Late summer is a wonderful time of year to walk The Roaches ridgeline as it flushes purple with flowering heather.
But with such striking scenery and the opportunity for numerous wildlife encounters, this Peak District gem is well worth the visit no matter what the season.
A six-mile circular route along the Roaches in the Peak District National Park.
1. Red grouse on the hill
Start at The Roaches Tea Rooms (or park in a lay-by nearby) and walk north along the lane. The outcrops of the Five Clouds and The Roaches to your right have long been a favourite climbing location; the renowned mountaineer Don Williams was one of many climbers who trained here.
The crags and moorland are home to a great range of wild birds; listen for red grouse chuckling in the heather and watch out for birds of prey such as buzzards and sparrowhawks. More elusive residents are Bennett’s Wallabies. During WW2 a local private zoo released its exhibits into the wild, among which were these Tasmanian marsupials, the descendents of which are still occasionally seen. Keep ahead for Royal Cottage.
2. Gritstone chasm
Some 100m past a gate across the road, fork left along a grassy track for Clough Head. At the next lane, turn left, then right in 100m at the cattle-grid along a signed footpath. Drift right beneath telephone wires to rejoin a lane and bear left. At a left bend, fork ahead-right to a stile in a wall. Keep ahead on a path for The Ridge and pass through a gate. Carry on for Lud’s Church then down the path into woods. Within the trees, turn left for Lud’s Church and follow a path into this dramatic gritstone chasm.
3. Into the gorge
Lud’s Church is allegedly named after Walter de Ludauk, leader of the local Lollards (15th-century religious dissenters who secretly worshiped here). The fern and moss-covered gorge is more prosaically said to be the Green Chapel where Sir Gawain slew the Green Knight. From the mouth of the gorge turn right along a woodland path. Fingerposts guide you to a lane at Roach End.
4. Oatcakes for all
Cross to the main path as it rises to the crest of The Roaches ridge. The views of the uplands, dappled with renovated and derelict farmsteads, are stunning. For centuries, this area has been used to graze sheep – the remote farms were self-sufficient, and the major crop was oats, which grew well in the poor, damp climate. Rolled, mixed with milk and cooked on a bakestone, the oats were transformed into a staple foodstuff, the Staffordshire oatcake.
Written records mention them in the 17th century and they were a common, nourishing meal enjoyed by pottery workers until the 1960s. Filled with cheese, they remain a tasty treat – try one at The Roaches Tearooms.
Continue along the ridge, passing Doxey Pool, apparently haunted by a terrifying 10m tall water sprite. Shortly after this, turn right down a wide gully, then left along a path through the woods below the crags, eventually reaching Rockhall, a crenulated cottage-cum-cave built into the cliff. Turn right to the road. The Roaches Tea Room is situated at Paddock Farm, on the way back to Upper Hulme.
The route follows lanes, byroads, moorland paths and woodland tracks. Expect mud and wear walking boots and warm clothing for the exposed ridge of The Roaches.
HOW TO GET THERE
BY CAR: The Roaches are beside a minor road just northwest of Upper Hulme, 3 miles north of Leek off the A53. Follow signs for Tea Rooms and park in lay-bys on the right, ½ mile past the Tea Rooms.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT: First Bus 118 Buxton-Hanley service serves Hulme End.
The Roaches Tea Rooms Paddock Farm, Upper Hulme, Leek ST13 8TY
Open daily 9am-5.30pm (closes 4pm Nov-Feb)