Roachside Cottage

Part of the living landscape of the Roaches

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

Before the days when that greatest of all Scottish shipyard welders; Billy Connelly, became an international comedy and dramatic phenomenon, he performed as a hugely talented folk musician in the clubs of Glasgow. One of the lighter ditties he wove into his act ran something along the lines of;
                     If it wasnae for your wellies
                     Where would you be?
                     You'd be in the Hospital or Infirmary
                     Cause you would have a dose of the Flu , or even Pleurisy             
                     If you didnae have your feet in your Wellies

                     Oh wellies they are wonderful, oh wellies they are swell
                     Cause they keep out the water and they keep in the smell
                     And when you’re sitting in a room
                     You can surely tell
                     When some bugger takes off his wellies
                     If it Wasnae for your wellies
                     Where would you be?
                     Etc., Etc.

I know not why, but for several days last week this ancient comic number was constantly playing through my head while out walking – it had acquired “Ear Worm” status. Round and round it went, slowly driving me mad.

In an endeavour to rid my brain of the jaunty jingle, I tried to concentrate my mind on the logical pros and cons of The Iron Duke’s great gift to mankind – well, other than beating that Napoleon chappie anyhow…

I do have walking boots.

I have many pairs of walking boots – so many in fact that my late wife used to muse that I had more walking boots than the entire membership of the Ramblers Society.

However, owning a Working Cocker Spaniel requires constantly being able to quickly don suitable footwear for a walk, even when one is dressed for attendance at some other function that we are going to, or returning from. Having footwear that is equal to both upland and lowland walks, is completely waterproof even in calf-deep cow slurry and into which you can tuck the bottom of your jeans and hose the mud off at intervals is vital. Hence, about 4 years ago, I became a Green Wellie Man. I now plod about moor and valley, wood and heath in my lovely soft walking wellies.

Many walkers sniff at we Wellie people – they regard us as underdressed for potentially dangerous conditions, as they totter past muddy puddles in their Gore-tex lined, super stylish, bonded synthetic fabric creations.

Well, I say Wellies are Wonderful! – Mine were very expensive – but not nearly so expensive as some of my pairs of boots (and about half the price of some wellies in the same shop!).

I figured that for someone like me, walking over 2500 miles a year, the unit cost of wearing out an expensive pair as opposed to a cheaper, less comfortable and possibly less durable models was worth the investment. And it was.

The only annoying thing is that I seem to wear the darned things out about six weeks after the guarantee period has expired

Most of the guests at Roachside Cottage are here to explore the Peak District National Park; our oldest such Park. Who can blame them? It’s a wonderful region, rich with broad moorland vistas, dramatic deep valleys, picture-perfect chocolate box villages & historically important sites. But, round the external boundaries of The Park, in the countryside & towns which didn’t fall within that arbitrary boundary drawn on a map in 1948, there are many other places worth visiting.

So we're just sitting in the sunshine, drinking tea, eating Bakewell Tart & watching the sailing boats pirouette about their moorings in a gusty breeze, like a group of synchronised ballet dancers. How good can life get?

This is the Dam Head at Rudyard Lake - it’s not changed all that much since the parents of one of England’s greatest writers enjoyed their visit here so much, they named their soon-to-be-born son after the place.

Rudyard Lake is about 6 miles from Roachside Cottage. A gentle walk right round it is 4.7 miles. Along it's east shore is the old Midland Railway track - where a narrow-gauge steam railway now chuffs back & forth. Along the west side of the lake, the path leaves the waterside and passes the Victorian mock-castle of Cliffe Park Hall (now sadly empty & abandoned), through mature woodland to the sailing club & past the lakeside houses.

These lakeside properties vary from the ultra-modern, architect-designed, super-luxury magazine centrefold and the magnificent "Lady of the Lake" sat square in the water, to the tumbledown 1940s & 50s timber sheds where wealthy families from the nearby Pottery towns would escape the choking smoke of the city to spend time at their "place in the country" at weekends. Here, they could get back to nature, row a boat out onto the llake, cook on a paraffin stove and sleep on faintly damp beds.

Since I retired from my “proper” job, the one where I earned my daily crust reasonably successfully in the dog-eat-dog world of construction engineering, my old mates are convinced that I am now on some permanent holiday jaunt in The Peak District.

