The Society for Landscape Studies

Conferences and Study Weekends

SLS FIELD WEEKEND, 2017, Saturday 22nd, Sunday 23rd April 2017

From the Peak to the Sea: the contrasting landscapes of Cheshire

Some details (including proposed refreshment stops) are provisional at this stage and timings may change a little.  However, please observe the start-times for each day. Please bring packed lunches if an alternative to pub lunches is preferred.  Final confirmation of the itinerary will be issued nearer the weekend.


Start 9.45 a.m. at Wirral Country Park Visitor Centre, Thurstaston (free car park and toilets), off A540   (SJ238835: CH61 0HN).

Thurstaston is a classic ‘Grimston-hybrid’ place-name and a reminder of late-ninth/early-tenth-century Norse settlement in north Wirral.The car park adjoins the platforms of a former station on the railway line from West Kirby to Hooton, opened in 1886 and closed in 1962; in 1973, the ‘Wirral Way’, which follows the abandoned line, became the first designated Country Park in Britain.

The site overlooks the Dee estuary, with North Wales (including Edward I’s Flint Castle) on the far side, and there are also views across the Mersey towards Liverpool. Thurstaston is thus representative of ‘maritime Cheshire’. Hilbre island at the mouth of the estuary is known to have been occupied in prehistoric and Roman times and was a medieval monastic and pilgrimage site. The cliffs at Thurstaston, composed of boulder clay, are constantly being eroded by high tides, which expose glacial erratics from elsewhere in north-west England. Thurstaston common was not subject to an enclosure award until the 1880s and much of the character of the former common remains, now in the care of the National Trust.

Follow A540 then B5137 across the centre of Wirral through Brimstage and Bebington to Port Sunlight (centred on SJ340840). Park near Port Sunlight Visitor Museum (CH62 5DX) for walk through part of the village.

Port Sunlight, which was developed by William Hesketh Lever as a soap factory and associated planned village mostly between the late 1880s and the early 1920s, is an example of the industrialization of Wirral occasioned by ready access to the Mersey estuary. As its authoritative and scholarly guidebook puts it, ‘two separate traditions in the history of [British] town planning met [here] for the first time … the picturesque visual tradition derived from … landscape design’ and the social tradition ‘of materially decent conditions for the urban working classes’. The result is an eclectic mix of architectural styles, a street pattern which though obviously planned avoids rigidity, and an inescapable sense of paternalism which has always provoked contrasting responses.

Follow A41 and B5130 to Aldford and park next to church (SJ419595: CH3 6HX). 

Aldford lies in the Dee valley and has one of the string of motte-and-bailey castles (adjacent to the church) which characterized the frontier with North Wales. The settlement itself shows clear signs of deliberate planning.

Pub lunch either in Port Sunlight or in Aldford depending on time.


2.15 p.m. Follow B5130, A51, A54 and B5393 to Ashton Hayes for examination of The Landscape of Peel (Little Mouldsworth), which builds on the paper on Peel Hall (SJ498698) given at the October 2016 conference and sets the Hall in its wider context. 


Start 10.00 a.m. at car park at Beeston Castle (SJ540591: CW6 9TX), which is signposted off the A49 south of Tarporley. There is normally a charge for car parking. Toilets are inside the castle.

Beeston castle was built by Ranulf III, earl of Chester in the 1220s, on the site of an Iron Age hillfort, to what was at the time an innovative design featuring round curtain towers. Its prominent site overlooking the Cheshire Plain invites speculation as to its purpose, modern opinion inclining to the view that it had little or no military function and was primarily intended as a statement of the earl’s largely-autonomous control of the county, in defiance of royal authority. There is support for this interpretation in the fact that its entrances face south-east towards England, rather than towards Wales. 

From the castle - which does require a stiff climb to gain access - there is an excellent view of the Cheshire landscape towards its western and its south-eastern/eastern boundaries: the Welsh hills in one direction and the Pennine foothills - the frontier zone traditionally known as ‘the Lyme’ - in the other. This enables us to consider the rural settlement and field pattern, as well as communication links by canal and railway - notably the Crewe to Chester line of 1840 which was vital to the connection between London and Dublin.


Follow A49, A534, A51 (Nantwich bypass), A529 to Audlem (SJ6643), and park in Audlem free car park (CW3 0AH), where there are toilets.

With Cheshire Street, Stafford Street and Shropshire Street all branching from Audlem’s triangular market place, there is clear evidence of the town’s history as a market centre close to the county’s southern boundary - as also alluded to in the second element of the place-name, apparently derived from ‘Lyme’. The town is also of interest for its 17th-century grammar school and series of locks along the Shropshire Union Canal.

Pub lunch in Audlem.  Leave some cars in Audlem car park.

Then follow A525, A34 to Mow Cop. Park (if possible) in Mow Cop castle car park (SJ856574: ST7 3PB), otherwise in streets. 

The route partly follows a glacial moraine along then southern county boundary, then proceeds into the Lyme. Mow Cop, built in 1754 as an eyecatcher from Rode Hall below, stands on the county boundary and offers extensive views of the east Cheshire landscape on one side and of Staffordshire on the other. The prominent site attracted preachers and their followers, and the first Primitive Methodist open-air gathering was held here in 1807.

Despite being regarded as the birthplace of Primitive Methodism, Mow Cop does have pubs open on a Sunday and there will be an opportunity if wished to finish off with refreshment here, prior to departure (if necessary via collecting cars at Audlem).

The weekend visits will be led by Prof. Graeme White and Dr Sharon Varey of Chester Society for Landscape History.