DISTANCE: 3½ miles (5.6km) of moderate forest track, open moorland, surfaced road, waymarked field path and rough access drive. 525 foot (160m) climb.
RECOMMENDED MAP: Ordnance Survey Outdoor Leisure Sheet 1, Dark Peak. 1:25,000 scale.
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Hourly TP service buses to Buxton, then bus or train to Disley where a short walk along a back road leads to the driveway beyond North Lodge.
CAR PARKING: Official car park below Lyme Hall. Pay and display on entering the park via North Lodge on the A6. Access to Lyme is free for National Trust members.
REFRESHMENT: Old Workshop near pond beyond the car park.
I thought I had finished my walks from and around the grand houses up and down the Peak District, but recently it was brought to my attention that there is at least one other I have overlooked. This is Lyme Park, the grand Palladian mansion set in the heart of 1,400 acres of woodland and high moors on the north western boundary of the Peak District National Park. A mere ten miles or so from the southern boundary of Greater Manchester, it acts as a popular breathing space for the citizens of towns surrounding what was once called Cottonopolis. Having said that, access is easy for anyone living more to the south; the A6 passes the northern entrance to the park, and regular trains and buses from Buxton stop at nearby Disley.
Now jointly owned by Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council and the National Trust, Lyme was the ancestral home of the Legh family for over five and a half centuries. Originally created by King Richard II who in 1398 granted land in the Royal Forest of Macclesfield to Piers Legh and his wife Margaret D’anyers. Over the centuries what was once a hunting lodge became the magnificent Palladian mansion set amongst a rolling moorland background and the attractive formal and informal gardens of today. Orangeries and sheltered rose gardens compete throughout the seasons to the delight of visitors, but it is the Dutch garden on a terrace below the west side of the house which draws the greatest admiration when its formal displays of tulips are at their best.
It is not just the house and gardens that visitors come to see. High on a ridge overlooking the main driveway from the A6, a prospect tower known as ‘The Cage’ offers wide ranging views over the Cheshire Plain where, on a clear day the outliers of the Welsh giants of Snowdonia come into view.
Another reason why visitors come to admire and enjoy the house and moorland walks on offer, is thanks no less to the BBC. In 1995 Lyme became immortalised as Pemberley in the BBC TV production of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. The walk passes the pond where semi-naked Mr Darcy (played by Colin Firth) unexpectedly emerges from a lake in full view of Elizabeth Bennet, played by Jennifer Ehle. The walk passes the pond, but be prepared for a surprise, not only will there be no Dashing Mr Darcy, but the pond is usually a muddy slimy affair, hardly something to attract a swimmer on a hot summer’s day.
Starting from the car park below the hall, the walk climbs out through Knightslow Wood, out on to Park Moor where you might be rewarded with a view of magnificent red deer, part of the herds roaming unhindered throughout the park. At the top of the climb an enigmatic pair of upright stones known imaginatively as the Bowstones, are probably the remains of two late Saxon preaching crosses, minus their cross pieces.
Bowstones is the highest point of the walk. An access lane from the remote farmhouse drops down to a side road linking Kettleshulme and Disley, but the walk does not join it. A left turn on to a farm track leads to open fields as far as the old eastern route into Lyme. Turning left at East Lodge the walk follows this old track back to the hall and the welcoming refreshment stop at the old timber yard and its workshops.
1 From the car park, turn left away from the hall and follow the surfaced lane curving left, uphill.
2 Turn left on to a wide track at the top of the hill and go through a metal swing-gate.
3 Following a Gritstone Trail signpost, continue uphill with trees on your left and rough moorland fields to the right.
Although there is no access from the track you should be able to get a glimpse to your left of the small pond where Colin Firth aka Mr Darcy emerged under the flustered gaze of Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle in the BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice).
4 Enjoying views of Lyme Hall on your left, go through Knightslow Wood, following the track until it reaches the park boundary.
5 Cross or go through the wall and turn left on to a rough path climbing steadily uphill. Aim for a group of telecommunication masts on the ridge-top ahead.
6 Climb over the moorland boundary wall and keeping to the right of Bowstones Farmhouse, aim towards the farmhouse’s access drive.
Two enigmatic stones within a small iron-fenced enclosure are the Bowstones. Folklore says they were used for bending new bows in Saxon times, but they are more likely to be the uprights of a pair of late Saxon preaching crosses with their cross pieces broken off by zealots during the Commonwealth following the English Civil War.
7 Walk down the drive for about a mile until it meets the main road and almost immediately turn left on to a farm lane.
8 Follow the lane as far as Cock Knoll Farm.
9 Go through the farmyard as directed by waymarking signs and out through a gate.
10 Following a boundary wall, go down the left side of the couple of fields beyond the farm.
11 Descend into and cross a shallow valley on a waymarked field path.
12 Climb over a stile and skirt a small clump of trees and bushes as indicated by the waymarks.
13 Continuing to follow waymarks, walk on until you reach a walled track. Cross a stile and bear left along the lane for a few yards until it reaches East lodge.
East Lodge was as the name suggests, one of the entrances into Lyme Park. Here the housekeeper had to rush out day or night to open a gate in order for their lords and ladies to drive through in comfort on their way to the hall. Nowadays East Lodge is a holiday cottage owned and maintained by the National Trust.
14 Follow the track all the way back to Lyme Hall, but before reaching the hall, bear right on to the broad grassy ridge in order to climb up to the Cage.
The Cage was built to house the non-hunting guests staying at the hall. They would be wined and dined while admiring the agility of horse riding hunters following packs of baying hounds. Hopefully it will be a better day than it was for us and you can enjoy the far ranging views – to your right is Greater Manchester and then to the left the view takes in the whole of Cheshire’s eastern edge, with the Welsh mountains as its backcloth.