The Sandstone Trail is one of the best kept secrets in the northwest of England.
Boasting the kind of abundant beauty, far-reaching views, ancient history, rare wildlife, and idyllic scenery you would expect from a route three times the distance, this little-praised ridge walk is a rare gem indeed.
With a leisurely yet at times challenging terrain, this middle-distance route is well-waymarked and offers unbroken and elevated hiking combined with a great mix of hill climbs, woodland walks, and strolls through farmland, along canals, and even into a few spooky caves.
The Sandstone Trail journeys for 34 miles (55 kilometers) southwards from Frodsham, in Cheshire, to Whitchurch, in rural north Shropshire.
Some highlights along the way include Delamere Forest, Cheshire's largest area of woodland; Beeston Castle, one of the most dramatically-sited medieval structures in England with one of the best views, too; many Iron Age forts, scientifically-important nature reserves, and more summits than you would expect.
In this itinerary we split the Sandstone Trail into three stages, which makes for a lovely long weekend. Of course, you can split up each stage into as many days as you are comfortable with. You can also walk any single stage, or a couple of stages, in isolation.
Every stage finishes close to accommodation, even if there are only a few options nearby. However, places to stay are not always abundant so it is worth planning in advance and scheduling any rest days accordingly.
If you are planning to arrive by public transport, you can catch a train to Frodsham railway station, which is served by direct trains from Manchster and Liverpool, and has connecting services around the country.
To get home, Whitchurch railway station has direct trains to Manchester and has connecting services around the country.
If you are planning to arrive by car, your best bet is to negotiate with a hotel or B&B a rate to stay for a night either side of your hike in Frodsham. Alternatively, you could book long-stay parking in Manchester and follow the rail instructions above.
To get back to Frodsham, you can catch a train from Whitchurch, making changes at Crewe and Chester.
For more information about the Sandstone Trail, visit: sandstonetrail.co.uk.
For train timetables and tickets, visit: thetrainline.com.
The Sandstone Trail begins in the genteel market town of Frodsham, which has a rich history dating back to the 13th century.
You climb gradually out of the town before a short but sharp ascent through woodland to the summit of Overton Hill, which affords a fantastic view of the Mersey Estuary, Liverpool skyline, and beyond.
The trail continues along the wooded ridge and soon arrives at Woodhouse Hillfort. Whilst the decaying ramparts of this Iron Age hillfort are not easily visible these days, the views are lovely.
You then descend to Snidley Moor Wood, past the Scout Camp, and hike through the undulating fields to Delamere Forest, Cheshire's largest area of woodland.
As you wander through the vast forest, it is worth visiting Black Lake nature reserve, which is home to many species of dragonfly and damselfly, as well as unusual mosses, and is a very tranquil place to be.
As you emerge from the trees, the trail winds through fields for the final few miles to the village of Willington, where this stage finishes.
Willington has a few options for accommodation and food and drink. The surrounding area has plenty of options, too.
Breathtaking views, ancient castles, creepy caves, enchanting woodlands, and serene summits combine to make this a memorable stage.
From Willington, the trail winds along ancient back lanes, passing open farmland and small woodlands, and eventually crosses the Shropshire Union canal at Wharton’s Lock.
The trail then officially skirts around the side of Beeston Crag. However, it is worth a short detour to climb the crag to see the impressive Beeston Castle, which was built in the 1220s.
One of the most dramatically sited medieval structures in England, the castle affords utterly spellbinding views that stretch as far as the Welsh mountains on a clear day.
You then hike through fields before climbing the eastern flanks of Peckforton Hills. Above you is Peckforton Castle; a Victorian copy of a medieval castle that is now a luxury hotel.
The trail continues to climb gradually over Bulkeley Hill, an atmospheric woodland, and onto Rawhead, which is the highest point on the Sandstone Trail and affords some lovely views. Close to the summit is Bloody Bones cave, which is worth a look.
It is then a short descent to Long Lane, where this stage finishes. From there, it is only a very short walk to Brown Knowle, which has some accommodation. There are more places to stay, as well as food and drink options nearby, too.
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The final stage of the Sandstone Trail is the favorite for most.
With some jaw-dropping views over to Wales, the Shropshire Hills, the Peak District, and the Pennines, the beauty is abundant.
From Brown Knowl, you rejoin the trail at Long Lane and climb through woodland, past a hidden cave called Mad Allen’s Hole, and onto the summit of Bickerton Hill, which affords some of the best views you experience along the entire trail.
You continue past Maiden Castle, an Iron Age hillfort with views over the Welsh mountains, and over Larkton Hill.
From the summit, the trail gradually drops into the patchwork landscape you have viewed over for the majority of the hike so far.
You eventually descend to the Llangollen arm of the Shropshire Union Canal at Willeymoor Lock and follow the quiet rural canal into Whitchurch to reach the end of the Sandstone Trail.
Whitchurch has a good range of accommodation, places to eat and drink, as well as shops and other attractions.