On the western moors of the Peak District, Macclesfield is a market town that became the world’s largest producer of finished silk in the 19th century.
In 1832 there were 71 silk mills in Macclesfield, and one has been preserved along with its jacquard looms as part of the Silk Museum.
Macclesfield has a pretty cobblestone town centre on a sharp hillside.
Battle up the 108 Steps to the Market Place, presided over by a Georgian Neoclassical town hall and a Medieval church bursting with Renaissance alabaster monuments.
There’s free Wi-Fi in the town centre, a fantastic monthly market and lots of ideas for days out into the Peak District, to see the titanic radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank or to peruse country estates.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Macclesfield:
1. Silk Museum and Paradise Mill
The perfect introduction to Macclesfield’s industrial heritage, the Silk Museum combines a world-class collection of silk textiles with the preserved Paradise Mill (1860), kept exactly how it was in the 1930s.
The museum investigates the roots of Macclesfield’s finished silk trade, shows how it was manufactured on looms and presents an unblinking look at working life in the mills.
You can even see a live silk worm! Dressmakers and fans of couture will be amazed by the pattern book archive of almost 1,000 volumes and displays of silk finery.
A couple of doors down, you’ll take a guided tour of the Paradise Mill, which has 26 restored jacquard looms in place and was in business up to 1981.
2. The Peak District
If you want easy access to the west side of the Peak District National Park there’s no better town than Macclesfield.
The Peak District is the UK’s oldest National Park, founded in 1951 and with diverse landscapes.
On the Macclesfield side are the outlying moors of the gritstone Dark Peak, traversed by the treacherous A537, known as England’s most dangerous road, so go with care.
In under ten minutes you can drive to Shining Tor for a hike to a 560-metre peak where you can make out the far off radio telescopes at Jodrell Bank.
On the same ridge but a bit further east is Cats Tor at 520 metres, which isn’t a daunting climb as there’s a handy car park only 60 metres below.
3. Jodrell Bank
Macclesfield is in the orbit of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, founded in 1945 and part of the University of Manchester.
The primary telescope at Jodrell Bank is the colossal Lovell Telescope, built in 1957 and still the third largest steerable dish radio telescope in the world, at 76.2 metres in diameter.
Amateur astronomers come a long way to savour this immense structure, which along with the rest of the station has been mooted for World Heritage Status.
The Discovery Centre opened at Jodrell Bank in 2011 and has a Planet Pavilion with the largest clockwork model of the Solar System in the world, as well as games and interactive stations relating to the Solar System and Milky Way.
At the Space Pavilion you’ll learn the maths and science behind radio telescopes, find out about the birth of the universe and watch illuminating animations and archive footage.
4. Tegg’s Nose Country Park
There’s an early taste of the Peak District right on Macclesfield’s eastern flank at this park on the slopes of the dominant Tegg’s Nose hill.
As soon as you arrive at the car park, there’s a handy visitor centre with leaflets and information boards about the hill’s human history and wildlife.
For hundreds of years the Tegg’s Nose was quarried for millstone grit, and an old quarry site has been preserved and labelled with signs.
Hardy walkers will have their eyes on the 380-metre summit, but there’s a big choice of other activities on offer in the park like climbing, abseiling, horseback riding, cycling and fishing at the reservoirs to the south of the park.
The panoramas from Tegg’s Nose three ridges are awesome, and stretch as far as Liverpool 40 miles to the west on clear days.
5. West Park
The working people of Macclesfield pooled together to raise funds for this park next to the town centre.
West Park opened in 1854 and provided an oasis of greenery for people who would spend up to 70 hours a week toiling in the mills.
Now it’s a well-appointed urban space with a playground, skate park and florid ornamental gardens.
An extra reason to pay a visit is for the West Park Museum, which was conceived in the 19th century by the Egyptologist Marianne Brocklehurst, daughter of the mill-owner and Macclesfield’s first MP, John Brocklehurst.
The museum still holds her collections of sarcophagi and carvings, and is the permanent home of Macc Panda, a stuffed giant panda brought here by a later Brocklehurst in 1935.
6. 108 Steps
Leading up from the train station to St Michael’s Church and the Market Place is a winding, scenic stairway that has become a landmark for Macclesfield.
The steps have followed this route since the 17th century at the latest, and the cobblestones were relaid in 2014 after a campaign by residents.
The stairway is lined with brick walls and takes you past some fine old houses, and if you need to take a break there are invigorating views to be had of the town.
7. St Michael’s Church
At the top, look inside St Michael’s Church, which commands the Market Place and can be seen across the town.
Although the church was almost completely rebuilt at the start of the 20th century it is highly regarded for its two historic chapels.
Here you’ll encounter what is considered to be Cheshire’s richest collection of alabaster effigies, produced in the 16th and 17th centuries for the Legh and Savage families.
In the Legh Chapel there’s also a set of memorial brasses, best of which is for William Legh who passed away in 1630. The finest monument in the larger Savage Chapel is the tomb of John Savage (d. 1495) and his wife Katherine, with stunning recumbent effigies of the couple.
8. Hare Hill
While the country house at Hare Hill Hall is privately owned, the garden is cared for by the National Trust.