True enough, we are somewhere in Britain’s oldest National Park probably five or more days every week. We are out walking the paths on the moors and through the deep dales of the Limestone Country, cycling the fabulous Cycleways like Monsal, Tissington & Manifold and visiting the many and various art exhibitions and galleries to see what’s new and exciting.

We eat cakes in tea rooms from the western edge of the Park to the edges of Chesterfield and Sheffield. We spend a king’s ransom dining in pubs and eateries everywhere.

But, dear reader, this is not all pleasure – no, no, not at all! This is market research.

As can be seen on our Guest Book, many of our guests mention that they were truly grateful for the “great tips” and “tourist information” that we provided – they often say “Rob is a mine of information about places to eat and drink”.

We’d hate to be passing on duff information; information that was old and out of date, making recommendations to eat at places which have recently changed hands and “gone downhill”.

So, with this in mind, we continue our daily slog. Tea and cakes here, pan-seared sea bass there, taking in previews of paintings and sculptures and checking out visitor centre facilities.

It’s a tough job, but one we feel we just have to do with a degree of personal diligence and determination

With a day of glorious sunshine today and no-one in the cottage, we decided to get the grass cutting kit out and tidy the verge and "garden". I place the term "garden" in inverted commas to denote that its use here is in the broadest possible context.

Safe to say that, as I was flattening-out the rough grass along the front wall, a small movement caught my eye. A common lizard ( Zootoca vivipara to give it its zoological name) was basking in the sun. They live in the crevices of our drystone walls and with more than 350m of such walling, we probably have quite a population of them.  This one was a bit of a monster at over six inches (150mm) in length - and possibly quite old as they live to 6 years or more. That's if they can avoid the owls, kestrels, stoats and weasels, etc., etc. 

They come out of hibernation as late as late April/March and mate very shortly afterwards. The young are born directly from the egg-sac as it is expelled from the mother's body - hence; "Viviparous"; live-born.

These little chaps are everywhere in the Peak District, though you might never see one. They lie as still as rocks, they have wonderful camouflage and if they think they've been spotted, they disappear in a flash.

It set me wondering about how a reptile, which depends on the warmth of the sun to raise its body temperature sufficient to allow it to move about freely, manages to survive in these upland areas where sunlight is sometimes not in "oversupply" and cold dominates the climate for most of the year.

Just another of the things I'm going to have to find out before I turn up my toes!

As all rock climbers will know, the outcropping gritstone of The Roaches is fantastic "grippy" stuff to climb on. It is fractured and eroded into cracked faces, grooves and huge boulders the size of small bungalows. I've often wondered how the weird and evocative rock shapes along the edge here were formed - so here goes with a geology lesson, courtesy of good old Wiki;

Roaches Grit is a coarse sandstone which outcrops widely throughout the western part of the Peak District of northern England and gives rise to several significant landscape features in the area. Its counterpart in the eastern part of the National Park is the Ashover Grit.

The combined Roaches Grit and Ashover Grit are amongst the most widespread sandstone units within the Millstone Grit Group of the Peak District. Along with other similar sandstones, such as the immediately overlying Chatsworth Grit, it is assigned to the Marsdenian sub-stage of the Namurian stage within the Carboniferous period around 317 million years ago.

The two units which, prior to the doming and erosion of the central Peak District were once one, are interpreted as delta-top sandstones. The deposited material was brought down from a northerly source by braided rivers.

So, put simply, around 317 million years ago, a range of mountains were pushed up to the north and an immense Amazon or Mississippi sized river spread it's delta over much of what is now England (and Holland and Belgium). As the delta built itself closer, sand and grit covered the shale and limestone layers. This was a dynamic environment with tides and strong currents which often moved and re-sorted the sand banks and bars of the delta; these layers ("units of deposition") can often be seen in exposures such as the Roaches or Stanage Edge.

Most notably, up along the Roaches Ridge is an outcrop displaying a splendid example of "Crossbedding", where there exist bedding planes which seem to contradict each other - the main sedimentary layer in one plane, but interspersed with apparently randomly angled beds too. 

I've looked at several explanations of this phenomena and I'm still not convinced I understand it - but it's good to know that we have such a prime example here on our doorstep!!

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