The village of Rainow lies in Cheshire’s portion of the Peak District, just North East of the substantial town of Macclesfield; but visitors would never know it, for the hill of Kerridge shields Rainow on the Western side, while to the East, rise some of the highest of the region’s peaks – Cat’s Tor and Shining Tor. The ridge here at “The Tors” marks the parish boundary, (it’s a large parish for a small village) and offers wonderful views across the Goyt Valley, with its reservoirs and forests. Views from Kerridge are no less spectacular, stretching right across the Cheshire plain to the Welsh mountains. “Rainow” derives from the Old English for “Raven Low” – “low” meaning “hill” in these parts – and it is an indication of how bleak an environment this would have been in ancient times.
Nevertheless, the village was right at the heart of things, for ancient trackways met here, in the days when ridges were the best places to run packhorse routes; one went North along Kerridge, (literally, “Key Ridge”) while an all important route for Cheshire salt ran West-East. These ancient ways now make for great walking; the Gritstone Trail also skirts the village, while a veritable maze of local paths can take the walker in any direction, to Windgather Rocks, Tegg’s Nose, Pym Chair – resonant names for extraordinary places. At Tegg’s Nose Country Park, a few miles South, there is a visitors’ centre and a fascinating archaeological trail to follow on foot.
The most prominent local feature, (and great short walk destination) is White Nancy, a folly standing at the Bollington end of Kerridge. Originally the site of a beacon that would have been lit to warn of foreign invasion, the strange, bell-shaped structure was built to celebrate victory over Napoleon, and was a summer house. Today it is simply a solid lump of a structure, but it has always been painted white. The origin of “Nancy” is not certain, but may have been taken from the name of one of horses used to pull building materials up the very steep hill.
There are numerous ancient standing stones and bronze age tumuli dotted around the area, testament to an unbroken line of settlement, though the village itself did not really get going until the 18th century, when the River Dean was first used to power early cotton mills. Two of these venerable buildings still stand; Ingersley Vale Mill, built in 1809, was famous for having the second largest water wheel in the country – beaten only by the great Laxey Wheel, on the Isle of Man. Rainow’s prosperity was short-lived, however, as Bollington, only a mile away, had access to the newly dug canal and thus supplies of coal to fuel new, steam-powered mills. The coming of the railway to Macclesfield did even more to drag the centre of industry away to the West, so that today one would never guess as to the village’s industrial past.
Coal was mined in the 19th century out of the East side of Kerridge. One of the mines was known as the California drift mine, after one of the local Vare family that had taken part in the Gold Rush there in 1849. The name was shortened to Cali; the stretch of the River Dean that runs along the foot of Kerridge is still known locally as Cali Brook. The Quebec drift mines were dug on the South slope of Big Low, named, again after another Vare family member who had worked in Canada. Quarries are still a feature of the West side of Kerridge, but the predominant view all around Rainow is heavily rural; green pastures, woods and trickling streams. At The Oaks, an area of woodland near Thornsett farm, there is a remnant of the ancient woodland that would have once covered these hills; the oaks in question are Sessile Oak, an upland species, clearly differing from the Common Oak found on the Cheshire Plain.
While it may lack shops, the village is blessed with a fine selection of pubs:- on Macclesfield Road, The Robin Hood Inn on Church Brow is open all day for food and drink, except Mondays and Tuesdays when it is closed. It has a function room for up to 80 people, making it ideal for large gatherings and has the added bonus of offering en suite accommodation.
At Common Barn Farm there is a tea shop catering for ramblers on the Rainow Ring walkers’ footpath. Common Barn Farm offers self-catering accommodation, which can also be found at Harrop Fold Farm and Kerridge End Holiday Cottage.
For the superstitious, or the ghost hunters among you, the historical records reveal two oddities:-
“Two Rainow women, Ellen Beech and Anne Osbalderton, were hanged after the 1656 Michelmas Assizes at Chester for practicing “certain arts from which wicked and devilish acts certain people of Rainow fell ill and died”.”
While a curious stone plaque on Erwin Lane records the death in a Christmas Eve snowstorm of one John Turner:-
Here John Turner
was cast away
in a heavy snow
storm in the night
in or about the year 1735
The print of a woman’s shoe
was found by his side
where he lay dead