Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

Peak District National Park - Upper Hulme, Nr Leek ST13 8UB

Many of our visitors here at Roachside, particularly those staying more than just a couple of nights, make the short hop over to Shuttlingsloe (that’s the tall distinctive hill you can see going northwards along the Roaches Ridge beyond the trig point) and have a good days walking in the Macclesfield Forest.

The Macc, as it’s known hereabouts, is a system of high steep valleys with upland streams draining the peat bogs of the valley sides. These all converge in a series of reservoirs at Langley, providing the water supply to Macclesfield and surrounding areas. Over a hundred years ago, the slopes were planted with plantations of fir trees, partly to stabilised the fragile valley slopes and prevent rapid silting of the reservoirs and partly for timber to supply Britain’s growing industrial expansion.

Many paths and tracks criss-cross the forest. Large sections of timber have been cleared in the last few years (they thought long-term a hundred years ago!) and opened up broad views across the catchment area. It’s a grand place for an active Working Cocker like Scout and we walk there often.

That’s what we did today in intermittent drizzle and with a ripping wind “up top”. We saw only a handful of folk in the space of three hours. A couple of families with very young children wrapped up like arctic explorers and a group of iridescent lycra-clad mountain bikers, whose white beards gave away their obviously great age.

Along the path from Forest Chapel to Teggs Nose there is an empty shell of a tiny stone cottage set on a small level patch of treeless ground with a tiny memorial to Walter Bullock DCM.

Walter and his 7 siblings were born and grew up here, before the plantations were planted, when it was a small hill farm. That was until 1896 when their father died at the age of just 41 and the family emigrated to New Zealand (not Australia as it says on the memorial) to seek a new life in a colony where there were opportunities for newcomers. Walter was just 14 years old.

At the outbreak of the First World War, he enlisted in the ANZACS (Australia & New Zealand Army Corps), fought at Gallipoli, The Battle of the Somme and finally at Passchendaele, where he led his unit in an attack on enemy fortifications resulting in the capture more than 100 prisoners. He was killed later the same day. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (one step below the Victoria Cross) for his part in the raid. Walter was just 34 years old. He is buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery in Belgium, along with 11,964 of his comrades.

Testament to how life was so much harder then.

We see cloud inversions all the year round from The Roaches, but we see them much more frequently in the autumn.

As a warm air front rolls in, sometimes it "squashes" the cold air beneath it. The moisture in the cold air body condenses into droplets and forms fog or mist at ground level and frequently displays a very distinct dividing line between the lower cold air and the upper warmer layer. It's effectively just a cloud bank at ground level - a sort of upside down sky!

When watched for a lengthy period, the mist can appear to "slide" down valleys or "pour over" small hills, a bit like cream over strawberries!

This photo was taken on Gun Hill with Bosley Cloud sitting to the left in a sea of mist and the white ellipse of the great Lovell Radio Telescope at Jodrell Bank out in the distance on the Cheshire Plain.

As the autumn advances into winter, the trees which cloak the lower slopes, in and around the Peak District, change into a kaleidoscope of gold and copper and burnished bronze, edged with garish lime greens, lemons and the dense shadows cast by the sloping sunbeams.

A walk in any of the woodlands of the National Park is a treat to the senses at this time of year - we've been out at Alderley Edge - just outside the Park boundary, overlooking Manchester.

Such a day cries out for some good poetry!

              Whim Wood by Katherine Towers

                          into the coppery halls
                          of beech and intricate oak
                          to be close to the trees
                          as they whisper together
                          let fall their leaves,
                          and we die for the winter 

The dreadful wet weather of the last few weeks has made walking in the countryside less than pleasurable. The paths are slippery, the fields are boggy to the point where long stretches involve sploshing through calf-deep puddles. As the rain started to ease to an intermittent drizzle on Thursday, we took a gentle plod round Tittesworth Water (the lake in the valley below Roachside).

Periodically, a watery sun broke through just enough to project a weak rainbow across the sky above the Roaches Ridge. That's Roachside Cottage in the centre of the picture, on the edge of the moorland.

At the end of this particular rainbow however, there really was a pot of gold. Well, not exactly a pot, but an immensely valuable hoard of golden Iron Age Torcs. Believed to be the earliest gold artifacts ever found in the UK, they were found by two amateur metal detector enthusiasts on 11th December 2016.

They were beautifully crafted sometime between 400 and 250 BC (think Alexander the Great for context).

The find, though possibly not as valuable as the Staffordshire Hoard, is considered to be of international significance.

They are now on display at Stoke-on-Trent City Museum.

Many years ago, when I was just a young man in my early 50s, I used to volunteer occasionally with the Mountain Bothies Association (MBA) to help restore and maintain those remote buildings in the mountain areas of Britain which are left unlocked and available as shelter to whomsoever passes by.

Almost always, these building were formally shepherds huts. They are still owned by the landowner (frequently a water company, a nature charity like the John Muir Trust or often the sprawling estate of some wealth Scottish Laird) who give consent for the use of the building and allow the MBA to carry out the work .

Typically these “work party” weekends would involve 20 or so bods turning up, on the promise of free meals for the weekend, in exchange for backbreaking physical effort (unless you had a particular skill such as lime-mortar stonework or oak-beam jointing) fetching and carrying load after load of roof slates, heavy timber beams, bags of lime mortar mix, sand, bags of tools and even a cast iron log stove. We would work like Nepalese Sherpas, trudging back and forth to the nearest point where a tractor & trailer or one of those 6x6 ArgoCats could reach, with crude backpacks & rope slings and even builders wheelbarrows. 

When the work had been scheduled, there was no going back, no backing out. Whatever weather showed up for the weekend, the show must go on. Of course, at the end of each day slogging through rain and wind, it was necessary for those present to eat together in the bothy, tell tall tales of bothy adventures past, sometimes listen to musical renditions on guitar or bagpipes, and drink astonishing quantities of malt whisky. You had to be pretty tough to survive a Work Party. The prisoners in the Siberian Gulags may have had colder winters, but I doubt they worked much harder!

I was reminded about those distant days as I walked along the ridge path of The Roaches yesterday. The Staffordshire Wildlife Trust is undertaking extensive footpath repairs to help counter the damage done by countless thousands of booted feet and knobbly mountain bike tyres. The dozens of huge white bulk-bags of rock & grit that have been sitting at Shawside Farm for months have magically migrated up onto the ridge.

Backpacked in by an army of willing volunteers?

Nah! A blinking helicopter!

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