Roaches End 7 mile walk
The Roaches, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw Rocks dominate the western arm of the Dark Peak. Popular with climbers, these sharp little cliffs of pink-hued gritstone enclose a secret, self-contained landscape where, in the depths of Back Forest, the mysterious chasm of Lud’s Church has attracted its own myths and legends...
The Roaches and Lud’s Church
The Roaches, Hen Cloud and Ramshaw Rocks dominate the western arm of the Dark Peak. Popular with climbers, these sharp little cliffs of pink-hued gritstone enclose a secret, self-contained landscape where, in the depths of Back Forest, the mysterious chasm of Lud’s Church has attracted its own myths and legends.
The name “Roaches” simply means rocks, and comes from the Norman French roches. Formed of layers of pinkish millstone grit and softer shales, the area is a classic syncline, or downfold in the landscape, with the lower-lying coal measures of Goldsitch Moss lying in the centre. This is best seen from the sharp little summit of Hen Cloud (410m/1,345ft) which lies at the apex of the downfold.
The various tiers of The Roaches provide some of the finest and longest gritstone climbs in the Peak District, such as the overhanging roof of The Sloth, first climbed by Don Whillians in 1954 and so-named because of the amount of time spent hanging upside down; and the equally-descriptive The Mincer (first climbed by Joe Brown in 1950).
Tucked away under the overhanging rocks of the Roaches is a former gamekeeper’s cottage partly built into the cliff face and known as Rock Hall. It is now a climbers’ bothy but was formerly occupied by the eccentric Dougie Moller, the self-styled ‘Lord of the Roaches.’
From the parking areas follow the road towards Upper Hulme until you reach a broad track on the left which leads towards the col between The Roaches and Hen Cloud, which stands like a miniature Rock of Gibraltar to your right. (If you have time, the ascent of Hen Cloud is a worthy addition to the walk , if only for the marvellous view of the Roaches syncline).
Turn left at the col and follow the boundary wall taking the higher path which leads towards the lower tier of crags which you surmount through gaps in the rocks to reach the upper tier. (the lower path ends up below the cliffs faces of Rock Hall, but the ridge can still be gained by a steep climb through the rocks.) There is a fine view here back towards Hen Cloud and over the Staffordshire Plain towards the glinting waters of Tittesworth Reservoir.
The route now follows the crest of the Roaches ridge on a superb promenade with extensive views to the left through impressive rock buttresses, before ascending the peaty hollow which contains Doxey Pool.
The shallow, peaty Doxey Pool is said to have no inlet or outlet, and is the home of a seductive siren of a mermaid, who attracts unwise young men to a watery grave.Other stories tell of a fearsome green monster that lurks in the murky depths. The name of Doxey Pool is recorded in the Domesday Book as ‘Dochesig’; the last part of the name means a watercourse, while ‘Doche’ may refer to a long-lost personal name.
From Doxey Pool, the path starts a gradual ascent towards the trig. Point at the summit of The Roaches ridge (505m/1,675ft).
Roach End summit
The views from Roaches End are extensive, especially looking north west, where the shapely cone of Shutlingsloe rises above the valley of the River Dane. Due west, The Cloud above Congleton is prominent (‘clud’ is an Old English word which, like the Roaches, means a rock or hill).
There are some wonderful examples of wind and frost erosion among the weird tors and outcrops of rock below here, including one marked on the OS map as Bearstone Rock. Other rocks show distictive sedimentary banding where the grits were laid down at different angles.
A series of worn steps lead done to a minor road at Roach End. Turn right here then left through a stile which leads down through the heather and rocks towards the trees of Back Forest and Forest Wood in the valley below.
After crossing a ditch walk up a bank towards a signpost. Turn left here and keep to the ridge top leading through the lovely mixed woodland, with occasional aerial views down to the rushing waters of the Black Brook beneath you through the pines to the right. After about 800m/ ½ mile, you reach a sign in a clearing which points the way to the partly concealed sunken entrance to Lud’s Church, among the trees to the left.
Lud’s Church is one of the most atmospheric and evocative places in the Peak. It is a a large 18m/60ft deep landslip, lost among the trees of Forest Wood. The chasm dog-legs into the hillside, dripping with ferns and mosses and usually very damp and muddy underfoot.
The oldest of the legends attached to Lud’s Church associates it with the Green Chapel in the medieval Arthurian alliterative poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. It has been suggested that this was where Gawain meets up with the knight to perform a beheading ritual, which has Celtic echoes and may even predate the late 14th century poem. The name of the chasm is said to come from Walter de Lud Auk, a 14th century supporter of Wycliffe who held services in this secret place far away from the eyes of authority.
Having passed through Lud’s Church, you emerge at the other end and take the sandy path which leads through ancient oak woodland to the gritstone outcrop known as Castle Cliff Rocks, which overlooks the Upper Dane Valley. The hillside opposite is Tagsclough Hill.
Walking west again, take the path signposted Roache End, which leads off left across scrub and moorland, with good views towards Shutingsloe. This path climbs along the top of the moor to a marshy col, and then on alongside a wall.
Back at Roach End, turn left and follow the gated road which leads pleasantly beneath the rocky escarpments of the Roaches and the closer Five Clouds for just over 1.6km/1 mile back to your starting point near Rock Hall.
Start/finish: Limited roadside parking areas near Rockhall Cottage, served on summer weekends by a park and ride service from Tittesworth Reservoir.
Distance: About 11km/7miles
Approximate time: Allow four hours
Highest point: Roach End, 505m/1,657ft
Maps: OS Explorer Sheet 24, The White Peak
Refreshments: At Tittesworth Reservoir, pubs at Meerbrook, Upper Hulme and occasionally a roadside van beneath the Roaches
Terrain: Quite a strenuous ridge and moorland ramble, finishing on forest paths and a road
These walks have been adapted from Roly Smith’s Rambler’s Guide to the Peak District, published by HarperCollins in 2000.
Copyright Let's Stay Peak District 2010
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015