A favourite walk - The Roaches, Staffordshire, England.
I have written about one previous Peak District walk already. That particular walk focused on one of my favourite places, that being the beautiful area surrounding the popular and well photographed, Chrome Hill.
In 2018, it is my intention to write a whole lot more about this area. As I not only love walking, but having lived in and around the Peak District for most of my life. I feel well placed, having walked most paths over the years and therefore have many stories to tell.
For now though... here is my latest.
The background to this walk
This particular walk is really special to me, as I grew up in the area and have walked this particular route many times before. Even though I'm not living there now, it still remains a place I always look forward to coming back to and connecting with.
It is a beautiful walking route that not only allows you to revel in some of the finest landscapes the 'Creative County' of Staffordshire has to offer, but more so, it is a rugged and untamed landscape. One that is very unique in its appearance and one that offers some of the finest views (I feel) in the entire country.
It is an area so often missed by walkers, perhaps preferring to head towards nearby Wales and the stunning Lake District, where you could argue the landscape is more mountainous, challenging and walks somewhat more appealing, but it is definitely a walk that every hiker should do and one that should not be missed.
I personally find that it never disappoints, with each and every time I do this walk and indeed come home to this area, its always a very worthwhile experience.
So, read on and find out more about this wonderful Peak District walk.
Do you believe in Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales?
Once you arrive and park the car, you are not only about to embark on a memorable day of country upland walking, but also a unique opportunity to step into a fairytale world of myths, mystery and Old English folk law.
To walk this spectacular route will mean following in the footsteps of the legendary Sir Gawain. An interesting character from 14th-century Middle England, which is depicted within a chivalric romance called ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. Which in turn forms one of the best known Arthurian stories, with its exciting plot that combines two types of folklore and motifs, the beheading game and the exchange of winnings.
The walk starts out by heading up high and then weaving among the rugged rocks, that mark the winding upland trail up to the summit of the spectacular Roaches range. Here you meander through the thick heather's and scramble over rocky outcrops, that mark the desolate landscape and are scattered all around.
Climbing this section is thoroughly interesting as it not only gives a great sense of achievement, in conquering something new. It also warms you up and gets the heart beating, in one of the harshest and sometimes extreme open landscape you'll find for miles around.
At the very top of the Roaches, the views are simply magnificent, with an impressive array of 360-degree views that are there to be not only admired, but also captured as a moment in time.
In my opinion, both as a keen hiker, avid geographer and hobbyist photographer. The views here are pretty spectacular and simply cannot be rivalled anywhere else in the Peak District. Capturing this with your camera, is a must, as it surely will be a memory that will almost certainly last a lifetime.
With great views to be seen all around. On a clear day, you will have the unique opportunity to see well into Wales and observe the impressive jagged peaks of the Welsh Mountain range. It is a sight to see and if the light is on your side, it again makes for a wonderful picture. To the south-west, you can observe the impressive (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) Long Mynd, located in the neighbouring county of Shropshire.
Finally, and turning towards the north-west, you can observe planes taking off and landing across the Cheshire Plain at the nearby Manchester airport. Something I have loved to do! Especially, in my younger years when we would run up to the summit and spend hours sitting among the rocks, watching the planes come and go, and also watch some memorable sunsets that set (once a year) in the west.
Heading along the rugged ridge’s highest tier you can see well into the distance and observe the rest of the winding route laid out before you. At the highest elevation point, you can see the route you have travelled on and the route you are still yet to follow.
Down the far side you will go, to meet the track that eventually leads to Roach End Farm, which is nestled halfway down the valley below. There is a signpost here that marks the possible routes and during the summer months, an ice cream van usually sits here, making it an ideal refreshment stop. Nothing beats a 99, with raspberry sauce on top!
Here, you should take a moment to stop, as there is yet another great vantage point to enjoy your surroundings and a great opportunity to capture some of the perfectly positioned and abandoned farm buildings that dominate the landscape all around. Together with the odd lone tree or two, that hopefully make the perfect picture, on your great day in the Peaks.
You then follow the footpath downhill and then weave your way deep into the woods below. Here the landscape will dramatically change from an exposed landscape to a more sheltered woodland. You will soon set foot on and follow a magical route that effortlessly meanders in and out of some of the finest old oaks and beech trees seen for miles around. This a great place to be and spend some time.
This is a fairy tale landscape and woodland with many hidden gems to be seen all around. During the Spring and Summer, the colours are vibrant, lush and green. Then during the Autumn months, the colours begin to change into a beautiful colour spectrum of reds, browns and orange. As the leaves fall to the ground leaving a spectacular natural carpet to see and enjoy.
As the path travels through the densely packed woodlands, you will eventually come across, what I feel, is the ‘jewel in the crown’. A gem certainly worth missing, on this memorable walk. Deep in the depths of this fairy tale forest is Lud’s Church, a miniature gorge covered in ferns and moss, which many have identified as the inspiration for Sir Gawain’s Green Chapel. It's a truly mystical place and completely unique.
To be walking here is almost ‘out of this world’ and it always makes me feel like I should actually be somewhere else. It is definitely not in keeping with its surroundings and really makes for a popular focal point for any explorer to enjoy.
From Lud’s Church, you venture back up towards the main ridge. You loop back up to the ridge, then further along towards the ‘kissing gate’. From here you can walk back up to the summit, the way you first came or you can follow the lower road that offers a winding single track road and views a plenty of Tittesworth Reservoir which lies in the far distance and the impressive cycle climb of ‘Gun Hill’ to the west.
Eventually, you will amble towards the foot of Hen Cloud, that protrudes high in the distance and begins to dominate the landscape laid out in front of you. Hen Cloud is great!
It is a place I know very well and have sat on the summit for many hours, during my younger years. Revising for exams at school, college, university and I guess, grabbing moments to just contemplate life.
