A circular walk exploring the old and new Macclesfield Forest, and the mini Matterhorn of Shutlingsloe.
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Minimum time 3hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 2,820ft (860m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Sloping field paths, lanes and easy forest tracks, steep hillside, 20 stiles
Landscape Rough pasture, angular hills, plus large tracts of woodland
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak
Start/finish SJ 980681
Dog friendliness On lead in fields, off lead on lanes and in woodland (note: 20 stiles!)
Parking Lay-by at Brookside, on lane 1 mile (1.6km) south of Wildboarclough
Public toilets At Macclesfield Forest Visitor Centre
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1 Walk along the road for 440yds (402m) to the Crag Inn, then at the foot of its drive go over a stile on the left for a path across a sloping field. This maintains its direction through successive fields (each with a ladder stile) until finally you reach the farm drive at the very top. Turn left and walk along this to the lane.
2 Turn right and walk along the lane as far as Greenway Bridge. Go over a stile on the right and follow the path beside the stream, until it crosses it in order to veer left, up Oaken Clough. Keep to the bottom of this little valley, past a ruined stone shelter, and as it rises continue to its far head, near a small pond. Turn right on to a private drive and then go almost immediately left for a wall-side
3 At the top go over a stile and out across moorland on a clear grassy track. Maintain your direction until you reach a stile on the far side. Go over this and descend a sunken, fenced track to emerge opposite the Hanging Gate pub.
4 Turn right and follow the road for a mile (1.6km), keeping straight on at the junction where the road bends sharply left. Ignore another turning on the left, until finally the lane turns right, into Macclesfield Forest, where there's a wide gate on the right.
5 Don't go through the main gate but instead go over the stile to the left, signposted 'Shutlingsloe/Trentabank', and follow the footpath which runs parallel with the lane. After dropping down to a newly-planted area cross the footbridge and at the junction of tracks near the wood sculpture carry straight on (still signposted 'Shutlingsloe'). At the far end turn right, or for the visitor centre and toilets at Trentabank turn left.
6 Walk up the wide forest drive and go left at a fork, then at the far end turn right for a long but quite easy gravel track up through the trees. At the top go through a gate and continue straight on, then turn right to leave the forest for a stone-flagged path across the open moorland to the distinctive top of Shutlingsloe.
7 From the summit descend the eroded track down the steep eastern slope of the hill, until eventually you turn right on to the open farm drive. Follow this all the way down to the road at the bottom and turn right to return to the car park.
The Royal Forest of Macclesfield was once the preserve of the nobility, an extensive hunting ground for the royal court where the likes of deer and boar were keenly sought out. It covered a large area, stretching across from the Cheshire Plain to the valleys of the Goyt and Dane; but most of the so-called 'forest' was probably little more than open ground or scrub, with large tracts of high and inhospitable moorland.
In the 1400s Henry VI appointed John Stanley as Steward of Macclesfield Forest, and it was his son Thomas (later Baron Stanley) who played a crucial role in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 to ensure the victory of his stepson - the Earl of Richmond, who became Henry VII. The grateful new King made Stanley the Earl of Derby, and the office of Steward of Macclesfield Forest became a hereditary position.
The Forest Laws that operated in the hunting lands until Elizabethan times were extremely strict. There were severe penalties for anyone caught poaching, as testified by the name of the isolated hilltop pub that the walk visits at Higher Sutton. It's located at a point where a route left the original forest boundary and poachers caught in the act could expect a bleak outcome - the pub is called the Hanging Gate. Other rights in the forest were jealously guarded and fines and punishments were available to reprimand locals who took firewood or let their stock wander. Near the start of the walk is the equally descriptive Crag Inn, tucked away above Clough Brook at Wildboarclough. But whether, according to local tradition, 'the ravine of the wild boar' is indeed the location of the last of its kind killed in England during the 15th century is open to doubt.
Looming above Wildboarclough is the coned peak of Shutlingsloe, which at 1,659ft (505m) offers a full 360 degrees of panoramic views over Cheshire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire. Especially prominent is Tegg's Nose, a gritstone outcrop to the north that protrudes above the dark green conifers of the present-day Macclesfield Forest. This modern plantation produces timber rather than venison, although native broadleaved trees such as rowan, oak and silver birch have been planted in recent years to break up the regimented rows of spruces and larches and provide encouragement for wildlife. Walkers are welcome to explore the forest's many paths and tracks that climb the often steep hillsides. Look out for the occasional wooden sculpture, and wildlife such as crossbills and woodpeckers, stoats and foxes. The heronry in the larch trees on the eastern shore of Trentabank Reservoir is the largest in the Peak District. In addition, the forest does apparently have red deer, but you'll have to be very quiet and patient to catch a glimpse.
At first glance Wildboarclough might seem a sleepy and uneventful place, but in fact it was once a hive of industrial activity. Two centuries ago Clough Brook was harnessed to provide power for local textile mills, and a calico-printing factory known as Crag Works was established. Stanley Pool, still evident behind the church, was constructed to power the works, but nothing remains of the 30ft (9m) water wheel.
There are two decent pubs on the route: the Crag Inn at Wildboarclough and Hanging Gate at Higher Sutton, to the south of Langley. Both serve hot and cold meals and snacks every lunchtime and evening. The Brookside Restaurant, by the car park at the start/finish of the walk, is open most weekends for meals and light snacks.
The tiny hamlet of Macclesfield Forest is located on a lane just to the east of the actual plantation and every August the ancient custom of rushbearing is enacted at the Forest Chapel. This involves strewing the floor with freshly-cut rushes, once a common procedure in most churches before the advent of carpets, but now only celebrated here and in a handful of churches in Cumbria.