This week I had to take a friend to Manchester Airport and close by is the excellent Styal Country Park.

This is said to be the cradle of the cotton industry but it is set in the middle of a delightful riverside network of footpaths.

From the car park descend a gentle slope along a winding path which leads to the huge complex which is Quarry Bank Mill.

Take time to explore the cotton mill complex. This follows the history of Greg’s empire from Waterwheel, Water Turbine and steam operated machinery.

Leave the cafe area to the left and continue straight ahead.

Continue onwards and cross a substantial footbridge. The river is on the right and large pond full of wildlife on the left.

Bear left around the pond and pass through an area of woodland and the Jubilee Children’s playground is on the left.

On the right is a circular wall behind which is the remnant of the gasworks associated with the mills.

The Gregs were enlightened employers in the context of their time but they had a keen eye for profit. The gas allowed them to operate a shift system and keep the mill open for 24 hours all the year round.

From the gasworks stroll through the mills and pass through the mills and pass the clock tower and the chimney. Follow the road with Quarry Bank House on the left. Gregg in 1797.

Ascend the steep road and look for the sign to the left indicating Styal Village.

This grassy footpath passes the garden of the Apprentice House. To the left is a field in which cattle can be seen grazing and this must have been the case long before the Styal Mill was built.

Pass through a set of metal gates to reach Styal Village which was important in medieval times.

Here is an ancient cross which once stood on Styal Green until it was relocated following a collision with a car in 1981.

To the right and left are religious houses with the Farm Fold Methodist chapel to the right. Straight ahead is the unspoiled village green lined with pretty cottages.

Turn left and follow the footpath to the 18th century Norcliffe Unitarian Chapel. Continue ahead to reach a stile.

Cross the stile and enter Northern Woods. Take the left fork and ignore a wooden footbridget. Turn left at a prominent information board and follow an obvious track.

Meet a cross track and continue straight ahead.

The footpath bears left and then turn right before reaching a road. Turn left to the Apprentice House.

The garden has been planted in the 19th century style.

The white painted Apprentice House can be visited as part of the Quarry Bank entry fee. This was built in 1790 to provide accommodation for up to 100 children who were “obtained” from workhouses.

How to get there

From the M56 follow the signs towards Manchester Airport. Large brown signs off off the motorway at Junction 6 indicate Quarry Bank Mill.

Take care around the airport terminals and at a roundabout follow the signs towards Cheadle (B 5166).

At Styal look for the brown sign and turn right into the car park.

Distance: Four miles