelly track.

3. Turn right and follow the track back towards Tatton Hall, ignoring a turning on your left near the Old Hall after 400m or so. Continue past the Old Hall car park to a road junction near the end of Tatton Mere. Turn right and right again, passing the entrance to the Allen Hide on your left.

4. Turn left onto a path that runs alongside Melchett Mere (if you have a buggy, stick to the road). At the end of the lake, cross a track by a gate onto a narrow path that leads ahead to a further track near the edge of the Tatton Hall gardens. Turn right along the track, slightly uphill, and follow the fence as it curves left. Beyond the rear entrance to the hall, retrace your earlier steps back to the car park.



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