Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral by Tony Bowerman (Walk 10 - Little Budworth)

Fancy doing a walk Saturday or Sunday?”

“Yeah, sounds good to me.”

“I thought we could do a walk in Little Budworth and hopefully find a spot by the lake for a picnic.”

In Norman times, much of Cheshire was covered by four forests. To the west was Wirral Forest which had been substantially cleared, Macclesfield Forest covered the east Pennine slopes, whilst the central part of Cheshire was covered by the forests of Mara (now Delamere) and Mondrum. Back in those times, forests were no more than wastelands which were protected by laws so that the privileged may hunt in them. The forests were a patchwork of mixed oak woodlands and open lowland heath dotted with meres. Up until the 14th century, wolf packs could be found hunting amongst the cover of the trees, and both red and fallow deer grazed the lands until they were hunted out during the 17th century Civil War. Rare birds such as merlins, hobbys and sparrowhawks graced the skies, whilst swarms of bees gathered nectar for honey. Until the 1800s, Little Budworth was called Budworth-Le-Frith, from the Welsh for woodland ffridd. By the 17th century, as the forests were cleared and settlements began to spring up, Mondrum was no longer forest…that is, apart from the most worthless part, Little Budworth Common. This was the last vestige of the forest to remain standing, and this was where today’s walk was going take us.

For once, the guidebook showed what looked like an ample sized carpark. This didn’t stop me from driving straight past it, and having looked in my rear-view mirror, I screeched to a halt and reversed back up the road to turn into it. Kate arrived shortly after, and after dancing around the carpark with the “are we, are we not allowed to do huggy hello’s” nonsense, we got our walking boots on and checked what the book said about the start of the walk.

“From the car park, go through a narrow gap in the fence, on the opposite side of the car park to the toilets, and walk past the large sculptured chair.”

“Ermmmm, I can’t see a fence” I stated. “When it says opposite the toilets, does it mean like directly opposite…or does it mean where that large wooden board is that’s kinda to the right of the toilets??” Kate looked non the wiser and just shrugged. Hmm…. “let’s go investigate the big wooden board” I suggested. (Oh this walk was going brilliantly, we couldn’t even find our way out of the car park!) “I think we should go in here” I suggested, and a few metres later I suddenly spied a large sculptured chair and nearly wet myself with excitement. Suddenly I felt like Anneka Rice on Treasure Hunt. All was not lost and it seemed neither were we, as we strode off confidently on the start of our 3 mile walk around the village of Little Budworth.

As we wound our way around the woods where Birch and aged Oak trees rustled in the breeze, and the canes of wild raspberries slowly whipped back and forth, our path crossed a wide tarmac track which led to some wrought iron gates. Inside the gates an avenue of tall lime trees stretched towards a black and white building, this was White Hall, the former residence of the Earls of Shrewsbury who were the landowners, alongside the nearby Egerton family of Oulton Park. 

The track quickly narrowed into a sandy path, bypassing a boggy pool which used to grow watercress which was sold as far away as London. Today though, it is best to leave whatever watercress that grows there alone for fears of the parasite liver fluke. Walking down this narrow path, flanked by ferns and fields of horses, it was as if you had travelled back in time to before the First World War. The network of paths and tracks were a constant reminder of a time gone by, when the land was shared out evenly, before being taken over by leasehold and freehold tenures. We kept our eyes peeled for a deep, narrow sunken path which was heavily overgrown with wild broom. This restricted byway was quite easy to miss, it became like walking through hobbit country, with no idea of what you would find at journey’s end.

The path eventually opened out and we were facing a swift running stream and a very overgrown stile. It looked as though the stile lead to a clear path running along the right-hand side of the stream, so we opted to take the dry path instead. The path, however, was on the wrong side of stream and didn’t match what I was looking at on the map. Whilst we debated whether we should head back to the stile, two horses & their riders started coming towards us and made our minds up, we’d definitely gone wrong and we did need to go across the stile. I made my way across telling Kate to wait until I’d found out if it was the right way or not and promptly got sucked into the boggy ground underfoot. “I think it’d be better if you just head through that gate” I shouted…”I can see another stile ahead that goes into the field, I’m coming back as it’s getting a bit too marshy for my liking!” 

