Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Roaches & Lud's Church

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Route: Rockhall, Doxey Pool, The Roaches, Bearstone Rock, Back Forest, Lud's Church, Forest Wood, Roach End, Five Clouds

Date: 12/12/2012
From: Rockhall

Parking: Roadside parking
Start Point: Rockhall
Region: Peak District

Route length: 6.9 miles (11.1 km)
Time taken: 03:16
Average speed: 2.2 mph
Ascent: 400m
Descent: 373m

Summits: The Roaches (505m)

Other points of interest: Doxey Pool, Lud's Church

The Roaches is as popular a place as you might encounter in the Peak District, sharing many characteristics with the much larger Stanage Edge in the north. While not as expensive as the great edges of Stanage and Curbar, The Roaches stretches hundreds of metres along its length and is formed in exactly the same way. I had done this walk only a few months previous but the draw of a winter excursion was too great to resist and I was desperate to show Sara the superb scenery of The Roaches, including the dramatic Lud's Church.

We'd managed to plan a walk on a weekday which kept the crowds at bay. It was, however, startlingly cold which probably also played its part. There's a long layby near the foot of Hen Cloud that provides some suitable car parking though the issue of free spaces wasn't a problem today. I imagine it's a slightly different story on a sunny summer weekend.

Despite the, it was a spectacular day with crisp, clear blue skies stretching around in all directions, the perfect winter day to be out and about in the countryside. The path from the car park winds up through the woods on the slopes of The Roaches and past the famous Rockhall Cottage. This is in fact the Don Whillans Hut, a building that is dedicated to the great climber by the same name. Interestingly, part of the building are built directly into the rocks of The Roaches, utilising an old cave. It is currently administered by the British Mountaineering Council and you can read more about it here.
The first order of the day is to reach the foot of The Roaches
Hen Cloud
Frozen fields stretch out into the distance
The Don Whillans Hut
Leaving the hut, the path continues through the woods, climbing slowly as it runs parallel to the outcrop of The Roaches. There is another route you can take that to access the rocks by heading north east from the car park and sneaking around the back of escarpment and approaching from that direction. As for use, we used the well trodden path that eventually winds up between the rocks and emerges part way along the top.
The gritstone of The Roaches
The path leads towards a depression between the rocks
The path emerges through a break in the rocks
The main Roaches ridge only lasts a few hundred metres but offers a spectacular view to the west towards Congleton. The path along the top is wide and easy to follow thanks to the erosion caused by large numbers of booted feet but a number of iced over pools and puddles did add a little interest to our journey.
The view towards Tittesworth Reservoir
The view west west
The Cloud stands above the clouds
A look back south to Hen Cloud
Frozen puddles
Ice tinted trees
The first feature we came across along the top of The Roaches is Doxey Pool, a rather large pond that sits on top of the escarpment. It is not very deep (though some myths suggest it is bottomless) but is still a distinctive feature when you find it. Legend has it that this pool is inhabited by a mermaid called Jenny Greenteeth known as the blue nymph. The legend says that she fell in the pool on a foggy day whilst walking along the top of The Roaches. Ever since that day she has been enticing unsuspecting victims down to the pool and to their watery grave. Luckily for us Doxey Pool was largely frozen so there was no risk of being abducted by an angry mermaid.
Doxey Pool

