08 September 2014

England: Quarry Bank, Cheshire

I hit the ground running when I arrived in England.

My wonderful friend Sarah picked me up late morning from my hotel at Manchester Airport (I’d arrived from Morocco in the wee hours) and we headed straight to Quarry Bank, a National Trust property on the way to her place. 

I joined the National Trust that day – the annual membership was £58 and the cost for entrance to most of the individual properties they administer is around £10 so it made sense to join. I certainly got more than my money’s worth over the following 5 weeks.

Quarry Bank is the site of an early cotton mill, built in 1784 by Samuel Greg and developed by him into the largest textile milling business in England by the time of his retirement in 1832. A stroll around the buildings and adjoining parkland provides fascinating information about the lives and working conditions of the entrepreneurs and the mill workers during the early years of the Industrial Revolution. The Greg family not only built the actual mill but also an Apprentice House, where the pauper children who worked in the mill lived, and many of the cottages in the nearby village of Styal, to house the families who worked for them.

Quarry Bank was used as the setting for Channel 4’s television drama The Mill, so if reading signboards is not your thing, you can get a very realistic glimpse into a mill worker’s life by watching an episode or two.

I’m sure those workers must all have suffered from industrial deafness, judging from the cacophony of the working machinery still housed in the well-preserved mill buildings. From the hiss of steam engines and the banging of England’s largest working water wheel to the incredibly loud thumping of the spinning, carding and weaving machinery, it can be a thunderous place to explore. But the machinery doesn’t run continuously – it is switched on periodically by the knowledgeable staff to demonstrate and explain the various processes.

The mill sits alongside the beautiful River Bollin – water, of course, being necessary for the mill to function, and amidst beautiful gardens, which are gradually being restored by a team of dedicated volunteers. We saw the lovely half-timbered head gardener’s house, the ruins of the large glass house where fruit trees would have been grown – this will soon be restored, a magnificent 300-year-old beech tree, lovely flower borders, the heritage-vegetable garden of the Apprentice House, and lots more. I can also recommend Quarry Bank’s facilities – we lunched at the cafĂ© and the food was delicious.

It was a lovely sunny day and I so enjoyed being back in England’s green and tree-filled, utterly pleasant lands. During the short drive south to Wincham, the little village where Sarah lives, we drove down narrow lanes lined with dense hedge rows, past cute cottages and converted barns. It was delightful. And Sarah’s house is lovely too, a three-bedroom terrace house, with a small garden at the front and a long, narrow garden at the back. My friend has green fingers, so the back is a picture of flowering plants that attract birds, bees and butterflies, has a thriving vegetable garden from which we ate fresh produce each day, and lovely big shady trees, where dwell squirrels! Over the coming weeks I would wile away many happy minutes watching their antics. 

After a delicious dinner we went for a short walk to watch the sun set over Pickmere, the local lake, where coots and mallards were doing a last bit of primping and preening before nightfall. It was a peaceful end to a very pleasant first day.

The 300-year-old beech tree at Quarry Bank

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