Superlative WalksUrban and rural trails, each with something very special
A circular walk from the railway station that includes the town centre and incorporates the Nantwich Riverside Loop walk.
Nantwich is an ancient town, established well over 1000 years ago, originally known as ‘Wich Malbanc’ and, in the 18th century ‘Namptwych’. The old Welsh name was ‘Hellath Wen’. Nantwich was an important outpost close to the Welsh border, with a castle near the river Weaver (now recalled in the name ‘Castle Street’). The Romans had troops in Nantwich and an old Roman track was recently discovered near the river. In the 1800s the town was a vital coaching route from London to Wales and Ireland.
Historically, salt production was a major activity in the town. In the days before refrigeration it was the main method of preserving food. The Saxon word for an industrial settlement, often based on the availability of salt, was ‘Wich’. The ‘Nant’ in ‘Nantwich’ is probably derived from the Old English ‘Namet’ (the most famous) or the Welsh ‘Nant’ (place in a river valley).
In the Domesday Book, Nantwich is recorded as having eight salt houses. It had a castle and was the capital of a barony of the earls of Chester, and of one of the seven hundreds of medieval Cheshire. Nantwich is one of the few places in Cheshire to be marked on the Gough Map, which dates from 1355–66. It was first recorded as an urban area at the time of the Norman conquest, when the Normans burned the town to the ground leaving only one building standing.
The town is believed to have been a salt-producing centre from the 10th century or earlier. The Norman castle was built at the crossing of the Weaver before 1180, probably near where the Crown Inn now stands. Although nothing remains of the castle above ground, it affected the town’s layout. During the medieval period, Nantwich was the most important salt town and probably the second most important settlement in the county after Chester. By the 14th century, the town held a weekly cattle market at the end of what is today is Beam Street, and it was also important for its tanning industry centred on Barker Street.
A fire in December 1583 destroyed most of the town to the east of the Weaver. Elizabeth I contributed financially to the town’s rebuilding, which occurred rapidly and followed the plan of the destroyed town.
During the English Civil War Nantwich declared for Parliament, and consequently it was besieged several times by Royalist forces. The final, six-week-long, siege was lifted following the victory of the Parliamentary forces in the Battle of Nantwich on 26 January 1644.
For many years the salt industry thrived and by the 19th century Nantwich was one of the biggest salt producers in the country. Brine, naturally occurring in springs in the area, was heated and salt produced by evaporation. Eventually, competition from mined rock salt made the process uneconomic, and the industry died out in the 1850s. However, the town still has a unique heated outdoor brine swimming pool and from about 1880 to 1940 was promoted as a fashionable place to take salt water treatment to help cure stomach complaints, gout and rheumatism.
Nantwich contains 132 listed buildings and structures, with three classified as Grade I (St Mary’s Church, The Crown Hotel and Churche’s Mansion), seven as Grade II* and 122 as Grade II.
1. Head along Wellington Road towards the town centre, passing The Railway Hotel before crossing the Station Road near to the roundabout.
2. Walk along Pillory Street.
Nantwich Museum is located in Pillory Street. The museum’s galleries present the history of Nantwich, including Roman salt making, the Great Fire in Nantwich in Tudor times (1583), the Battle of Nantwich (1644) during the English Civil War, and the local shoe, clothing and clock making industries. There are two extensions to the museum. In one there is a cheese making exhibition presenting the history of Cheshire cheese, especially with respect to Nantwich. There is also a community gallery for art exhibitions, etc. and also the award-winning Millennium Gallery used for temporary exhibitions.
Note the elaborate Pockets building at the junction with Hospital Street
4. On reaching the main road (B5341), cross the road via the pedestrian crossing. Just to the right of the crossing, on a terrace, is a plaque commemorating the Great Fire of Nantwich. Retrace a little and, using the footbridge, cross the river. Turn left and follow the path that runs alongside the river and is signposted Nantwich Riverside Loop and Weaver Valley.