The frozen waters
The path continues on its way, passing a multitude of rocky scenery on the way, including a few features I missed including the carved Queen's Chair. Before long it reaches the high point of The Roaches where an OS pillar marks the spot. From here, the path begins a shallow descent down to Roach End and a cross road of several routes. I believe that Lud's Church is a suitable carrot to encourage most people to continue the walk.
Sara makes her way along the ridge
Tittesworth Reservoir
Approaching the high point of The Roaches
The trig pillar marks the high point of The Roaches
A view along the ridge to the north
Some impressive rock scenery on the way to Roach End
A window between the rocks
The view south west
At this point as it is tempting to return to the road and follow it back to the car. An undulating and fairly featureless series of hills lies ahead for those of you wishing to continue but bear with me as the rewards are well worth the effort. The views from Roaches End are extensive, especially looking north west, where the shapely cone of Shutlingsloe rises above the valley of the River Dane.
A wall accompanies the path towards the Hanging stone
A serious frost on the grass
Crepuscular rays over the countryside
Sara above Back Forest
Sunshine over the fields
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Gone is the extensive rock architecture of The Roaches, replaced by rolling hills, grassy fields and a number of large wind-eroded rocks of interest. At the end of the ridge stands the Hangingstone, a prominent rock tor which has some odd significance to the area. It has two inscriptions on the rocks, one for a much loved dog and the other for Lt. Col. Courtney Brocklehurst - the man responsible for the presence of wallabies on The Roaches. Yes, wallabies.
The lane leading towards Forest Wood
Five Bennett's Wallabies escaped from a private zoo at Roaches Hall during World War II with the zoo being owned by Courtney Brocklehurst. Though they are thought to have died since their escape,it turns out the wallabies (or descendants of I'm sure) are still being spotted today. The last photographic evidence was captured in 2009 though reports are recent as 2014 are still appearing.
One of the wallabies
We didn't see any wallabies, nor the Hangingstone as it stands beyond our planned route. Rounding the back of the ridge of hills, the path passes through some fields before it enters the imaginatively named Forest Wood, the home of Lud's Church.
A small clue lies on the ground
The entrance to Lud's Church
The Church is in fact not a church at all. It is fact a deep chasm, torn into the rocks by an ancient landslip. It is totally hidden from the path except for a small sign indicating where to enter the rocks. As you round a corner in the rocks the full spectacle of the feature is presented before you, it is truly an awe-inspiring sight. If that wasn't good enough, the second second (accessed by rounding the corner after the first section, is even more impressive. The chasm has its own micro-climate and was considerably warmer than the woods outside, thanks largely to the green mosses that totally cover the walls. That said, it was still cold enough for the dripping ferns to form dozens of icicles, covering the walls like some sort of natural Christmas decoration.
The drop down into Lud's Church
Sara in the first chamber
The second chamber is much larger
The icicles adorning the walls
Things get a little more interesting after the second chamber
You can walk right through Lud's Church, as we did and it is worth hanging around to explore it fully. There are a few, slightly different ways through the chasm but ultimately they lead to a short scramble back out into the woods. It is fairly certain that the Lollards (followers of John Wycliffe, an early church reformer, who were condemned as heretics) used it as a place of worship in the early 15th century. Walter de Lud Auk, a supporter of Wycliffe, held services in this secret place far away from the eyes of authority giving the place its current name.
The are some nice narrow cracks to squeeze through
The return to the surface is a bit more sedate
The hidden exit
After leaving Lud's Church we wandered through Gradbach Wood along a path perched high above Black Brook below. It's quite a long route though the woods so there is little else to say really. Emerging from the other side, we were once again at the crossing of roads and paths at Roach End. Here, to return route is obvious - either follow the ridge along the top of The Roaches again or, follow the road at its base. We did the latter, as I loath to re-tread the same route twice on a walk. It gives the obvious advantage of being able to view The Roaches from below but the obvious draw back is having to walk along the road.
Gradbach Wood
The lane leading back to Roach End
Fortunately, the road is very quiet and we barely saw any traffic and we made our way along it. A secondary collection of rocks called Five Clouds sits below the main Roaches ridge. It is another outcrop of rock, this time made from Sandstone rather than the traditional Gritstone. It is a popular area for climbers wanting to get away from the crowds on The Roaches and Stanage and has a number of prominent routes.
Three of the Five Clouds
After passing Five Clouds and the quarry that shares its name, we reached the car parked at the roadside. An optional extra (which we didn't do this time) is a quick ascent of Hen Cloud so named as it looks a bit like a roosting hen. If you use your imagination. While the latter third of this walk might lack the intrest of the previous sections the visit to Lud's Church and the views from The Roaches will undoubtedly make you overlook this. In fact, I'd probably recommend returning along The Roaches as the views looking south are wholly different to those looking north. Even if you're pushed for time, a trip to Lud's Church alone is well worth the effort.