|Statistics and Files|
|Start: Gradbach Car Park||Grid Ref: SJ 99863 66229||Distance: 9.5 miles (15.2 km)|
|Climbing: 600 metres||Time: 5-6 hours||Rating: Hard|
|GPX Route File||Google Earth File||About the Roaches|
|Start: Gradbach Car Park||Grid Ref: SJ 99863 66229|
|Distance: 9.5 miles (15.2 km)||Climbing: 600 metres|
|Time: 5-6 hours||Rating: Hard|
|GPX Route File||Google Earth File|
Summary: This is a classic. Each of Lud's Church, the Roaches and Ramshaw Rocks merit a walk in their own right. Put the three together and wow, what a walk. Gritstone edges, outcrops and weird shapes appear frequently along the way, all beguiling. However, there is much more to enjoy including some of the most beautiful woodland in all of the Peak District National Park. At just short of ten miles it is a good day walk, especially as there are many opportunities to stop, play or just sit in wonder. don't be surprised if you finish beyond your estimated time.
I had set off very early from my North Yorkshire home, arriving at the car park in Gradbach at five minutes to ten in the morning. Itching to get going, I quickly put on my boots, checked the backpack and was off on the trail before the clocks struck ten. Thrilled at the prospect of four days walking in the Peak District and thrilled by the thought of today's walk in perfect summer weather, I smiled all the way as I walked the flat first kilometre on road to Gradbach Mill and from there on a gorgeous woodland path into Forest Wood. I recalled the last time I had been here, a fun day out of happy memories walking with Dave, Joe and Steve. Then the walk had made such an impression on me and for so long I had planned to come back but not quite getting there. Now I was finally putting that right.
After climbing on paths through the very pretty glades of Forest Wood and in doing so gaining seventy metres of height without really noticing I heard voices. I was on the exciting approach to Lud's Church when I had heard them. "Blooming heck, I thought I would be early enough to avoid a crowd in the chasm but evidently not". Sure enough, as I reached the north low entrance to the gritstone church I came to a chap who stopped me entering. "What is going on?" I asked. The chap replied "There is a BBC film crew in there filming a scene for the CBBC latest series of the Worst Witch". I asked how could anyone book a landmark with a permissive path and block it off. Especially as there were no warning signs put out on the approach. I told him it would be very inconvenient for me to turn back and re-route. Seeing my point he shouted to the film crew "May I let a walker pass?". A voice from within Lud's Church said "Sure, we are about to take a break anyway". And so I made my way through, passing crew and actors on the way though the magnificent natural theatre of Lud's Church. It was great to be back in the awesome chasm though I would have preferred to be alone when I could tarry. Still, it was special. And memorable given the circumstances. After passing the Worst Witch and cohort I stopped halfway up the steps leading out of Lud's Church to watch the drone being used in the filming take flight and hover within the cleft. Take Two.
I emerged into dappled light in the woodland fringe south of Lud's Church and followed a path, part boarded for sake of mud or waterlog which seemed impossible on such a day as this, continuing up and up, out of the trees and into the fern thicket of Back Forest. I was pleased to see a good path through the waist deep fern field leading directly south to the path which would lead me towards Bearstone Rock and on to the Roaches. On the climb to the path I was rewarded with the first great long distance views of the surrounding countryside including a stunning view of shapely Shutlingsloe when looking north back across Forest Wood. Turning my attention back to the task in hand I hauled myself up through treeless Back Forest to the path at a point equidistant to Hanging Stone and Bearstone Rock. I was tempted to return to the Hanging Stone but angst ridden I turned away from a resumed acquaintance and kept my course for today.
The waypost pointed in all four directions. Pointing the way I had arrived from said Gradbach and Lud's Church. Keeping a straight line the sign indicated Clough Head. Turning to my right the sign showed I would go to Swythamley and Danebridge. My way was to turn left, to Roaches. The first kilometre, on a lovely undulating ridge top path, with alluring views, was delightful. And quiet. I did meet the odd group of walkers on the way and we all smiled when greeting each other. It was very nice, all the way from the waypost at the crossroad of paths to the upland road crossing a mile further on. I had climbed even further, another fifty metres height gained. But height and elevation gain is not an issue on this walk. Because of the constant diversions I was not noticing the climbing at all. I did not the last time and I did not this time. By the time I had crossed the road and continued on to the distinct outcrop of Bearstone Rock I had climbed about 200 metres since setting off. "Two hundred metres? never" would have been my reaction if told.
At Bearstone Rock I crossed paths with the first of the larger walking groups. For the next hour or so, until off the Roaches and crossing to Hen Cloud, I would be in the constant close proximity of other walkers. And climbers. Lots of them. This first group, who I passed on the climb from Bearstone Rock to the Roaches high point, was a group of around thirty senior ramblers. Still it was nearing noon now on a hot and sunny day in the first week of July. Who wouldn't want to enjoy themselves up here on such a perfect day. By twenty minutes before midday I was tapping the whitewashed trig pillar all by myself, a bonus of reaching the trig within a gap between the walking groups. It was a joy to drop the backpack, stand and turn myself in a full circle to enjoy all the views available from this super viewing point. I could clearly see through the south gap to the Staffordshire town of Leek and to the shimmer above the City of Stoke on Trent where I spent a year working in my early twenties. "Blooming heck, over forty years ago now. I'm getting old" I thought to myself, adding "I am not done yet though". Hope not. There was also a great view looking north along the ridge back to Hanging Stone and further to Macclesfield Forest. That same view, concentrating much closer, revealed more of the amazing natural rock sculptures lined up on the Roaches near to Bearstone Rock. It is a great scene to dwell on.
