South Cheshire walk - Wybunbury circular

Wybunbury and its leaning tower

Wybunbury and its leaning tower, which now tilts just a little - Credit: David Dunford

A walk that takes in Wybunbury Tower, the South Cheshire landmark saved by modern engineering 

The (slightly) leaning tower of Wybunbury

The (slightly) leaning tower of Wybunbury - Credit: David Dunford

There’s a rather delicious irony in the fact that the 15th-century tower of St Chad’s in Wybunbury is built in the Perpendicular style, as its persistent refusal to remain upright has earned it the title of The Leaning Tower of Cheshire.

Five former churches attached to the tower have been lost over the years, including the Saxon original and another built by the Staffordshire engineer James Trubshaw in 1832. 

When Trubshaw was engaged, the tower was teetering some five feet from the vertical and in imminent danger of collapse. The self-taught engineer came up with an ingenious solution by which he removed soil and softened the ground on the higher side, allowing the tower to settle and straighten itself under its own weight, and he then rebuilt the body of the church. 

Despite Trubshaw’s pioneering technique, which was later applied to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was only a temporary fix: by 1891 his church was dangerously unstable, and it was demolished a year later.

A replica was built with stronger foundations, but that too developed structural problems and was pulled down in 1977, and a new church built elsewhere in the village, leaving the tower in splendid isolation.

By the early 1980s the tower was tilting almost as severely as before. Demolition was threatened, but the Wybunbury Tower Preservation Trust was founded to save it.

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In March 1989 the trust's campaigning and fundraising finally bore fruit, as the foundations were reinforced with concrete rafts that allowed the tower’s lean to be corrected by hydraulic jacks, a process that can be repeated if the need arises. But, for sentimental reasons, the tower was left 18 inches from true to maintain its iconic slant.

Reedmace in Cheshire countryside

Reedmace at Wybunbury Moss - Credit: David Dunford

The tower overlooks Wybunbury Moss, a flat, marshy hollow to the northwest. This is a National Nature Reserve, the highest designation bestowed by Natural England and one of only two in Cheshire (the other being Rostherne Mere).

The reserve centres on a rare natural feature called a schwingmoor, from the German for ‘swinging bog’. This is no ordinary quagmire, and is one of only three in the country: a schwingmoor arises when vegetation forms a floating mat over the surface of a lake. 

At some points here, the mossy raft is only a metre thick, overlaying 12 metres of murky subterranean water. This unstable peaty surface is fragile and potentially dangerous, so access to the central part of the Moss is restricted.

However, boardwalks and permitted paths allow access to the drier peripheral areas of the reserve, which are rich in wildlife in their own right and make for an ideal after-dinner stroll on a long July evening.

Wybunbury OS map

The Wybunbury walk: OS Explorer 257: Crewe & Nantwich - Credit: Ordnance Suvey

The walk

1.     From the playing field car park, walk back out to the main village street. Turn right past the village hall and village shop, then turn left into Kiln Lane.
2.     At the end of the lane, go over a stile to the left of a farm gate and walk along the top of the field. After another stile and field, a kissing gate leads to a fenced path through a property, beyond which the path continues with views over Wybunbury Moss to your right.
3.    When you reach a perpendicular track by a Natural England information board, turn right down the track, still with the Moss on your right.

Common Blue butterfly

Common Blue butterfly at Wybunbury Moss - Credit: David Dunford

4.    After a little over a quarter of a mile, you reach the entrance to a house: take a footpath through a gate on the left, which leads behind the property and below the retaining wall of another house before meeting a private road.
5.    Follow the road past a couple more properties then, at a right-hand bend, turn right onto a footpath. This fenced path leads alongside a narrow pasture to a junction, where you bear right.

Cuckoo Flower: Cheshire’s county flower

Cuckoo Flower, Cheshire’s county flower, at Wybunbury Moss: - Credit: David Dunford

6.    Shortly after this, turn right through a wooden kissing gate into the Wybunbury Moss reserve. Beyond the Natural England sign, a boardwalk leads via a gate along the northern edge of the protected area, then the path turns left towards the centre of the wetland.

