There’s the promise of hilltop adventure on the Easter Knight’s Trail at Beeston this April, with an event that offers children a chance to dress up in medieval costumes and explore a castle that, high on its lofty crag, still commands awe centuries after its sell-by date. Its Norman builders weren’t the first here; the 4,000-year old remains of Bronze Age settlements and hill forts dapple the wooded sandstone hills of mid-Cheshire, and Beeston stands on the remains of one such site. Built in the 1220s for Ranulf, Earl of Chester, the castle dominated this area until the Civil War, when it was deliberately ruined by Parliamentarians after a six-month siege in 1645. The stark, inspiring ruins pepper the crag, with towers and walls threading above pine-clad cliffs that rise nearly 121m (400ft) from the Cheshire Plain – more Middle Earth or Narnia than leafy Cheshire.
It’s a real Middle Ages adventure playground, ripe for exploration. Plus there’s the tantalising legend of King Richard II’s lost treasure: 200,000 gold and silver marks left here when he departed to fight in Ireland in 1399 and never reclaimed – the smart money is on its concealment in the 112m (370ft) deep well, but no one’s found it yet, so keep your eyes peeled.
The gatehouse is home to a revealing exhibition that explores all aspects of the Castle of the Rock, from ancient times to today’s innovative ecological approaches to conservation and management. You can make a quick approach to the scary footbridge over the gorge into the inner bailey and heart of the castle, but those in the know start with a ramble along the Woodland Walk, skirting the cliffs and passing caves where earlier visitors carved faces into the red rock. This route also reveals the sheer scale of the castle, one of England’s most spectacular. It’s a grand way, too, to view the jackdaws and ravens that make home on the cliffs, and if you’re lucky observe the peregrine falcons that both nest and hunt here.
WELSH MOUNTAIN VIEWS
There’s no denying that it’s a steep climb to the compact inner sanctum within the crumbling curtain walls and gatehouse, but what a reward awaits! The views are magnificent: the Welsh mountains seem close enough to touch and distant Chester is clear as a bell. Just to the south, the tower of Peckforton Castle – a Victorian sham-castle – emerges vertically from the woods, while on all sides the quilted mosaic of Cheshire’s pasturelands shimmers to the horizon.
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Adults £5.30, children £2.70. Easter Knight’s Trail Fri 2-Mon 5 April.