Looking for a multi-day hike in northwest England? Well, look no further. Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail will have you grinning from cheek to cheek like a cat in a Hiker’s Wonderland.
Starting in Frodsham in the north and winding its merry way for approximately 32 miles to Whitchurch in the south (or vice versa), the hike can be tackled over two long or three manageable days. Or, for some nutters, in a single marathon stint.
The Sandstone Trail follows a sandstone ridge (hence the name), which provides walkers with sweeping views over the Cheshire Plain, Dee Valley, and Welsh Hills below.
It’s well signposted, has great accommodation options for stopovers, and just enough watering holes and food stops en route to keep walkers fueled. There are even a couple of craggy ruins in Beeston Castle and Peckforton Castle if you like that type of thing.
So if you’ve got two or three days free, pack a few scotch eggs, lace up those boots, and grab a buddy, it’s Sandstone Trail time. Let’s hike!
Hey reader, I’m going to chat about boring but necessary logistics first but if you just want to read about the hike itself then scroll down to the My Sandstone Trail Experience section below.
There are two main ways to tackle the trail, up or down. By that I mean north to south, or south to north. The route we took is as follows:
The above is to give you a rough idea of daily distances. However, these distances include walking off course to reach our accommodation, searching for breakfasts, and wandering around Beeston Castle, etc. Your specific route may be shorter or longer than ours, but the above is a good approximation.
For reference, the “official route” we were following, according to AllTrails, is 51.8 km and takes walkers an average of 14 hrs 29 mins. Whereas ours was 62.2 km and took 15 hrs 43 mins to complete.
The trailhead starts just a moment from Frodsham Station but it’s about a 20min walk from the trails end in Whitchurch to the station there.
Not that far but consider that if you’re planning on getting a train out of Whitchurch on the same day, as we did. You don’t want to miss your train by a few mins.
If you had a car I reckon your best bet would be to drive to the finish line in Whitchurch, parking at Sherrymill Hill Car Park. Walk the 20 mins back to Whitchurch station. Grabbing some snacks at the Costcutter on the way, of course. Then training to the trailhead in Frodsham to begin the hike. This way your car is waiting for you at the finish line.
The only downside of this plan is that there isn’t a direct train between Frodsham on the Welsh Marches Line and Whitchurch on the Manchester to Chester Line. So, you’d likely have to change at Chester. It would maybe take 90 mins in all.
Where you end up staying en route is a lot to do with how far you’d like to walk in a day. From my experience of multi-day hikes like Clarendon Way walk in Leeds I’ve concluded 10 miles (16km) is a comfortable daily distance for me.
So I planned accordingly using Airbnb and Booking.com to see what was available. This page also has some decent options that might not be on the booking sites. We ended up staying in the following:
Both were ideal as they only deviated slightly from the main route and were super comfy. The Bickerton Poacher was doubly ideal as it was in a pub. So we had nutritious Guinness on tap in the evening and a full English buffet breakfast on tap in the morning.
Also, check out the Pheasant Inn near Bulkeley as an alternative option
I don’t normally get into food too much on my hike write-ups but as there are a few barren areas on the Sandstone Trail I thought it best to mention it so you don’t get caught out and have to hike miles, and therefore hours, off the path to find food or water. So in brief:
We began the hike after lunch so we only needed to find dinner in Kelsall. Just five mins stroll from our AirBnB was The Farmers Arms which did an awesome 3-course meal and of course, had life-giving beer on tap.
We had breakfast in Kelsall town at the Citrus cafe. Which made a decent bacon roll. It’s about a 20 min away from the main route which is a bit far out but I recommend the detour as it’s next to a Co-op where you can stop for snack supplies.
As far as I could tell there was not anywhere to stop en route for lunch so we stocked up on food from there before heading off for the day.
We did come across The Sandstone Cafe about ¾ into the day’s hike, which was a nice stop for coffee & sausage rolls. But we were lucky to have arrived five mins before it closed at 3 pm.
