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Woods and Heaths of Little Budworth

An easy walk centred around the distinctive heathland of Little Budworth Country Park.

Distance 3.5 miles (5.7km)

Minimum time 1hr 15min

Ascent/gradient 98ft (30m)

Level of difficulty Easy

Paths Easy tracks at first, field paths and some (usually quiet) road walking, 14 stiles

Landscape Mature woodland, open heath, farmland and mere

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 267 Northwich & Delamere Forest

Start/finish SJ 590654

Dog friendliness Can run free in country park and fenced track

Parking Main car park for Little Budworth Country Park

Public toilets At start

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1 Go straight across the Coach Road to a path then turn right on a wider path. Fork left and follow the main path, keeping straight on at a crossroads, with a Heathland Trail sign, and again at the next crossing. When a field appears ahead, follow the path alongside to its right. This veers away right. Go back left just before a cleared area, by another Heathland Trail marker.

2 Go right on a wide track to the Coach Road and straight across into Beech Road. After 230yds (210m) enter a small car park. Near its far end is a signboard with a map. Go through a gap in the fence beside this. The path skirts a depression with a boggy pool, then curves round a larger pool.

3 Cross a causeway/dam by the pool and gently climb a sunken track beyond. As it levels out, fork left by a Heathland Trail sign then turn left, with an open field not far away to the left. Bear left on a wider surfaced track, swinging down past an ornamental pool in a dip. Immediately after this turn right on a sandy track.

4 Where another path crosses, most people evidently go through a gate ahead into the corner of the field. Strictly speaking, however, the right of way goes over a stile to its right then across the (very wet and smelly) corner of a wood to a second stile. From here bear right under a power line, to a stile in the far corner. Follow a narrow path (beware nettles), then go over a stile on the right and straight across a large field. Aim just left of the farm to a gate and stile. Go left on a lane for 60yds (55m) then right down a track. This becomes narrower, then descends slightly.

5 As it levels out, there's a stile on the right, with a sign for Budworth Mere. Go down towards the water then left on a path skirting the mere. At the end go right up a road, swinging further right into the centre of Little Budworth.

6 Keep straight on along the road, through the village then past open fields. Opposite the entrance gates of Oulton Park is the start of the Coach Road. Follow this, or the parallel footpath to its left for 125yds (114m), to the car park.

In the middle of all the rich green farmland of lowland Cheshire is an island of something different, a little piece of a rougher, older landscape. As ever, though, to call it 'wild' would be misleading. There is probably no such thing as a truly wild landscape anywhere in England. Usually it's peaceful, but a word of warning - it is very close to the Oulton Park motor-racing circuit. On race days not only is the traffic abominable, there's no escaping the noise either.

The area now called Little Budworth Country Park is a fragment of lowland heath. Britain has a substantial proportion of the world's lowland heath, but there is a lot less than there used to be - only 18 per cent of what was recorded in 1800. Most of what remains is in Southern England, so all in all, Little Budworth is a bit special.

The essence of heath is an open landscape, with a mix of heather, gorse, bracken and grasses and with only scattered, if any, trees. Gorse is unmistakable and in summer the popping of its seed pods makes it one of those rare plants you can recognise with your ears. There are two characteristic species of heather: ling (which gardeners may know as Calluna vulgaris) and bell heather (Erica cinerea). They often grow together and look quite similar, but ling has slightly paler and more open flowers.

Heathland typically developed from areas cleared of trees from neolithic times onward, as the poor soil made it unsuitable for permanent cultivation. The land was, however, still used for grazing. Gorse was traditionally used as fuel and for animal fodder, while bracken provided animal bedding and was also a valuable source of potash. These activities, and the occasional natural fire, prevented the heath reverting to woodland. Much of today's country park is wooded, but you will also see large areas of heath, including some which have recently been cleared.

The majority of the heathland at Little Budworth is dry, but there are some low-lying wetter areas. The pool that you pass on the walk is a great breeding ground for dragonflies and damselflies. By contrast the second half of the walk crosses farmland and then skirts the reedy margins of Budworth Mere. Many of Cheshire's meres were created by subsidence resulting from salt mining. Such relatively new lakes are also often called 'flashes'. Others, like this one, are natural in origin, formed in hollows in the lumpy mantle of 'drift' left by retreating ice at the end of the last ice age.

Finally the walk visits Little Budworth village. It is peaceful and attractive but not so outrageously pretty that it has become a tourist magnet. You'll probably agree that this is to its benefit.

Where to eat and drink

The Red Lion is a friendly village pub with hand-pumped Robinson's ales and food at very reasonable prices. There's outside seating at the front, close to the road - but the traffic's light and you may be entertained by skateboard practice - and more at the back, overlooking the bowling green.

What to look for

The Heathland Trail signs show a great spotted woodpecker, though ironically this is (as you'd imagine) a woodland bird. A characteristic bird of the true heath is the stonechat. The males are easily recognised with black heads, white collars and orange breasts. Both sexes make a distinctive sound, like two pebbles being knocked together.

While you're there

Nearby Nantwich, like Middlewich and Northwich, prospered on salt. Much of the town was rebuilt after a catastrophic fire in 1583 though 14th-century St Mary's Church, one of the finest in Cheshire, survived. Churche's Mansion is an impressive Tudor house. Just outside Nantwich, Stapeley Water Gardens is a popular place to visit.

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