Gritstone Trail: Day 1 – Disley to Tegg’s Nose

Published 18 February 2018

Gritstone Trail waymark

The classic ‘G’ in a foot print design of the Gritstone Trail logo

A 35 mile wander through Cheshire’s Peak District, the Gritstone Trail runs from Disley to Kidsgrove. This is a part of the world once known for quarrying, although the first day starts more sedately.

“Start at the railway station in Disley,” said the leaflet. “Walk up the steps through the wood.”

Well, err, okay. Because railway stations often have woods next to them. Especially stations sat at the edge of the Greater Manchester commuter belt. Yes, okay, Disley village is in Cheshire, but only just. It sits right on the border of Greater Manchester. Quite possibly too close for some of its residents. But with frequent train services into the city, Disley has stronger links to Manchester, than its distant county town of Chester.

The station itself wasn’t much to write home about. A simple single story building, looking like it was from the 1970s. Tatty, and whitewashed to high heaven, I got the impression that something far grander was once here here. Maybe where the extensive car park now sat.

The start of the Gritstone Trail

A slightly shabby set of steps next to the train station marks the start of the Gritstone Trail

Still, the station did have the promised wood next to it. And some rather muddy steps too. There was even a large interpretation board signifying that a walking trail started here.

I made my way to the steps and started to climb.

The Gritstone Trail had begun.

Gritstone is a type of sandstone. It’s coarse-grained and it’s hard-wearing. It’s pretty resistant to erosion. In fact it’s very resistant to erosion. This is the rock legends are made of. Well, millstone based legends anyway. If you wanted a millstone to do some grinding, gritstone was a good choice. A grindstone for sharpening your knives? Yes, that’ll be Gritstone. And whilst demand for millstones has reduced in recent years, this handy rock has found new uses in the road building industry.

The Pennines and Peak District had a lot of gritstone. Quarries opened all over the place to extract it. Rock that had been sitting in the ground for millions of years, suddenly had a use and mankind made the most of it.

And that’s what the Gritstone Trail is all about. Gritstone. A 35 mile journey through a countryside that was once alive with the noise of quarrying. And in some places, still is.

Bar a few short dalliances into Staffordshire, the trail’s mostly in Cheshire. It was created by the now defunct Cheshire County Council to help promote the countryside. Countryside that’s often overlooked in favour of Cheshire’s better known neighbour, Derbyshire. These days the trail is managed by Cheshire East Council, whose logo now is emblazoned on the trail’s signs. But the goal of the walk is still the same. To get people out and enjoying the best that Cheshire has to offer.

The Cage, a stone building in Lyme Park

The Cage, part of the Lyme estate, viewed from the driveway of Lyme Park

Given the Gritstone Trail’s all about rock, you may be surprised to learn that its first port of call is not a quarry but a deer park. Owned by the National Trust since the 1940s, Lyme Park’s manor house and 1,300 acres of land make it a magnet for visitors. Even if you’ve never been, you may know the place. In 1995 the house stood in for Pemberley, in the BBC’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. That infamous scene with Colin Firth and the lake? That was Lyme.

Of course the Gritstone Trail doesn’t go into the house itself, and that viewing that lake requires the price of an admission ticket to the gardens. But the trail does take you on a good tour of the extensive park grounds.

The trail enters the park from a now-traffic free driveway that goes from the East Lodge. But I managed to take a wrong turning. Or to be specific, I didn’t turn off Red Lane into Green Lane like I was supposed to. As such I ended up entering via the wrong gate, and had to walk down Lyme’s main driveway instead.

The driveway is quite a length. Even driving down it – something I’ve done a few times as Lyme’s only a fifteen minute drive from my house – it takes an age. Walking it takes even longer.

Even at half eight in the morning, the park was bustling. A mixture of dog walkers, and joggers getting some lycra-clad exercise. I quickly abandoned walking down the drive itself due to the sheer number of cars heading down it. Instead I followed a variety of paths that went roughly in the same direction, towards the car park where I picked up the Gritstone Trail proper.

It was too early to divert off and visit the house itself – something I’d never done despite living so close to the place. Although posters revealed an incentive. Visitors could follow a Lego trail around the house and gardens. Well that was tempting and I vowed to return with my two small children as soon as I could. (This proved to be two days later, but as the Lego trail had absolutely nothing to do with long distance walking, we’ll mention it no further.)

Instead, I headed into Lyme’s woodlands, looking out for large rocks of Gritstone. Although this posed a question. What does Gritstone actually look like anyway? I probably should have done some proper research before I’d left home. Too late now.

A deer om the grounds of Lyme Park

Oh deer.

The woods were tree-filled, as woods tend to be. All dark, brooding and mysterious. Vaguely ominous too. On the other side of the trees though was moorland. Moorland with a cracking view of the city of Manchester, and its surrounding environs. And a few deer for good measure.

A few months earlier I’d picked up a leaflet about the Gritstone Trail, and I looked at it now. It extolled the virtues of a small diversion off the route to visit something called the Bow Stones. There was just one flaw. It didn’t give any indication of where to turn off if you wanted to visit them. My Ordnance Survey map suggested they were extremely close to the path, but I couldn’t see them anywhere. And so I missed out the opportunity to admire this apparent local landmark. Whatever it was.

In consolation, I saw two other walkers. They were scouring the long grass next to the path with a stick. It’s possible they were trying to find the Bow Stones, although if so, the stones were a lot smaller than I’d imagined.

