Gitstone Trail Day 2 (Part 1): Tegg’s Nose to Sutton Common

Published 4 March 2018

A Gritstone Way signpost, surrounded by trees

A 35 mile wander through Cheshire’s Peak District, the Gritstone Trail runs from Disley to Kidsgrove. In the first of two posts, I tell the tale of walking the second day on the trail.

“So, not a good start…” went a text message from a friend who was supposed to be in Scotland, starting the West Highland Way that very morn.

“Sleeper train left Euston and we went to bed. Woke up this morning and the train was back in Euston. Some sort of fire preventing trains running to Glasgow.”

The same problem would cause me an issue. I only needed to travel ten minutes or so from Stockport to Macclesfield. Even so, the repercussions of an event near Milton Keynes were being felt many miles north. Such is it when you’re travelling on the West Coast Mainline. Even if it’s only a little bit of it. Several trains from Stockport had been cancelled, and rest were experiencing delays.

I needed to be in Macclesfield in time for a bus that ran only hourly. This bus would take me to Tegg’s Nose Country Park, so I could return to Gritstone Trail. Hanging round Macclesfield for an hour if I missed it, wasn’t an appealing option.

Arriving at Stockport station I was mentally prepared for the worst. And I was right to do so. My train was not running, and the one after it would get to Macclesfield too late for the bus.

I emitted a loud and heavy sigh, and prepared myself for the worst. But then I glimpsed up at the departure board and spotted it. Another train? Yes, there was! An earlier train that hadn’t been cancelled, but that was running quite late. It was due to arrive in a few minutes time. I ran to the platform as fast as I could.

And that’s why I found myself stood at a bus stop in Macclesfield half an hour early for the bus instead. Well, I hadn’t missed it. But I still had a wait; he second hand on my watch slowly counting the time down.

It was at this point I had a revelation. Tegg’s Nose Country Park is a mere 2 miles from the centre of Macclesfield. I could walk there and still arrive there at the same time as the bus. It would beat standing around doing nothing, and would save a couple of quid on the bus fare. Things may have not been so great for my friend down in London, but it was working out for me.

Stone sign saying Tegg's Nose Country Park

What do you do with a former quarry on top of a large hill? A former quarry that sat in the countryside, a couple of miles outside a large town. Why, you make it into a country park of course. And that’s exactly what the council did at Tegg’s Nose.

The hill had been quarried for gritstone from the 16th century. For a long time, the stone was extracted by hand, before the 1930s saw blasting introduced. But by 1955 quarrying had ended; the place left to gently fade away. That was until the 1970s when the local council purchased the former quarry to turn it into a country park. It was a wise move. With its proximity to Macclesfield, it’s a popular place for those wanting to get a bit of fresh air.

One of the park’s most striking features is the large rockface where huge chunks of stone were once removed. Underneath it the authorities have placed a variety of large quarrying machinery. Although sourced from other sites, they give a good representation of how the site would once have been laid out.

Old quarrying machinery in Tegg's Nose Country Park

One thing they can’t recreate is the noise and motion of the machinery in action. These days the most noise you’ll here is the sound of dogs barking, or shrieks of joy from children climbing over these sleeping giants. Yet this was once a loud, noisy, smelly, and dusty place. The grass and purple heather that now grows everywhere, wouldn’t have stood a chance. It was hard to imagine the sheer amount of graft that once went on here. Conditions were tough, and the average life-span of those working in the quarry was a mere fifty years.

The Gritstone Trail traverses much of Tegg’s Nose country park, Especially the bits where you get the best views. And there are some crackers of neighbouring hills and, of course, the town of Macclesfield. After that it takes a path down to two reservoirs sited at the foot of the hill. Built to provide water for Macclessfield’s mills, Tegg’s Nose Reservoir and Bottoms Reservoir both provide water to this day.

There were a handful of terraced houses near the head of Bottom’s Reservoir. What a view the occupants would have. In the foreground, the reservoir itself. And behind the water, the impressive sight of Tegg’s Nose in the background. The hill would dominate the landscape behind me for some time, and I spent a fair amount of time turning round to admire it. Well, you had to.

Bottom's Reservoir, with some houses in the background

After the reservoir, the trail whisked me into farmland for a couple of miles of hills, fields and bleating sheep. It was all rather pleasant indeed. I confess I had been guilty of assuming that Cheshire’s countryside was somewhat bland and boring. Something to do with that whole ‘Cheshire Plains’ thing. Names like that don’t particularly conjure up images of dramatic scenery, and exciting landscapes.

But the Plains are only part of Cheshire. There is another side to the story, something that the Gritstone Trail was proving several times over. There were fields, drystone walls, and plenty of distinctive hills. And in a way, that shouldn’t be a surprise. Where I was stood was a mere mile outside the boundary of the Peak District National Park, after all. The whole area shared many of the traits of the White Peak. The local council even goes as far as branding a 100 square mile area as “Cheshire’s Peak District”. If I turned round, Tegg’s Nose dominated the landscape.

It was a mighty place indeed.

View looking towards Tegg's Nose hill

I needed to climb up the hill, named by the Ordnance Survey as “The Hill of Rossenclowes”. And if that’s not a name of drama and legend, I don’t know what is. If only I know what the story was. But alas, I had no idea what a Rossenclowe was, and why this was the hill of them.

If Rossenclowe was another word for “quarry”, all would be explained. For there was one to the side of the path. If Tegg’s Nose had given me quarrying of the past, I now had quarrying in the modern day. Brightly coloured excavators clawed away, scooping up chunks of rock with ease. Technology allows modern quarrying to be vastly more efficient than it once was. Where once there was a huge workforce, now only a handful of people work there.

This particular operation appeared to have more excavators than humans working on it. Only one of the metallic titans was in use, whilst the others rested on their perches around the quarry. It made a lot of noise too. The loud clang and clank of excavating filled the air. Dramatic, although not very relaxing. When all the excavators are operational, the sound must be deafening.

I plodded up up the Rossenclowe, towards a telecommunications mast made out of reinforced concrete. The mast was hard to miss. It stood on a hillside, dominating the landscape for miles around. And the Gritstone Trail went right past it.

Looking towards Sutton Common, with the BT tower visible

Taller than most tower blocks, its sides filled with microwave radio dishes. Phone calls and messages would be zipping too and from the dishes for for BT, like no ones business. And radio too. This 72m concrete monster also broadcasts local radio to Macclesfield and Stoke-on-Trent.

Surrounded by a large metal fence, the tower’s compound took up much of the hill top, restricting the space for paths. But there was a large rock, ideal for sitting on and eating lunch with a fine view of the hills in front of you. I looked at my watch. Twelve on the dot. I was hungry too. And as the Gritstone Trail would spend the next two miles narrow country lanes, it seemed like a perfect place to have a break.

There was one problem. From somewhere in the tower came the sound of drilling. A piercing, screeching sound that dug deep into my skull. Someone up in the tower was going at it with a Black and Decker like no one’s business. If I stayed too long, the noise would turn me into a quivering wreck within minutes.

Sutton Common BT Tower

An inferior alternative it would have to be, and I found one a short distance on. I found a manhole cover at the side of a track. It would do as an alternative picnic spot, and it was just – and I mean just – far away enough from drilling that the noise was tolerable rather than grating. It was better than nothing, but it was still far from the ideal resting spot. But who knew if I’d find anywhere better? I munched on a sandwich, ate a pie, and decided to get going again as quickly as possible.

Next time: the thrilling conclusion. Find all my Gritstone Trail photographs over on flickr.

A quarried hill, viewed from Sutton Common

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