After another kissing gate, the path continues over a footbridge and then follows a fence. Keep along the fence, with intermittent boardwalks, until the path turns right, crosses a couple of footbridges and meets another boardwalk by a padlocked gate overlooking the central marsh.

7.    Turn left here and follow the winding boardwalk to a further footbridge. Beyond, continue to a stile and gate and then keep on over more planking until you exit the reserve via a couple more footbridges. Cross a damp field to meet a public footpath.

Ancient stone gatepost

The mystery gatepost at Wybunbury Tower - Credit: David Dunford

8.    Turn right over a farm bridge and follow the footpath towards Wybunbury Tower. Bear right up the steep bank to a gate into the churchyard (I’m intrigued by a carved stone pillar here, which may be a medieval cross-shaft – does anyone know its history?). Follow the path ahead, its steps fashioned from old gravestones, through the graveyard to the tower.
9.    Exit via the lychgate and turn right past the Swan Inn to return to the village car park.

The Swan Inn, Wybunbury

The Swan Inn, Wybunbury - Credit: David Dunford

The Swan Inn
The Swan Inn has an enviable position next to Wybunbury Tower and has been run by landlord Ian Booth and his team since 2014. It is the starting point for the centrepiece of the annual Wybunbury Fig Pie Wakes, in which contestants roll homemade fig pies down the hill, the winner being the person whose pie rolls furthest.

The pies must be baked strictly to the official recipe, with a hard salt-dough casing and fig and apple filling, and the winning pie is opened after the race to ensure there is no foul play. Old hands suggest baking the pie a month or two in advance to ensure maximum durability. 

Happily to relate, this gloriously eccentric Cheshire tradition – which is documented back to the early 1800s at least – was revived this June after Covid-enforced cancellations in 2020 and 2021.

The stables at the rear of the pub have been converted to comfortable en-suite bedrooms and the rambling interior, with its numerous beamed nooks and crannies, hop-hung ceiling, open fires and upright piano, has a traditional feel. 

The well-made food tends toward the traditional too, with pub-grub standards including lasagne, gammon, fish and chips and curry of the day. The fixed-price light bites menu or a ciabatta (both served lunchtime only) could suit those with lighter appetites, as might the soup of the day – this short walk isn’t going to burn off many of those calories. 

A couple of the mains, plus the veggie burger and the cheese and chutney sandwich, are suitable for vegetarians. Ian tells me that the menu was due to be refreshed in mid-June, so do check in advance if you have any special dietary requirements.

The pub has its own walking leaflet (full disclosure: compiled by yours truly), available free from the bar, which as well as a variant of this walk describes longer walks to Hough Common and Lea Hall (4½ miles) and to the popular Dagfields craft centre, returning via the Weaver valley (8¼ miles).

A variant of the Wybunbury Moss circuit also appears in my latest book, Guide to Pub Walks in Cheshire, published by Countryside Books in May this year.

The Swan is open seven days a week from noon, except on Mondays when the pub opens at 4pm.

Compass Points
Area of walk: Wybunbury
Start point: Recreation ground car park near the new St Chad’s Church. CW5 7SB. Check closing time before leaving.
Distance: 1¾ miles
Time to allow: 1 hour
Map: OS Explorer 257: Crewe & Nantwich
Refreshments: The Swan Inn swaninn.pub 01270 841280
Practicalities: A couple of stiles. Paths across the Moss may be boggy, especially in winter. Wybunbury is served by the two-hourly 39 Crewe–Nantwich bus (no Sunday service).

A video tour exploring the history of the church of St Chad’s in Wybunbury

St Chad's Church, Wybunbury

James Balme visits the ‘Leaning Tower of Cheshire’

 Exploring the history of the church of St Chad’s in Wybunbury