Having now left the confines of Lyme Park, I followed a path over the top of Sponds Hill. The hill was a hive of activity, with workers busy trying to improve the bumpy, rocky track I was now walking on. At least, that’s what I presumed they were up to. All I knew for sure was they were making a lot of noise.

Things didn’t get much quieter as I walked on. It was just a different kind. Mechanical excavators and mini-dump trucks got replaced by the bleats of sheep. And that of barking sheep dogs, quad bike horns and several humans shouting. The sheep were being rounded up, and moved, resulting in a cacophony of sound and no mistake.

Sheep in a field on the Gritstone Trail

Sheep darting around like mad in an attempt to escape the racket made by the farmer?

I suspected the main reason the sheep were complying with the request to move was so they could get to somewhere more peaceful. Me too, I thought. Although my goal was harder to achieve once I found out where the sheep were being herded to. It was exactly the same spot I was heading. A gate in the corner of the field was both our destinations. A corner now filled with over excitable creatures, darting all over the place in their frantic attempts to escape the blazing horns.

At first I tried to take it carefully. You know, so that I didn’t startle them. But what was the point? They were bonkers enough already. In the end I gave up, and decided to add to the chaos by ran out of there as fast as I could. My arrival in a country lane full of cars speeding along at 60mph seemed positively serene in comparison.

A quarried hill near Pott Shrigley

The remnants of a hill quarried for gritstone near Pott Shrigley

All these miles walked, and how much gritstone had I seen? Well I’ll tell you. None. Well, that was about to change as I left the hamlet of Pott Shrigley, and headed into a field. It was in there that I got my first sign that once some of the hills of Cheshire had been far bigger.

The field had once contained a small hill. Some of it was still there. But not much. All that remained was a semi-circle of grass-covered rock. It was like someone had come along with a big spoon, and scooped out most of the middle. And dumped a collection of tin huts in the space that they’d liberated. No doubt the men working the quarry had used them for shelter and rest. Now they sat empty and abandoned, quietly rusting away.

It wasn’t the only one. In the distance another hill had been similarly hacked away. This one had been attacked differently. From the right it looked quite normal. A gradual slope upwards, rising to a hill top. But then it stopped abruptly. The left of the hill was completely absent. It was like a giant had broken it off roughly, and carried it off somewhere else. Quarrying changes the landscape forever, and once the stone was removed and used, the area would never look quite the same ever again.

The countryside near Bollington, with a fleeting glimpse of White Nancy.

Zoom in close enough and you might just make out the awesome sight of White Nancy.

Of course all sorts of human interactions change the world we live in, from houses to viaducts. A hillside overlooking the village of Bollington offered another such contributions. White Nancy. It looks a bit like a sugarloaf with a ball on top. Or, perhaps, a pepper pot. It was built in 1817 to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo. Well why not? Who wouldn’t build a giant pepperpot on a hill top? Especially when your country’s just finished giving Napolean Bonoparte a good thrashing.

White Nancy is visible for miles around, and it’s such a local landmark that the Gritstone Trail had to pay it a visit. It chose to do this by going up a steep side of the hill, but then, no pain, no gain.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I got to see White Nancy at close quarters. It certainly wasn’t to see the words “I ♥ MCR” emblazoned on one side of it. Nor did I expect to see the symbol of Manchester – the worker bee – on the other.

White Nancy, near Bollington

White Nancy professes its hearting for Manchester

When built, no one deemed White Nancy important enough to paint. That changed around 1925 when it picked up a white colour scheme. But it’s been tarted up for special occasions a few times. The latest livery was a result of a rather less joyous event. A few weeks earlier there had been a terrorist attack on Manchester Arena. White Nancy may be closer to Macclesfield, but now it stood in solidarity with its larger neighbour.

My last few miles of the day would take me to Tegg’s Nose Country Park on the edge of Macclesfield.

From White Nancy, the path ran over the top of the hilltop. Then the Gritstone Trail headed downhill to a road, a village, and several fields. All rather uneventful. Well, until I missed a turn off and ended up having to duck under someone’s washing line in my attempt to get to a lane.

The Buxton New Road

Buxton New Road, connecting Macclesfield with, err, Buxton.

Going up the lane, I rejoined the proper path. Next stop was Buxton New Road, the busy A-road connecting the Derbyshire spa town with Macclesfield.

My bus home ran along the road, but there was no sign of a bus stop. With a shrug, I plodded on the extra mile to the country park where I presumed there would be one.

I’d get to explore the park on the next stage of the trail, but a visit to the very good tea room was highly tempting. I knew from a past visit that the cakes were stunning. On the other hand, the bus to Buxton would be arriving soon. They only ran hourly so I meandered down to the main road to try and find one of those elusive bus stops.

As it turned out, there wasn’t. Even if Google Maps says there was. It had been misinformed. In fact the bus driver appeared rather surprised when I stuck my hand out as he hurtled along. Presumably he wasn’t used to having to stop. During the journey I noted with interest that the orange and white minibus didn’t stop again until it got close to its destination. No wonder there were no bus stops. There was no one to use the,

And that, it appeared, was that. My first day on the Gritstone Trail was over. As I reflected on my walk, I couldn’t help but feel there was something missing from the walk. I’d seen only a little gritstone. Just a few bits here and there. Oh well. There were many more miles of walking to before I’d finish the Gritstone Trail. If I was lucky, the next day would provide some more of the hard stuff for me to enjoy.

Find all my Gritstone Trail photographs over on flickr.

Macclesfield in the distance, seen from near Tegg's Nose Country Park

Macclesfield in the distance, seen from near Tegg’s Nose Country Park

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