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The Formation of Kelsall's Landscape

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Kelsall lies in a nook on the south-west facing escarpment of the Mid Cheshire Ridge. Indeed the name Kelsall may well be derived from Middle English (1100-1500 AD); Kells Halh meaning 'Nook of land of a man called Kell'. Investigating the origin of the nook and the underlying sandstones requires significant time travel.

Kelsall gap lies at 125m, with Pale Heights (176m) and the Yeld (157m) to the north and Primrose Hill (158m) to the south. There are parallel but smaller nooks at Boothsdale and Willington. The broad landscape is shaped by Permo-Triassic sandstones and a series of parallel faults running NE/SW. During the Permian, some 250 – 286 millions years ago, this part of the earth's crust was stretched causing faulting and subsidence.

The strong red colouring in the local rock is due to iron oxide, coating round the sediment grains, and indicates an origin in desert conditions. The Helsby sandstone formation is thought to be braided stream deposits from the Variscan mountains which, in the Triassic (250-213 million years ago), rose between present day Dorset and Brittany. At the time this part of the continental land mass is believed to have been much nearer the equator. The Triassic period ended in this locality with the incursion of the sea and the deposition of Cheshire's salt beds to the east of the central ridge.

Today natural rock exposures occur notably at Urchins Kitchen in Primrose Hill Wood and at Hanging Stones on Old Pale. In addition there are numerous quarry faces and road cuttings demonstrating the distinct layers of deposition in the sandstone also featured in local walls and cottages. Substantial loose rocks have been moved by ploughing – especially across Organsdale. Some of these, however, are not local sandstone and arrived here by movement of vast ice sheets from the north. Whilst the existing rock formations may have developed beneath later deposits, the influence of glaciation up to 1000m thick (25,000 to 10,000 years ago) has been immense.

The erosion would be exaggerated along the existing geological faults leading to the nook formations we see today. The force of laden melt waters has carved out features like the Urchins Kitchen and overlain the bedrock with drifts of sands and gravels together with occasional large boulders. Westward from Kelsall the Cheshire plain with its sub glacial till provides very different soil conditions – the boulder clays. Northwards the Mouldsworth Gap at 55m has been the most significant channel for braiding melt waters. Here it seems that sands and gravels were deposited around stranded blocks of ice giving rise to the undulating landscape of Delamere with its peaty hollows.

Kelsall residents will hold dear the glorious sunrises over the Kelsall Gap and equally the evening light behind the Welsh mountains – a splendid backdrop across our view of the Cheshire plain. A short climb onto Pale Heights provides a panorama stretching from the Mersey coast, to Winter Hill, the Pennines, down the central ridge into Shropshire and across the Marches to the Clwyds and the Dee – quite a location!

Article by Joan Fairhurst, 2003

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