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Cheshire walk - Astbury, Macclesfield Canal and Little Moreton Hall

PUBLISHED: 00:00 11 March 2015 | UPDATED: 13:20 23 January 2017

A rusty curiosity at the entrance to Alcumlow Hall farm, Astbury.

A rusty curiosity at the entrance to Alcumlow Hall farm, Astbury.

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Prepare to encounter one of the most spectacular survivors of Cheshire architecture on this walk...but bring your sturdiest boots

Towpath of the Macclesfield Canal Towpath of the Macclesfield Canal

What a joy to yomp across a muddy field and suddenly come across the sight of Little Moreton Hall.

With its higgledy-piggledy lines and its seemingly top-heavy design, this wonderful black and white timber-framed building has, as its custodian the National Trust concedes, ‘defied logic for 500 years’.

But then it was always intended to make an impression, having been built by the Moreton family, local landowners, at the start of the 16th century as a symbol of their prosperity, serving that purpose well, remaining in the family until 1938.

The origin of the name Moreton is thought to be the Old English ‘mor’ for ‘marshland’. I sense the truth of that theory as I squelch down the road beside the hall in walking boots which, half way round this circular walk from Astbury, have long since given up their claim to be waterproof. Hardly surprising, for I have slithered along a greasy canal towpath, negotiated countless stiles surrounded by mud baths, crossed fields with the consistency of porridge and a farm track which flowed with what I can only describe as a cow-scented gravy.

View back towards Astbury from the Macclesfield Canal View back towards Astbury from the Macclesfield Canal

Yes, if you tackle this walk during a wet spell, bring your wellies. On the plus side, there is hardly anything resembling a hill throughout the six or so miles, and there is an embarrassment of possible refreshment shops.

1. We start in the village of Astbury, just a few minutes south of Congleton and yet seeming a long way from any urban thrum. St Mary’s Church, Astbury, is a grade 1 listed building which Pevsner’s Buildings of England describes as ‘one of the most exciting Cheshire churches’, with origins in the 12th and 13th centuries.

With the church on our right and the Egerton Arms to our left, we head up Peel Lane, soon passing Glebe Farm Shop, where the animals include donkeys, ponies, alpacas and kune kune pigs.

The North and East Ranges of Little Moreton Hall c National Trust Images & Paul Harrison The North and East Ranges of Little Moreton Hall c National Trust Images & Paul Harrison

At a fork in the road a few minutes later, we bear right into Dodds Lane, passing a farm where a notice proclaims honey for sale.

2. At a right hand bend, just before Dodds Lane crosses over the Macclesfield Canal, we go through a gap in the fencing to the left which brings us onto the towpath. Turn right along the towpath and keep walking for more than a mile. Even on a dismal winter day, you may pass canal boats with smoke rising from their wood-burning stoves.

We leave the canal just a few yards before bridge 85, through a gap in the fence. Turn right down New Road and just a hundred yards or so later, we see a stile on the left with a footpath sign. Cross the stile and head across the field between the two electricity poles. We come to another stile which we cross and head up the next field, going to the left of another electricity pole towards the next stile. Over this, we walk up past a tree standing proudly on its own and head across the field, looking for an opening in the hedge which once had a gate, but now has a redundant stile and a yellow arrow pointing us in the right direction, to another stile.

3. Over that stile, we are now close to bridge 86 of the canal. But we head right, away from the canal, along a farm track then over a stile beside a field gate and on through two fields, keeping to the right edge beside the hedge. On my walk, there were bulls in this field, and a curious bullock I had to shoo away from the stile, but cattle-phobics should know that we do keep very much to the edge of the field.

At the end of the second field, we head diagonally to the left across the next field, heading in the direction of the A34, whose traffic we can see and hear quite easily now. We go through two stiles, following the SCW (South Cheshire Way) signs, through another field, keeping to the right, and thence to the road running beside Little Moreton Hall.

4. After enjoying the hall, we head past the car park towards the A34, cross over and go right up the pavement, passing Cuttleford Farm, then soon after taking a footpath sign to the left, heading across the field diagonally, but keeping a tree and a central field hedge to our left. At the end of the hedge, we go across the open field on a path which you can discern has been beaten by previous boots, and proceed into another field with a drainage ditch to our right.

Over the stile, we turn right along Chance Hall Lane, soon reaching the entrance to Alcumlow Hall Farm, where a rusty, photogenic relic of an old car provides a talking point. Just beyond the farm entrance, the road forks, and we go left onto Brook Lane, past Brookfield Stables and on to a T junction at which we bear left, walking past Ivy Cottage.

5. Very soon after, we turn right at a bridleway sign beside an Astbury Parish Council noticeboard and follow the track between two rows of trees. We reach a lane which we cross over, taking the narrow tarmac road slightly to the left. At the entrance to Brownlow Farm, we take a footpath to the right, down a grassy lane. We can see journey’s end now in the shape of the steeple of St Mary’s. The path bears to the left and a few yards later, we follow a yellow arrow to the right pointing us onto a path between two fields. Over a stile, we follow a path on the left-hand edge of a field, arriving at the A34. Turn left, passing Astbury Meadow Garden Centre en route back to the village.

Area of Walk: Astbury, Macclesfield Canal, Little Moreton Hall, Brownlow Heath

Distance: Six miles

Time to allow: Two and a half hours.

Map:OS Explorer 268

Refreshments: Egerton Arms, Peel Lane, Astbury; Astbury Meadow Garden Centre, Newcastle Road; Alcumlow Hall Farm, Chance Hall Lane; Glebe Farm, Peel Lane; Little Moreton Hall, Mrs Dale’s Pantry.

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