A Walk in Macclesfield Forest

by frankbeswick

The first walk of Spring is always special, especially after a difficult spell.

Britain has had a bad end of winter; February 2020 has been particularly bad with Atlantic storms thundering down on the country and dumping masses of rain on the land. Walking and gardening, both great hobbies of mine, were seriously restricted. But the buds were clearly showing themselves, snowdrops and crocuses were springing from the ground and daffodils were displaying their yellow blossoms in woods and flower beds. Then we enjoyed a dry spell, and as the days were lengthening we set out for a walk.

Photo courtesy of DominikRh, of Pixabay

Steps on the Way to Recovery

2019 was medically the most challenging year of my adult life, and the recovery has been slow,but steady. I have taken walks, but they have been short, aided by my trusty stick, and my troubled muscles have needed short rests. Moreover, I know that I have slowed down. So the next steps on my way to recovery were to take no breaks, and to keep a better pace. But this walk was also to be an enjoyable family outing, not just a training exercise. So four of us, Maureen [my wife] my son Peter, his two year old son and I packed into our Ford Fiesta and set off to wind through the town of Macclesfield, in Cheshire until we got to Macclesfield Forest. This is a  small working forest in East Cheshire in the low western flank of the southern Pennines,  a spine of hills running from the Scottish border in the north to the English midlands. 

Cheshire is  a county with different parts.Much of the county is an extension of the midland plain, the traditional rolling lands of England, but the western side is a  land more hilly,  as it merges into the Pennine  hill country of Derbyshire. The hills are not high, but can be steep. They are generally green all the way to the summits, but the vegetation can be heather and rough grasses near the tops, moorland vegetation really, but lower down fields are well-tilled and grassy. There is much sheep farming in the east of the county, which is the dominant form of agriculture, though dairy farming dominates in other parts. .

The forest was planted on hilly land around a series of three reservoirs. It was a forest planted with softwoods at the end of World War 1, when the UK realized that it was short of wood.Pine was needed for pit props in coal mines. That is why the forest grows much pine, but in recent years there has been a return to native British trees, and you can see that some of the younger trees are oak. Modern interest in wildlife has led to the encouragement of native fauna, , The area has a wide variety of walks.We chose one of about two miles that circled a wood-fringed reservoir and crossed a damn. 

The Walk

This was a morning walk to culminate in lunch, so we arrived at our destination, an inn dating from the eighteenth century, a lovely edifice of stone called Leather's Smithy. It was still shut and we could not use the car park, so we parked on the lane near the reservoir and set off along a footpath running along the road.The hill to our left was rich in towering pine trees, but nearer to us were stands of birch coppice, their proliferation  of stems and large stools revealing that they had had seen many a cycle of coppicing and regrowth.  [For information on coppicing see my Wizzley article.] My grandson loved the footpath, as he could run free safe from cars.

We crossed the lane and strolled down the footpath alongside the lake. Already I was feeling confident, as I knew that my pace was keeping up. We walked through a quiet woodland shaded by pine trees, but not so densely planted that it had bare soil, like many conifer plantations. Moss and fern covered much of the ground that ascended to our left.We resisted the temptation to explore paths that took us deeper into the wood, not that getting lost is a serious possibility. To our right the sun glinted on the deep, tranquil water. We could safely let our grandson run, as the reservoir was protected by a fence.

The path had some ups and downs, some steep, but they did not cause me any bother, another sign of progress, as my condition resulted in a diminished balance. 

We came to newer plantings. There were some holly trees, beech saplings that still retained shrivelled, brown leaves, and young oak whose newly planted stems were girdled with spiral rabbit guards, defence against not only rabbits but also muntjac, dog-sized Chinese barking deer, escapees from captivity that have become established in Britain. They can ring bark young trees, stripping away protective bark and thus  destroying the trees' ability to send the products of photosynthesis down to the roots.Ring barking is always fatal to a tree.

We arrived at the damn at the end of the reservoir. Peter took hold of my grandson for safety reasons, as the damn sloped steeply away to our left. Even though the fencing was strong and secure you cannot be too careful with young children. By the time that we had crossed the damn we were coming out of the wood and walking down a country lane past verdant fields on the way to the inn.

I had not only kept up the pace, but I had not had to take a break, and I had had no pain at all in the affected areas. Signs of recovery! A walk short but successful.

The Inn

We arrived at the inn door a minute or so before opening time and soon entered. The building is eighteenth century, but it is well furnished and tastefully decorated, modern, but not too modern, just how I like it. A wood-burning stove blazed in the restaurant and added to the pleasant ambience of the room. A hint of the building's longevity, but still modern enough to be comfortable. 

We had brought food for our grandson, who as a premature child is still under medical care, but the three adults purchased lunch. So while my grandson ate carrot sticks and hummus, picked ham off his sandwiches, discarding the bread, Peter and I had sausage, black pudding and mashed potatoes, with vegetables, while Maureen had gammon steak. She was driving so she took a soft drink, but Peter took a pint of real ale and I had a pint of dry cider. Both of them traditional British brews.

When you walk with others you have a shared purpose, but also your own, but you must respect the purposes of others. My grandson wants to run free in a world that is new to him; he delights in encountering a new world. Am I at the other extreme? Yes I am long familiar with the world after nearly seventy years dwelling in it, yet the inner child in me never cease to delight in new experiences. I have seen trees, water and greenery before, not in the precise combination that I experienced on this trip. Each walking route is a new experience, a time to drink deep at the fountain of nature's beauty and munificence.


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Updated: 03/12/2020, frankbeswick
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Veronica on 03/31/2020

Frank, Macclesfield forest is beautiful. We have been visiting Tegg's Nose ( Near Macc Forest ) for years.
The link is above .

frankbeswick on 03/10/2020

Derdriu, daffodils are blooming well over here.

I don't know about the red dye used in cheeses, sorry.

Water generally comes free in inns, but you have to ask for it. It is tap water from the mains supply, but bottled water is usually charged for.

DerdriuMarriner on 03/10/2020

frankbeswick, Thank you for the practical information and the product lines and for the forest walk with your family.
Are the daffodils blooming generously or sparsely on your side of the pond? One daffodil along just the south side of the front porch began blooming last month even though those around the east box elder and the winged elm are as bloom-less as those around the front porch east and north sides.
Online information describes Cheshire cheese as blue-veined, red from annatto coloring and white. Did and do Welsh cheesemakers use achiote (Bixa orellana) tree seeds because there's no equivalent native source?
Donna Leon's 29th Brunetti mystery, Trace Elements, published March 3rd. She reveals that L'acqua non si paga ("Water isn't paid for" literally) ever in southern Italy and sometimes in Venice. Would you all have been served water automatically at Leather's Smithy or would you have had to order and pay?

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