Wednesday, 9 August 2017


Arighi Bianchi

I had been to Macc, as the locals call it, before but never had a proper look around. I started my walk at the station and immediately walked away from it in the direction of Buxton to see the wonderful Arighi Bianchi shop (when we bought some dining room furniture many years ago) of 1882-3. Along the Buxton Road on the right, are the attractive Fence Almshouses of 1895.

Returning to the station I climbed the celebrated 108 Steps towards the town centre. They could do with some attention.

You emerge behind the medieval church of St Michael and All Angels (previously All Hallows according to Pevsner). Much of it was rebuilt around 1900 by Sir Arthur Blomfield, but the oldest remaining parts are on the south side: the Savage chapel (1504) on the right and the Legh chapel (1422) on the left.

Inside, I found the Savage chapel to be more interesting with some wonderful stained glass (the three Graces) by Morris & Co from cartoons by Burne-Jones.

To the right of the church as you exit onto the Market Place is the Georgian Town Hall of 1823-4 by Francis Goodwin.

On the opposite side of the Market Place is the curious "Ye old shop" (at least it's not Ye olde shoppe!) of 1897, with art nouveau style decoration.

Off to the left, in Mill St, was a nice art deco shopfront.

I headed in the opposite direction, passing the Tourist Office where a kind lady gave me a copy of the Macclesfield Heritage Trail, to reach Jordangate. On the corner was the former Macclesfield Arms, once a coaching inn and then a hotel. I must say it doesn't look like one. Opposite was the imposing Jordangate House, rather spoilt by the blue colour scheme.

Now along King Edward St past the King Edward St chapel, one of the oldest Dissenting chapels, dating back to 1690. Unfortunately it was closed. Further along on the right was a pub with a thoroughly odd name of The cock in treacle.

At the junction with Churchill Way and off to the right were Stanleys Almshouses, founded in 1870. Four blocks form three sides of a courtyard. Two others were added in 1927 extending the development into Cumberland St.

I turned into Churchill Way and then right into Chestergate. In Bridge St, on the right, I spotted this impressive building with its battlemented tower. It turned out to be the Drill Hall of 1871.

Returning to Chestergate, I passed the interesting Picturedrome, the town's first cinema. It was converted into a bingo club in the 1970’s into offices in 2000.

My real purpose in heading out here was to see A W N Pugin's St Alban's church in Chester Road. It was funded by the Earl of Shrewsbury and built 1839-41. It was intended to have had a much larger tower but this was never finished.

Inside there is a rood screen as Pugin thought should have and some lovely stenciled decorations.

Heading back into town I passed Christ Church (1775-6), somewhat reminiscent of St John the Baptist in Knutsford which I saw the other day. It was built by Charles Roe, a wealthy local businessman. The tower was deliberately raised to a height to match that of St Michael and all Angels.

I returned to the centre via Bridge St and Roe St to reach the Heritage Centre. It is housed in a building which was once the Sunday School. I found this quite astonishing until I read in the Heritage Trail booklet that 1600 children who worked in the silk industry for which Macc was famous attended the school.

From here back to the station passing near the Silk Museum, but now with no time left to have a look.

Conditions: grey, but dry and mild.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars. Interesting and varied.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Porlock Weir to Minehead (South West Coast Path 103)

The end of the South West Coast Path

This is the final leg of the SW Coast Path! We set off from Porlock Weir in light drizzle, looking across the rocky beach towards Hurlstone Point. A small tower can just be made out part-way up.

We followed the road through the village and turned left to walk along the back of the beach for a while, passing the wooden stakes indicating the oyster beds.

Soon we had to turn inland because of a "breach". We followed a well-trodden path which eventually turned back towards the sea, passing a dramatic stand of dead trees.

We passed through the pretty village of Bossington, where we especially admired the brick columns of the cattle byre attached to one house.

We then began a long climb, passing inland of Hurlstone Point and thereby missing the small tower which we had seen from afar. I learn from Google that it is a coastguard lookout tower which was built in 1902, and remained in use until 1983.

We were now climbing Hurlstone Combe where we soon reached the heather line and plodded on up the long slope.

 At the very top there was a great view back towards Porlock Weir ...

... and also a fine one inland towards Porlock.

