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…..

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The Cowpat Walks: 10 The Roaches and Lud's Church

365 days after the last Cowpat* centred on Codsall (it would have been a year to the day had 2016 not been a leap year) Brian and I met Francis and Alison in Stone and together we drove to the Roaches.

The Roaches, Peak District National Park
Photographed April 2011
This walk had not been conceived as a Cowpat - the occasion was a visit by Brian and Hilary from their new home in Torquay - but as we strolled along Alison asked if I intended blogging this walk and I was surprised to hear myself answer 'probably'.  Then I commented that it had most of the attributes of a Cowpat, and nobody argued, so here it is.

We left home in drizzle (the weather forecast had been good right up until this morning) but it stopped before we arrived.

The parking spaces on the road below Hen Cloud and the Roaches (which is not the road in the photo above) have been the start of several walks over the years and the Roaches have appeared in this blog before (A Republican Ramble Round the Ramshaw Rocks, 2011).

Ready to depart on the road below the Roaches
With the long drive, and Alison coming all the way from Cheltenham it was almost 10.30 before we started
The Roaches (the name derives from the French for ‘rocks’ and does not infer an unpleasant infestation) are a 500m high ridge of gritstone. The road where we parked is at 300m, so the day started with a climb up onto the rocks via much-used well-graded paths….

Gently graded path up the Roaches
…through woodland…

Up through the woods, the Roaches
…and occasionally up steps.

Nearing the top of the ridge, the Roaches
Once on the ridge, there is a long but gentle rise towards the highest point. The ridge is an airy place - so airy, in fact, I had difficulty holding the camera still taking these shots.

Along the Roaches Ridge
With the rain gone and sunshine tickling the edges of the clouds, the day was clear and the views good. To the Southwest is Tittesworth Reservoir with the town of Leek (Queen of the Staffordshire Moorlands, as it likes to style itself) just visible beyond.

Tittesworth Reservoir with Leek at the far end
Looking northwest, The Cloud with its slanting gritstone cap guards the entrance to the Cheshire plain where the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank could be clearly seen.

The Cheshire Plain with The Cloud (left side, half way up) and Jodrell Bank (level with The Cloud, two thirds of the way across
We continued to the trig point marking the 505m high point. The trig points that sit on summits major, minor and sometimes barely discernible are an evocative reminder of earlier map making. Now obsolete some are in a poor state, but someone had bothered to give this one a coat of whitewash.

The trig point on the Roaches
From the trig point we started the long descent through interesting rock formations. In March 2009 I came across a photogenic grouse perched on a nearby rock. During World War Two five Bennett's Wallabies escaped from a private zoo and at one time the group had grown to 50 or more. Occasional reported sightings around the Roaches and Lud’s Church (see later) suggest they are still out there. Sadly, we saw no noteworthy fauna on the Roaches today.

Descending along the Roaches ridge
The descent ends at a minor road which we crossed and then ducked behind a wall to find a cosy wind-free coffee spot.
Coffee behind a wall
The ridge continues for a couple of kilometres, 100m or more lower than the Roaches, but we took a path that leads down to the woods on its northern flank.

Before reaching the trees we had a distant view of Shutlingsloe. One metre higher than the Roaches, it consists of layers of mudstone and limestone topped with a sloping cap of Chatsworth Grit. The summit was the main objective of Cowpat 5.
On the upper path through Back Forest the wind-tossed leaves and branches made the dappled sunshine dance along the path. Contouring through the trees was pleasant, only a little spoiled by the frequent muddy sections, and the tree roots veining the track and threatening to trip the unwary.
Through Back Forest
After a kilometre we reached Lud's Church, or, as the OS Map helpfully calls it 'Lud's Church (Chasm)'.
Entering Lud's Church

Faults in the gritstone run along the ridge, some of them packed with softer mudstone. At some time in the past, probably after the glaciers retreated and before humans arrived, a huge chunk of the gritstone slipped downhill towards what is now the Dane Valley. The result is a narrow defile 100m long and 18m deep.
Into the lower part of Lud's Church
Wikipedia claims that whatever the weather the depths of Lud's Church are always cold but in the late summer/early autumn sun, and completely protected from the wind I found climbing through the bottom of Lud's Church warm work.

Unsurprisingly, such a noticeable feature has been fancifully connected with a variety of characters some legendary, like Robin Hood, and others real like Bonnie Prince Charlie. Imaginative derivations of the name are also legion. Most likely, there is a connection, both physical and linguistic, with the Lollards, the followers of the 14th century philosopher and religious reformer John Wycliffe, who would have needed a place of refuge. Wycliffe produced an English translation of the bible in the 1380s when such an action was radical, indeed heretical. 'Lollard' is drive from a Middle Dutch word meaning 'mumbler', and was a sneering reference to those with a little learning, but no knowledge of the classics (like a lot of us today).

Brian in Lud's Church
Also interesting is the identification of Lud's  Church with the 'Green Chapel' in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The 14th century chivalric romance was written in the North West Midlands dialect (some have even said the Leek dialect) so Lud's Church may well have been known to the author.