The star here is the walled garden, a blaze of colour in early-summer when the rhododendrons and azaleas burst into flower.
There are also uncommon varieties of poppy, iris, lupin, phlox and echinacea.
Paths trail off into the woodland and you can rest by the park’s lake for a picnic in a very stately setting in summer.
A walking route also eventually leads to the Alderley Edge, a red sandstone escarpment also owned by the National Trust and towering to more than 200 metres for awe-inspiring views.
9. Adlington Hall
A tremendous mixture of styles, Adlington Hall was founded at the end of the 15th century and then reworked in the 18th century.
So while the north and east facades have romantic black and white timber framing the south and west wings are brick built, with a solemn Palladian portico.
Adlington is hired out for weddings, but on Sundays between April and October the house and gardens are open to visitors.
The Medieval Great Hall is indispensible for its lofty hammer-beam roof.
Look up at the coffering, made up of 60 compartments, each sporting the coats of noble families in Cheshire.
The Great Organ here could well be the most significant 17th-century instrument in England.
The Dining Room, Chapel, Chinese Room, Minstrels’ Gallery and Number 10 bedroom are no less beautiful.
Out in the gardens you can take on the maze and delight in the scents of the rose garden in mid-summer.
10. White Nancy
Leave the car in Bollington, three miles north of Macclesfield, for a hike up Kerridge Hill to see this peculiar structure.
Set 280 metres above sea level, White Nancy is an ordnance marker erected in 1815 by mapping surveyors.
Built from sandstone rubble, this monument is whitewashed and topped with a finial.
Every now and again the white walls are used as a canvas for a painting: It was adorned with the face of The Fall singer Mark E. Smith after he passed away in 2018, and before that there was a bee, in solidarity with Manchester after the bombing in 2017. The other purpose of the walk is to survey the Cheshire Plains, looking as far as the Shropshire Hills to the south and the mountains of North Wales in the west.
11. Riverside Park
Down the River Bollin, Riverside Park is north of the town centre and merges with West Park.
Despite being surrounded by the town, Riverside Park feels remote and has two big parcels of woodland, along with a community orchard, butterfly meadow and wildflower meadow.
This last area is grazed by docile longhorn cattle to help stop invasive grass species.
You could spend an hour or so ambling along these paths, but Riverside Park is also the trailhead for the Bollin Valley Way, a 25-mile path next to the river, ending at the Manchester Ship Canal in Partington.
12. Capesthorne Hall
This stirring Jacobean Revival country house owes its current appearance to the Victorian architect Edward Blore, who also worked on Buckingham Palace and St James’s Palace.
His remodelled facade is from the 1830s, though the house dates back more than a century before.
Capesthorne Hall is now primarily a wedding venue, but does receive visitors on Sundays and Mondays during spring and summer.
Anyone with fond of English country houses should jump at the chance to look around the interiors.
The Sculpture Gallery has pieces by Canova and Nollekens, and its sumptuous panelled ceiling is a feature shared by the Saloon, Drawing Room, Library, Study and State Dining Room.
In the latter you can admire pieces by another important sculptor of the day, Joseph Wilton.
The landscaped grounds also deserve your attention, and have 18th-century maple trees, a gorgeous private chapel and a lake crossed by a bridge from 1843.
13. St Peter’s Church, Prestbury
This 13th-century church about a mile north of Macclesfield is the fourth church on this site.
But what’s unusual is that the third church is still here, out among Medieval yew trees.
There’s a Norman Romanesque chapel in the churchyard, dating to the 12th century, with semi-circular door and window arches and weathered but visible tympanum relief and lozenge patterns in the archivolts.
The main church is mostly in the Early English Gothic style of the 13th century, with a Perpendicular tower that came in the 15th century.
In the nave, look for the paintings above the pillars, composed in 1719, as well as the Jacobean pulpit from the early 17th century.
Also lovely are the 14th-century piscina in the south aisle and the 15th-century ledger stone to Reginald Legh, who worked on the church tower and porch.
14. Blaze Farm
In a stunning patch of the Peak District, Blaze Farm is a working farm that is completely free to enter.
Children will be able to meet the goats, sheep, donkeys and chickens, and there are seasonal activities to catch like lambing in springtime and sheep shearing in summer.
The farm is extensive and has nature trails ushering you into woodland and meadows.
Entry is free because Blaze Farm relies on income from its award-winning Hilly Billy ice cream, made on site with Peak District milk.
You can treat yourself to a couple of scoops in the summer, or indulge in a slice of home-baked cake at the tearoom.
15. Treacle Market
On the last Sunday of the month Macclesfield’s Marketplace, Old Butter Market and St Michael’s Churchyard host more than 160 stalls for the Treacle Market.
Started in 2010, this took over from the defunct weekly market and is mostly for antiques, vintage clothes and arts and crafts, but also has plenty of food and drink stalls.
Typically you’ll find traders selling things like knitting yarn, vintage makeup boxes and picture frames, as well as local cheese, jams, hand-raised pies and glass bottles of freshly pressed apple juice.
For lunch there’s no shortage of tempting street food stalls for fresh soups, curry and authentic paella.