Carrying on along the edge path at around the airy 500 metre line I now arrived in the region of the rock climbers. There were plenty about, small groups of experienced teams and larger groups of trainees. There were several groups of youngsters being led by trained instructors. All were well kitted up and most seemed to be enjoying themselves though I have to say I did pass a few grumblers. One lad was most unhappy, dragging himself along way behind a group and clearly wanting to be somewhere else. I could not imagine why he should be cross when I looked out across the edge to another marvellous view, this time one of Tittesworth Reservoir, sitting resplendently in the Peakland countryside just north of Leek. Next up on my way I arrived at Doxey Pool where what appeared to be a father and daughter were attempting unofficial rock climbing. After watching dad struggle to get up the simplest route on a ten foot challenge for a minute or two the daughter had seen enough and walked away. So did I, on my way to more fascinations of the Roaches.
More larger outcrops and smaller rock sculptures took my eye along the way. More groups of climbers were attempting challenging pitches. It was past noon now and the Roaches was becoming a crowded place. If i were to make a guess I would say there were around five hundred people on or hanging from the edge now. I saw at least ten climbing groups of up to twenty or more and some more sizeable walking groups. As well as couples and soloists like me every so often. Still, there was plenty of room for us all and I took the opportunity to dip down a little and off the highway edge path for quite a bit of my way along this time. Doing so took me to more curious rock shapes. But where was that one I thought was a snail? "I had seen it last time. I am sure it is around here somewhere".
I was dropping down from the Roaches now and getting a little worried. Hen Cloud was in my eye-line now and in my thoughts. But where was my snail? I scampered around between one path and other paths in the area of Rockhall trying to find it. I was a little flustered and not quite at the time of giving up when I spotted it. "Phew, I would have been really upset if I had not found you" I said to myself when I had hauled myself down to my favourite Roaches rock statue of all. Some of my friends say it is more like a tortoise with a shell as do the majority on the Walking Englishman Facebook page but in my minds imagination I am looking at a snail. "My favourite Snail, it is so nice to see you again". With our re-acquaintance I knew my day on the Roaches was done. Time for Hen Cloud.
The first time I had seen Hen Cloud after crossing the Roaches with the lads had been one of those WOW moments for me. The view of the cloud, a slightly askew pyramid of a hill with a smooth rise from the left and a plunge from a rock summit on a precipitous left was simply gob-smacking. It was a fitting view to culminate a thrilling crossing of the Roaches line. Today, by myself, I would have more time to explore the mini hill and take a good look around. And so I did, climbing fifty metres up the north side path to the 410 metre summit of rock platforms, pillars and tables. There were more striking natural statues, upright rounded rocks which looked like salt and pepper pots and a line of pillars which could be skittles. Imagination could run rife here as much as when on the Roaches. On a large flat gritstone plateau up the top where a table had formed naturally and most suitably I took a break to sit and look. Below my feet DW had carved a star in the rock and next to it Andy or Katie had carved a heart with MMXV written in it. Kiff had also made a mark. After the break I edged down from Hen Cloud, into the cover of lime green woodland in the site of a disused quarry and from there I followed a greenery path to pass Roaches Hall on my way to Ferny Knowl.
This stage of the walk had a completely different feel to it. After the path walk through an avenue of unkempt woodland and fern cover I emerged into the open to follow a narrow path from which i could not deviate. To do so I would have to leap and bound over high tussocky grass puddlings, such as those found on boggy moor. Though it was not wet at all here the way was keep to the path or struggle through the rough which Tiger Woods would have trouble working his golf ball a way out of. Sticking to the straight and narrow, which was route signed with yellow arrows on small upright posts, to the farm of Ferny Knowl which I skirted on the right then following the farm access lane down and past Naychurch Farm to another path leading across a paddock field to reach a minor road. This I crossed to reach the south tip of Ramshaw Rocks.
While I was familiar with the walk of Lud's Church, the Roaches and Hen Cloud from the last time when I had walked this place with Dave, Joe and Steve now I was entering the new. Ramshaw Rocks I had never tackled before. From the outset it was clear I was cresting a mini Roaches, an outcrop of gritstone weathered over millennia and leaving some remarkable rock sculptures on a thrilling high line. On the approach to the rocks I had envisaged one standing rock as a Wellington Boot. Only up close did it lose that definition. Another looked a bit like an anvil. I noted that is a familiar shape of gritstone. I have seen anvil like rocks before. I noticed a lad just forward of me on the ridge line sat and having his lunch, trying not to disturb him as I passed. I also passed a scruffy pigeon, probably a homing pigeon which had got lost. It must have been domesticated once because it allowed me to walk closely by without taking flight. And it was ringed. Apart from the diner, the pigeon and Ramshaw Rocks my overwhelming sight and abiding memory of this part of the walk is of the dead straight Roman Road running beside the rocks. The A53 beside Ramshaw Rocks and running all the way down to Leek is perfectly straight. Bar short kinks at Cats Tor and Solomon's Hollow.
After the fun of crossing Ramshaw Rocks I crossed a bit more rough open moor, not as bad as before though, to reach a long stretch of road walking which was very familiar to me, having walked along it with Joe fifteen years earlier. Then there was no traffic and now there was no traffic. I could have walked down the middle of the quiet metalled road with no traffic as there is really no where to go. Local farms only. I left the road on a series of bends to follow a lovely countryside path to Cloughhead then skirting around the south side of Gradbach Hill to reach the wide spaces of Dane Valley. The view to Gradbach Wood down to my left looked an enticing draw. Going down there and following the woodland path would lead me to Lud's Church once more. But I declined the chance, instead staying in the wide open spaces across fields to the decaying buildings of Gradbach Farm and from there on lane and road back to the car park. Fantastic, utterly fantastic job done.