An exhilarating walk with a long, easy prelude then a steep ascent to one of Cheshire's best viewpoints.
Distance 7 miles (11.3km)
Minimum time 2hrs 30min
Ascent/gradient 804ft (245m)
Level of difficulty Hard
Paths Field paths, canal tow path, some lanes, rougher and steeper on The Cloud, 11 stiles
Landscape Meadows and fields along canal, craggy summit
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield & Congleton
Start/finish SJ 894627
Dog friendliness Can run free on tow path and upper reaches of The Cloud
Parking Car park on outskirts of small village of Timbersbrook
Public toilets At car park
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1 From the car park, turn right down the road for 500yds (457m). Just past some houses, go left over a stile and down a track. After 600yds (549m) go right over another stile. Follow a trodden line to cross a stream in a dip. Continue diagonally across another meadow. A short embankment leads to a canal bridge.
2 Cross and loop round left, under the bridge and along the tow path. Follow this for 3¼ miles (5.3km) to bridge 57. Go up the steps and over the bridge. A vague track bears left then swings right through gorse along the edge of a hollow. Descend to a stile under a sycamore then down an often muddy slope to a footbridge. Cross another stile, go down to the River Dane and step round a tree on its edge. Turn right up the edge of a field.
3 Go over a stile to a road. Turn right and climb steadily. As it levels out, go left on a narrower lane. Opposite a house cross a stile on the right, then up fields over a series of stiles, bearing slightly left. Join a lane and go left, past Hillside Farm, then right, up a track to a stile.
4 There's a National Trust sign, 'The Cloud'. The path is narrow but clear, directly uphill then slanting right. It passes below some crags then levels out and dips slightly to the start of a broad shelf. A path now goes straight up the hillside, through the highest band of crags, to the summit ridge. The trig point is about 100yds (91m) to the left.
5 Retrace this short section of summit ridge then follow the edge down, gently descending and swinging slowly left. Lower down the path runs through pine plantations. Below a gap in a wall, a broader track runs through more open woods. As the track starts to curve left, a clear path continues straight ahead. Stick to the crest of the ridge until you rejoin the gravel track near a sharp bend. Just below the bend there's a footpath sign and a steeply descending line of steps. Turn left on the road, into the edge of Timbersbrook. Just after the first house on the right go through a gap in the fence, down a few more steps and across a field with picnic tables. At its far end is the car park.
It's an enticing name, The Cloud, and the views from the crag-fringed crest live up to the promise. Instead of a direct attack this walk first makes a wide, easy sweep around the hill. This is attractive in its own right and gives you a greater feel for the landscape you'll ultimately survey.
Even so, a downhill start may seem perverse. In fact the height lost is minimal and the gains considerable. An early wander through flower-rich meadows may seem all too short. Easy striding follows, along the tow path of the Macclesfield Canal. Though it passes close to Congleton, you see surprisingly little of the town. Soon, as the canal swings east, The Cloud begins to shadow your progress.You leave the canal just before it crosses what the map calls an 'aqueduct'. However, there's no long series of arches, just an embankment with one short span where the canal crosses over the River Dane. The walk descends slightly to make the river's acquaintance, albeit briefly, before beginning the climb.
This starts with a steady ascent on a lane then continues more steeply, first through pastures and then on rougher slopes clothed in heather and bilberry. The luxuriant growth almost smothers the contours of the old track that once served the quarry on the north face. From a shelf, which extends below the quarry itself, you climb between the crags. This final phase of the ascent is very steep but brief.
You arrive at the northern end of a rocky spine about 100yds (91m) long; the trig point is at the southern end while the actual highest point is midway along. You can sit on the edge of the crags with your legs dangling as you enjoy the view.
Eastward the ground rises again, into the Peak District. The nearer hills are in Staffordshire. So, for that matter, is the eastern slope of The Cloud, though the summit belongs to Cheshire. Further north, the highest ground is in Derbyshire, though Cheshire claims the western foothills, including the sharp peak of Shutlingsloe.
The western half of the view, which stretches over virtually all of Cheshire, is best appreciated from a short way down the descent. Lower down there's a fine pine plantation and some younger woodland. Finally the route drops down the flank of the ridge and into the edge of Timbersbrook.
In the 18th century Timbersbrook was a centre of the silk industry. The buildings were later taken over by a bleaching and dyeing company. At its height the works employed up to 230 people. It finally closed in 1961 and the mill and chimney were demolished in 1970s.
There's no pub in Timbersbrook, but the Waggon and Horses Inn is less than a mile (1.6km) down the Rainow Hill road. It serves Robinson's beer alongside good value food. It's quite small inside but there's a beer garden behind, backing on to open fields.
The main radio telescope at Jodrell Bank is usually conspicuous in the view from The Cloud. The 250ft (76m) dish, completed in 1957, has played a hugely important part both in the tracking of space probes and in the understanding of the history of the universe. The story of the observatory and of the science to which it has contributed enormously is told in a fascinating visitor centre.
Meadows in the early part of the walk support such flowers as ragged robin, selfheal and meadow buttercup, as well as a variety of grasses. The canal tow path is lined with typical waterside plants, one of the loveliest of which is meadowsweet. It's a member of the rose family - not immediately obvious from the masses of tiny creamy-white flowers.