Sandstone caves: Several natural and man-made caves can be explored along Cheshire’s Sandstone Trail

Caves have often either been naturally eroded or deliberately dug out of the softer rocks along Cheshire’s central sandstone ridge.

The best natural cave (although clearly enhanced by man) on the Sandstone Trail is probably Mad Allen’s Hole near Bickerton; another is tiny Musket’s Hole, just south of Rawhead.

Other, man-made, caves include what may be underground Civil War stables within the grounds of Beeston Castle (now blocked off to protect bats, and for public safety), the spectacular Queen’s Parlour, and smaller Bloody Bones Cave beneath towering Rawhead — both of which were excavated originally for their soft white scouring sand, used to clean milk churns and Cheshire cheese making equipment.

Mines and Tunnels

What’s more, there are undoubtedly ancient shafts and tunnels radiating out into the darkness deep beneath the sandstone ridge close to the copper mine chimney at Gallantry Bank. There’s even a hidden adit, or gently sloping tunnel, that enters the hillside from a shallow hollow in the woods beside the Trail.

The sandstone ridge has been deliberately quarried, too, for building stone since at least the Middle Ages. But Cheshire’s sandstone is far from uniform. In fact, the quality varies hugely depending on the grain size and degree of mineral cementation.

The finest hard, pale building stone from quarries at Manley Knoll was used at Chester Castle and Eaton Hall, while stone from King’s Chair in Delamere Forest was reputedly carted away along the old Roman road to build Vale Royal Abbey near Whitegate, in central Cheshire.

Beeston Castle was built with stone cut from its own hill top moat, while nearby Victorian Peckforton Castle was constructed with sandstone dug from a dedicated ridge top quarry, now lost amid trees on the Peckforton Hills.

Old Quarries

Smaller local quarries along the ridge provided hand cut stone for homes, farms and outbuildings.

All are now abandoned, but interesting quarries along the Trail can be seen at Overton Hill, Alvanley Cliff, Manley Knoll, Hangingstone Hill, Utkinton, above Fisher’s Green, Ash Hill near Tarporley, high on Stanner Nab at Peckforton, below Rawhead Farm, and near Maiden Castle. Especially on the Peckforton and Bickerton hills, look out, too, for cottages, farms and walls built with large, handcut sandstone blocks.