styal woods

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One of our favourite places for a local walk is the Northern Woods in Styal Country Park. The park is owned by the National Trust and is also home to the fantastic Quarry Bank Mill, a former cotton mill that is now a museum, with water-and steam-powered machinery in full working order. We went for a walk in the woods on a bright Sunday morning in February.

We found numerous fallen trees along the way, one of which had narrowly missed one of two picturesque stone bridges at the beginning of the walk. The bare trees looked wonderful against the sky, many of them still arrayed with the hollow remnants of beech mast.

One of the most appealing aspect of this walk is the combination of trees and water. The path winds alongside the River Bollin, criss-crossing it and its smaller tributaries via bridges old and new. It also features some surprisingly steep climbs for a relatively short walk, plunging down into the river valley and then up again. The paths are well kept, if muddy at times, with sturdy stone and wooden steps making the climbing easier.
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Once down in the valley, the path first negotiates an impossibly broad oxbow in the river, where the water normally adopts a leisurely pace. We followed one of the loops all the way round, noting more fallen trees, before beginning the first steep ascent via a series of huge stone steps. The descent into the valley is more gentle; in a few weeks the slope beside the path will be covered with a beautiful haze of bluebells.

The next bridge crosses the river near a rock shelf, where the hypnotic swirl of the river snares the eye. Stopping here for a moment is a good idea anyway: it's at the foot of a huge rocky outcrop called Giant's Castle, which the path ascends via a steep wooden stair.

On the other side of the castle, the river slows for a stretch, then emerges from the woodland to follow a farm track along the perimeter of a field. This leads to Arthur's Wood, which was donated to the Trust by a Victorian naturalist and boasts a number of unusual trees, including a couple of giant redwoods.
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All photographs © Paul Albertella 2003