Peak District Walks
The Roaches & Lud's Church
Date: 15th November 2014
Distance: 9.9 miles
Ascent: 1905 feet
Time: 5 hours 45 mins
With: On my own
Start Grid Ref: SK006618
A misty exploration of the Roaches ridge from the Hanging Stone to Hen Cloud with a visit to the atmospheric chasm of Lud's Church.
Route Summary: Windygates - Hazelwood Road - Newstone Bridge - Blackbank - Lower Roach End - Back Forest - Lud's Church - Hanging Stone - Back Forest Ridge - Bearstone Rock - The Roaches - Doxey Pool - Bawd Stone - Hen Cloud - Windygates
Photos: Click on the photos below to enlarge.
Walk Detail: This was the second walk of a long weekend in the south-west Peak District. The previous day I'd enjoyed a fine walk on Shutlingsloe but the walk I'd really been excited about was this one, visiting The Roaches - one of the great gritstone features of the Peak District.
I'd stayed the night at The Peak Weavers Hotel in Leek (highly recommended by the way) and I'd been fully briefed by the owner, Nick, whose enthusiasm for The Roaches heightened my own sense of anticipation. Indeed I don't think I've met such an enthusiastic advocate for a particular hill. While I didn't ultimately do the extended route that Nick recommended there were certainly a few features like the Hanging Stone and The Bawd Stone that I'd have missed were it not for him.
While I'd finished my walk the previous day in beautiful sunshine, conditions in the morning couldn't have been more different as a blanket of fog had settled over the area. The forecast was that the fog and low cloud would gradually lift during the course of the day so although I started directly below the col between The Roaches and Hen Cloud I decided to ignore them both to start with and head round the back of The Roaches into the valley of Black Brook. My plan was that hopefully by the time I emerged out of Back Forest and on to the Roaches ridge I'd be able to see a bit further than ten metres.
I think it is fair to say that I didn't enjoy the first couple of miles of the walk. The paths were sopping wet, I nearly got hit by a car going far too fast through the fog while I walked along Hazelwood Road and the subsequent pastures were reedy, muddy and with a lack of views really rather dreary. Things got worse when I was held up between Blackbank and Goldsitch Farms by a herd of cattle leaving their shed and slowly making there way up the lane I needed to cross between the two farms. The cows were accompanied by a very large and protective bull who stopped and eyeballed me for a full twenty minutes while I waited for the cows to pass.
A bit further on, with no sign of visibility improving, I decided against my initial plan to walk over the top of Gradbach Hill and instead took a path climbing up to Roach End. Here I doubled back on myself slightly on another path dropping down into Back Forest. Immediately I began to enjoy the walk more, the paths were still muddy but the woods at least gave me something to look at.
After a mile of walking along the woodland path I suddenly came to the entrance to the top of Lud's Church, a feature that has the rare description of 'chasm' on the Ordnance Survey map. Apparently caused by a landslip long ago this remarkable place is cited as inspiration for the Green Chapel in the early Medieval poem, 'Gawain and the Green Knight'. It was certainly very green, the steep sides of the ravine were covered in damp ferns and mosses. I had it all to myself and I have to say I think it is probably one of the most atmospheric places I've ever been to.
Exiting the other side of Lud's Church I continued along the path which soon left the trees behind and contoured up on to the ridge. Here I made a detour on a concessionary path to visit the giant Hanging Stone. Fixed to the stone were two memorials, one to 'the noble mastiff' Burke and the other to Lt. Col. Henry Courtney Brocklehurst who was killed while serving in Burma during the Second World War.
By this point I was starting to feel a lot more optimistic about the weather and the sun was doing its best to penetrate the cloud and the fog was beginnig to lift. For a few minutes whilst I ate my lunch below the Hanging Stone I could see all the way along the ridge as far as Hen Cloud.
Unfortunately as I dropped down to the path below Hanging Stone the wind seemed to pick up and the cloud dropped again. As I made my way along the ridge above Back Forest the sun continued to make an appearance and tantalisingly the fog seemed to be on the verge of lifting again but this was a false hope and by the time I arrived back at Roach End it had firmly settled back on top of the ridge.
So it was that when I finally got to the The Roaches themselves visibility was again back down to about ten metres. My disappointment on reaching the summit was tempered by the pleasure I got from bagging the final hill I needed to complete all 20 of the Deweys (hills over 500m) in the Peak District. It was not until I reached Doxey Pool, the legendary haunt of Jenny Greenteeth, that a view of sorts began to appear below the western edge of the escarpment. Despite the murk I still spent a fair amount of time exploring the rocks and peering over the edge at various points.
Finally I made it back to the starting point where I made a quick detour to the Bawd Stone where tradition has it that the people would crawl under the stone to get rid of 'the devil on their back'. Looking at the large puddle underneath the stone I decided that a devil on my back was preferable to getting soaked on my belly. I finished the walk with the short climb up to the rocky summit of Hen Cloud.
This was a walk that I'd been looking forward to for a long time so it was hard not to feel a certain amount of disappointment with the lack of views even though I'd known from the forecast that it was likely to be foggy. Still, after the dull first couple of miles, I really enjoyed this walk. Lud's Church was superb and even in poor visibility the Roaches ridge certainly did not lack for interest. Definitely one to go back to.