Dinner in Bulkeley on Day 2 was another 3-course pub feast washed down by pints at the mighty The Bickerton Poacher, where we just had to roll our weary legs upstairs to bed.
Started with a mighty buffet breakfast at the pub. Take note early birds, breakfast isn’t served until after 8.30 am.
Fill your water bottles before leaving here as the nearest stop is Willeymoor Lock Tavern which you won’t reach until mid-afternoon.
The Willeymoor finishes serving food at 2 pm which means if you waited for breakfast at the Bickerton you will likely miss lunch here.
If you do miss lunch at The Willeymoor then fear not, a bit further on the Lockside Cafe will sort you out with some snacks while you watch the boats. But maybe stick a few scotch eggs in your pocket, just in case.
Once in Whitchurch, you’ll have all manner of food options for a victory meal. But if, like us, you’re jumping on the train sharpish then the Costcutter is your best bet for tasty train snacks.
I’d learnt the hard way on my first UK long-distance hike, that when it comes to hiking a little preparation goes a long way. No more hiking in jeans and Vans.
This time I felt well-kitted out well without being overloaded.
Below is my packing list for this trip:
The beardy weirdies take on the world.
6:30 am…. Bzzzz bzzz bzzz. What’s that noise?! Argh! The bed bees are after my snooze honey again! Nope, nope. Calm down Mike. It’s just your alarm going off.
Hmm, I don’t usually have an alarm. What’s special about today?! Aha, Sandstone Trail Day.
I slither out of bed in an excitable fashion. I’m going on a three-day hike today. And not only that I’m doing it with a lifelong buddy Squelchy Luke.
Squelchy Luke is the kinda friend you don’t see for a year but when you do you carry on the conversation as if you saw each other yesterday. Which usually means you resume taking the piss out of each other.
This was my first UK long-distance hike with a friend, and I was excited/nervous to see how our friendship would develop (or crumble) over the next 3 days. Would piss-taking evolve into deep chats about the meaning of life, or descend into lobbing rocks at each other’s stupid beardy faces?
Our stupid beardy faces.
Our adventure started in Bristol. And we needed to make our way to the trailhead in Cheshire. Frodsham to be exact.
So we hopped on the train to Shrewsbury, which took about 3 hours with a change at Newport. At Shrewsbury, my kind and generous and lovely girlfriend Sara collected us in her trusty Mini and dropped us off at the trailhead in Frodsham.
If I was doing the hike again, I think I would’ve considered spending the night closer to the start point or made the first day’s hike a bit shorter. After all the trains and saying hello and goodbye to girlfriends, we didn’t start walking until the early afternoon.
The trailhead sign looks like it’s been hit by a bit of sandstone.
The whole way up to Frodsham it had been lovely sunshiny weather. But of course, as soon as we waved goodbye to Sara and shouldered our backpacks it started to rain. We looked at each other with one of those “what have we got ourselves into” looks.
No turning back now.
Squelchy Luke with his lucky hat on, ready to get his hike on.
The start of the hike is very unassuming. It’s a slightly wonky sign on a lamppost directing you up a small path. Unless we missed something more dramatic elsewhere?!
edit: I’ve since learnt there is an official starting point. Admittedly it does look slightly better than the wonky sign.
However, I quite liked the idea of the nondescript trailhead. It was nice thinking we were about to embark on an epic trip while the rest of the world just carries on around us.
Follow the Sandstone Trail signs, past St Lawrence Church and out of town toward the Mersey View. You can’t get too lost, the path is very well signposted. If in doubt check your AllTrails.
Not long after we’d started walking we saw a squirrel follow alongside us along a stone wall only to then leap into a tree in front of us and then run alongside again. It was like the hiking version of when a dolphin follows a boat, leaping in the bow wave.
I took this as a good sign, that nature was blessing our hike and that it was destined to be a glorious adventure. I said as much to Squelchy Luke and he rightly called me weirdo.