The Great Fire of Nantwich in December 1583 destroyed most of the town to the east of the Weaver. Elizabeth I contributed financially to the town’s rebuilding, which occurred rapidly and followed the plan of the destroyed town. Beam Street was so renamed to reflect the fact that timber (including wood from Delamere Forest) to rebuild the town was transported along it. A plaque marking the 400th anniversary of the fire and of Nantwich’s rebuilding was unveiled by the Duke of Gloucester on 20 September 1984.
The River Weaver is more than 50 miles (80 km) long, from its source in the hills of west Cheshire just south of Peckforton Castle running in a curving route anti-clockwise across west Cheshire until reaching the Manchester Ship Canal.
5. Continue along this path, crossing a metal railed bridge and follow the signs for the riverside loop walk.
6. On reaching a T junction on the path adjacent to a bridge over the river, turn left (signposted Shrewbridge Road and riverside loop) and cross the bridge. After crossing the bridge, take the path in the right that runs alongside the river.
7. After passing under the railway bridge, stay with the path that runs alongside the river. The path continues with the river on the right and some lakes on the left.
8. After crossing a small wooden bridge, take the path to the right signposted for the riverside loop and Two Saints Way.
9. On reaching the road, cross and turn right along the footpath. Cross the bridge and continue until reaching the sign for the riverside loop on the opposite side of the road. (This is a short distance before the sign for the Secret Bunker Museum.) Go through the gate and follow the path that runs straight across the field.
10. Cross a small wooden bridge and continue along the path. Head towards the large metal gate in the corner of the field, reached just after passing by the stile in the fence on the right. Pass through the gate and head for a small metal gate which is to the right of another large metal gate. (This short section can be quite muddy.)
11. Go through the gate and follow the path (which is not very clearly defined) straight ahead and runs just to the right of a large tree. (This section can be quite muddy.)
12. Follow the path until reaching the double metal gates and then cross over the railway lines. Follow the well defined track straight ahead that runs alongside the hedgerow. Pass through a metal gate and continue along the track.
13. On reaching the canal, turn right and proceed along the towpath.
- The Shropshire Union Canal lies in the counties of Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire. It links the canal system of the West Midlands, at Wolverhampton, with the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, 66 miles (106 km) distant. The name “Shropshire Union” comes from the amalgamation of the various component companies (Ellesmere Canal, Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, Montgomeryshire Canal) that came together to form the Shropshire Union Railways and Canal Company. The main line between Nantwich and Autherley Junction was almost built as a railway although eventually it was decided to construct it as a waterway.
14. Pass under an old bridge (No.91) and continue until where the canal aqueduct crosses the road (bridge with black and white railings).
15. Just beyond the bridge, follow the sign for the Riverside Loop, descend the steps, turn left and cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. Head along Welsh Row, towards the town centre.
Welsh Row (known as Frog Row in the medieval period) runs between the river and the canal and includes 2 Grade II* and more than 40 Grade II listings. By the late 15th century the name of the street had changed to Welsh Row due to the presence of Welsh businessmen in town for the salt trade. Salt production has occurred in the area since Roman times and Nantwich continued to be significant in the trade until around the end of the 17th century; a recent archaeological investigation suggested that a wooden trackway discovered under Welsh Row was constructed in the 13th century. Artefacts from the salt trade are on display in the Nantwich Museum.
16. At the end of the Welsh Row and having just crossed the river, turn left and take the footpath on the riverside of the B5341.
Nantwich Bridge (also known as the Welsh Row Bridge and formerly the Welsh Bridge) is a stone bridge carrying Welsh Row over the River Weaver. The existing bridge replaces a 17th-century stone bridge; it dates from 1803 and is listed at Grade II. An earlier timber bridge known as the Wich Bridge is first mentioned at the end of the 14th century; it is described as having a chapel and shops on it.
The Old Biot is the name given to a brine spring near to the Welsh Row Bridge on Waterlode.
