Cheshire's own Elephant and Castle, cobbled estate track, ancient saltway over the hills, haunted bridge, panoramic views and a Gospel Oak

Start: Peckforton, 4 miles/6.5 kilometres south-west of Tarporley.

Map reference: SJ 538566.

Distance: 21/2 miles/4 kilometres.

Maps: OS 1:25,000 Explorer 257 Crewe and Nantwich; OS 1:50,000 Landranger 117 Chester, Wrexham and surrounding area.

AT Peckforton, beneath the shadow of Cheshire's wooded central sandstone ridge, two rivers begin within a stone's throw of each other. While the Weaver snakes south before looping north just inside the Cheshire-Shropshire border near Audlem, the tiny, less well known Gowy meanders north for 19 miles/30 kilometres, past Beeston Castle, and across the Cheshire farmlands, to flow into the Mersey near Stanlow refinery.

The cradle of both rivers is the small area between Peckforton Mere and Peckforton Moss - once a swampy wasteland, but now open farmland, much of it reclaimed since the 1840s. Between the Mere, the Moss and the hills lies the picturesque village of Peckforton with its tiny black and white cottages, some of which date from the 16th century.

The walk

The walk begins just over a mile/1.5 kilometres from the A49, on Stone House Lane, close to the centre of Peckforton village. Park on the wide verge opposite the end of Hill Lane. Alternatively, turn right a little farther on, into Quarrybank, where a sign points to 'Peckforton and Beeston Village Hall'. Past the old estate sawmill, now a private house, is a large, tree-shaded car park for the village hall and exhibition centre, from which wooden steps lead downhill onto Hill Lane.

Close to the village centre, and next to the old sawmill, is Laundry Cottage. Behind its neat holly hedge, silhouetted among the bright flowers, is one of Cheshire's most unusual oddities: a 12 foot/4 metres high, carved sandstone elephant with a castle on its back.

1. From the elephant, follow the road for 50 metres towards Beeston Castle, or descend the steps from the car park, and turn left up narrow Hill Lane. Hill Lane winds uphill between steep banks clad in ferns and cow parsley.

Soon the track begins to climb more steeply. Although now carpeted with tarmac, until the late 1990s the lane was surfaced with crude sandstone blocks interspersed with old tree trunks laid across the track to slow the winter streams.

Towards the top, two narrower tracks branch off to the right; they lead to secluded Waste Hill Farm, once known as the Pheasantry, where the head gamekeeper for the Peckforton Estates lived. The adjoining kennels have since vanished. Today, metal signs nailed to the trees just off the track proclaim: 'Peckforton Estate. Strictly Private. No Right of Way'.

Beyond the junction, the lane's surface deteriorates. It's as if it's slipping back in time. To make the climb easier for horse-drawn carts, the track was surfaced with locally quarried sandstone. Look for the gutters down either side; and then see how, despite this, a century of

rains has eroded meandering gullies between the stones.

At the top a solidly built stone bridge crosses Hill Lane. Beyond the bridge the track becomes sandy and levels out.

Soon the sandy track tilts imperceptibly downhill, past an estateworker's house. Go through the gateway that straddles the track, leaving the Borough of Crewe and Nantwich behind. The lane is once more metalled, and slopes more steeply.

Continue downhill past two hugely enlarged old farmworkers cottages: white-painted Elephant Track, Burwardsley cottage, and prim Rock Cottage. The lane, icy here in winter, cuts through the bedrock, 12 feet/3.5 metres deep in places, and winds on downhill past attractive hilltop Rock House Farm.

At the next junction the wide panorama of the Cheshire Plain opens out ahead - a patchwork of green fields edged by trees - towards Wales and the River Dee.

2. Continue, until another, muddled, junction of lanes by a house. Go right, downhill on Fowlers Bench Lane, for 50 metres, and then right again. Ahead is the lovely, no longer out-of-the-way Pheasant Inn at Higher Burwardsley.

From the Pheasant Inn retrace you steps until you come to the Haunted Bridge.

3. Immediately past the bridge, on the right, a double stile climbs into the adjacent fields; it's signposted Stonehouse Lane, Bulkeley. The

view opens out to the east, with the Peak District hills blue on the horizon.

An ancient lane called Baws Lane originally ran from here, along the forest edge and on down to Stonehouse Farm, on the Bulkeley

road. Several cottages edged the lane; and it was in the garden of one of these cottages that the stone elephant once stood. It was moved to its present position in about 1890, when the cottages were demolished.

But for us, another footpath runs on ahead, diagonally downhill across the pasture. Head for the two oaks just visible in mid-field,

peeping over the brow of the hill.

Follow the slope down towards the large clump of trees at the bottom. Two further stiles, one a curious oak and sandstone ladder, take us

through a dense plantation to Bank Cottages, with their ancient pear trees, chrysanthemums and neat potato patches, back into Peckforton village.

4. Once back out on the road, turn left; your car is less than 100 metres ahead.

This walk is taken from the book 'Walks in Mysterious Cheshire and Wirral' by Tony Bowerman, published by Northern Eye Books. Copies can be bought locally or ordered online at: