The fastest route from Birmingham to the Scottish border is the M6 motorway which runs to the west of the Pennines. Exit 15 gives access to the complex of six towns that form Stoke-on-Trent, center of the ceramic industry since the 18th century and thus known as “Potteries Land.” Stokes City Museum houses the largest display of Staffordshire ceramics in the world. In Etruria, at the junction of the Trent and Mersey Canal and the Caldon Arm, is the Etruria Bone and Flint Mill, opened in 1769, now an industrial museum.
Some of the traditional bottle kilns in which the pottery was fired are displayed in the Gladstone Pottery Museum in Longton, southeast of Stoke. South of the city in Barlaston, near the A34, is the world-famous Wedgwood Pottery with a visitors’ center and museum.Ceramics enthusiasts can tour the porcelain factories where the vases and plates with their blue-and-white decorations have been manufactured since 1769.
If you leave Stoke by the A52 and turn off at Longsdon to Horse Bridge, you’ll come across a transport curiosity: one waterway is crossed by another. Further on is Cheddleton, where a lovely old flint mill stands beside the water and canal boats lie moored at the quay.
Beyond, to the southeast off the A52, is the amusement park of Alton Towers. From Stoke, the A34 leads north past Kidsgrove to one of England’s most beautiful half-timbered houses, Little Moreton Hall, surrounded by a moat and gardens. To the east, the land rises towards the Peak District National Park; from the nearby eminence of Mow Cop, you can look out west over all of Cheshire spread below you.
The A34 strikes north for Manchester through Congleton, a picturesque market town, and Alderley Edge, popular for its fine views. A mummified corpse from the Middle Ages was once discovered here, perfectly preserved in the peat. An alternative route to Manchester is the A536 to Macclesfield, a mix of old half-timbered houses and 18th-century mills, once a center of the silk industry, as the Silk Museum and the Paradise Working Silk Mill demonstrate.
To the east the A537 traverses a wild stretch of moorland on its way towards Buxton, while the B5470 ascends to Whaley Bridge. Close by, at Buxworth, the abandoned terminus of the Peak Forest canal indicates what raw materials were once demanded during the Industrial Revolution.
Take the A6 towards New Mills and then the B6101 to Marple. Here, the Peak Forest canal flows into the Macclesfield canal, passing through a long series of locks and over a fine Roman aqueduct on the way to Manchester.
Chester: In 79 AD, the Romans established the important camp of Deva to secure the land against the Welsh. In the early Middle Ages, Chester’s city ramparts were erected atop the Roman ring wall. The Roman legacy is further evident not only in the amphitheater and garden, but also in the Deva Roman Experience Museum, close by the Heritage Centre.
The 14th-century cathedral was part of a earlier Benedictine abbey. Most impressive of all are the city streets with their black-and-white halftimbered houses, and the Rows, arcaded walkways or galleries one story above the street. All manner of shops are to be found in this medieval setting, and the keen-eyed will notice ornate carvings on the ancient timbers.
A walk around the city walls is mandatory, including King Charles’ Tower from which the ill-fated monarch witnessed the defeat of his troops at Rowton Moor in 1645. Merseyside: The M53 takes you north to Ellesmere Port on the Mersey, where the Boat Museum is another reminder of the days when water transport supported the commerce of the nation.
If you take the M56 towards Manchester, get off at exit 8 for Dunham Massey near Bowdon. This large Georgian mansion is set in a deer-park with magnificent gardens, contains a vast collection of silver, and boasts a rare water-powered sawmill. South of the motorway, towards Knutsford, is the former home of the Egerton family at Tatton Hall. This 19th-century house stands in the midst of formal gardens and woodlands laid out by Humphrey Repton. Besides the treasures of the house itself, there’s a farm here still worked as it was in the 1920s. Astronomers should head south again some 6 miles (10 km) to visit the observatory and radio telescope at Jodrell Bank, northeast of Holmes Chapel.