The Roaches

Visit this overlooked but fascinating Peak District ridge for mysterious stones and great views, says Julia Bradbury

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Ask a Peak District local to direct you to ‘Les Roches’ and they might be confused, but we have our French cousins to thank for the name of one of the country’s most craggy and mysterious beauty spots.

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The Roaches, as we now know them, from the French for rocks “roches”, were referrred to using the Gallic term up until as recently as 100 years ago.

Gradbach, Hanging Stone, Ramshaw Rocks and Hen Cloud are just some of the wonderful names that make up The Roaches – a prominent rocky ridge situated above Leek and Tittesworth Reservoir.

This gritstone escarpment is very popular with hikers, rock climbers and even the daredevil free-runners (who run and jump over, on and around man-made and natural obstacles) because of its diverse and striking topography.

Old favourites

I have too many ‘favourite walks’ in the Peak District to mention. Britain’s first National Park is an emotional health hazard when it comes to landscapes.

Being a Sheffield lass (I went to school there), I spent many a weekend in the Peak District exploring with my dad, born in Tideswell.

I’ve banged on about Monsal Head and the Monsal Trail far too much in the past so this time I thought I’d focus on the ‘second best’ spot and most certainly one of the most atmospheric: the Roaches.

This is the hidden heart of Britain: a place full of forgotten treasures just waiting to be discovered. And this is a landscape that promises to satisfy, whatever your preferences.

From the tops of these hills, in clear conditions, you can see as far as Cheshire, and even Wales and Snowdon to the west, and Winter Hill in Lancashire to the north.

But when I first visited, I was in search of a man. A tough man – made of stone. Known as the Winking Man, this local character is part of the escarpment that marks the south-western edge of the Peak District. It’s a weird rock formation that looks like a face sticking out of the hillside.

As you travel past in a car, the ‘eye’ appears to wink as a pinnacle of rock passes behind the face. It has a gleam in its eye that’s supposed to help women get pregnant – so the story goes. What can I say –
I had my little boy a couple
of years later!

Bold claims

So getting the winking man’s attention, I made my way up to the brooding world of The Roaches, where nearly every boulder has its own legend. The Bawdstone is a boulder balanced on three rocks situated near Hen Cloud.

There is speculation that it is man-made and it’s thought to have healing powers – you just have to touch it.

If you have a more serious issue, it is also advised to crawl underneath it to get the devil off your back. As I was on a sort of spiritual journey, I clambered underneath and gave it a go, but to be honest, it was just a bit uncomfortable and I scratched my shoulder.

Let nature take its course

Christians attempted to purify the stone each year by painting it white – right up until the 1940s – because they thought it ‘unchristian’. Now nature has reclaimed it, and it’s back to its natural shade of brown.

Higher up, the Roaches have been sculpted by the elements. Everywhere you look you can see unusual shapes and contours; colossal lizards and giant figures lurk all around. Over time these bizarrely shaped rocks have captured people’s imagination.

In order to keep this unique area safe from development, it was acquired by the Peak District National Park Authority in the 1980s. As of May this year, the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust have taken on the management of this iconic estate, vowing to protect this unique habitat.

The Roaches exude a craggy mystery. Every rock, every giant boulder holds a secret, or so it seems. And if you’re not up to
a spot of rock climbing or any bouldering, you can just loose yourself in this magnificent, enigmatic landscape.

Useful Information

How to get there

The Roaches can be reached by car by taking the A53 from Leek, Staffordshire (30 minutes from Stoke-on-Trent), towards Buxton. Just over four miles past the Three Horseshoes pub, take a left turn signposted Upper Hulme, soon taking the left fork. Follow this road for about a mile and
a half and park in a layby.

Find out more

Peak District Tourist Board

Eat

Ye Olde Rock Inn

Old Buxton Road,
Leek ST13 8TY

01538 300324

A country inn where muddy boots and dogs are welcome!

Stay

Three Horseshoes Inn
and Country Hotel

Buxton Road,
Leek ST13 8TW

A family run hotel two miles from Leek with great views of the Staffordshire moorlands.

Nearby

Churnet Valley Railway

Kingsley & Froghall Station, Froghall, ST10 2HA

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This 10-mile steam
engine ride will take you through the picturesque villages of Staffordshire’s
‘Little Switzerland’.