A loop walk on the most accessible section of a prominent sandstone ridge.
Distance 5.5 miles (8.8km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 919ft (280m)
Level of difficulty Medium
Paths Field and woodland paths, plus some lane walking, 9 stiles (currently being replaced by gates)
Landscape Richly varied woodland and farmland, some rocky outcrops and views over lush plains
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 257 Crewe & Nantwich
Start/finish SJ 520550
Dog friendliness On leads in Peckforton Estate and near grazing stock. Beware of electric fences
Parking Verges at end of tarmac on Coppermines Lane, off A534
Public toilets None on route
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1 Walk down Coppermines Lane to a sharp left-hand bend then over a stile beside an arched sandstone overhang. Cross a field then ascend the edge of a wooded area. Cross fields to the edge of another wood. Go up right, joining a track towards Chiflik Farm.
2 Go through a kissing gate by the farm and up a fenced path. The path generally runs just below the top of a steep slope, gradually climbing to the trig point on Raw Head Hill.
3 The path goes right and into a slight dip. Go left down steps then back right, slanting through a steep plantation. Go left down a narrow lane for 300yds (274m). Opposite a track and footpath sign, descend rightwards on clear ground under tall trees. At the bottom cross a stile and go up towards Bodnook Cottage. Just below this bear left and into a wood. Follow a much clearer path, roughly level then slightly left and downhill among spindly beech trees.
4 Cross a stile at the edge of the wood, then another immediately to its right. There's no path, so aim directly for a stile below a large tree, 50yds (46m) left of a house. The path is clearer through the next field. At the end cross a stile and follow the road ahead.
5 On the edge of Burwardsley village turn right up the first lane. Go right again up Sarra Lane, then fork left at an 'Unsuitable for Motor Vehicles' sign. Follow the lane through a narrow section then past Cheshire Workshops. Just beyond this the road forks.
6 Go right then straight on up the hill. Keep right at the next fork. The lane becomes unsurfaced at the Crewe and Nantwich boundary.
7 Just before you get to the boundary sign go right over a stile and follow a clear path down the edge of a field. Keep straight on until you meet a narrow lane and go up left. On the crest, opposite a gatehouse, go right on a track.
8 Go left up steps into the wood and continue less steeply. Where the path splits, the left branch follows the brink of a steep slope. Keep fairly close to this edge as the path levels. Go through a gap in a fence then descend straight ahead, through a plantation, to a kissing gate alongside a big iron gate. Go diagonally right on a clear track across a field to Coppermines Lane.
Beeston Castle, visible from afar, was built in the 13th century, its strategic hilltop site looking towards the turbulent Welsh border. It saw no real battles until the English Civil War around 400 years later. After changing hands several times, it was largely demolished in 1646 on Parliament's orders. Nearby Peckforton Castle is a 19th-century imitation of a medieval fortress.
Distant views of these castle-crowned ridges might lead you to anticipate airy ridge walking. In fact there's little of that to be found here, though Raw Head Hill does provide some moments of drama. Generally, however, this walk delivers something different and equally pleasurable.
The castles proclaim the long history of the area, but there are other layers of history to be found. The name of Coppermines Lane, where the walk starts, is a reminder of an industrial element. Where the walk first leaves the tarmac, a chimney glimpsed below marks the site of the old copper works. Just above, the map still marks the site of a mine, though there's little to be seen of it now.
From here the way climbs to Raw Head Hill, along a steep slope which breaks into startling crags at Musket's Hole. The summit, at 746ft (227m), is the highest point on the Sandstone Trail, a 34-mile (55km) route from Frodsham to Whitchurch. However, a screen of trees means it's far from the best viewpoint. The walk does serve up some great views, but never an all-round panorama: more a series of tasty morsels than a grand main course. But there's charm in their sudden and often fleeting appearance.
After Raw Head Hill the walk winds down through woods, fields and a quiet lane to Burwardsley village then up an even quieter one to Higher Burwardsley. Then it climbs again to the National Trust-owned Bulkeley Hill Wood. The high point, literally and metaphorically, is a wonderful grove of sweet chestnut trees on a broad shelf rimmed by low sandstone crags. With virtually no undergrowth, you can fully appreciate the gnarled, multi-stemmed trees, which seem hunched with age. From here it's an easy stroll down through a plantation and then across a field back to Coppermines Lane.
Peckforton Castle isn't open to visitors, but Beeston Castle is - and to the elements too. Much of it is in ruins, apart from the gatehouse and some towers of the outer wall. Its condition seems perfectly fitting for the atmospheric site.
Sweet chestnuts, like those in Bulkeley Hill Wood, are not a native species; they probably arrived with the Romans. Nor are they closely related to the horse chestnut, which gets its name from the chance resemblance of its fruit. In fact the sweet chestnut is related to the oaks.
The Pheasant Inn, in Higher Burwardsley, is only a few paces from the route. There's outdoor seating with an excellent view, real ale and good food. After the walk, try the Bickerton Poacher on the A534 near Coppermines Lane.