Alison heads for the exit, Lud's Church
From Lud's Church we headed upwards out of the woods and over the ridge as it drops towards the Dane Valley.
Out of the woods and over the lower part of the ridge
With a good view back to the Roaches, we rounded Hangingstone Farm....
Looking back to the Roaches
And made our way across a field of sheep….
Across a field of sheep - there were sheep, honest. They were just camera shy.
…. to the woods above the River Dane and the steep descent to the river,....

Down to the River Dane
... reaching it at Danebridge.
Across the Dane Bridge at Danebridge
Once over the river we were in Cheshire and ventured a couple of hundred metres into this strange and wondrous land but only as far as the Ship Inn where our Staffordshire walk was graced with a Cheshire lunch. The Ship has an interesting history and was the lunch stop on the Shutlingsloe walk where I wrote about it at length.

I enjoyed my pulled pork with hoisin sauce in ciabatta, but I was not the only one to find the beers, from the Greater Manchester brewery of J W Lees, lacklustre. We had passed the Wincle micro-brewery on our way up from the river and it seemed a shame that The Ship could stock none of their beer.

After our late start it was nearer three than two before we headed back down to the bridge. Unusually for Staffordshire rivers (even if on the border) the Dane heads not for the Trent and the east coast, but continues westward through Cheshire until joining the River Weaver at Northwich. The Weaver flowed into the Mersey until 1887 when the Manchester Ship Canal was built, and it now enters the canal at Runcorn dock.
The River Dane
In the morning we had enjoyed a splendid and varied walk, in improving, if varied, weather. The gentle sunshine of the afternoon was perfect walking weather but the route was less interesting. The morning had been a long curve and we returned by as straight a chord across it as paths allowed.

At Danebridge chapel we took a path back up through the woods. At the fork the left route was obvious, the right more hidden, and that was the one we wanted. After a little backtracking we found our way to a house marked on the map as ‘Snipe’….
Up towards Snipe
…and then made for the minor road across the Swythamley Estate (once home the of Brocklehursts who also owned The Ship and a zoo with - and later without - wallabies).
Across the Swythamley Estate
From there continuously rising but featureless field paths took us from farm to barn to farm A couple of hares careering across our path made up for the morning’s lack of fauna.
It was not all field paths
We forded the unnamed stream that is the main feeder of Tittesworth Reservoir and made our way up to Roche Grange through a wet field pocked with cows’ footmarks which always makes for difficult walking.
Up a cow-pocked field to Roche Grange
At Roche Grange a sign led us through deep nettles into a dead end, and we had to backtrack and take the lane up to the road below the Roaches. The lane was steep and, unlike the path we could not find, veered away from our destination.
The lane from Roche Grange - steeper than the photo makes it look
Eventually we made it to the road and a couple of kilometres on tarmac brought us back to the car.
Along the road below the Roaches and back to the car
After a shaky start the weather had sorted itself out and it was good to get most of the team back together though we missed Mike (family commitments) and Lee (so young he still has to work). All things considered, it was a fine day out.

*Starting in November 2011, the Cowpat Walks have formed a rough circle of circles as the starting points have moved clockwise around Stafford – though the clockwise sequence has not been strictly adhered to.

The Cowpats


  1. As you have said in the blog,the mornings walk was as good as any walk in the Staffordshire moorlands, great and varied terrain with fantastic views. Thanks for organising it and everyone for their company. These walks are one of the few things that I have missed, apart from the friendship of course, since moving to Torquay. Brian

  2. I'm convinced that Lud's church is the green chapel in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. I had hardly heard of the poem, but heard Simon Armitage talk about it in "The matter of the North" on Radio 4. Then, in one of those happy coincidences, I find myself at Lud's Church the following week, look up its history, and read this blog, and am directed once more to the poem. This is the description of the place "Hit hade a hole on the ende and on ayther syde / And ouergrowen with gresse in glodes aywhere / And al watz holz inwith, nobot an olde caue / Or a creuisse of an olde cragge."

    1. Another good walk but, like you, disappointed with the beer - so poor in fact that I only had one! J.W. Lees seems to have gone downhill.

      A good number of years back the Ordnance Survey gave up using trig points as its all done by remote sensing these days and offered people the chance to adopt their favourite triangulation pillar. Whoever now 'owns' the one on the Roaches is doing a great job and in maintaining it well.

    2. Thanks both.

      I feel the blog is greatly enhanced by a stanza of middle English poetry. I like the idea that we walked down the 'crease of an old crag'

      And I did not know there was an 'adopt a trig point scheme'. Part of me rather fancies the idea, while my practical self wonders how much I want to slog up to the top of the Roaches every so often carrying a bucket of whitewash

  3. Prompted by your reply, I typed in 'adopt a trig point' and got a short article by Gemma at the OS. Apparently if they are notified of trig points in poor or dangerous condition they do try and go out to repair them. So that's why maps cost so much and why I won't ever complain!