Written by English Heritage ambassador, Carolyn Hicks
High upon a rocky crag in Cheshire, North West England, sits Beeston Castle, a place where people have gathered for thousands of years. As the sun sets behind the Welsh mountains, it illuminates the red sandstone of the castle and the rolling landscape of the Sandstone Ridge. This geological feature was formed between 225 and 195 million years ago during the Triassic age. Beeston Crag, with its castle on top, sits in the heart of this magical landscape, right in the centre of the Sandstone Trail, a 34-mile middle-distance walk through open countryside. With its beautiful scenery and wide-open views across the Cheshire plain there is a surprise at every turn and it can be enjoyed any time of year.
Scattered across this landscape are the remains of ancient hill forts with Beeston Crag at its heart and arguably the crowning glory is Beeston Castle, the Castle of the Rock, an early medieval fortress built around 1220 by the 6th Earl of Chester, a strategic military position with views over 8 counties. English Heritage cares for this ancient monument and welcomes thousands of visitors each year who come to explore the rich history and enjoy the lovely woodland.
A Bronze Age settlement was discovered here, by chance, when archaeologists were looking for medieval artefacts. This settlement dates back to the late Bronze Age, around 3000 years ago with post hole evidence showing 9 roundhouses providing shelter for our ancestors to farm and forge bronze tools and weapons, some of which can be seen in the visitor centre. All along the ridge, there is evidence of pre-historic hunters with finds dating back to around 6000 years ago.
It’s the longest day of the year, the sun has almost set and the crag is quiet now, the visitors have all gone leaving the inhabitants to get on with their lives undisturbed by human activity. Birds of prey soar over the wide-open plain, returning from their hunting expeditions to nest on the steep cliffs. The ravens roost in the ruined towers, the pheasants call to each other and are safe, protected from humans, and the stoat family, rarely seen by people, is out hunting on the open slope. Their burrow in the old well is a perfect place to watch for a potential meal. The baby rabbits need to be alert now, there is danger out there.
This place has always been my spiritual home, the place that grounds me to the Earth, a place where the worries of the world seem a million miles away. The ancient rocks and stones tell tales of turmoil and conflict, of human survival in an ever-changing world of challenges and of people coming together to live and work in harmony and peace as well. In the woodland, the only sounds are birds singing but tomorrow the visitors will return and once more Beeston will be filled with the sound of laughter and fun but until then it remains protected by its high walls and sheer cliffs, a haven for wildlife and a beacon of hope, as it has always been.