A little further on a dog wandered past us and we had a nice chat about how we both wanted to get a dog. As we were chatting a gang of worried-looking hikers emerged asking if we’d spotted a dog that had been missing for hours. We had. Which got them all very excited. It felt good to help.
First the squirrel, then the dog. Yep, this was going to be a good hike.
The mighty Mersey Estuary. The first of many panoramic views the trail has to offer.
Just short of a mile into the hike, you will come to a nice short steep incline, a bit of huffing and puffing later and you are up and onto the sandstone ridge that gives the Sandstone Trail its name.
This is the Mersey View viewpoint, which is kinda self-explanatory. It’s also your first glimpse of some of the views you are going to be treated to over the next few days. Yep, this is going to be a good hike.
It also so happens that Squelchy Luke knows his way around a camera, which means for once there will be some nice photos of this hike.
There will be quite a lot of pics of me staring into the distance, (like above) kinda looking like I’m in an Osprey ad. I’m not but if they are reading, I’d like to be.
Wandering through Woodhouse Hill Wood, the hike gets going.
After the Mersey View, the trail continues along the ridge for another 2km until you descend into Woodhouse Hill Wood with views across Snidely Moor.
After skirting Alvanley Cliff, you will emerge out onto Manly Road (B5393) and then New Pale Road as you make your way around Manley Common. This 30-minute section on the pavement next to a fairly busy-ish road is the only bit of road walking you’ll have to endure on the hike.
And as if the trial gods are making amends for the road section, immediately after it with the sound of the cars still fresh in your ears you enter the truly beautiful Delamere Forest which doesn’t feel like you’re in England anymore.
Hey Osprey, what about this one? Gimme a call!
Delamere Forest is approximately 972 hectares of tree-based goodness. Once the hunting grounds of the Norman Earls of Chester and then a Royal forest. Which isn’t surprising, sure this is England, where exactly hasn’t been owned by the Royals at one time or another?!
Now it’s a great place for Cheshire nature lovers. And for the next 4ish km of trail, you get to wander through Oaks, Pines and Firs. Keep your eyes peeled for deer.
It’s not Scott’s Pine, it’s mine.
Also, keep your eyes peeled for trains. Just before the edge of the forest, you’ll cross a bridge over the Mid-Cheshire Line taking folk from Chester to Manchester. Presumably, mainly just soap fans visiting the sets of Coronation Street and then Hollyoaks.
We timed our hike to perfection, to be standing on the bridge just as a little two-carriage train rumbled underneath. We gave the driver a mighty wave and he gave us a cheeky grin in return.
That Tik Tok train guy would’ve been super proud.
As the Sandstone Trail leaves the forest there’s a house with a nice little honesty box shop outside. Complete with a little cool box with drinks. They even accepted Paypal.
I love these kinda things, these miniature acts of kindness that take so little effort to establish but bring smiles to so many people. It makes me have hope for the future of the world.
I imagine in Summer there are quite a few more of this type of thing along the trail.
After the honesty box house, we continued south for another 1km, past Old Pale Hill to our left and Nettleford Wood to our right.
As we were nearing Kelsall we took a rest on a bench to check out our AirBnB instructions, you know, the “which rock in the garden to turn over to find the key”, stuff.
This little seat meant we were looking back the way we came and low and behold there was only a freaking great rainbow behind us. A good strong one. A real genuine 8/10 on Mike’s Rainbow Scale.
If we hadn’t stopped on this bench we wouldn’t have looked behind and seen it. Is that serendipity? I’m not sure but we basked in the rainbow rays of that beaut for a good five mins.
We said goodbye to the trail and veered off to our AirBnB on the east side of Kelsall. It was just a 15 min detour from the “official route” and required zero walking on busy roads.
A quick shower later and we were in The Farmers Arms with pints of Guinness in our hiker’s arms.
One delicious three-course meal, and four or five pints later, we stumbled back to base for a post-hike, post-beer, coma-like mega sleep.
