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Shutlingsloe: the Mini-mountain

A short but intense walk from enclosed valleys and forest to a stark peak.

Distance 5 miles (8km)

Minimum time 2hrs

Ascent/gradient 1,129ft (344m)

Level of difficulty Hard

Paths Farm and forest tracks, field paths, lane, moorland, 11 stiles

Landscape Upland pasture, forest, moorland and rocky peak

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer OL24 White Peak

Start/finish SJ 984706

Dog friendliness Dogs can run free in forest, sheep elsewhere on route

Parking Small car park at Vicarage Quarry, Wildboarclough (alternative at Clough House, lower down valley)

Public toilets At Trentabank in Macclesfield Forest, not far off walk route

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1 From the car park at Vicarage Quarry, turn left up the road, away from Wilboarclough village. Just past Dingers Hollow Farm, go over a stile on the left and up to an iron gate. Go right through another gate and follow a green track across the hillside to a third gate. Cross a field near a power line, down to a stream then up left to a stile by a gate. Cross the lane and walk up a few paces to another stile. A narrow path rises gently beyond, but our route rises more steeply, above large oak and ash trees. Continue on this line to a stile into another lane. Go right to a junction.

2 Turn left, on a lane signed 'Macc Forest Chapel', over the top and down, past the chapel. Follow the road for another 250yds (229m) to a dip. At the corner of a wood go left on a footpath, straight down the hill. At the bottom, near a small dam, take a newly made permissive footpath on the right, over a small bridge. When a gate blocks the way, drop to the left, down steps to a stile and road.

3 Cross to a gap in the wall almost opposite. The continuation path parallels the road; when it rejoins it by a gate, bear left on a wider path, swinging back right. Go up a flight of steps on the left and sharply back left on a path climbing alongside a stone wall. When the gradient eases near a kissing gate, bear left on the more established footpath. When you get to the next junction, after about 300yds (274m), go right, with a sign to Shutlingsloe, and up to a kissing gate.

4 The footpath, partly surfaced here with large gritstone flags, crosses open moorland. At a shoulder the path levels out and Shutlingsloe rears up ahead. Descend slightly, cross duckboards to a stile and then follow the obvious, flagged path alongside the wall. A final steep staircase leads directly to the trig point.

5 Descend straight ahead, winding down very steeply between several low outcrops. Keep straight on as the gradient begins to ease. After a couple of stiles follow a wall down to a tarmac track. Go right along this to a cattle grid then take another track sharply back to the left. This runs more or less level along the hillside, then a gently descending green track interrupted by a stile and a small stream leads down to the road. Go left up this back to the start.

Shutlingsloe isn't the highest summit in this book, nor the hardest, but it is the one that most closely resembles a child's drawing of a mountain. At 1,660ft (506m) it's also one of the highest points in Cheshire, only exceeded by the hills immediately to its east. Of these Shining Tor, on the Derbyshire border, reaches 1,834ft (559m), but - despite its enticing name - it is a shapeless lump by comparison. Shutlingsloe has a special place among Cheshire hills.

A direct approach from Wildboarclough is both steep and short, and doesn't really satisfy. Shutlingsloe deserves better. Devious though it may seem, a loop round through Macclesfield Forest adds substance to the walk and, though still steep in parts, is less drastic than the direct approach.

Macclesfield Forest is the name, not only of a lot of trees, but also of the hamlet that sits in a wrinkle of the hills. Its Forest Chapel dates from 1673 but owes its present appearance to Victorian rebuilding. It was originally a 'chapel of ease' for those who could not regularly make the trek to the parent church at Prestbury. It became an independent church in 1906 and St Saviour's, Wildboarclough, was in turn a subsidiary chapel. The chapel attracts large numbers to its annual rushbearing service, conducted in the churchyard.

Macclesfield Forest (the one with the trees this time) serves a practical purpose as a source of timber, and the reservoirs provide Macclesfield with most of its water, but it is also important for leisure and wildlife. The dark forest floors under the spruce trees are relatively bare, but the trees themselves are a good place to look for the tiny goldcrest. Although it's Britain's smallest bird, its active habits and bright orange cap make it relatively easy to spot. One of our largest birds, the heron, is also well represented, the colony on the shores of Trentabank reservoir being the largest in the Peak District. Stands of tall foxgloves are seen in recently cleared areas; they are among the first plants to colonise disturbed ground.

The contrast between the enclosed forest and the exposed moors is intense, whether it's bright sunshine or a stiff breeze (or both) that greets you. The path across the moors is well-marked and, for much of its length, has been surfaced with large gritstone flags, and more recycled stone makes the final steep rise straightforward. There's a view indicator just left of the trig point. There's a steep start - no flags yet - to the descent but then it gradually eases. The waters of Clough Brook once powered a mill, but most of this has now disappeared.

While you're there

It's only a few miles over the hill to Buxton, one of England's great spa towns, developed as a northern rival to Bath. The Victorian Opera House is not to everyone's taste, but there's much more unanimous approval for the elegant architecture of the 18th-century Crescent, set against fine formal gardens. On the edge of the town you can venture underground at Poole's Cavern.

What to look for

Bilberries can be found in many places, especially along the verges and the edge of the forest. It's a member of the heather family, though the resemblance is not immediately obvious. Small globular pinkish flowers appear from April to July, followed by the blue-black fruits. These are delicious when ripe, but be warned that they were once also harvested for dyes.

Where to eat and drink

The Crag Inn, Wildboarclough, provides overshoes - like those used in operating theatres - to cover your muddy boots. It's a thoughtful touch that many more pubs ought to copy, and seems to sum up the welcome. There's sheltered outside seating, while an open fire usually cheers the interior. The menu isn't extensive but everything on it is done well: you get a slice from a real pie, for example, rather than a dish with a disintegrating pastry 'lid'.

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