Down and up again to Mow Cop

A walk that samples both the lush Cheshire Plain and the wilder ridges that overlook it.


Mow Cop


5.25 miles (8.4kms)

804ft (245m)
2hrs 15min

About the walk

Some people might think it odd to start a walk on the top of a hill, descend, and then climb up again, but then Mow Cop is an odd place. Its crooked streets seem positively to seek the steepest ways. Split between the two counties of Cheshire and Staffordshire, the village is as quirky as the castle that dominates it. Never a fortress, the castle was built principally for embellishment and remains one of England's best-known and most conspicuous follies.

View from a hill

It's not the view to it that concerns us, however, so much as the view from. Mow Cop is perched on a sharp ridge, the last great outlier of the millstone grit. The view south is over the Potteries but north and west is the green expanse of the Cheshire Plain. The distinct boundary between hill and plain is underlined by the Macclesfield Canal.

The walk starts level, passing the Old Man of Mow. Logic suggests that this monolith is merely an incidental remnant left behind when the quarries closed. Yet it's so sculpted that you can't help feeling that, consciously or not, there was some artistry at work here. This is a good place to pause and study the view before descending to the plain.

The descent is steepest in the woods of Roe Park. Down on the level, you first cross the main Manchester to Stoke-on-Trent high-speed railway line via an underpass. Just beyond, and on a parallel course, is the peaceful Macclesfield Canal, where the speed limit is a sedate 4mph (6.4kph). Though the general line of the canal was planned by Thomas Telford, the principal engineer was William Crossley.

The path vanishes

On the way up again, you need to be alert for a short section in the woods past Limekiln Farm. The path tries to hide in the undergrowth, then doubles back sharply as if trying to shake off pursuit. Higher up, there is a section with no clear path at all, but it is simply a matter of following the edge of a field.

Overall the ascent is less steep than the descent, but there's rough ground below the ridge crest. Here, if you so desire, you can walk with one foot in Cheshire and the other in Staffordshire. A path then threads a narrow belt of woodland before emerging into another old quarry. No Old Men here, but in summer the level floor is alive with wild flowers.

Walk directions

Head towards the castle, but branch left below it, joining a track out to a street. Go right and then first left along the Gritstone Trail. After winding between houses, fork right past the Old Man of Mow. Rejoining the main track, carry on towards a communications tower.

Where it bends right by gates, leave left along a fenced path. Continue beside fields to a wood, dropping more steeply through the trees. Emerging over a stile at the bottom left corner, descend at the edge of pasture, passing a farm and joining a track. At a junction by Wood Farm go right and lower down keep left. Approaching Ackers Crossing, bear left beneath a railway underpass and follow the ongoing street to the main lane.

Head right to the Macclesfield Canal. Immediately over the bridge, descend steps on the right and follow the tow path away. At bridge 81, climb to the lane, cross the canal and walk for 0.5 miles (800m) to a crossroads by Baytree Farm.

Take the narrow lane opposite to Limekiln Farm. Turn left after the second barn along a track skirting the base of a wooded bank, eventually reaching a junction of paths and streams by a waypost. Bear left to emerge over a duckboard and stile and follow the field edge right for 100yds (91m) to a second stile.

Drop back into trees, crossing successive bridges before rising beside a stream. The way broadens to a lane at the top. Just beyond cottages, leave right along a track into a large pasture. Climb at the left edge beside a wood. Keep going over a stile, the boundary now on the right. Beyond the corner, by a waypost, swing right on a vague trod above old quarry pits. Over a stile concealed by holly, carry on across the next field to another stile. A trod continues across rough moorland, curving first left then right. Leave over a stile in the distant corner onto a track. Follow it left up to a road and turn right.

Reaching a lane, Roe Park, leave through a kissing gate beside it. The Gritstone Trail undulates through woodland below the road. Breaking into a field, carry on towards the communication mast. Through a kissing gate at the far end, climb steps onto the edge. Walk past the tower and the Old Man of Mow back to the car park.

Additional information

Open fields and woodland paths, canal towpath, quiet lanes, short sections where path indistinct, many stiles

Mostly farmland and deciduous woods on flanks of ridge, views from crest

Woods and canal tow path are the best places to let dogs run

OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield & Congleton

National Trust car park directly below Mow Cop castle

In nearby towns of Kidsgrove or Biddulph

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About the area

Discover Cheshire

Nestled between the Welsh hills and Derbyshire Peaks, the Cheshire plains make an ideal location to take things slow and mess around in boats. Cheshire has more than 200 miles (302 km) of man-made waterways, more than any other county in England. The Cheshire Ring is formed from the Rochdale, Ashton, Peak Forest, Macclesfield, Trent and Mersey and Bridgewater canals. This route takes you through a lot of Cheshire, and bits of other counties as well.

While exploring the county’s waterways, covering ground on foot or admiring the typical white plaster and black timber-frame houses, make sure to have a taste of Cheshire’s most famous produce. Although Cheddar has become Britain’s most popular cheese (accounting for over half of the cheese sales in the UK), it was once Cheshire cheese that was in every workman’s pocket back in the 18th century. Its moist, crumbly texture and slightly salty taste mean it goes well with fruit, peppers or tomatoes. As well as the usual white, there are also red and blue veined varieties.

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