It was a crisp wintry day when we set ourselves this easy, flat, picturesque walk around Dunham Massey.
The kind of day, in fact, which always brings a healthy influx of visitors to Dunham Massey, even at a time with the house is closed for something of a transformation. Commemoration of the centenary of the start of the First World War sees Dunham Massey reopen on Sunday March 1 telling the story of Stamford Military Hospital, a convalescent institution in the hall which treated 282 soldiers from April 1917 to January 1919.
These were, of course, fairly recent events in the long history of Dunham Park. These lands were granted to Hamo de Massey for his loyalty by William the Conqueror.
A few centuries on, the park was laid and trees planted on the orders of George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, who inherited the estate crippled by debt, married a wealthy merchant’s daughter - unhappily as it turned out - and built the house you see today in the 1730s.
The Big Tree
Our walk takes us from Dunham Park on a little waterside ramble which brings us back to the estate with plenty of energy left to enjoy the house (if open) and the park.
1. We start at the main car park to the estate - £5 entry unless you fancy jockeying for a parking space on the roads to Dunham Town (which is a misnomer. It’s very definitely a village).
From the car park, walk back to the main gate and turn right along the pavement, following the perimeter of the park until the first turning on the left, Woodhouse Lane, leading to Dunham Town.
A couple of minutes’ walk brings you to the Big Tree, which you really cannot miss. Take a little diversion here by going right onto Charcoal Lane, then next left to take a look at Dunham Massey Brewing Company. Head brewer John Costello - a veteran of Tetley Walker’s in Warrington - set up the brewery just a few years ago in a disused barn behind Big Tree Farm, producing traditional beers which are often among the prizes at ale festivals.
2. Retrace your steps to the Big Tree and turn right along School Lane as it arcs gently, with open fields to your left. You pass by the Village Store and the Axe and Cleaver, its name redolent of days when chopping down trees would be a regular pursuit in these parts. If you wish to take another diversion here to stock up for your dinner, the Little Heath Farm Shop is signposted on the right.
Cross the canal bridge and immediately turn left down the footpath which takes you down onto the canal towpath. Carry on along the canal, walking beneath the bridge which takes Back Lane over the canal, and over the bridge taking the canal over Woodhouse Lane.
You will notice the canal narrow as it goes over the River Bollin by means of an aqueduct, and then broadens out again. Keep a lookout amid the shrubbery for a flight of steps leading down the canal embankment.
3. Take those steps and, at the lane, turn left, under the canal and along a cobbled section to the village of Little Bollington. Here you will find the White Cottage tea room (not open Tuesdays and Wednesdays) and The Swan With Two Nicks, an avowedly dog-friendly pub where you can get food and sample the wares of the Dunham Massey Brewing Company you passed earlier.
If you do stop here for refreshment, then exit the pub and turn left, crossing a metal footbridge from which there is a view of a weir to the right.
4. A few yards straight on beyond the footbridge, the lane kinks to the left. At this point, you could go through a wooden gate and follow the straight grassy path into Dunham Park, where you will see the early 17th century Old Mill, with its waterwheel on your left.
We chose to avoid the ‘crowds’ and follow the lane to the left, which is signposted as a restricted byway. There is a meandering stream beside the lane to the left, and a short section of the road made up of old timbers. As the lane reaches the main road, you will see the main entrance to Dunham Park on your right - journey’s end, or time for a quick rest before further exploration of the park.
Area of walk: Dunham Massey, Bridgewater Canal and Little Bollington.
Distance: 4 miles
Time to allow: Two hours with stops.
Map: OS Explorer 276 Bolton, Wigan and Warrington.
Refreshments: Cafe at Dunham Massey Hall, Axe and Cleaver pub at Dunham Town, Swan With Two Nicks and White Cottage tea room at Little Bollington.