Some might say it is the Midlands’ answer to the Rock of Gibraltar. Well, it certainly does look like it, only it doesn't have the monkeys. All in all, I feel it offers the perfect place to finish this picturesque and breathtaking walk. So, it is well worth spending some time here.
Why is this walk so special?
The Peak District National Park is undoubtedly a striking and beautiful part of the UK. This particular area combines a truly unusual landscape, together with a unique array of weird rock formations, that could be better placed on a distant planet. Coupled with the finest panoramic views it certainly makes this a truly memorable walk for any outdoor enthusiast or photographer.
The giant gritstone cliffs of the Roaches continually strike a really imposing profile, that is not only enjoyed by rock climbers and hikers from all around, but is also continually battered by the elements. They are exposed up here and have to endure whatever weather comes their way.
If you look to the west and you can delight in the rolling green farmland pastures, low wooded hills and onwards into the extensive flat landscape of the Cheshire plains. That seems to stretch out before you endlessly for mile upon mile.
To then look in the opposite direction and you see the imposing dark, moody moorlands with a harsh and widely exposed landscape, which boundaries are clearly marked by a trail of old red dry gritstone walls, that are so typical of this area and many miles beyond.
The hidden beauty found at Lud’s Church is well worth spending time at. Although, it looks more like its appearances was cut out by a fast flowing stream, set in a steep sided gorge. It was actually formed by a sudden rock fall and the resulting landslip. Leaving an impressive and interesting natural landscape feature together with its very own microclimate.
During the summer months, the landscape changes into a lush green wilderness. With a huge array of impressive natural ferns, mosses and grasses that glows with striking colours when the light filters in the right way.
This whole area is a haven for wildlife with many spectacular species being regularly spotted here. Hen Cloud has many different nesting sites that see Peregrine Falcons returning year on year to lay their eggs year on year.
Standing in the purpose-built observation area, at the foot of Hen Cloud, watching them swoop and dive, swiftly over the rocky crags and outcrops. Is a beautiful moment and one that should be enjoyed by everyone.
Also, Red Grouse can be seen roaming through the thickets of heather, even Wallabies have been released into the wild. This was many years ago now, but sightings have been seen.
The Grouse is probably more prevalent, but still equally difficult to see. So, it is important to tread carefully and listen out for their very distinctive call, which you are probably going to hear as they take off, so be quick with the camera, as they won’t stick around for long.
This is a walk I have done many times before and often even chosen it as a running route, from time to time. Stronger walkers can easily complete this walking circuit in a morning or afternoon, but I feel it is a route that is definitely best explored over a full day. Thus giving you plenty of time to not only take in the wonderful surroundings of the Roaches’ area but also allow you to take some exquisite shots of your visit.
A Welcome Break
As with all good country walks there always needs to be an added incentive at the very end. There is an excellent pub, in the area, called the Lazy Trout. It serves fine food and real ales. It has a really friendly and welcoming feel for anyone visiting the area.
It is a little distance away from the actual walking route and is located in the nearby village of Merebrook. I can only suggest that if you have time, it is well worth the visit.
Closer to the walk itself and by the starting point of the walk is the magnificent Roaches Tea Rooms and Restaurant. Here you can enjoy the spectacular views, together with some great food, from the wide selection of homemade lunches and cakes. The Roaches Tea Rooms and Restaurant is in Upper Hulme and makes for the perfect location to take in that welcome break. Personally, I love going in here, having a good cup of tea and also enjoying a traditional Staffordshire oatcake or two. Made to order, there is nothing better to eat (Oatcakes) when you are in this part of the world.
How to Get there?
It is quite a remote spot, but it is served well by good road access and public transport. There is a bus service that runs between the small towns of both Leek and Buxton and it stops at Upper Hulme, which is about a 20 minutes from Roaches Gate car park.
The nearest train station is either Stoke-on-Trent, 12 miles away or Buxton some 7 miles away. Both of which are on different rail lines. If travelling by bus or train it is probably better to plan ahead and really look into what is available.
By car or even bike is probably the best option, as it allows you to see so much more. The A53 is the closest and quickest route. It is located right by and passes through the village of Upper Hulme and eventually weaves its way up to the parking area.
To summarise this walk
Difficulty Level - An Easy walk. A few ups and downs, but nothing too strenuous.
Distance - The walk is around 8.6 miles/14km. You can obviously make it slightly shorter or longer depending on where you start and finish.
Typical duration - 4 hours 30 minutes, but will take longer with several eating/drinking stops and photo opportunities.
Start and finish - Start at Roaches Gate car park, 1 mile west of Upper Hulme. This is about 1 mile from the main Leek to Buxton road.
Map - You can use the OS Explorer OL24 as a means of navigating you on the walk.
My summary probably only highlights the finer points of this glorious walk. For a more comprehensive viewpoint, or step-by-step details, as well as maps.
From my own personal experience, if you are attempting this walk during the Winter months, please be advised to take care. During times of rain, the rocks can become slippy and the cloud can be low, meaning that visibility can be tricky at times. So, stick to the path at all times, as the moorlands can be an unforgiving place.
Make sure you have suitable clothing, equipment and shoes suitable for the terrain.
A big thank you for reading my latest blog post and the latest addition to my series of favourite walks in the Peak District.
Throughout 2018 there will be more to come and if you would like to read them, then please click on the blog section of my website for more posts.
To stay updated, you can also sign up to my mailing list, which is available via the front page of the website.
All images are my own and are taken with a variety of photography equipment including a Smartphone and also DSLR.
The images are taken from many different visits to this wonderful area. I'm no photographer, but this special landscape certainly makes for a great photo and I hope you enjoy seeing the world, as I see it.