Walk this way...
Sally Mosley tackles a ridge walk and a ravine around The Roaches, and finds history and panoramic views along the way
Following a recent visit to Cucklett Delf near Eyam, I decided to continue the historic, religious theme and visit another old ceremonial site – that of Lud’s Church, which is hidden away deep within a wooded slope in Staffordshire. The Lollards – followers of John Wycliffe, an early reformer – worshiped here in secret during the 15th century to avoid persecution for their beliefs.
This was to be quite a lengthy hike of some eight miles or so. I parked in a designated roadside bay close to Hen Cloud beyond Upper Hulme early one Bank Holiday Monday morning. Already a kaleidoscope string of cars were parked up on the roadside – many of them no doubt belonging to climbers or walkers like myself who awoke to brilliant sunshine and decided to get out and enjoy it.
I began my walk by heading past Rockhall Cottage up a path that would take me onto The Roaches escarpment, which is nearly two miles long and reaches a peak of 1658 feet. Until 1979 this was private land with no access, and a reference in Baddeley’s ‘The Peak District’ of 1939 states “walkers are liable to be stopped by keepers”. How times have changed!
Rockhall used to be a gamekeepers’ cottage but is now the Don Whillan’s Memorial hut used by climbing groups. The Roaches are extremely popular with climbers of all ages, and I came across a group of excited schoolchildren being briefed on health and safety before they were allowed to tackle their first rocky challenge.
Passing through a wooded area mainly consisting of hardy pine, I was shocked to see so many fallen trees, probably felled by gales earlier in the year.
The path along the edge of the ridge to Roach End is simply divine, as there are fabulous panoramic views to enjoy. I could hear a cuckoo down in the trees – the first I have heard for some time. Cotton grass amidst the bilberry and heather was gently wafting in the breeze like a Mexican wave of little white flags.
Tittesworth Reservoir, a giant puddle down in the valley below, dates from 1858 and has the capacity to deliver 45 million litres of water a day to Leek and Stoke-on-Trent. Away to the north, the summit of Shutlingsloe peeped between Axe Edge and Hammerton Knowl.
A pair of swifts swooped low over Doxey Pool, catching insects to take back to their young, whilst somewhere in the vast expanse of moorland to my right, a curlew melodiously took to the skies.
There were once rich seams of coal between here and the village of Flash at an area known as Goldsitch Moss, with some 15 small pits or workings providing employment for locals. When the pits closed, many of the cottages and smallholdings became abandoned and derelict. Now it is possible to find the occasional pile of rubble or imprint of their foundation overgrown with scrub amongst the landscape.
My descent to Roach End was hastened by the sight of an ice cream van at the side of the road, and an opportunity for a sugar fix. Slurping whilst slipping and tripping, I continued downward on a rough path as indicated by the fingerpost for Gradbach.
Recent heavy rain had soddened the peat moors into patches of bog and gloopy mud – but once past the worst bits, I followed a fabulous path through Gradbach Wood, to a serenade by songbirds amid an air of peace and tranquillity. With sun shining down through a canopy of fresh leaves onto verdant foliage beneath, everywhere seemed bright and very green.
I arrived down by a ford through Black Brook but instead of wetting my boots by crossing, I continued around the corner and began to ascend to visit Lud’s Church, following fingerpost signs to guide me.
When I eventually arrived at this deep rocky cleft in the hillside, the temperature dropped dramatically as I walked between high walls of raw stone draped and drizzled with ferns and shade-loving plants. A large fallen log down in the ravine was glistening with coins hammered into its side. It’s one of numerous ‘money trees’ appearing around the Peak District, in the tradition of hammering in a coin and making a wish.
Returning from my detour to resume walking up the track, I followed a sign for Swythamley. This led me up to an elevated ridge of moorland and a return to lofty heights and views. It was to be a rollercoaster walk as I bobbed up and down the ridge path above Back Forest.
Resisting the urge for another ice cream or lolly from the bright red van, I passed through Roach End again on my figure-of-eight route. From here I ended my walk with an easy option on fast walking terrain by following the gated road beneath The Roaches and Five Clouds.
My car was parked not far from the drive to Windygates Farm, which was built in 1634 and used to be known as Winyates.
This old house stands on a packhorse route leading up from the valley bottom. Before the main road was laid, strings of packhorses – probably laden with salt from the plains of Cheshire, or coal from pits on the moors above – would have struggled to pass this way. The A53 main road dates back to 1765 when parliament sanctioned the turnpiking of a road from Newcastle-under-Lyme via Longnor and on to Hassop.
It was – and still is – a very isolated route in parts, passing through wild and inhospitable countryside that is sparsely populated. However, it was a very profitable road used to transport chert from Longstone Edge and Bakewell to the Staffordshire potteries. On the return journeys, the wagons brought crates of pottery and farm produce to sell. They had to ascend and descend the incline through the little hamlet of Upper Hulme and Crowdicote – and due to the steepness of the hills, the Court of Quarter Sessions allowed 10 horses for a wagon and five for a cart with wheels of six inches in breadth. There was even a plethora of legislation and regulation for road transport back then!
This is not intended as a walk guide.
Sally Mosley is passionate about the Peak District and likes to pass on her vast local knowledge through guided walks, talks and writing. She has written a regular fortnightly feature for the Peak Advertiser for more than 24 years and is the walks feature writer for Derbyshire Life & Countryside magazine. Her business has been awarded the Environmental Quality Mark accreditation in recognition of her high environmental quality standards in the Peak District National Park and her caring and fun approach to promoting it!
Green Adventures July 2015