Bowstones, Cheshire

Ramble past Saxon standing stones on an undulating ridge walk in the Dark Peak.

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A brace of enigmatic, worn, recumbent stones stand beside an ancient trackway along the Peak District’s rippling western fringe. The steady walk up to them from Lyme Hall unveils tremendous views across to the heights of Kinder Scout and south to the ‘Cheshire Matterhorn’ – the distinctive pyramidal peak of Shutlingsloe.

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Skirting by Sponds Hill, the airy ramble skims the Lyme Estate before entering the huge deer park – 1,200 acres of rushy moorland, greensward and plantations home to both red deer and fallow deer herds.

On your merry way

From the car park, climb the steps left of the Information centre; then drift left up the rising tarred road past the old stable block (the Cage tower is soon visible well to your left), rising gently across the vast parkland to reach the East Lodge. Remain on the gated track beyond. In 150m, turn right at the fingerpost for Bowstones. The well-waymarked Gritstone Trail Alternative Route presently dips through a dingle, then turns right from a metal kissing gate to climb, fence-side, to the skyline farmhouse; go through the farmyard and down to the road.

Mysterious origins

Turn right, up the dead-end lane for Dissop Head Farm. A steady, easy climb gains the lane-end Bowstonegate in 1km.

The Bowstones are enclosed in a small fenced area. Their origin and function are uncertain.

What seems generally accepted is that they are the  shafts of Saxon crosses dating from the 9th or 10th centuries, possibly marking a pilgrim route across these inhospitable moors (further crosses stand six miles north near Coombes Edge beside the same ancient highway). They lack their carved cross-heads, which are probably those displayed at Lyme Hall. The name apparently comes from the legend that Robin Hood and his outlaws used the stones to help string their bows.

Join the gated, walled moorland track beyond. To the right, an astonishing view sweeps across Cheshire to the Sandstone Ridge and, on clear days, the distant Berwyn Mountains in North Wales. Back-right is nearby Manchester, with the West Pennines looming beyond. To the left, the Peak District ripples endlessly away.

Ancient artefacts

Just after the third gate turn right with the Lyme Estate wall, just short of Sponds Hill’s 410m (1,345ft) summit, the highest point on Cheshire’s Gritstone Trail. Nearby are far-older antiquities; archeologists recognise several Bronze Age burial barrows clustered along the ridge near the trig pillar. The path hugs the wall for 800m before it drifts away. From the nearby isolated gate/stile, turn right to use a skyline stile; then drop ahead beside another, ruinous high wall to a lane.

Finder’s Keepers

Turn right, passing Keeper’s Cottage. In 250m, use the high ladder stile near the corner, re-entering Lyme’s vast deer park. Keep the wall on your left, striking across the rough Park Moor on a rutted path (ignore any ladder stiles).

Back to Lyme Hall

At the woodland edge take the left gate. The wide track leaves the woods at another gate; head right to return.

Useful Information

HOW TO GET THERE

This circular walk starts from the main car park at Lyme Hall, signposted off the A6 near Disley. Buses (Transpeak & 199 services) from Stockport towards Buxton/New Mills pass the Park entrance. Disley Station (Manchester – Buxton service) is 1½ miles from the route of the walk. Lyme Park (free entry, parking fee) is open every day 8am-6pm.

FIND OUT MORE

Macclesfield Tourist Information Centre
01625 378123

cheshiremarkettowns.co.uk

EAT

The Timber Yard Coffee Shop
Lyme Park
Disley
SK12 2NX

01663 762023

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park

Cakes, snacks and drinks at the old estate sawmill (open daily).

STAY

The Grey Cottage B&B
Disley
SK12 2JE

01663 763286

www.greycottagedisley.co.uk

17th-century Grade-II listed cottage near village centre.

NEARBY

Lyme Hall
Disley
SK12 2NR

01663 762023

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lyme-park

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Vast Palladian mansion renowned for woodcarvings, tapestries and clock collection. Open 11am-5pm until end of October (closed Wednesdays and Thursdays).