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Wizardly Wanderings at Alderley Edge

Layers of history and legend surrounding this famous Cheshire landmark make this short walk a rich mixture.

Distance 3 miles (4.8km)

Minimum time 1hr

Ascent/gradient 445ft (136m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Woodland tracks and paths, some field paths, 7 stiles

Landscape Woodland, scattered sandstone crags, some farmland

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 268 Wilmslow, Macclesfield & Congleton

Start/finish SJ 860772

Dog friendliness On lead on farmland and always under close control

Parking Large National Trust car park off B5087

Public toilets At car park

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1 From the large National Trust car park, just off the B5087, walk towards the tea room and information room. Go right on a wide track past the National Trust works yard, then left. Cross an open area past Engine Vein. At a crossroads of paths turn left and come out by Beacon Lodge.

2 Go straight across the road into Windmill Wood. Follow a gently descending track to a clearing, bear left and continue descending. About 140yds (128m) beyond a National Trust sign, in more open terrain now, with bare sand hills ahead of you, bear right across the grass to a crossroads with a field ahead. Turn right, skirting around some damp ground and then a pool. Just before another open field, go right, along the edge of the wood. Continue in a narrow strip of trees, with fields either side. Cross the road again and follow a track to the bare crest of Castle Rock.

3 Descend the steps to a level path. Go left 120yds (110m) to Wizard's Well. Return to the steps and continue below the crags on a terrace path, then up steps to join a higher path. Go left and almost immediately start descending again, with more steps in places. At the bottom cross a footbridge and climb again, levelling out briefly by the Holy Well. A few paces to its left go up over tree roots to where the path resumes. Climb shallow steps to a wider path, go left then turn right on to the rocky crest of Stormy Point.

4 Follow the wide level track to a crossroads and go left. Follow signs 'Hare Hill', down a steady descent with a small ravine at the bottom. Turn right and ascend again. Climb steps past tall beech trees, then descend through Clock House Wood. Climb again to a National Trust sign and out into the open.

5 Go right, over a stile, across the waist of a field to another stile near a pond. Go left along the hedge to a stile hidden in a curve, then up a fenced path. Join a wider track and at the top and go over a stile on the right. Go left over the next stile and up to another stile and grassy track. Cross a gravel track into another narrow fenced path and at its end turn left. Opposite the National Trust works yard you can go left through a gate for a shortcut to the car park or continue straight on to the tea room.

There's a lot to take in at Alderley Edge, on the ground, under the ground and even - many believe - in other dimensions entirely.

As long as 4,000 years ago, there was mining activity here, using tools of wood and stone. Mining went on through Roman times but reached its greatest intensity in the 19th century. Copper and lead were the main products, though various other ores were also worked.

Alderley Edge is as rich in legend as it is in minerals. In fact it is probably true that it is rich in legend because of its long history of exploitation. Old shafts and levels or overgrown heaps of spoil can mystify later generations and inspire speculation. Also, working underground, especially in the fickle light of tallow candles or primitive lamps, seems to stimulate the imagination. Waves of immigration, such as those of Cornish miners, import new layers of legend, too.

The most famous legend of the area is alluded to in the names of the Wizard Inn and Wizard's Well, both passed on this walk. Hidden somewhere on the Edge is a cave, guarded by a wizard, in which an army of men and horses sleeps, ready to emerge and save the country when the need is dire. No one has found this cave (though it must be a big one) but you can see the wizard, or at least an effigy, carved in the rocks above the Wizard's Well.

This story, and the general air of mystery which often pervades the edge, especially on a misty day with few people about, have inspired many of the books of local author Alan Garner, of which the best known is The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960).

The walk itself is largely through woodland. In fact the wooded aspect of Alderley Edge is relatively recent. The demand for fuel, building timber and pit props, ensured that the area was cleared of its trees from the Bronze Age onwards. The local landowner, Lord Stanley, began extensive plantings in the mid-18th century and today the National Trust manage the woodlands carefully. Although the Edge is elevated above the surrounding countryside, its wooded nature means that distant views are rarely unobstructed. From the crest of Castle Rock there is a broad window to the north, towards Manchester with the hills of Lancashire beyond, while at Stormy Point the view opens to the east, towards the Peak District.

There are exceptions to the woodland rule. Behind Sand Hills, in the earlier part of the walk, there are damp areas with many orchids, and pools fringed by yellow iris and reed mace (the tall club-headed reed often wrongly called the bulrush). Nearing the end, there's some open farmland.

What to look for

Signs of mining activity can be seen in many places, most noticeably at Engine Vein and Stormy Point. There are deep covered shafts within the open working of Engine Vein. Most of what you see today was excavated in the 18th century, but there is evidence of much earlier working. The exposure of bare rock at Stormy Point is partly due to toxic minerals, though wear and tear by the feet of visitors plays a part too.

While you're there

There's a working watermill at Nether Alderley. The building dates from the 15th century though most of the machinery is more recent. It's also a chance to find out exactly why Millstone Grit is so called. The walled gardens and surrounding park of Hare Hill, probably best known for azaleas and rhododendrons, can be reached by a longer walk from Alderley Edge. About 2 miles (3.2km) away, it's fairly well signposted. The gardens are cared for by the National Trust

Where to eat and drink

The Wizard tea room, open 1-5pm weekends and bank holidays, serves great cakes. The adjacent Wizard Inn is really a smart restaurant. For normal pub service, including decent beer and a good range of meals, there's the Royal Oak on Heyes Lane down in Alderley Edge village.

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