Macclesfield Nature Trail

The trail begins through the gardens to the left of the hall, built in 1722 close to a stand of lime trees which produce a pale, hard wood, once used to carve the intricate printing blocks used in Macclesfield’s silk industry. You will. Also see the hall’s chapel, still in use, which was once thought to be the work of John Wood of Bath but which is now identified as more likely to have been built by William Smith of Wergs, Staffordshire. To the right of the path before the chapel, is an unusual pine tree that has tufts of three needles, an example of Other trees near the chapel gates are English yew, a shade-loving tree very often found in churchyards because its seed is surrounded by a fleshy red cup and the foliage is poisonous to cattle. Cattle are therefore dis-couraged from entering church grounds. There are also some specimens of here, relatives of the American their rough bark the haunt of insect-catching treecreepers which have the amusing habit of circling the tree in a spiral, then flying down to start again when they reach the top.

Capesthorne has a good balance between native trees and beautiful and more exotic species —landscapers prized the coloured foliage and the seasonal changes of colour that would contrast with British trees. Of five oak species in the park, you will see the common pedunculate oak, the evergreen holm oak, and the sessile or durmast oak, all natives. The aliens are the red oak, and Spanish oak, a cross that retains the furry acorn cups of the far-distant parent Turkey oak.

As you leave the chapel and pass the tennis courts, you will be on your way to the lakes and ponds formed by the dammingof the Fanshawe Brook, a tiny stream also put to use by two other local halls. The ponds and lakes (Capesthorne also owns the much larger nearby Rede-smere) teem with water life. Fish species here include roach, the fighting perch and bream as well as the larger specimens, carp and the predatory pike. If you are lucky, you may see the shy vegetarian water vole, which lives in holes in the bank of the main lake. Water birds nest here. Whereas the woodlands of Capesthorne echo to the sounds of woodpeckers and nuthatches, and the quick flight of a wren or spotted flycatcher surprises the eye, the water is the province of grebes, mallards, coots and moorhens. In the lake fringes and cover of sedge and rushes is the reed bunting.

Most of the movement in the water is caused by the insect population. Pond skaters utilise the water’s surface tension to skid across and break up the mirror of the lake. Water boatmen and great diving beetles have the trick of trapping air bubbles from the surface which they carry underwater, enabling them to stay below for several minutes at a time. In late spring and early summer only, you might see the newts in and around the water searching out breeding places. For the rest of the year, these amphibians inhabit damp shady ground-stalking insects and grubs, hibernating in winter. Grass snakes grow to a considerable size-about 3-feet long is common-and they are Britain’s largest native snake. They feed on small reptiles and swim in much the same way as they travel across land-with a snaking action.

Plants of the lake fringe display the gradient of the bank under the water. Water lilies, of which Capesthorne’s lake has both the white and yellow varieties, float their pads over the deeper water, a little nearer in you find mares-tail, in purple and green-leaved stalks and as the land begins to emerge, the reed and sedge take over. Amphibious its pink flowers appearing in July, is part of the emblem of the Cheshire Conservation Trust-you can find it near the main lake overflow. Two other plants of the marsh are an import from South America, with large spiny-leaves, and great reed mace which many people confuse with the bulrush.

The return to the house from the lake’s shallow valley is alongside a wall of old hand-made bricks. It has been discovered that inside the wall, flues have been built to conduct warm air through the brickwork. Fires would be lit and the heat would keep frost from damaging fruit trees trained against the wall in the espalier fashion.

Capesthorne’s Hall was altered by Blore in 1837 and Salvin in 1867 and today contains a great variety of treasures, from fine paintings to an unusual collection of antique and gimmicky walking sticks. The lake and Redesmere can be fished on a day ticket from the water bailiff, bream and carp being the particularly keenly hunted fish. There is some good coarse fishing in the River Dane and the Macclesfield Canal.

A major landmark of the Cheshire Plain close to Capesthorne is the Nuffield Radio Astronomy Laboratory. Here radio telescopes bring new knowledge of the origins of the universe-the Mark I is a massive 250-foot steerable bowl facing skywards. A few yards from the telescope there is a planetarium giving regular shows of celestial events. The concourse building has a permanent exhibition of modern astronomy and, unusually, there is an arboretum.

North of Capesthorne on the A34 is the charming village of Nether Alderley clustered around the largely 14th-century church of St Mary. Nether Alderley is on lands once owned by the Stanley family-the same affluent land-owners with interests in Anglesey . The most prominent building of the village, seen from the main road, is the National Trust-owned watermill. Dating back to the mid 15th-century the mill, fed by water from Radnor Mere, once had two millstones (there is a worn one by the mill door) and was in operation until as recently as 1939. All the machinery is preserved and the mill is open to the public at certain times.

Macclesfield celebrates its continuing links with the silk industry (now largely displaced by companies producing modern textiles in the town) in an exhibition of the skills and tech-nology used in working with this beautiful material at the town’s museum. The museum also has a notable collection of Egyptian anti-quities and works by C F Tunnicliffe and Landseer in the art gallery.

Balancing the stately gardens of Capesthorne on Macclesfield’s east flank is the sharp rise to the peaks through the Macclesfield Forest. From Tegg’s Nose Country Park on the forest’s edge it is possible to walk across the Derbyshire border into the Peak District National Park, ending a half day’s ramble at the Cat and Fiddle Inn. Set in lonely moorland at 1690 feet, this is one of the highest public houses in Britain.