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Along the A538 'Route of Affluence' through north east Cheshire

You won't find this route mentioned in any guide books, even locals wouldn't have heard of it. That's because I have made up the name. It describes a road or corridor that links a string of affluent residential suburbs to the south of Manchester. It's been described as the 'Gin and Tonic belt', home to the 'Cheshire Set'. I have strong connections with this area, and regularly drive along along this route today.

The A538 is an A road that runs between Altrincham and Macclesfield, passing through Hale, along tunnels under the southern fringe of Manchester Airport, on towards Wimslow, passing near Alderley Edge, and Prestbury. Its course roughly follows the River Bollin. The A538 runs from north west to south east.

Map of the NE Cheshire Route of Affluence

Prestige

This route is special because it passes through a succession of affluent districts. Footballers, pop stars, business people live here, but so do plenty of less conspicuous people. It's not just a playground of the rich, though it's true that property is expensive around here and you'll glimpse lot of dream homes beyond the hedges.

I have a strong personal connection with some of the places along this route, though I don't live there now. My memories of it go back to early childhood.

The western part of the route lies in the Borough of Trafford. The eastern part now lies in the Cheshire East council area.

For our journey along the north east Cheshire 'Route of Affluence' let's choose a suitable car - you'll see plenty of prestige cars around here. Imagine your favourite convertible, new or classic, whatever you like, it's your choice. Imagine it's ready and waiting for you, parked next to the ancient church in Bowdon. That would make an attractive photograph!

Bowdon

The Victorian district around Bowdon was developed in the 19th century for wealthy industrialists, and others who had the means to escape the smoke and grime of Manchester. With its beautiful Victorian villas and quiet, tree-covered roads, Bowdon still has an aura of the 19th century, though it was much stronger in the past, before a number of newer developments appeared.

My late sister Philomena, Phil, lived here in the 1960s, in an attic flat in a house on Stamford Rd. I came here to visit her as a child and was captivated with the area.

At the bottom of Stamford Rd, we cross the traffic lights, across the railway level crossing and into Ashley Road, the main street of Hale, Cheshire. Reputed to have more estate agents than any other street in the Manchester area. This is clearly a place of affluence, with its chic restaurants and wine bars, expensive cars parked outside.

Leafy street name

We will now turn left into, Westgate and up to Hale Road, the A538. It begins a quarter of a mile away, close to Altrincham town centre.

On either side are beautiful terraced houses from the 19th century. As we proceed further, the houses turn to mainly 1930s semis, with some contemporary additions. On the left there's the ultimate English leafy street name, 'Acacia Avenue'.

Further along on the right, behind a high hedge, is an unusually designed house, named Royd House. It was designed by celebrated local architect Edgar Wood and was built in 1914. It's private property so it's not possible to visit.

Past the junction with Delahays Rd, we pass Carlton Rd, where I lived in the early 80s with my sister and her family. Further along on the right is St Ambrose College Catholic boys grammar school.

On the next corner, on the right, is a Roman Catholic church that has the look of a French cathedral in miniature. It's the Holy Angels, built in the 1960s and designed by Arthur Fairbrother. My sister got married there in 1971.

The road it is on has a name I find intriguing: Wicker Lane. It leads to Hawley Lane where my the family home of my sister's husband used to be. It was a large and beautiful house which I visited many times, but has since been demolished.

Mysterious origins

The A538 continues through Hale Village, past the 1960s style shopping centre 'The Square'. Anywhere else it would be an eyesore, but here, it works, and is a well-regarded focal point.

Soon we pass Brooks Drive, an ancient road with mysterious origins. It starts here as a private road, continues as a side road, and turns into a footpath as far as Brooklands, 4 miles north west. Now we are at the M56 motorway. I came cycling in this area before the motorway was built in the early 70s. At that time it was very rural.

Tunnels under the runways

We proceed under the M56 through two roundabouts. This area, close to the airport, lies within the City of Manchester boundary. To the left is the celebrated Romper pub and the Aviation Viewing Park, home of Concorde. You go down a section of the old A538 to get to it. The remains of the catseyes are still in the road. At one time traffic had to stop whenever a plane was taking off. Since 1974, traffic has used the new A538 passing under a tunnel under the runway.

Just before the first tunnel is the road to Castle Mill and Ashley. There was an outdoor swimming pool at Castle Mill and I believe George Best owned a very large house around here.

