There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Republican* Ramble Round Ramshaw Rocks

* Trans-Atlantic readers should, on no account, attempt to interpret this word in an American context.

I wish Kate and Woss-is-name all the best, I really do, though I don’t actually know them. I am always happy to attend the wedding celebrations of any relative or friend who is kind enough to invite me, but my appetite for watching the televised splicing of a pair of complete strangers is minimal, to say the least.

The Roaches
So I bade a fond farewell to Lynne, royalist, romantic and, for yesterday at least, couch-potato and with the words ‘miserable old git’ ringing in my ears drove to Stone. There, by pre-arranged coincidence, I met Lee, Francis and Brian whose misery and gittishness matches mine. Lee drove us through Longton and Leek to the Peak District where there were no flag waving crowds, no sycophantic television presenters and no silly hats.

I will not claim that every member of the party believes that in a mature democracy the people should be trusted to choose the figurehead of state rather than leaving it to an accident of birth, so maybe ‘Republican Ramble’ is a slight exaggeration, but with royalists sprawled over every television channel not devoted to shopping, I feel justified.

Going up
We are fortunate in not only having Cannock Chase, Britain’s smallest Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty within twenty minutes drive, but also having the 500 square miles of the Peak District, our oldest National Park, less than an hour away.

Despite its name the Peak District contains no real peaks – nor is this southern section, The White Peak, particularly white - but the two kilometre long rocky outcrop of the Roaches, with the detached hill of Hen Cloud at one end is a dramatic landmark visible from miles around.

Hen Cloud from the Roaches
From the lay-by outside the Roaches Tea Room – of which more later – we walked up into the gap between Hen Cloud and the Roaches. On the penultimate day of the warmest and driest April on record the sun shone, as we have come to expect, but a strong north east wind with a distinctly bitter edge was enough to induce a few shivers.

The Roaches is much frequented by rock climbers. Our two hundred metre climb to the highest point of the ridge may not have require ropes, but it was steep enough to justify my use of poles and to ensure most breath was reserved for walking. A little remained available for moaning about the wind but none was spent speculating about Kate’s dress, what she was thinking or the state of Wills’ nerves.

A strangely misplaced Japanese garden
After a while the path levels off and runs below the ridge through a stand of larches, like a strangely misplaced Japanese garden. Sheltered from the wind this was a very pleasant stroll, but we were soon up on the top where the wind brought tears to the eye and threatened to blow my hat – and possibly me as well - into the valley below.

Descending at the end of the Roaches we found a dry-stone wall where we could sit out of the wind and drink some coffee. Francis moved away to water another section of the wall. Five minutes later, a wind-swept party crossed the stile and commented on our snug position. They walked on and sat down at the exact spot where Francis had taken his pee. We didn’t like to tell them - they looked so comfy - and what they eye doesn’t see……

From here the usual route is eastwards, towards the well kept beers of the Ship in Danebridge, but for once we went the other way, towards Black Brook in the deep valley behind the Roaches.

Lee looks for an invisible cuckoo
The path, sometimes rocky, sometimes sandy, descends gently through the heather. Two thirds of the way down and far away to our right I heard my first cuckoo of the spring. Nobody else seemed that convinced. A minute later, much closer and to our left there was no doubt. Hearing a cuckoo is always pleasing but hardly unusual, actually seeing one is rare. It flew, barely thirty metres away, from one tree to the next. Brian, a birder for many years, claimed a ‘lifer’, saying it was his first ever cuckoo. Francis and Brian each raised several hundred pounds worth of binoculars. Lee peered through a pair he bought for £20 at a car boot sale. I just squinted upwards. When a bird sits on the far side of a tree in full leaf, it matters little how much you paid for your binoculars; it was as invisible to Francis’ precision optics as it was to my naked eye.

We followed the stream to the sound of curlews, usually easier to spot than cuckoos but hiding on this occasion and past Goldsitch house, which was surrounded by a swirl of swallows (we spotted the first of these three weeks ago near Milwich). Francis confidently identified a bird on a telephone wire as being a willow warbler. It was not much to look at, but it made a big noise for a small bird.

