• Start: The Bollin Valley
  • End: The Bollin Valley
  • Country: England
  • County: Cheshire
  • Type: Country
  • Nearest pub: At Quarry Bank Mill
  • Ordnance Survey: OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow
  • Difficulty: Medium
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Keith Carter leads a walk along the River Bollin at Styal, passing ancient and modern tourist attractions

Styal sleeps cheek by jowl with Manchester Airport although you would not know it. The name Styal is said to mean ‘a secret place’ because when the tax officers of long ago came to check how many hectares of wheat or barley had been planted, the village was suspiciously silent and deserted.

This is apocryphal. My Dictionary of British Place Names says the name was originally ‘Styhale’ meaning a nook of land with pigsties, which sounds more plausible. At least they aren’t trying to pass us off with an explanation that it comes from the land belonging to a man called Sty.

When Samuel Greg came to build Quarry Bank Mill in the late 1700s he needed somewhere to house his workers and built a village to go along with it. Most of the workers were brought in since the locals were highly reluctant to get involved, so the incomers needed somewhere to live. A school was provided for their children and two chapels to cater for their spiritual needs and what emerged was a fine example of a model village which visitors come to admire to this day.

Quarry Bank Mill was initially built for spinning cotton but in later generations weaving was added and you can see looms working if you visit, giving a brilliant demonstration of how the weaving process works and the conditions experienced by those employed there when cotton was king. The National Trust has the care of it now so it is in safe hands.


Our walk starts from the Mill where the café, shop and toilets are in close proximity.

Regular readers will be thinking that we’re talking about bacon sandwiches at this point and they would not be far wrong. The cafeteria takes care of those in need of such excesses i.e. yours truly, before the walk begins, then we proceed on the rising path beside the Mill and chimney with signs indicating the way to the Apprentice House. Many of the apprentices were orphans and lived together in the house under the stern control of a matron and housekeeper.

At the top of the lane take a footpath on the left where a National Trust sign marks Styal Woods. A well-made fenced path leads into the woods and we are soon faced with a deep gully where we turn left, the path leading down to Kingfisher Bridge. This is where we meet the River Bollin which rises in Macclesfield Forest, flows through Macclesfield and Wilmslow, is culverted under the runway of Manchester Airport and eventually meets the Mersey north of Lymm.

Make sure you walk in the same direction of the flow, since there are numerous twists and turns and you want to avoid meeting yourself coming back. At a divide in the path keep left and soon cross a footbridge and ascend a steep flight of steps up over a bank then down again to regain the riverside among wooded, shady surroundings.

The next bridge we come to is called Giant’s Castle Bridge and is followed by another steep flight of steps before returning back to the water again. These climbs certainly keep the muscles working.

Emerge from the trees and continue on a fenced path – don’t cross the river at all from now on, but notice a recently installed kissing-gate on the right with a path leading away from the river. Take this footpath which climbs a bank, levels out, becomes surfaced then arrives at the airport perimeter road with the runways and terminal buildings in front of us.

Turn right and stay on the road outside the perimeter fence, an area rich both in wildlife and in plane spotters, for whom this is a good vantage point to watch the continuous take-offs and landings. They have adopted an open area where these twitchers of the long lens can capture the aircraft of note to be ticked off on their lists.

Our progress along the perimeter road is halted at an emergency gate beyond which we cannot go. We turn away from the airport and follow the tarmac past Oversley Lodge Farm to where we pass through a gate and meet the Styal road at a bend, once the site of Styal Cross. The black and white half timbered farm here is called Norcliffe Farm.

Turn right at the junction and follow the road into Styal Village where the pub The Ship offers a warm welcome and a cold beer to the wayfarer. The food is standard pub fare without much of a nod to locally sourced ingredients.

Leaving the pub, retrace your steps as far as a track on the left with a sign for Norcliffe Chapel and we take this path as  far as the restored Styal Cross. Most of the Manchester industrialists were Unitarians and they preferred to do business and socialise with others of their own kind.

Samuel Greg wanted his workers to follow Non-Conformist beliefs and provided the chapel for their place of worship. It was always expected to be full for the weekly service. The Cross has a restored upper part on an ancient base, a very nice piece of work.

A gate here leads to a path through a meadow and we soon arrive back at our starting point, turning down to the right to bring us back to the Mill.

A school party was assembled here fresh from a visit to the weaving shed clutching their fact sheets. I am sure they would have got a lot out of their visit to what is one of the best working cotton mills in Britain.

Compass points

Area of walk: The Bollin Valley and Styal

Distance of walk: Five miles

Time to allow: 2½ hours

Map: OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield and Congleton

Refreshments and toilets: At Quarry Bank Mill

Suitable for wheelchair? Not for the walk but the Mill has good disabled and pushchair


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