The second tunnel came into being around 1999 when the second runway was built. We come to a roundabout, built at the time of the runway consruction. Off to the left are foopaths leading to the National Trust property Quarry Bank, skirting the south of the airfield. There was a road to Styal but it was closed when the second runway was built.

Now we cross a bridge, this is the River Bollin. The old stone bridge is about 20 yards upstream. This is the boundary between the City of Manchester and the Borough of Macclesfield, and is also the line between Greater Manchester and the Cheshire East Council area. Please note the entire route is within 'true' Cheshire.

On the left is the hotel now known as the Holiday Inn, though many still remember it as the Valley Lodge. It has a distinctive Swiss design. The road leads uphill - it was recently widened - and rejoins the line of the old road. The village of Morley Green is off to the right.

More affluence

After a series of bends we are now on the western approaches of Wilmslow. To the right is Lindow Common and Black Lake, an area of Special Scientific Interest.

As we approach the centre of Wilmslow there are more signs of affluence: luxury car dealerships, wine bars, estate agents.

In the town centre, by the A538 traffic lights is the site of the celebrated Rex Theatre, which once saw many famous plays and actors. Though the Rex has sadly closed and is now part of a shop, Wilmslow has a strong thespian spirit that's very much alive at the Wilmslow Guild, just off the A538 on Bourne St.

Now we will take a detour from the A538 and turn right. We head south, through the big roundabout - look for the ancient Fulshaw cross on the far right, moved when the roundabout was built in the early 60s - past the Kings Arms, an old haunt of mine - and towards Alderley Edge. We go round to the A34 roundabout - Manchester is 12 miles to the left, the new by-pass leads off the the right. Where the roundabout is now, there was once a large Victorian house. Don't ask what happened a party I went to there aged 17! We continue up the hill towards Alderley Edge.

Alderley Edge village

We are nearly in Alderley Edge, or more exactly the village named after the tree-covered escarpment. Watch out for the flying saucer-like car showroom on the left. Over the railway bridge, with the station on the left and St Phillips church - currently under threat - on the right - and we are in Alderley Edge.

More signs of affluence - banks estate agents, restaurants, wine bars - Look out for the Alderley Rose Chinese restaurant on the right with a perfectly -preserved 1960s style frontage. At the top end is a row of new houses designed to blend in with the traditional style street. And dominating the scene, on higher ground, across from the Tatton Arms, a prestigious residential development.

The author Alan Garner, who lives not far from here. His novel 'The Weirdstone of Brisingamen' brilliantly dramatises the legends surrounding Alderley Edge and has been in print since 1960.

We could continue south along the A34 to Nether Alderley, former home of Neil and Christine Hamilton, or we could take the Macclesfield Rd on the left, leading up to the Edge itself, with its magnificent views, winding footpaths and mysterious tunnels.

But we will take the left hand road, Chapel Road, which becomes Mottram Road and later Alderley Road as you approach Mottram St Andrew. This is a pleasant area of countryside with the tree-covered Edge rising to the south. We re-join the A538 and head east towards Prestbury. Now the road begins to twist and turn, and there are more beautiful views over the Cheshire countryside. Look out for a very attractive grove of trees on the left.

Long and winding A538

Now we are heading uphill, through more twists and turns. It's great to drive an open-topped car along a road like this. The village of Mottram is on the right - not to be confused with the one to the east of Manchester, which is also in Cheshire. The beautiful Hare Hill gardens are a mile or so further.

The road is narrow and heads uphill, trees on either side reaching above the road, echoing the sound of the engine as we shift through the gears. Mottram Hall, now a prestigious country hotel is off to the left. The road, hemmed in by trees on either side, reaches a summit, then plunges down almost directly into Prestbury Village, our final destination.

If Bowdon was the last word in residential luxury for the Victorian era, then Prestbury is the 20th century successor. It's said to have more Rolls Royces per square mile than Mayfair, but in my experience, you tend to see more Jaguars, Land Rovers and various types of new or classic sports cars.

The houses around Prestbury are set within the undulating terrain behind high hedges and concealed driveways. There's a sense of privacy. Maybe that's why it's the home of certain pop stars.

Spiritual home

The village of Prestbury with its white facades and quaint cottages, is picture perfect English village. Even the speed bumps are specially modelled using attractive stones. The ancient church was there centuries before this became a place of affluence.

The A538 continues into Macclesfield, but we need go no further and so will park the convertible and have some tea and scones!

Thanks to Greg Bolshaw for clarifying the route out of Alderley Edge towards Mottram St Andrew

Written by Aidan O'Rourke
Posted/Updated 2007-08-07

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