Climbing towards Gib Tor we encountered an area of peat bog, though the exceptionally dry April had turned the usual treacherous stickiness into a springy carpet. We heard a red grouse, which strangely likes this sort of territory, and watched it settle on the rocks, clearly visible against the skyline.

Gib Tor Rocks
From Gib Tor Rocks we descended to the minor road and thence to the A53 at The Royal Cottage, a pub that is not actually closed but never seems to be open – even on a royal day such as this. A hundred metres further on the more welcoming Winking Man provided a well-priced sandwich and relatively cheap pint of Black Sheep or Hancocks HB (choices and opinions were divided).

The pub is named after a formation on the Ramshaw rocks and that was where we headed after lunch. Although close to the A53 we approached the rocks by first following a minor road into the moorland to allow a more gentle ascent from the north east. Having safely negotiated a morning of rocky paths, some of them quite steep and tricky, it was on the flat metalled road that I turned my ankle. It was painful and accompanied by a worryingly loud crunching noise.

Not really the Winking Man
I continued, hoping to walk it off. We climbed through the heather and up onto the rocks. The Ramshaw Rocks are as high as the Roaches but stand out less from the surrounding elevated moorland. They are also a gritstone outcrop, but more twisted and weathered than the Roaches and dramatic in their own quiet way. The Winking Man resembles a face with a hole for the eye but passing above it we missed the best view. There was another rock, however, which had a wink that seemed more convincing than a mere hole.

The descent was steep and difficult, particularly when trying to protect arthritic knees and an increasingly sore ankle. It was slow going, for me at least, and the others had to wait at the bottom – for which I apologise.

Among the Ramshaw Rocks
From here we dropped into a pretty dell behind Hen Cloud, worked our way round to the gap before the Roaches and back down to the road where a Park Ranger had set up some impressive telescopes and cameras in a lay-by. A pair of peregrine falcons is nesting on Hen Cloud for the third successive year and after raising three chicks from five eggs last year it is hoped that they have settled there. Despite his equipment, the ranger had seen neither the peregrines nor the resident kestrel. All he had to show us was jackdaws wheeling across the crag face. Jackdaws are regular visitors to my garden bird feeder, so I was not that excited.

Into the dell behind Hen Cloud
A detour into the Roaches Tea Room was now obligatory. Some had cake while others - well Brian (Hilary please note) - settled for just a cup of tea. We had a pot of Earl Grey, originally blended for the nineteenth century Prime Minister of that name who may have been an aristocrat but was nevertheless a thoroughgoing democrat (Great Reform Act 1832). Lee had a latte, which is not named after the legendary Italian reformer Giuseppe Latte. By the time we moved on, my ankle had stiffened up considerably.

I spent the evening with my elevated leg attached to an ice pack. I woke this morning to see my ankle swollen and a bruise beginning to form. Below the bone is an angry red cross over a blue background against the whiteness of flesh that rarely sees the sun. It may be God’s way of telling me that He picks the head of state round here and I should accept it with due reverence. On the other hand (or rather foot) it might just be a bruise.


  1. Sorry I missed that day's walking. I love the area. Think the photo 'A strangely misplaced Japanese garden' gives it a rather magical feel. Sorry to hear about your ankle David. Reminds me of a Rowan Atkinson sketch from many years ago - helping a rather drunk customer in an Indian restaurant - "Be careful on that patch of floor sir - it's deceptively flat!" Glad weather was good for you all, as it was in Leeds, York and Haughton.

  2. A lovely day; hope the ankle is getting better. I blame the Hancocks Bitter - I said it was 'iffy' stuff!

    Thanks again for an amusing blog. Was it Marco or Guiseppe? Defintely, the latter! (groan)

  3. I spent part of that day walking on the even more dramatic and magical St David's Head, and met a group of 10 men who I suspect had the same reason for choosing that day for a walk as you (and I) did. Otherwise, as you say, not many people about. What lovely and varied delights there are to see in the UK, and how unnecessary to put trees in Westminster Abbey. I did like her dress though.