As a few members of my brood have a nought at the end of their birthdates this year, we decided to celebrate by holding a family get-together. The venue decided upon was the Mermaid Inn, an old drovers’ pub high on Morridge Ridge above Leek. Due to the change in drinking habits following the ‘drink/drive’ regulations, the pub was fast losing its traditional clientele and either had to close, or change to something better than simply being a supplier of alcoholic drinks.
The scheme a developer came up with was to improve the place by changing it into a high class self-service guest house, something that was perfect to our requirements as it easily covered the demands of a family group whose ages ranged from a few months to ninety. By some miracle of organisation, everyone was free for the chosen weekend and travelled safely from points north, south, east and west without too much difficulty.
The Mermaid by the way, takes its name from a nearby moorland pool, the haunt of a mermaid who is supposed to snare unwary travellers. Overlooking the head waters of the River Trent’s highest tributaries and on high ground opposite the long ridge known as the Roaches, it makes an ideal base for anyone wishing to explore both the Roaches and Dane Valley as well as the little known areas above the headwaters of the Manifold Valley.
It was the Roaches which attracted me most strongly. As an area I have neglected as of late, I decided to take time off and re-explore this long sinuous arm of gritstone, the last fling of that rough stone marking the southern end of the Pennines. The name ‘Roaches’ is supposed to have been conjured up by French monks based on their now ruined Dieulacress Cistercian Abbey to the south of Tittesworth Reservoir. One can imagine that when asked about the name of the line of rocks cresting the skyline at the valley’s head, the questioned monk would simply give a Gallick shrug and maybe said ‘we call them les Rochers’ – the Rocks. As a result and over the years the name stuck, and became anglicised to Roaches.
The Roaches offer some of the finest gritstone climbs in the Peak District. This is where many of the top Manchester climbers such as Joe Brown and Don Whillans first developed their skills. Routes of everyday standard can also be found on these crags, along with those that might seem to a novice, as appearing to require the most acrobatic moves. Originally the whole area was private land where animals such as wallabies and a single yack once roamed. Nowadays we have free access to the moors and rocks, which this walk enjoys to the full.
During its early stages, the walk passes past an attractive cottage tucked into the lower tier of rocks lining this long gritstone ridge. Called Rockhall Cottage, it is now a comfortable climbers’ hut, but was inhabited until his death a decade or so ago, by the self-styled ‘King of the Roaches’. A constant harrier of walkers and climbers alike, he scoured the local moors for bog oak and other firewood to keep him and his ailing wife warm.
The walk starts from roadside parking beneath the sharp peak of Hen Cloud to the south east. It then follows an elongated figure of eight route along the ridge crest as far as the Dane Valley, before returning by the road winding along the foot of the Roaches, and also allowing the tiring walker to enjoy far ranging views across the North Staffordshire Plain; on a clear day it is possible to see as far as the outliers of Snowdonia. Other interesting views will be of Shutlingsloe, Cheshire’s Matterhorn and to the west above Rudyard Lake is The Cloud where because of the mountain’s conical shape, the sun appears to set twice around mid-summer. Another pond, Doxey Pool where another water-sprite is supposed to live, is passed during the walk: strangely the pool does not appear to have any entry or exit, yet it never overflows.
At the walk’s turning point in the wooded Dane Valley, the main feature apart from the scenery, is Lud’s Church, a natural ravine cutting deeply into the rocky hillside. This is where Walter de Ludbank, a follower of Wycliffe held dissenting religious services in the 14th century. A more recent legend links the cave with the medieval poem to ‘Sir Gawain and the Green Knight’. If this is correct, then it was upon this spot that King Arthur’s champion met and fought the Green Knight.
THE WALK – STEP BY STEP
Either take the courtesy bus along the foot of the Roaches, or park in a convenient lay-by along the road. Go through the narrow stone stile on your right of the road to follow the signposted path climbing upwards to the col between Hen Cloud and the Roaches. Walk past Rockhall Cottage and as far as the first rocks on your left.
Turn left and scramble through the rocks lining the crag’s upper tier. Turn left at the top and follow the ridge crest.
Continue along the airy ridge for around three miles. Go past the mysterious tiny pool where the sprite called Doxey is said to reside.
Cross the road where it cuts through the gap at the end of the Roaches.
On the far side of the gap, turn right along an access track for about 50yards and then go to the left through a narrow stile, continuing downhill over the rough moor by following the direction of a line of yellow waymark arrows. Use the boundary wall to continue along the way, by keeping it on your right.
Follow the heather-clad moorland path for about a mile, then go down into the Dane Valley.
Approaching the densest part of the tree-line, turn left away from a more distinct path joining from your right. Continue to follow the pine wood’s upper edge for about three quarters of a mile, all the while keeping parallel to the River Dane far below.
Look out for a narrow path turning sharp left and follow this down stone steps into Lud’s Church.
Walk through the chasm and climb out on to a narrow, steep path for a couple of hundred yards, up to the ridge-crest ahead and join a rough path.
Turn left along the path and follow it for half a mile until it reaches the narrow road winding below the Roaches escarpment.
Pause here and enjoy the wide ranging views. Looking to your left, down below is the village of Meerbrook and Tittesworth Reservoir. Behind where you are standing is rough moorland above the Dane Valley, all the way to Flash, the highest village in England. At one time there were numbers of small farms dotted about the area, whose owners eked out a meagre living by mining the poor quality coal lying beneath the surrounding moor. Most of these farms have been merged into larger undertakings and spare properties converted into domestic dwellings.
Turn left and go along the narrow road, with its views of the roaches towering on your left. Continue steadily for a couple of miles all the way back to the car park.
USEFUL INFORMATION: 6 miles (8.8km) of easy field paths, forest drives and minor roads. Can be muddy after rain, especially when crossing ploughed sections.
RECOMMENDED MAP: OS Explorer 1:25,000 scale – sheet 259, Derby, Uttoxeter, Ashbourne and Cheadle.
CAR PARKING: By the village hall
PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Buses from Ashbourne & Derby
REFRESHMENTS: Available at the Deli Cafe at Brailsford