For every chemical works or power station that blights the landscape, there’s a quarry turned nature reserve or postcard-pretty village.
Much of the northwest corner of the county belies the typically rural image of Cheshire, dominated as it is by the large towns of Warrington, Widnes and Runcorn that flank the Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal. When the Industrial Revolution came along, this area transformed rapidly: meadows were covered in mines and mills; farms gave way to factories; quarries and chimneys supplanted cattle and cheese. Today, of course, it has many of the problems typical of areas that have been industrial then gone into decline as the industry disappears.
It would be a mistake, though, to write it off as unworthy of a visit. The boom years have left the towns with some interesting buildings and tales to tell – rich pickings for lovers of industrial archaeology and social history – and the canals that once carried industrial freight are now the peaceful preserve of narrowboaters and towpath-strollers. For every chemical works or power station that blights the landscape, there’s a quarry turned nature reserve or postcard-pretty village.
There’s a ruined Norman castle and the remains of a 12th-century priory, some beautiful walled gardens and excellent farm shops. Everywhere, you find tantalising traces of the days when there were big estates in this area – here an old family chapel, there a lodge house that once guarded the sweeping drive to a grand country manor.
There are encounters with famous local characters, both fictional (including the Cheshire Cat and Alice – author Lewis Carroll was born here) and factual (including the vicar who earned 18th-century infamy by chopping down Shakespeare’s mulberry tree). And there’s plenty here to keep birdwatchers happy, with a variety of habitats (from the mudflats of the Mersey Estuary to the mossland and woodland of Risley Moss) encouraging a huge range of resident and migrant species.
In some of the areas of this region, such as the stretch from Lymm to Great Budworth and the area round Frodsham and Helsby, the appeal is easy to see and the attractions more obvious. In other areas you may have to dig a little deeper to find your rewards. But discovering the hidden beauties of a part of Cheshire I didn’t know very well before was one of the joys of researching and writing this book – and a salutary lesson in not judging a place before you’ve been.