The Sandstone Trail is a thirty four mile walk following the dissected sandstone ridge that runs through central Cheshire. It is a very popular middle-distance walk which Julia Bradbury featured on the ITV program ‘Britain’s Favourite Walks‘. Many people walk sections of it to enjoy some of the spectacular views, fascinating history and beautiful woodlands. Some folk take on the challenge of walking the whole trail in one day – not me! I decided to do the walk over two days pitching my tent wherever I could over night.
Starting from Frodsham
I decided to start my walk from the northern end of the Sandstone Trail which begins in the small market town of Frodsham, which lies approximately three miles south of Runcorn. As soon as I stepped out from the station I could see evidence of the local red sandstone in some of the older buildings which gave the town a very local character. Although the town itself is not large there is a very busy road (A56) running through the high street where the pillar that marks the start of the walk is sited.
I was not sad to leave the noisy town centre and was soon walking up the steep steps on the side of Overton Hill that overlooks Frodsham.
The climb burst out onto a flat crest where a war memorial stood out boldly against the clear blue sky. Although I could still hear the sound of the busy A56 and the M56 motorway to the north the atmosphere here was entirely different. It’s peaceful air and massive views out toward the Mersey Estuary were truly inspiring and it was here that I really thought my trek had began (in fact until the 1990’s this was the official start of the trail).
A very dramatic start
The first mile and a half is very spectacular. The path wound its way just below the summit of the ridge line on the sides of Overton and Woodhouse hills, through trees that look as though they have been picked from medieval history. Huge red sandstone rocks appeared everywhere, there rounded shapes having been carved by millions of years of sculpting, and as the path climbed and fell every now and then the view to the north reappeared from behind the curtains of woodland.
Walking on lower land to Delamere Forest
One of the things I really loved about the Sandstone Trail was the variety of countryside that I walked through. After the dramatic heights of the two hills the path descended into the very tranquil lower lands leading to Delamere Forest. The fields and hedgerows were a lush spring green and the sound of birdsong was continuous. It was very restful walking in the warm sunlight and I enjoyed it very much a deep feeling of contentment bathing my whole being.
It was not long before I reached Delamere Forest. This is a very popular place for cyclists and families with a visitors centre in the middle. I met three men near the beginning of the forest who were practising for a charity walk they were planning to do in Scotland, 56 miles in 24 hours. Sooner them than me, we chatted as we walked together and soon we were on the other side of the forest. I had totally missed the visitors centre where I had originally intended to stop for a break.
To the end of my first day
After a slight detour to Pale Heights with its 360 degree views. It was a mixture of woodland and green fields liberally coated in wild flowers over rolling hills that eventually brought me to the Shropshire Union Canal. I stopped here near the end of my days walk at the Shady Oak pub for a meal. They did have a camp site but had only just reopened it and did not have any toilet facilities, so they would not let me camp there (caravans only) health and safety reasons they said! So after my meal I found a quiet spot (so I thought) next to the canal and pitched my tent. It was fine except for the nearby railway line, every time the Virgin train to Glasgow went by it sounded like it was going through my tent, thankfully it did not run all night long.
Day two walking to Whitchurch
There was a slight mist in the air when I emerged from my tent on my second day. Overall the day had a promising air about it and I felt refreshed and eager as I prepared for another days walking.
Beeston Castle which sits very dramatically on a rocky crag had been overshadowing my pitch. It dominates the landscape for miles and I was really looking forward to getting a better view of it at the beginning of the days walk. I knew I would pass by the castle too early in the morning to get in, but I thought the path went straight past its front door and I would get a good look at it’s outside walls and location.
Much to my disappointment the front door was at the bottom of the hill and I saw nothing of the castle itself except it’s vague outline against the sky. Not far from Beeston Castle on another hill is Peckforton Castle this too was hidden away – this time by trees.
If you decide to walk the Sandstone Trail I really recommend that you time your walk better than I did so that you can have a good look around Beeston Castle, it is one of the highlights of the walk.
Four hills with great views
Shortly after passing the two castles the path climbs up onto the first of four hills. These hills probably contained the most impressive landscape of the trail. For the next few miles I walked over four hills that not only gave great views but they were also covered in very atmospheric woodland. Ancient trees and bilberry bushes growing around the red sandstone rocks. This part of the walk I think I enjoyed most revelling in its wild landscape and primitive air. I even found a small cave to explore with the foreboding name of ‘Bloody Bones Cave’ reportedly once the home of a bunch of brigands. The cave was just below Rawhead which is the highest point of the trail at 227m above sea level.
A lowland finish
After Bickerton Hill the trail crosses green farmland which some people consider to be the least interesing section of the Sandstone Trail. I quite enjoyed it, it made for a very restful finish to the walk the wide open spaces enabled me to see for miles across our “green and pleasant land”.
The final section was back along the Stafford Union Canal, this time it’s Llangollen branch. I nearly always find walking next to a canal restful and it was a great way to glide into the finish of the walk. The path was very level and canal people always seem very friendly nearly always offering a greeting as they chug by on their slender barges.
The end of the trail is in Jubilee Park in Whitchurch a small rough stone arch marking its terminus. Apart from a nearby notice board there is nothing to tell what the arch is, which I found a little disappointing and in some ways the end of my walk was a bit of a let down, lost in obscurity.
The walk itself though was highly enjoyable and I heartily recommend it.