Think of Cheshire and what do you see? Beyond its WAGtastic image of high-rolling cars, jewellery boutiques and bars bursting with celeb credentials, lie miles of untapped countryside, top-notch gastropubs and a bright breed of farms for animal-loving tots. As long as you’ve got some wheels, this gorgeous county is easy to delve into and will get the seal of approval from kids of all ages.
Discover impossibly cosy cafes with superb food and a relaxed vibe; potter around thick, mystical woodland in search of ‘bear caves’, fairies and the Gruffalo; and sink a few summer drinks in the company of alpacas.
By Helen Warwick
Stockley Farm: Cheshire has a host of family-friendly petting farms, and Stockley is up there with the best. Your crew will go wild for the soft play areas, the bouncy castles, the outdoor climbing frames, and the nature trails. Blow their mini minds with a ride on a tractor and close encounters with a whole cast of farm animals – there’s also plenty of opportunities to stroke the furry residents, brush down the horses and tickle rabbits. Feeling hungry? The café whips up yummy cakes and breakfasts for petite palates, too. Prices: From £2.
Dunham Massey: Family jaunts are always going to go down well at this sprawling deer park. There are acres of space to cavort in – from ‘fairy-spotting’ in woodlands to climbing fallen trees, tracking mini beasts and going in search of the Gruffalo. This summer, Dunham Massey is bringing to life the Midnight Garden theme with a host of activities, including storytelling, crafts and garden trails.
The Edge at Alderley: Take a walk through thick woodland to the ethereal ‘Edge’ – a series of red sandstone escarpments with Instagrammable views across Cheshire. This sweep of land rests on an underground network of caverns and disused mines that have conjured a host of local legends and inspired Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
Buggy-friendly paths wind towards the Edge, where it’s said a band of sleeping warriors and the wizard, Merlin, lie asleep in the darkness. Head here in the thick of summer and search for ‘bears’ in the cave openings, pick up sticks, play hide and seek amongst the trees, and stop by the cutesy Wizard Café with its superb selection of cakes, breakfast baps and coffee.
Rocket and Orange: There’s something fresh and innovative about this roomy café in Altrincham. You won’t find anyone other than families here: tots pad about, rummaging through piles of toys – think lego, a football table, and wall dominoes – while parents catch up over superb salads, excellent coffee and terrific cakes. It’s worth the schlep here for breakfasts: go for the R&O meaty hash – a plate of sausage, bacon, baby potatoes, spring onion and poached eggs – and round off by sharing pancakes with the little ones. Prices: From £3 for a kids’ lunch.
Plough & Flail: Arrive hungry at this handsome country pub and fill up on cheery roasts, pies with thick, rich gravy and some dapper-looking scallops. The cooking’s not reinventing the wheel, but Plough & Flail does dole out some exceptional comfort food and pub classics. Languid lunches are best taken on the terrace where country types slurp a Pimm’s or three, and families huddle around sharing plates.
There’s a mini playground with a slide and climbing wall to keep the kids busy while you mingle over minty cocktails, and unusually there’s a neighbouring alpaca farm that’ll inject a curious talking point into proceedings. Prices: From £5.95 for children’s meals.
Gusto Alderley Edge: The well-heeled centre of Alderley Edge is abuzz with swanky restaurants, bars and boutiques. And this cavernous place is your best bet for a decent meal: dishes focus on upmarket Italian in designer surroundings, where the cocktails are flowing and the at-the-table-pizza-making goes down a treat with wannabe mini-chefs.
They’ll be handed a chef’s hat and a pizza base before scattering their own toppings and handing it back to the kitchen, whilst you nurse a Champagne cocktail and mosey through the menu. If your brood’s tastes are a little more discerning, the kitchen can cook up smaller portions from anything on the menu. And with cut-above steaks, grilled fish and excellent seafood there for the taking, Gusto Alderley Edge is the kind of place you could happily hang out in all evening. Prices: Make Your Own Pizza from £6.95.
Oddfellows: This style-drenched country pile might be atmospheric, more than a little off-the-wall and worthy of an interior design showroom, but it’s also hugely welcoming to visitors, great and small. Go for the interconnecting family suite and you’ll find bags of space for extra cots and beds. The best news? Oddfellows sits on Bruntwood Park, a swathe of verdant grassland with a cracking playground and sandpit, and plenty of nooks for outdoorsy adventures.
There’s also a BMX track, archery, and pitch and putt to keep the teens happy. Food-wise, it’s gone that little bit further, too ,and hired the expertise of a local schoolgirl who devised a menu for under 10s. If a banana split doesn’t crack a smile on your brood’s faces, nothing will. You can’t knock its location either besides the A34, which links much of the county. Price: From £175 (for two adults and one child.