At the top of a field ran a narrow path beside a house. Just opposite was a large field of cows. “We’re not going through the field of cows are we?” Kate asked. “Ermmmmm??” Turns out the unpopular answer was yes. I hate crossing cow fields – I’ve had a few near misses in my time, so the less time I have to spend with a large herd the better. We started skirting around the edge of the field before locating the exit far away in the distance. “Oh bugger!” I said, “head up, look confident but not directly at them, we’re going to have to march straight through them all!” Fortunately none of the cows seemed too concerned about our presence until the pair of us had cleared the stile out of the field and were standing in the middle of road trying to work out where to head next. Only then did some come to inspect where we had fled to.

Further up the road was a lane that two different horse riders were heading down, it looked promising, so we followed them. Seeing the overgrown path narrow, and the dots of horse and rider ahead of us, we thought it’d be a good idea to ignore the actual path and walk on the edge of the field that ran beside instead. Half-way down the field we suddenly noticed the field was going up, the path going down, and it didn’t look they were going to meet again. “Bollocks! We need to head back and join the path somehow” I said. I’m not sure who at this point was the most put out at these extra metres we were adding to our “leisurely” walk.

The lane was originally part of an old cattle drovers road that ran between Helsby in Cheshire, and Oswestry in Shropshire. The number of green lanes surrounding Little Budworth made it a favourite haunt for travellers, and in the 18th century the nearby Beggars Bank was a regular stopping place for the “Dukes of Little Egypt” – or gypsies. It was a place that they could park up their wagons and relax amongst their own kind – something they had to be careful of, as it was till an offence to be a gypsy until 1784 when it was a criminal offence. It wasn’t where we were going to stop however, we were going to have a picnic by the lake!

As we reached the end of a path, a stile confirmed we needed to cross a horse paddock in order to reach Budworth Mere. Two beautiful horses were preoccupied with munching the grass surrounding them and ignored us both as we passed them by. We were both happy to saunter past them with a normal heartbeat, rather than the heart attack inducing cows that had preceded us earlier. 

As the reeds of the mere came into sight that thought of tea and sandwiches came to mind, but sadly this was not to be. The mere is the home of Tarporley Angling Club and the shores are strictly off limits to the lowly walker. We paused, a little disappointed, and watched the swans floating by before heading up the road towards Saint Peter’s Church.

Built between 1490 and 1526, the simple stone tower forms the oldest part of the church and is covered in carved faces and gargoyles. Up until the early part of this century, the tower housed an iron brazier on the roof that had held a beacon as a means of signalling from one village to another during wartime. The church originally belonged to the nunnery of St Mary’s in Chester, but in 1800, a local farmer’s son, who was a wealthy merchant, paid for “the red stone building with wooden side aisles” to be rebuilt in stone blocks measuring 6ft long in a Georgian style. A later restoration project in 1870 would see all the inner fittings being stripped from the church bar a Georgian pulpit and a 17th century font carved from fossilised marble. Outside, in the graveyard, there is an account from 1757 which states that Henry Lovett, The King of the Gypsies is buried by the rails opposite the Chancel, under a large stone marker. He died in 1745 at the age of 85.

A bench, not far from Henry Lovett sat unoccupied, so we chose that spot to eat our sandwiches and put the world to rights. As I sat in the peacefully surroundings, I reminisced about a childhood long gone, whereby I’d go for a day trip to some northern town or city with my mum and dad and somehow always end up in a boneyard, sheltering from the rain under a tree in my pakamac, eating home-made sandwiches and drinking tea!

Lunch finished we headed through the village back towards the start of our walk, however, it was a lovely day, and three miles isn’t that far, so I extended our walk a little through some fields. A large Elder was groaning with ripe juicy berries, so I took my empty butty box and filled it up. Boiled up with a bit of sugar, the berries would make a tasty topping for my morning porridge or Greek yoghurt! We carried on and I noticed on a map that there seemed to be a large pool marked, so we headed off towards it. Unsurprisingly, this was also private land! We could hear the distant roar of motors flying around the nearby racetrack at Oulton Park and decided it was time to head back to the carpark (however far away it might be.) We found another footpath which looked to take us back in the right direction, however, the stiles on this one were not that well maintained and we both got savaged by the sharp spikes of the badly cut blackthorn hedging. Well, every day’s an adventure…right?!

Legs starting to give way under us, we trudged through a field of long grass, which felt more like quicksand, until we reached a tarmac road. The roar from the racetrack was getting louder and marked the end of our day’s journey. As we passed the gates of Oulton Park, a track back to the carpark became visible and so did a well-placed log near my car. We got tea and biscuits out of the boot and munched contentedly, both wondering whether now we had sat down on the log, would we ever be able to get up from it again!

Walk completed 19th September 2020 - Guidebook 3 miles - with detours 5.6 miles.