Soon afterwards we ignored the sign for the "Rugged Coast Path" to continue along the regular Coast Path across moorland, passing Selworthy Beacon at 308 metres, only 10 metres lower than the Great Hangman which we climbed recently on the Combe Martin to Hunters Inn section. It turned out that we had somehow drifted off the official path at this point and it took us a while to edge our way back onto the correct route.

By the time we achieved this we were opposite Grexy Combe with North Cliff largely out of shot to its right. The trees were quite picturesque.

As we approached Minehead we were rejoined by the Rugged Coast Path. We were still over 200m above sea level and soon the path made a zig-zag turn towards the sea. The variations in colour were fascinating.

We descended steadily and entered some woodland, emerging eventually onto a minor road which took us into Minehead. It was interesting to see the stony beach in the foreground and the sandy one in the distance. We concluded that at some point in time the rocks had been cleared from the sandy area.

We headed inland in search of the Duke of Wellington in Wellington Square. We passed these rather lovely Coastguard Cottages built in a lovely red sandstone, which we quickly discovered was characteristic of the town.

Just before Wellington Square is Mansion House Lane where the Quirke Almshouses are to be seen. Founded 1630 by Edward Quirke, merchant and mariner, and restored 1986. Note the bellcote at the far end: it reputedly houses a bell from one of Robert Quirke's ships.

Wellington Square is home to St Andrew's church, in front of which is this fine statue of Queen Anne, by Bird who made the similar one which stands outside St Paul's in London.

We now adjourned to the rooftop beer garden of the Duke of Wellington to celebrate our completion of the South West Coast Path with a nice bottle of Wetherspoon's reasonably priced Moet et Chandon.

Conditions: Quite warm, but mainly cloudy.
Distance: 9.5 miles.
Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).
Grading:  Moderate.
Rating: four stars.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

County Gate to Porlock Weir (South West Coast Path 102)

 View inland from County Gate

Just two more stages to go and we will have completed the South West Coast Path! We start out from County Gate, the car park on the Devon-Somerset border, and head downhill towards the coast. Soon there is a very pleasing view over the purple heather down to the blue sea.

We carry on downhill into woodland and reach a combe with a lovely stream falling down the hillside.

Gradually we realise that this walk is an extension of the second half of last one we did (from Lynton to County Gate) – a reasonably level path about two-thirds of the way up the cliff. It is very green, but there is not much sign of life (although there were clearly loads of bluebells here earlier in the year).  There are no views because the trees are quick thick and the coastline is fairly straight. There are no boats or ships in sight either.

This continued until we reached a sign telling us the path ahead was closed because of a landslide. A steep climb followed to a new path on a higher contour.

Soon afterwards there was a repeat to an even higher point. After this we turned inland and arrived at the hamlet of Culbone, with its lovely church nestling at the back of the combe.

Another mile or so, including a gradual descent, brought us to the wonderful entrance to the Worthy Toll Road.

We carried on down to Porlock Weir and snatched this view of the small harbour. There are three pubs and not much else. The rocky beach is not too brilliant either.

Conditions: Mild, but quite a lot of drizzle.
Distance: 6.2 miles.
Map: Explorer OL 9 (Exmoor).
Grading:  Moderate.
Rating: three stars. Rather underwhelming.

Friday, 28 July 2017


The Town Hall

Stoke is rather an unusual city in that it was formed from six towns: Stoke, Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Fenton.  An application for city status was made in 1925, but rejected by the Home Office as it had fewer than 300,000 inhabitants. The decision was overturned after a direct approach was made to King George V who agreed that the borough ought to be a city. The public announcement of the elevation to city status was made by the King during a visit to Stoke on 4 June 1925. (This is one of several examples which contradict the widespread, but erroneous belief that a city has to have a cathedral - see my Cities page.)

It is in consequence rather a sprawling place and I decided to focus on Hanley, which is signposted as the city centre and contains a cultural quarter, which sounded promising. I started this walk in Albion Square opposite the Town Hall. It was in fact  built as the Queen's Hotel in 1869 - and it does rather look like one.

Then down Bagnall St past the imposing Victoria Hall. It was constructed as an annex to the Town Hall in 1888, as part of the celebrations for  Queen Victoria's Golden Jubilee. There is also modern extension (out of shot).

Then into John St and Bethesda St to find the Museum. Main claim to fame is the Staffordshire Hoard.