The “Wych Houses” or Walling Lands, where salt was produced from brine, once stood in an area near to Town Bridge. The brine was channelled from a brine spring to the Wych Houses for evaporation in large lead pans. Salt production peaked in the late 16th century when there were 216 Wych Houses.The Old Biot spring likely founded the original settlement at Nantwich, during the Roman period, or maybe earlier. A spring from which flows Salt Water is an obvious economic source, as well as benefit for food preservation and health. There is no water to be seen running here, as the spring is still in use supplying nearby Nantwich Swimming Pool. The small plaque and stone are found on the east side of The River Weaver, and a few yards to the north of the Bridge onto Welsh Row, on the road named Waterlode.
17. Take the path heading down towards the river (signposted Reaseheath College and Chester). Follow the path as it turns right and underneath the road bridge. At the junction of paths, take the path on the right (signposted Town Centre).
18. On reaching Wall Lane, turn right and in the direction of the signpost for the Town Centre.
The Brine Pool is behind the unimpressive building on the right.
Nantwich Outdoor Brine Swimming Pool is the only inland outdoor brine pool in the UK. The outdoor pool first opened to the public on 1st July 1935 and the pool water temperature is now maintained at 74 degrees F and through solar gain is usually much warmer.
There is also an indoor pool open all year round.
The only other UK inland brine swimming pool is in Walsall (indoor and smaller than the pool at Nantwich).
19. Continue along Wall Lane. On reaching the car park on the left hand side, go straight ahead and head towards the gap in the buildings.
20. Go through the gap, then cross the road (Beam Street). Turn right, following the footpath as it leads onto Oat Market.
21. Turn left into High Street. On reaching the square, turn left towards St Mary’s Church.
The Crown Hotel, also known as the Crown Inn, is a timber-framed, black-and-white hotel and public house located at 24–26 High Street. The present building dates from shortly after 1583. One of three buildings in Nantwich to be listed at grade I, the listing describes the Crown Hotel as “an important late C16 building.”
The existing hotel was built on the site of an earlier inn of the same name, destroyed in the Great Fire of Nantwich of 1583. This appears to have been constructed on an earlier industrial site, including a medieval tannery and an 11–12th century salt working. The area has also been speculated to have been the location of Nantwich Castle.
22. At the church, take the path on the left that leads to Churchyardside.
St Mary’s Church is recorded in the National Heritage List for England as a designated Grade I listed building. It has been called the “Cathedral of South Cheshire” and it is considered by some to be one of the finest medieval churches, not only in Cheshire, but in the whole of England. The architectural writer Raymond Richards described it as “one of the great architectural treasures of Cheshire” and Alec Clifton-Taylor included it in his list of “outstanding” English parish churches.
The building dates from the 14th century, although a number of changes have since been made, particularly a substantial 19th-century restoration by Sir George Gilbert Scott. The church and its octagonal tower are built in red sandstone. Features of the church’s interior include the lierne-vaulted ceiling of the choir, the carved stone canopies of the sedilia in the chancel, and the intricately carved wooden canopies over the choirstalls together with the 20 misericords at the back of the stalls. The church is an active Anglican parish church in the diocese of Chester, the archdeaconry of Macclesfield and the deanery of Nantwich.
23. On reaching the Market Hall, turn right to take the path that goes around the rear and then the far side of St Mary’s Church. On returning to the front of the church, follow the path back to the square.
There has been a market in Nantwich since 1500. The present market hall, at the junction of Market Street and Churchyardside, dates from 1867.
24. Turn left into High Street. On reaching Hospital Street, turn left.
The Queen’s Aid House, or 41 High Street, is a Grade II timber-framed, black-and-white Elizabethan merchant’s house located on the High Street immediately off the town square and opposite the junction with Castle Street. Built shortly after the fire of 1583 by Thomas Cleese, a local craftsman, it has three storeys with attics, and features ornamental panelling, overhangs or jetties at each storey, and a 19th century oriel window. The building is best known for its contemporary inscription commemorating Elizabeth I’s aid in rebuilding the town, which gives the building its name. The High Street was the home of the wealthiest townspeople in the 1580s, and the houses dating from the rebuilding form the finest examples of post-fire architecture in the town. The modern High Street still contains many other good examples of Elizabethan timber-framed buildings, all of which date from after the fire; these include the Grade II* listed number 46, which stands opposite the Queen’s Aid House and the Grade I listed Crown Inn.
