Knutsford, the real-life Cranford, is a charming country town with characterful streets, quirky architecture and the grand Tatton Estate right on the doorstep.
If northwest Cheshire is often dismissed by the unknowing as being all downtrodden industrial wasteland, the northeast is often sneered at for being all ostentatious wealth and bling. There’s some truth in it, of course. The area does have a greater than average concentration of high-living high-earners. But then if you’ve made your millions, why wouldn’t you choose to live here? It’s an appealing, attractive part of the county.
The arrival of the railways in the mid 19th century transformed much of this region. It was largely rural until then, and indeed much of it still is today. The Royal Cheshire County Show (a celebration of all things agricultural) is held here and the lush farmland is dotted with blink-and-you’ll-miss-them villages and prosperous market towns. But the new trains made it easy for those who’d made their fortunes in the dark, satanic mills of Manchester to live far from the smog and grime produced by the sources of their wealth.
While the workers were crammed into tiny tenements in the inner city, the bosses moved out to build splendid, spacious villas in locations where the air was fresh and clean and the countryside rolled just enough to be prettily scenic without becoming too challengingly rugged. Some of those houses remain today, in the desirable avenues of places such as Bowdon, Hale and Alderley Edge.
The same railways made the same beauty spots popular destinations for workers to visit on their rare days off. In Libbie Marsh’s Three Eras, Elizabeth Gaskell describes a Whitsuntide trip to Dunham Massey, recording the fact that at the time it was seen as a little old-fashioned next to the trendier delights of Alderley.
The region is still popular with day trippers today, with some great country pubs, attractive rural walks, and a cluster of National Trust sites, including Tatton Park and Quarry Bank. It’s home to the internationally significant Jodrell Bank Observatory, and it has unearthed the UK’s oldest bog body (Lindow Man) and produced famous adventurers such as George Mallory. It’s also more than happy to embrace the eccentric, whether it’s a museum devoted to cuckoo clocks or an opera house on a farm.