Hmm, one of the downsides of hiking with an old friend is you are statistically more likely to have an extra victory pint or three at the end of a day’s hiking. And therefore more likely to wake up a little hungover. As we did for Day 2 of our Sandstone Trail adventure.
A peek out the window confirmed the sun was shining but the rain was also raining. You know, classic British weather. Everything at once. Also, prime rainbow conditions.
No bother a cup of coffee will make things better. We searched the kitchen and triumphantly Squelchy Luke held up some sachets, he then uttered the two worst words in the English language “decaff” and “sugar-free”.Why lord! Why?!
We packed up, coated up and said goodbye to our otherwise lovely home for the night.
Two dogs hanging out outside Citrus cafe, sniffing our bacon butties.
We walked a good 20 minutes into Kelsall (and, shock, horror, away from the Sandstone Trail) to have a bacon sarnie at a spot called Citrus.
On its own, this might have classed as a bit of a mistake but we also needed to stock up on supplies and Citrus was next to the town’s Co-op. So we took the hit.
I’d recommend you do the same as you are not going to see any food stops on the main paths until early/mid-afternoon.
Alternatively, you could’ve stocked up on breakfast and snack supplies the previous evening, but alas the lure of The Farmers Arms had been too strong at the end of the walk yesterday.
My favourite looking into the distance shot. Come on Osprey! This is prime stuff.
Rejoining the trail near Rainbow Bench where we’d left the evening before we continued south through the prettily named and pretty to see Primrose Wood.
The trail slopes down for a while as you see Willington Hall in the distance and then for much of the rest of the morning, you will be meandering around pretty lanes between and through fields.
After 10km or so of very pleasant English countryside you will spy Beeston Castle.
But to get there first, you have to cross this…
Welcome to the mudfest, or Day 2 of Glastonbury.
After meandering around countless fields enjoying the pretty birds that call the hedgerows home we came to this quagmire. We checked the Alltrails app and seemed to be in the right direction but we still dilly dallied feeling we must have lost the route a little back.
That was until a cross-country runner emerged in the far distance sploshing through the mud, kinda like a soggy very British version of Omar Shariff emerging from the desert haze in the film Lawrence of Arabia.
He confirmed we were on the right way and with that we sploshed away. As veterans of many Glastonbury festivals neither of us was a stranger to muddy fields.
Getting squelchy with it!
I was slightly regretting my footwear at this point. The Vivo Barefoots are super comfy and a great all-around shoe but they just don’t quite cut it when the real wet gets going. Next time I think I’ll opt for the slightly more weatherproof Tracker II.
Anywho, sorry for nerding out on hiking shoes there for a moment. Let’s get back to the mud!
Rain can’t dampen our spirits, just our faces.
Not content with providing us with the swampy quagmire we were already in, the weather gods decided this was an opportune moment to plop a massive rain dump right on our heads.
No bother. Coats on. All good. And five minutes later, it had cleared up, and the sun was smiling on us again.
The weather repeated this process for the rest of the day: a big rain dump followed by the sun followed by another rain dump.
Other than the mild annoyance of repeatedly taking our coats on and off, it wasn’t an issue. It was also, once again, the perfect breeding ground for—you guessed it—nature’s miracle, rainbows!
Kings of the mud.
With the rain relenting we powered on toward Beeston Castle, which looked very dramatic sitting high on a craggy perch above us. I wouldn’t have liked the job of storming this place back in the day. Although the rainbow made it slightly less imposing.
As we got closer to the castle we realised there was a cafe near the entrance, the aptly named Sandstone cafe. This was very much welcomed as our rumbling bellies had been scaring the cows.
Be careful though this place shuts sharp at 3 pm. We got there around 2:50 pm and we walked at a very good pace. We ain’t no slouches.
Meal of champions.
Refueled on coffee and sausage rolls we decided to check out Beeston Castle. See if it was as dramatic on the inside as it looked on the outside.