The hoard consists of a large number of Angl-Saxon metal artifacts  which was discovered in 2009 in a field near the village of Hammerwich in Staffordshire. The hoard was purchased for £3.285 million jointly by the Birmingham and Potteries Museums under the Treasure Act 1996. Here is an example of the cleaned and restored finds.

They are very striking and have been exquisitely restored, but I was disappointed to be honest by the small number and small size of the exhibits on show. Maybe the best bits are in Birmingham? There is also a display at Tamworth castle.

The other main exhibit is a restored Spitfire. The designer of this, dare I say iconic, plane was a local man, Reginald Mitchell.

Opposite the Museum is what looks like a pub, with beautiful decorations. It was raining really hard now and I had to take my picture from under an awning outside the Museum. I couldn't take the main facade which was even more beautifully decorated.

Round the corner was the extravagant Bethesda Church, with a lovely art deco building next to it.

 The nave of the church, seen from the Museum again, had very attractive brickwork.

I then walked along Pall Mall and was delighted by the terracotta decoration on this pub.

Then up Piccadilly to find an extravagant art deco shop on the corner.

Now round the corner into Tontine Square where the former Market Hall of 1831 is now a combination of Waterstone's and Wetherspoon's. The pub turned out to be the Reginald Mitchell. A nice coincidence.

 Nearby was another splendid pub ...

... and, shortly afterwards, a house with wonderful brick decoration under the eaves.

It was now raining very hard and so I abandoned any further efforts at exploration.

My overall impression was of a city which has not looked after its (mainly 19th century) heritage very well. Most of the streets have a jumble of buildings from different periods and there is no coherent centre. It feels like a town rather than a city.

Conditions: wet and grey, cool.

Distance: maybe a mile and a half.

Rating: three stars.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Knutsford and Tatton Park

St John the Baptist church

I started my walk around Knutsford at the imposing Georgian church of St John the Baptist (1741-4, by J Garlive) and continued along Church St to reach Toft Road and the rather lovely former Town Hall, now a wine bar / restaurant. It was the work of Alfred Waterhouse (National History Museum, Manchester Town Hall) and dates from 1870-2.

Continuing south along Toft Road, on the right the Court House hotel. This was once the Sessions House (1815-8, by Thomas Harrison). It is quite imposing, but too heavy for my taste. According to Pevsner, the gaol was once just round the back - very efficient!

Left at the traffic lights and down Adams Hill past the station to reach the start of King St, Knutsford's main and most characterful street. On the opposite corner was the former public library of 1904, now a nursery school. (A bit of a pattern is emerging here, no doubt not uncommon.)

King St is a very attractive street with an interesting miscellany of houses. I liked this half0timbered group on the left hand side.

A bit further up on the same side is the surprising Gaskell Memorial Tower. It was built for Richard Harding Watt  in 1907 in honour of the novelist Mrs Gaskell. I rather liked small the art deco tower beside it.

Now on the right was the Gusto restaurant (formerly Est! Est! Est!). This is a building of no special merit except that my wife and I had our first date here.

Next was the nicely decorated entrance to the Royal George Hotel.

And finally, Marble Arch - once a coaching inn, but now offering a picturesque view through the archway.

I continued northwards to reach the entrance to Tatton Park, Kutsford Lodge (1810). Tatton was owned by the Egerton family from 1598 to 1958 when the last Lord Egerton died without an heir. It passed to the National Trust and is now the responsibility of Cheshire East Council.

I followed a track passing close to Tatton Mere, apparently an actual mere rather than the artificial creation of a Capability Brown.

Way off to the left I had my first glimpse of the house (now called the Mansion).

A very pleasant path through the parkland eventually provided a close up view. The house was designed by Samuel Wyatt and started in 1788 but not completed until after 1807. I am not much of a fan of neo-classical architecture and I confess I found it uninspiring.

The main entrance seemed even more so, but I loved the fallow deer grazing on the grass opposite.

Time was up and I made a brisk return to Knutsford along the long drive back to Knutsford Lodge. There was just time to spot this handsome red deer.

Conditions: mild, threat of rain.

Distance: 6 miles.

From: Discover Cheshire website

Map: Explorer 268 (Wilmslow, Macclesfield & Congleton)

Rating: four stars.