Get out and about on the Sandstone Ridge
- Credit: Joe Wainwright
Cheshire’s Sandstone Ridge (www.sandstoneridge.org.uk) has been shortlisted for designation as an AONB (Area of Outstanding National Beauty).
The Ridge is already recognised as one of Britain’s National Character Areas, but this new status could further safeguard the landscape, boost nature, and help more people to enjoy this beautiful part of the county.
Yet there’s no need to wait to explore the Sandstone Ridge, which rises from the Cheshire Plain as a landscape of rolling hills and sandstone escarpments, pocked with glacial meres and mosses and shaded by ancient woodlands.
Here are a few suggestions from Visit Cheshire (www.visitcheshire.com) about how to put a bit of the county’s backbone into a day trip or short break:
Take a walk with a panoramic view
The 55km Sandstone Ridge, running from Malpas in the south to Frodsham in the north, can be explored on circular walks, as bite-size sections, or on a long-distance hike.
Along the way, walkers are treated to panoramas taking in the Shropshire Hills, Peak District and Welsh Hills and can call in at pretty market towns and villages including Tarporley, Kelsall, Beeston and Peckforton. The Sandstone Ridge Trust offers free-to-download routes at www.sandstoneridge.org.uk.
See sandstone sculptures carved by time
The red-pink sandstone outcrops and cliffs date back 250 million years to the Triassic era and were etched by shifting glacial sheets in the last Ice Age. Mad Allen’s Hole on Bickerton Hill and Musket’s Hole near Raw Head are prime caves to explore, there are formations to admire at Urchin’s Kitchen in Primrosehill Wood and Holbitch Slack near Cotebrook, plus abandoned mines, tunnels and quarries to investigate.
Follow a nature trail
Meres and mosses, woods, open heath, and grasslands – this is the place to see carpets of primroses, skylarks on the wing, and fragile flowers, such as bird’s-foot trefoil, in bloom. Deep in Delamere Forest, there’s a rare schwingmoor, or quaking bog, beloved by the white-faced darter dragonfly. While at Little Budworth Common, common lizards and green hairstreak butterflies can be spied amid the thriving heathers, yellow gorse and green bilberries.
Hunt down a medieval forest
Once, the Norman Earls of Chester hunted for deer in the forests of Mara and Mondrem, of which Delamere Forest (www.forestryengland.uk/delamere-forest) is a remnant. Today, visitors walk, cycle and run around the sandstone paths that weave through the beeches, sweet chestnuts, and Scots pines up to Old Pale hill for sublime views of the surrounding counties.
There’s a Go Ape course to tackle, too. The only hunting that takes place here today is for the giant wooden Gruffalo hiding in the trees.
Learn ancient military strategy
Humans have lived on these slopes for the past 6,000 years and a string of six prehistoric hillforts offers a glimpse down the centuries to the Iron Age. These grassy humps hide sophisticated strategic strongholds, which are brought to life in a series of leaflets that reimagine the scene.
Be king or queen of the castles
Two castles sit opposite each other high on the ridge in a permanent stand-off across the Plain. Beeston Castle (www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/beeston-castle-and-woodland-park) is the real thing, a dramatic tumble of 12th-century ruins clinging to a crag. Peckforton Castle (www.peckfortoncastle.co.uk) is a bold Victorian vision of a medieval stronghold, created as a home for John, 1st Lord Tollemache, and now a luxury hotel.