Mow Cop Castle

This walk from historic Mow Cop offers some of the best views to be found anywhere in the county.


Mow Cop


6.25 miles (10.1kms)

660ft (201m)
2hrs 30min

About the walk

The tiny village of Mow Cop and the escarpment on which it is perched has a rich and fascinating history that goes back thousands of years. Its prominent position, visible from five counties, made it the perfect spot for a beacon. It's thought that the Romans may have had a watchtower here; it's known they built a road from nearby Astbury to Biddulph, passing over Nick i' th' Hill, which would have brought them very close to Mow Cop. There's also an abundance of coal, millstone grit and limestone in the region, all of which the Romans would have used.

A chain of beacons

During the reign of Elizabeth I, beacons were lit throughout the country warning of imminent invasion by the Spanish Armada, and there is little doubt that Mow Cop would have been part of this chain. More recently it has been used as a beacon site for special royal events. On 29 July, 1981, by order of Buckingham Palace, a chain of beacons was lit to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles to Diana Spencer. Prince Charles lit the first beacon at Hyde Park before the message was relayed up and down England. A flare from the Wrekin in Shropshire was meant to signal the lighting of Mow Cop beacon, but because of fog the message was relayed by radio.

An 18th-century folly

Given the village's lofty position, it perhaps comes as no surprise to learn that Mow Cop is famed for its castle which, situated as it is on the massive stone outcrop right at the top of the escarpment, is visible for literally miles around. But this is no ordinary castle and it certainly wasn't built for defensive purposes. In fact it is not a real castle at all, but an elaborate folly made to look like a ruined medieval fortress, as was fashionable at the time. It was built in 1746 by Randle Wilbraham I of Rode Hall as a summer house and as a means of enhancing the view from Rode Hall some 2 miles (3.2km) to the west.

For everyone to share

The castle's tower and wall (the latter little more than a facade) still present a striking silhouette to the east as well as the west, and would certainly have impressed, or riled, rival landowners on both sides of the border. A century or so after it was built, the owner of nearby Keele Hall claimed that part of the summer house was on his land and therefore that part ownership should fall to him. It was eventually ruled that both parties should share the building, but that the public should also have free access. The castle and its surrounds were threatened by excessive quarrying in the 1920s and 1930s, but in 1937, after another legal wrangle, the deeds were donated to the National Trust.

Walk directions

From the castle, turn right along the High Street, then right again up Wood Street. Before you reach the brow of the hill, turn left on the Gritstone Trail to the Old Man of Mow, which is situated on the site of a cairn.

Continue along the track to a junction of three paths. Keep ahead, signposted the Gritstone Trail, just to the left of the antenna. Go down steps, and at the end of the narrow field take the upper path (not the more obvious lower track) through woodland.

Go left on the metalled road and walk this along the ridge for 0.75 miles (1.2km) until it bends left at Pot Bank Farm. Go straight ahead on the obvious path.

Follow this path until it reaches another road. Turn left down the hill and continue straight down another track, to the left of the Methodist church. Just after a house on the right, the path squeezes through a slot in the wall. Stay straight down through the fields, over the stile. At Castle Farm, go through the gate and follow the road round. After 250yds (229m), after a brick shed on your right, go through a gap in the hedge.

Keeping to the right of Fairfields, cross the stile under a tree and head left across the field to cross a farm driveway. Keeping the same direction, cross a succession of fields and stiles, aiming to the left of the white house in the distance ahead. In the last field, follow the hedge around to the left before crossing another stile onto the road.

Head right along this road, going left on Dodds Lane to cross the railway and then the canal. Drop down to the tow path on the Macclesfield Canal and turn right along it for 1.25 miles (2km).

At Bridge No. 85 cross the canal and, after 200yds (183m), go left up Yew Tree Lane. Go under the railway, keep right at a wide fork, and after 300yds (274m) take a left fork up a steep track and, soon after, the less obvious gated track, right, into a field. Head right of the farm and follow the hedge up. At the top, cross a stile into the wood.

At the top of the wood, cross another stile into a field and continue to the top of the ridge. Turn right and make your way back past the Old Man and into Mow Cop.

Additional information

Gravel bridleways, footpaths and roads, many stiles

Escarpment top, farmland, canal and woodland

Should be kept on lead in fields

OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow

Pay car park at Mow Cop Castle (closed at dusk)

None on route

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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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