A journey through the north-west Peak District - Kettleshulme, Rainow, Pott Shrigley and Lyme Park
PUBLISHED: 00:00 21 January 2019 | UPDATED: 11:14 21 January 2019
Mike Smith explores the north-west of the Peak District National Park with its friendly pubs, picturesque hamlets and tales of abduction
The road between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield runs up hill and down dale through a stunning landscape of smooth-sided, round-topped hills incised with deep valleys that provide shelter for the attractive villages of Kettleshulme and Rainow.
A road that leads westwards from this roller-coaster route crosses the last of the Pennine hills before dropping into a deep hollow containing the smaller but equally attractive village of Pott Shrigley.
And immediately north of this sublime trio of villages are the extensive grounds of Lyme Hall, one of the grandest and highest country estates in England.
Although all four of these delightful places are located in Cheshire, their unspoilt beauty has earned them the right to be included in the Peak District National Park.
The Swan Inn nestles in the valley of Todd Brook at the foot of the village of Kettleshulme, where the white façade of the building makes it stand out from the modest stone-fronted cottages in the rest of the village. This well-known inn also stands out as a popular venue for drinking and dining. The menu alters daily to take advantage of the ever-changing supply of produce, including fresh fish and seafood delivered six days a week. Diners can choose to eat at outdoor patios perfect for lazy summer days or in cosy timber-beamed dining rooms where log fires keep out the winter chill. As a free house, the Swan dispenses a number of local beers, including Wincle Wibbly Wallaby.
David G Ross’ extensive garden nursery shares the same deep valley as the pub and is located directly across the road from it. As David’s son Andrew explained: ‘The business, first established by my father in 1963, specialises in growing and nourishing hardy nursery stock. As well as being open to members of the public, we supply garden centres nationwide with alpines, bedding plants, climbers, conifers, shrubs, rhododendrons, roses and fruit, as well as topiary trees and hedging.’
St James’ C of E Primary School, located a short distance up the hill from the nursery, provides educational nourishment for about 50 youngsters lucky enough to attend a school that has been rated as ‘Good’ by Ofsted inspectors, who found the school to be a ‘very small, happy and close-knit community’ where ‘it is fantastic how the whole school blends as one.’
The most recent full Ofsted inspection of the primary school in the neighbouring village of Rainow classed the school as ‘outstanding’ and reported that ‘the headteacher has a passion for academic success aligned with an equal desire to give pupils a learning experience they will remember for ever.’
Overlooked by the tall battlemented tower of Holy Trinity Church and occupying steep slopes above the narrow valley of the River Dean, the village consists of charming stone cottages, some of which are colour-washed, including one that is boldly faced in pink render. Recent notable residents of the colourful settlement include Bill Turnbull, the much-loved former presenter of the BBC Breakfast Show, and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. The late journalist and broadcaster Brian Redhead also lived in the area and never failed to take an opportunity to mention the village on the Today programme when he was one of the presenters. In the introduction to his book The Peak, a Park for all Seasons, he wrote: ‘I would like to live in the Peak Park without having to move. The house in which I live is one lane west of the Park boundary, or, as I would prefer to put it, the Park boundary is one lane east of where I live.’
By way of contrast, the village pub is located immediately adjacent to the large millstone that marks the boundary of the National Park. Scott and Jackie Russell, who took over the running of the pub a year ago, have maintained The Robin Hood’s excellent reputation for good home-cooked, traditional meals, enlivened by a tapas bar menu. The rooms are warmed by a log fire in winter and there is a decking area that provides a pleasant open-air environment in summer. Up to three beers are available according to the day of the week. One of the pub’s regulars is former Rainow resident, Len Broadhurst, who now lives in Macclesfield but still pops in every Friday for a pint at the pub he has enjoyed visiting ever since his youth.
Architectural features in nearby Lyme Hall include both Palladian and Baroque elements. Although the grand country house is closed to the public throughout January and February, the vast estate is open daily from 8am to 6pm and is used on Saturday mornings for ‘parkruns’.
In common with the many other parkruns that are now such a popular keep-fit activity, the Lyme Park parkrun is a free event marshalled by volunteers and is open to everyone without regard to age and athletic ability.
However, the parkrun at Lyme differs from similar events held in parks throughout the country by requiring competitors to tackle a course that is particularly challenging. Like the 14km motoring route between Whaley Bridge and Macclesfield, the 5km running route is very ‘up hill and down dale’.
The twisting road to Pott Shrigley descends from the moors past a family-run industrial estate on the site of a former brickworks. A surprising presence in this remote countryside location is Jamie Robins’ bespoke kitchen showroom. As I discovered on talking to employee Jonathan Slater, reputation and word of mouth can be more important than a prime location in guaranteeing the success of a business.
Jonathan said: ‘Jamie established his first workshop for the manufacture of handmade furniture for kitchens, bedrooms and home offices on the site over 20 years ago. The original workshop is still here but is now supplemented by a much larger workshop and a showroom where we display our range of bespoke kitchens and furniture.’
Half a mile beyond the industrial estate, there is a secluded hollow at the intersection of three moorland roads. This is the idyllic location for the picturesque hamlet of Pott Shrigley, where one cottage has the type of black-and-white frontage more often seen in the villages of the Cheshire Plain. The church, which is surprisingly grand, is approached through a lych-gate whose pointed arches complement the distinctive gothic styling of the windows in several village houses.
Pott Shrigley’s school, originally founded in 1492 but extended in the 1960s when a village hall was also attached, is yet another primary school which Ofsted inspectors ranked as ‘outstanding’. The inspectors were particularly impressed that ‘teachers and other staff know pupils and their families very well and meet their welfare and learning needs in an outstanding individual way.’
Unlike the villages of Kettleshulme and Rainow, Pott Shrigley does not have a pub. One story has it that a village inn called the Lowther Arms was closed down in the 1920s by Lady Lowther after she had detected alcohol on the breath of her groom. However, Pott Shrigley does have a splendid hotel and spa at Shrigley Hall on the edge of the village. The hall was built in 1825 for William Turner, a Blackburn mill owner, whose daughter Ellen was at the centre of a famous case of abduction. At the age of 15, she was lured away from her school in Liverpool by Edward Gibbon Wakefield, who whisked Ellen off to Gretna Green, where he married her before taking her to Calais, where she was traced and rescued by her uncle.
In 1929, Shrigley Hall was sold to the Salesians, who converted the building into a missionary college and later added a church on an adjacent plot of land. After the Salesians left in 1986, the hall and the church were converted into a hotel, which is now an independently-owned 4-star hotel and spa with 155 bedrooms, a swimming pool, gymnasium, sauna and beauty salon, with the bonus of extensive grounds which contain an 18-hole championship golf course and provide far-reaching views. The most striking architectural feature of the hotel’s interior is a fabulous painted dome, which makes a double visual impression because it is reflected in a large mirror on the landing of the main staircase.