25. After approximately 200 metres, turn left into a brick surfaced path just before a house. Continue along the path until it ends at The Gullet. Turn left towards the Bowling Green pub and then take the road on the right that runs past the pub.
26. At the crossroads, turn right into Monks Lane.
Dysart Buildings is a terrace of nine three-storey Georgian town houses at 1-9 Monks Lane. Dating from 1778–79, the building is listed at Grade II*. Each of the individual houses has three bays. The entrance doors all feature wooden doorcases with flanking pilasters and fanlights topped with a pediment; the windows all have plain tops and stone sills.
27. At the end of Monks Lane, turn right into North Crofts and follow this around to the left and into South Crofts. At the end of South Crofts (by the roundabout), turn right and then at the next roundabout, turn right along Hospital Street.
Hospital Street includes one Grade I listed building (Churche’s Mansion) and 35 Grade II listed buildings. Churche’s Mansion is a timber-framed, black-and-white Elizabethan mansion house at the eastern end of Hospital Street in Nantwich, Cheshire, England. The Grade I listed building dates from 1577 and is one of the very few to have survived the Great Fire of Nantwich in 1583.
28. Continue along Hospital Street, going straight on at the roundabout until reaching the entrance on the left that leads into The Cocoa Yard. Go through The Cocoa Yard and on reaching Pillory Street, turn right and after a short distance turn left into Love Lane.
Sweetbriar Hall (also Sweet Briar Hall and other variants) is a timber-framed, “black and white” mansion house at 65 and 67 Hospital Street. It has been designated by English Heritage as a Grade II listed building. The hall was built for the Woodhey branch of the Wilbraham family. The original date is probably 15th century, and the hall is often considered the oldest half-timbered building in the town not to have been encased in brick. The external appearance is early Elizabethan, with both ornamental panelling and close studding. It was recorded in 1577, and is known to have survived the fire of 1583, which destroyed the adjacent building. It has been substantially altered from its original form, in particular with the addition of a pentagonal bay in the late 16th or early 17th centuries. The timber frame was covered with render in the 18th century, and by the mid-20th century the hall had become very dilapidated. Restoration work was carried out in the 1960s.
The Millennium Clock was made to celebrate the Millennium in Nantwich by clockmaker Paul Beckett of Caernarfon, and is now on show in a glass case in front of a 19th century burner – all that remains of a coach manufactory. Local schoolchildren took part in design workshops in the run-up to the production of the clock. Its includes three dials – one each for the hours, minutes and seconds. Artwork on the case helps in telling the time.
Although Nantwich is noted for its salt, leather and clothing trades, it is not generally appreciated that the town was an important centre for clock making.
29. Follow the lane around to the right and continue until reaching the T-junction with Baker Street. Turn left along Baker Street and then follow the path that leads left at the end of the street. Follow the path as it turns right and then cross the road (Water-Lode) at the pedestrian crossing. Turn left and continue until reaching the roundabout by The Railway Hotel. Cross the road, and then turn right to retrace the route back to the station.
Cheese awards: The annual International Cheese Awards are made in Nantwich as a part of Nantwich Show, an agricultural show held at the Dorfold Hall estate in July each year.
Worm charming: Each year the world worm charming championships are held at Willaston Primary School in the village of Willaston, approximately two miles east of Nantwich. It began in 1980. Contestants furiously tap at the ground to get at some worms. After the contest the worms are released the same day.
Jazz and Blues Festival: Since 1996, Nantwich has hosted the annual Nantwich Jazz & Blues Festival over the Easter Bank Holiday weekend. Jazz and blues artists from around the country perform in pubs and venues across the town.
Food festival: The annual Nantwich Food Festival is free-entry festival held in the town centre over the first weekend in September and draws in an estimated 30,000 visitors a year.