It was not.
We splashed over £10 each to get in and I can’t say it was worth it.
I don’t know what I was expecting but I’m not sure I found it. Legend has it that Beeston is the hiding place of Richard II’s lost treasure. We didn’t find it, or much else of interest.
There was however a beautiful view. And Squelchy Luke did get this absolute beast of a photo of me with a rainbow in the distance.
So maybe it was worth it.
Last chance Osprey. This is the winner for sure.
After Beeston Castle, the trail will soon lead you back into a nice forest section as you round the hill in front of Peckforton Castle which is there somewhere but hidden away amongst the trees.
Why there are two castles so close to one another I’m not entirely sure but from the looks of it, Peckforton Castle is now a very nice-looking hotel. A little too romantic for Squelchy Luke and myself to stay in but I’ve made note of it should I come this away with my girl in the future.
A mile further on from the castle the trail winds around to Bulkeley Hill viewpoint. This is one of the highest points of the Sandstone Trail at 219 metres, and the views over the Cheshire Plains are very nice. Worth a scotch egg stop.
Alltrails has some good options for circular walks in and around Peckforton Hill and Bulkeley Hill Wood should you find yourself passing through. However, with the light fading we kept on keeping on.
Our accommodation for the night was just around the corner and we had earned ourselves a pint.
Light fades on another beautiful day on the trail.
Apart from the swanky castle, there were a few good options for hotels in the area. The Pheasant Inn sits just east of Peckforton Hill and gets very good reviews indeed.
You know you’ve made it when you get your own trail sign.
However, we weren’t disappointed with our choice. The Bickerton Poacher was only a tiny bit off the trail, so close it even had its own signpost.
We arrived to a warm welcome and a packed house, there was some kind of rugby-based thing occurring and England was involved so the drinks were flowing.
Another Birra? I don’t see why not.
As roundball fans, we didn’t let this bother us and soaked in the genial atmosphere as we feasted on another 3-course pub meal. We’re talking burgers, steaks and chunky chips here people.
All washed down with a few jars, of course.
Now, that’s exactly what you want after a 14-mile day.
We woke with slight hangovers again, nothing that wasn’t manageable but definitely a noticeable beer helmet weighing down our thinking a little.
The full English buffet breakfast was absolutely on point and should’ve put us in great form the walk ahead but then like complete morons we checked out and left without filling our water bottles for the day.
What a pair of utter muppets we are.
There is a sign to prove how high it is, in case you didn’t believe me.
The trail isn’t taking any prisoners on Day 3. From the Bickerton Poacher, you quickly climb to the highest point on the entire Sandstone Trail. The randomly titled Rawhead.
It was pretty chilly this morning so the climb up to the 227 metre (746 feet) high viewpoint did a nice job of warming us up. But when we went to take a lovely refreshing victory sip of water we discovered our foolery.
Squelchy Luke then decided there weren’t enough pics of him staring at things in the distance so we took some. Such as this beut.
There he is, Squelchy Luke covering his Rawhead with his lucky yellow hat.
After the high point of Rawhead you’ve another couple of climbs and viewpoints ahead of you in Bickerton Hill and Larkton Hill, both with wonderful views. For once I’m not going to share the pics as I don’t want to spoil the surprise of every hill on this here walk.
The descent from Larkton is probably the steepest of the trail. Enjoy it as this is pretty much the last real hill of the hike. After this, apart from a few slopes you are getting into more rolling countryside and then the flat lands of the Llangollen Canal.
After Larkton Hill, the trail winds its way across fields and past hedgerows. There are a lot of leisurely sections as you work southwards to the finish line. For the most part, the only companions we had all day were cows and sheep.
Oh, and a few fancy-looking horses near the fancy-looking Manor House stables. Apparently owned by none other than Liverpool striker Michael Owen.
By the time we reached Willeymoor Lock Tavern where the trail joins the Llangollen Canal, we’d gone a full 10km without a sip of water.
