Opened to public feet in 1974, the sandstone trail runs for 34 miles from Frodsham to Whitchurch along the mid-cheshire ridge that abruptly protrudes from the plains of Cheshire West. Before the inaugural march four decades ago, the trail had already been well worn, often chosen as the safer route of traders travelling from the Mersey to the Severn, having to avoid the marshlands below. Both the geography and geology of Cheshire are reflected in the names of the ambient villages and towns. As you meander and mosey along the trail, the name of each hamlet and isolated dwelling holds a history.
Having grown up in Weetwood, a cluster of several homes and a couple of roads adjacent to the trail, my brothers and I grew up gadding around the woodlands of Utkinton and Delamere Forest. “Forest” only came to signify “wooded area” at the end of the 13th century. The word dates back to Medieval Latin foris meaning “outside” or “foreign”, referring to the area outside of the central and enclosed woodland. The “forest” of early Middle English referred to any land (woodland, fields, marshland) dedicated to hunting. Delamere Forest stands in the place of Mara and Mondrem, two such medieval forests used as hunting grounds of the Anglo-Saxons, which were then relinquished to the Norman Earls of Chester in 1071. Assarting (the clearing of woodland for farming purposes) was illegal until 1215 and by the early nineteenth century nearly all of Mondrem and the majority of Mara had been flattened. Delamere Forest is the left over portion of Mara and is found in the Mouldsworth gap.
Why this name? At the end of the last ice age, when the earth began to warm and the ice began to melt, a ginormous lake was formed in the basin of the west of Cheshire with the Welsh mountains to the West and the sandstone ridge to the East. Along the mid-cheshire ridge there are several gaps where parts of the rock formations seem to have been prodded out. This is where water would have burst through the rock and today we see these as gapping voids at both Beeston and Mouldsworth. As the water flowed through the gap at Mouldsworth (mould – hollow shape and worth/worp – enclosed space), minerals and earth were deposited creating the fertile land that became Mara and Mondrem. Delamere bares its name (de la mere – of the lakes) due to the marshland betwixt the trees, where several lakes are found.
Continuing the route via Old Pale hill, the tallest part of the northern sector of the trail, you are welcomed to the heights that entrust marvellous views of several British shires. The route slopes down into Willington via Gresty’s Waste Car Park. What an odd name! Gresty (also written Greastie, Grestie or Greste) is an uncommon Anglo Saxon surname, having derived from Old English greosn meaning gravely or pebbly area. Waste comes from the Latin vastus, meaning empty or desolate. This car park sits on the modern A54, a road between Tarvin and Congleton that crosses paths with an old Roman road that runs between Segontium (north Wales), Chester, Manchester and York. The Car Park used to be a turnpike (a toll bar), where travellers would pay to carry on their journey. The family owning this toll house were the Gresty’s.
Beyond the toll bar is Primrosehill Wood and the sandstone carries on, an uneven terrain, sheltered by saplings, sapping up water and sun, seeping through. Along the path is a sign for Urchin’s Kitchen, another gap in the ridge, a gorge of sandstone. When the ice began to melt, the water would run through cracks in the rock, deepening and widening them into glacial drainage channels. Urchin comes from Old French herichun meaning hedgehog (derived from Proto-Indo-European prefix ghers- to bristle). Urchin is often used to refer to hedgehog-like people, i.e. prickly, rough. Deep in the woods is Whistlebitch Well, dating back to the 1600s. Supposedly a healing well, it was flocked to by up to 2000 visitors a day in its heyday. The well is said to have whistled as water ran at the base and bitch comes from Middle English bicched meaning cursed.
Primrosehill Wood fares thee well as you cross a stile onto Tirley lane by Summertrees Tea Room. Unfortunately no longer open to the public, this shelter served my family and I refuge in the forms of buns, crumpets, scones and tea. The trail winds down Sandy lane, offering wonderful views of Beeston beyond and deposits you in the vicinity of Willington Hall. An old country house and now a hotel, Willington Hall was part of an estate of several houses, some acres of land and a Mill Farm, situated one kilometre to the West. Registered as a flour mill in 1875 and owned as part of the estate by the Chief Forester of Delamere. For me, these routes and this history begins where I was born, at Willington Mill Farm.