Whether rain or shine, there are plenty of fantastic days out to be had in Cheshire. From vast country parks and ancient forests to shiny museums showcasing the region’s history and heritage, there’s something for all tastes in this diverse county. Here is our pick of what not to miss.
National Waterways Museum
A historic complex of locks, basins and warehouses, where the Shropshire Union Canal, Manchester Ship Canal and River Mersey meet, provides impressive premises for the National Waterways Museum.
Visitors can find out about the lives of those who built and worked on the canals, from the engineers to the humble navvies, the role this junction played in the region’s industrial fortunes, and the development of the town of Ellesmere Port and its community.
The museum also unpicks the detail of how and where boats were made, the different boat-building trades and associated crafts, and even looks at canal art and the reasons behind the choice of names for vessels. Visit on a Sunday and you’ll see costumed actors re-enact aspects of the daily life of a dock worker and his family. It’s also possible to take a ride on the museum’s narrowboat, Centaur.
Brereton Heath Nature Reserve
This local reserve northeast of Sandbach offers plenty of natural delights, including a rare lowland heath and a lake in a former sand quarry, as well as wildflower meadows and woods thick with birch, oak and rowan trees.
It is a relaxing place to walk, with an accessible all-weather track around which are resting points with sublime views across the lake. Birdlife present includes nuthatches and green woodpeckers, redwing and fieldfare, as well as water birds (there is a hide) such as the great crested grebes that nest here.
Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre
In this very rural landscape, you might think that a whopping great hulk of white steel, towering over the trees and visible from miles around, would be decidedly unwelcome. Far from it: there’s immense local pride in the giant Lovell Telescope, the star attraction at Jodrell Bank – even more so, since Jodrell was confirmed as the UK’s nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 2019. You don’t have to be a total techy geek to enjoy a visit. Even if you wouldn’t know a quasar from a Quaver, you can’t fail but be impressed by the giant scale of the Lovell, which has its own special beauty and grace.
If you’re lucky, you’ll be there on a day when it changes position so you can watch it moving – an impressive sight. If you do want to learn more about the science behind it, the visitor centre makes it as accessible as possible, with assorted interactive exhibits to add a bit of hands-on fun (the ‘whispering dishes’ are always good).
If you don’t, you could just enjoy the grounds instead. The observatory’s founder, Sir Bernard Lovell, was a man with a passion for trees and initiated the transformation of 35 acres of farmland into a lovely garden and arboretum. It’s now home to two national collections – Sorbus (whitebeam) and Malus (ornamental crab apple) – that put on beautiful displays of blossom in spring.
Hack Green Secret Nuclear Bunker
Hidden in the green fields of the Cheshire countryside is a surprising reminder of war in the shape of one of a network of operation centres that was dedicated to protecting Britain from attack in the second half of the 20th century. Hack Green was initially a decoy for the railway junction at Crewe during the Second World War, then an RAF base, before becoming a sophisticated Radar station to counter Soviet attack during the Cold War. The centre was closed in 1966, but 11 years later it was given a new lease of life and substantially extended as the UK’s regional government headquarters in the event of a nuclear war, becoming operational in 1984.
For the past two decades, Hack Green has been a museum, offering an insight into those nervous times. It’s simply presented, yet it holds some significant exhibits, such as one of the largest public collections of decommissioned nuclear weapons in Europe. The café, the NAAFI Canteen, recalls Hack Green’s purpose in the 1950s and 1960s, hung with Union Jack bunting and low-flying model fighter aircraft, with Chocolate Rations and Bay of Pigs paninis on the menu.
A remnant of the ancient forests of Mara and Mondrem, Delamere is where the Norman Earls of Chester (and possibly the Saxons before them) hunted wild boar and deer. These 2,400-acre woods, wetlands and heaths dominated the heart of Cheshire in medieval times, stretching from the Mersey in the north to Nantwich in the south, the River Gowy in the west to the banks of the River Weaver in the east.
Today, Delamere is one of the busiest forests in Britain; more than half a million people visit annually (the forest is open year round) to take advantage of the network of walking, cycling, and running trails on the sandstone paths that weave through the trees and up and over the high point, Old Pale hill, which offers sublime views of Cheshire and the surrounding counties. Facilities here include a café, a cycle-hire and repair shop and various activities, including a Go Ape centre, a skills area for off-road biking at Manley Hill, and a number of trails leading to a giant wooden Gruffalo.
Anderton Boat Lift
To the north of Northwich stands this extraordinary feat of high Victorian engineering that enabled narrowboats to ascend the 50-foot-high gap between the Weaver Navigation and the Trent and Mersey Canal. Opened in 1875, the Anderton Boat Lift provided an economic and efficient solution to the problem of moving goods between these two waterways, replacing a long-winded system of sending salt brought by narrowboat down chutes to the flatbottomed double-ended barges called ‘Mersey flats’.
Today, it continues to connect the river and the canal but is also a tourist attraction, to which is attached an interesting visitor centre (with appropriately themed children’s play area) that delves into the history, engineering and people associated with the lift.
You can follow in the wake of the boats of yesteryear on a guided trip through the lift; once inside, its watertight gates are closed and the lift slowly descends, providing great views and the quite unusual sensation of floating in a boat in mid-air as the on-board guide offers a light-hearted yet informative commentary.
Tegg’s Nose Country Park
This popular country park, on the site of an old stone quarry, is one of the most accessible places to enjoy the hill country thanks to the fact it has a proper car park and a visitor centre, complete with tea room and a small gallery where local artists exhibit their works.
It’s a good place to walk at any time of year, but each season brings extra attractions to add to the everpresent stellar views. In spring there are lambs in the fields, in summer, colourful displays of delicate yellow mountain pansies; in autumn there are winberries to be picked and in winter, slopes to be sledged.
Norton Priory Museum and Gardens
You’ll need some imagination to picture this medieval priory as it was in the days when black-cloaked Augustinian canons lived here. Founded in the 12th century and flourishing in the 14th, when it was promoted to abbey status, Norton then became an early victim of Henry Vlll’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and was disbanded in 1536.
Its new life as a visitor attraction started in 1970, when an archaeological dig that lasted 17 years and turned up everything from 130 skeletons and one of the world’s largest medieval tile collections to an unexploded Second World War bomb. The pick of the finds are now displayed in the new visitor centre, opened in 2016, where you’ll also find two surviving fragments of the original priory building: a Romanesque archway and the 12th-century undercroft.
Norton’s pride and joy is here too: a medieval statue of St Christopher, twice life-sized and carved from local sandstone. Outside, the unearthed foundations mark out the old priory buildings, including the church, cloister and kitchens, and beyond them there are lovely walks through the woodlands, dotted with sculptures, that stretch down to the Bridgewater Canal.
Lion Salt Works
Once derelict, the Lion Salt Works – the last surviving inland open-pan salt works in England and one of the last in the world – has been transformed into a lively attraction, which deftly tells the story of salt extraction in the area. The tale of how open-pan salt-making was first exploited by the Romans and continued in an unbroken tradition for 2,000 years unfolds across the renovated complex, with visitors making their way through the former stove and pan houses, packing and loading areas.
The processes of evaporating, drying, grading, cutting, crushing, storing and transporting the salt and the impact of the industry on the community and landscape is brought to life through objects such as a crushing machine, automaton, and a ‘subsiding house’, as well as other entertaining multimedia displays, artefacts and first-hand accounts.