How we’d survived I don’t know.
See, right there in black and white. Food stops at 2pm.
We arrived at the Willeymoor Tavern after 2pm, so while we were able to drink a tasty Coke we weren’t able to sample their cooked food delights. Which was a shame as they looked like they’d do a good spread.
It was nice having a seat, sipping a Coke and watching the narrow boats go through the locks.
Our job now was simple, no Alltrails app needed, no OS Explorer map needed, we just had to follow the canal all the way into Whitchurch, around another 5km or so.
Messing about down by the canal.
Canal fact: Built in 1805 the Llangollen Canal follows a winding 46-mile route (74 km) from the Hurleston Junction with the Shropshire Union Canal near Nantwich in Cheshire to Llangollen in Denbighshire, Wales. It’s nice.
Expect some fast-tempo narrow boat action.
If you missed food at the Tavern you can stop off about 2 km further on just outside Grindley Brook at the Lockside Cafe. Like we did. And get some decent food. Like we did.
Whilst we sat there nibbling away we saw a couple who’d apparently been stuck at the lock by the cafe for over 45 mins trying to work out how to get through it. As it was a Sunday the volunteers who usually man this lock mechanism weren’t there.
These locks get complicated, people.
These two were locked out so to speak.
The cafe staff mentioned the whole area had been flooded in the past by people getting it wrong. Eek! Eventually, some passing locals with lock knowledge arrived and sorted them out.
Who knew canal life was so dramatic? Rosy and Jim maybe.
Welcome to Soggytown, population my toes.
Leaving the Lockside Cafe we were coming into the last few miles. With the finish line in sight, the weather gods treated us to one last massive downpour.
Squelchy Luke in his “proper” hiking shoes had a great time splashing about without a care in the world. My poor feet however got very soggy indeed.
Hard to know where the canal ends and the path begins.
Despite the downpour spirits were high. If the muddy quagmire back near Beeston Castle couldn’t stop us then a bit of rain on a sealed pavement definitely can’t.
And before we knew it the “Welcome to Whitchurch” sign was in our sights.
Welcome to Whitchurch, what a sign.
Welcome to Whitchurch. As you can see we’re still smiling.
The “official” end of the trail was just a little bit further on than the fabulous photo above, in a nondescript car park of all places. No banners or fanfares, just a few Nissans. All very lowkey. All very British.
We popped into the local Costcutter to stock up on some Nik Naks before getting the train back home. Then we decided whilst Nik Naks are awesome they weren’t special enough a meal to celebrate a three-day hike, so we popped into the fish and chip shop.
The sharp-eyed cashier, spotting we weren’t local, asked us where we came from. “A 3-day hike!” I blurted out in an excitable fashion.
She then asked where we’d camped. When I said we’d stayed at an Airbnb and a pub. She replied “Ha, that’s cheating”, handed us our chips and said nothing more.
Which put us right back into our box. A nice and humbling way to end the trip.
“A joy that is shared is a joy made double.” – John Roy
This is up there with my best walks ever. Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail does North West England proud. It is full of varied terrain and numerous viewpoints with panoramas of pretty towns and villages below.
It’s all so accessible. There wasn’t any part where I thought “I’m not sure I can do this”, or “I’m not sure I want to do this”. It was the right level of easy enough to do without too much thinking, whilst still being interesting and varied enough to prevent trail fatigue.
Or it could’ve been the company. I love hiking alone, it’s become like meditation for me. A way to clear my head. But on a multi-day hike like this, hiking with a buddy is easily a fun multiplier.
Getting rained on is rubbish, and we got rained a lot. But getting rained on with your buddy by your side is a source of fun rather than glum. So a big thanks to Squelchy Luke for joining me on this one.
So, there it is my friends, my Sandstone trail experience. Thanks for reading and I hope you have as much fun out there on your next hike as I did on this one!
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
This reflects the Hike Hero difficulty rating for each route. We aim to keep ratings consistent across regions.